Sally Ito reflects on faith and language in our latest Quatrain Questions interview.
1. Can you speak a bit about the title—Heart’s Hydrography—and the role that water plays in this collection?
The heart has long been a symbol of love and we recognize it immediately in language as a potent and rich symbol; physiologically it is the organ that pumps and circulates blood throughout the body. Hydrography is a scientific term and means ‘the science of surveying and charting bodies of water, such as seas, lakes and rivers.’ Combining the two words was an intuitive choice, partly for the alliteration, but also I wanted to somehow convey the ‘science’ of the ‘survey and charting’ of the spiritual life—the blood of living—throughout this work.
2. How did the experience of writing Heart’s Hydrography compare to your previous poetry collection, Alert to Glory, which was published in 2011?
I feel like Alert to Glory was about ‘wonder’, and Heart’s Hydrography continues in that vein, but ten years on from Alert, it is also about ‘wonder’ and ‘disappointment.’ The wonder, as I said, continues, but in a sense as a poet, I’m also disappointed in language and my ability to convey through it the richness, depth, and beauty of the spiritual life.
3. As a translator, you are no doubt familiar with the gaps that exist between different languages, and the gaps in our ability to express complicated and profound human experiences. Often, the wordplay in Heart’s Hydrography appears to speak to this reality in a direct, searching way. What has the process of writing/collecting/editing these poems taught you about the real limitations of human language? What of its triumphs?
I have a little poem I jotted down when I was in England this spring:
Mystery and Metaphor were lovers,
but Mystery wanted more.
But I’m all that you have, cried Metaphor,
Aren’t I enough?
Then along came Paradox.
This little poem sums up what I feel about the limits and triumphs of language. The yearning for the mystical and ineffable will always be there and will sometimes be met in language’s profound abilities to capture the essence of the Divine. A Christian poet, such as the one I’ve been translating these past few years with Joanne Epp and Sarah Klassen—her name is Catharina Regina Von Greiffenberg—essentially submits her poetic will to theological language and plays in that garden of expression with dexterity and skill.
Recently I was asked “Where is home for you?” and I answered “Home is in the English and Japanese languages.” And then I was asked How do you feel at home in these places and I responded “I feel at home in the English language in its church and in its poetry, and in the Japanese language, I feel at home in the voice of my mother.”
4. What place do you see your collection having within the cultural/spiritual zeitgeist of our current era?
This collection of poetry is the best of what I can be in words as a middle aged Japanese Canadian Christian woman living in the prairies. We all live lives of unique lonelinesses that long for a connection with others, and I hope that my unique loneliness expressed in this collection might connect with a reader out there.