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Atomic Verses: Trauma, Survival, and Memory in Nagasaki Hibakusha Poetry

Fri, June 24, 11:00am to 12:50pm, Kambaikan (KMB), Floor: 2F, 210

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel Proposal Application


The survivors (hibakusha) of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki have turned to a variety of media to convey their experiences. In the first postwar decades, poetry in particular allowed hibakusha to articulate their trauma, work for the revival of their lives and the reconstruction of the city, and grapple with issues of popular memory. The hibakusha found a voice through traditional Japanese forms, such as tanka and haiku, as well as free-verse, producing a body of poetry that illuminates the social and political challenges to personal and collective atomic memory that existed in Nagasaki. Fukuda Sumako wrote poetry to challenge municipal officials who ignored the plight of the hibakusha and instead, in one instance, dedicated vast amounts of money to installing commemorative statues in 1955. Yamada Kan composed poetry to both capture the anxieties of surviving a radioactive bomb and to challenge the popular memory of the city dominated for decades by controversial Catholic writer, Nagai Takashi. And Yamaguchi Tsutomu, like survivors of trauma everywhere, found catharsis in poetic composition, writing tanka until his death in 2010 in an attempt to work through physical and psychological suffering. Western scholars have focused on the atomic-bombing literature of Hiroshima for decades, but have not yet equally explored the verse of Nagasaki. The three papers of this panel offer an opportunity to write the Nagasaki hibakusha and their verse back into the scholarly literature on the bombings, as we deepen our understanding of the relationship between human trauma, recovery, and survival more generally.

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