Killing Kanoko / Wild Grass on the Riverbank, by Hiromi Itō

adrianasturalvarez's review

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My internal opinion meter shifted dramatically over the course of this edition. Having never heard of Ito before I wasn't sure what to expect. The first book, Killing Kanoko, had a few striking lines for me. One passage I particularly liked:

Kanoko eats my time
Kanoko pilfers my nutrients
Kanoko threatens my appetite
Kanoko pulls out my hair
Kanoko forces me to deal with her shit

I mean if you have kids you feel all that in your bones. Liberating as it may feel to give voice to the Freudian id during early parenting, Killing Kanoko (the whole book) felt very much like a libretto without melody on my first reading. I couldn't help thinking I was missing out not seeing Ito Hiromi perform these poems. After all she is widely considered a shaman of feminist poetry. I felt I was missing too much to appreciate the work.

So heading into Wild Grass on the Riverbank I wasn't full of anticipation.


I'm not sure if spending time with Ito's voice eventually put me in sync with her project and gave me necessary context to receive her work or if Wild Grass on the Riverbank articulated her project in a way that resonated with me more profoundly than the earlier poems but my opinion changed very rapidly. Not only were the narrative poems shocking and poignant and sad and beautiful but they drove me back to Killing Kanoko. The artist delivered within me, which is the best kind of reading experience.

I would be remiss not to mention how wonderful this Tilted Axis edition is to read. They really produced a fantastic book. Jeffrey Angles' introduction and translation notes were a fantastic companion and I loved the guide to plants mentioned in the book. As someone who was encountering Ito Hiromi for the first time I felt in very good hands and I recommend this edition to anyone curious about her work.

qomareads's review

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Even if you don’t understand the poems, this book throughly discussed each of it and associated it with the author experienced at that time of her life.

Reading the translator’s introduction feels like reading a summary of this book. It’s rich, bizarre, poetic, lyrical and deep. I’m glad everything comes with an explanation so the readers won’t be left alone to wonder and question it. Sometimes it does feel good when you know exactly what you’re reading as what most poems do where it’s up to the readers interpretation instead.

littlebirdbooks's review

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challenging dark reflective sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes


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alia0ftheknife's review

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katie_greenwinginmymouth's review

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challenging dark emotional reflective slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? N/A
  • Strong character development? N/A
  • Loveable characters? N/A
  • Diverse cast of characters? N/A
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? N/A


 I don’t think I’ve ever read poetry quite so stark and challenging as this. The language is deliberately plain, bare bones and raw. Often very repetitive and kind of childlike or like an incantation. The poems are translated from the Japanese and the translator’s note is absolutely fascinating, it’s clear there were some huge challenges with translating these poems and it really adds to the reading experience understanding some of the techniques used.

One of Japan’s most renowned feminist writers, Itō focuses on themes of childbirth, motherhood, sex, postpartum depression and what it means to be a migrant. The poems are very challenging and don’t shy away from exploring the darkest recesses of human desires - she vocalises things society tells you a mother shouldn’t feel. There is a kind of dream logic to the poems, an excavation of the subconscious. Often the imagery is grotesque and deeply disturbing. In Wild Grass on the Riverbank there is a lot of natural imagery used to explore ideas of migration and why it means to be a ‘native species’. Nature is deeply uncanny in Itō’s poems though, vines take over and grow out of bodies and the long grasses hide other horrors. There are not many books that have crept under my skin like this one...