Following the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the Tohoku region of Japan in 2011, Joan Ericson of Colorado College found the survivors of the disaster doing something extraordinary: writing poems.
Ericson, a professor of Japanese literature, language and culture, was in Kyoto on sabbatical at the time of the disaster. She wanted to do more than just contribute to the Japanese Red Cross, and when Isao Tsujimoto, director of the Studio for Cultural Exchange in Japan, asked her to help translate a collection of poems written by citizens, she agreed.
Some of the writers "got out with their life and nothing else," Ericson says. "And now they are sitting in the school gymnasium with nothing. And they are writing poetry."
The poems later became part of a traveling exhibit, Voices from Japan: Perspectives on Disaster and Hope, now on display at CC's I.D.E.A. Space. The collection has already been shown in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Japan.
Central to it are 31 tanka, or short poems (100 are translated in the exhibit publication). Composed of five lines, tanka have 31 syllables and tend to express deep emotions of love, loss and grief.
Because of their brevity, the poems usually focus on one image; in one case, that of the bereaved parent who returns to the school of his deceased child and answers for the child during roll call.
The exhibit also includes a film about the aftermath by Joe Krakora, photographs by Magdalena Solé, calligraphy by Kanji Chiba, and photo collages by Saori and Yoshihito Sasaguchi. Ericson, who oversaw this particular exhibit, has added a video of CC students performing dance choreographed by artist-in-residence Patrizia Herminjard, and artwork and poetry created by survivors of a different type of disaster — the Waldo Canyon Fire.