On the Circuit

by Vivian Smith

to Montri Umavijani and The Noh of a Return


July in Tokyo: another conference,

this time a short festival of poets

flown in from the whole Pacific rim.

Arriving early in torrential summer rain

I’m on the literary circuit once again.

A group of poets—there should be a word—

a pride or gaggle, covey, brood or flock—

some with silver tongues and golden hearts

and all the combinations in between.

We bow and smile, make slight jokes and read;

the atmosphere requires best behaviour.


Never had a book launch in my life.

Japanese art—recurring theme, the weather . . .

While I sat fiddling with these talking points

you doodled with a biro, catching up

odd moments in a set of sharp haikus.

This conference became a suite of poems,

a flick-book quick as sketches on a fan.

You have depicted me in six sections

“the quiet poet” who was reading when

an earth tremor shuddered through the room.

“The power of poetry to make earth move”

brought the house down with our nervous laughter.

We rarely see ourselves as others see us.

You saw “a quiet poet and the way his face

wore a delicately puzzled look

as they read out his verse in Japanese.”

Yes, I was listening to understand,

charmed to be translated with such skill.

Now you surround the moment with a nimbus.

From Along the Line, Cambridge, England: Salt Publishing, 2006.