Mine are Japanese Tea-Stained Scrimshaw Ivory: a miniature dragonfly on a textured pair of woven straw flip-flops, signed Koshido; two tiny amber bees dining inside a pear; a man seated on a pier with a fishing pole, signed Shodo; a scholar; a pumpkin that opens to show two men playing the board game, GO. Already our toddler grandchildren have tried to pry open the display case to touch the ridges of the ivory miniatures, a perfect size for little fingers to lick and squeeze, but we say, “No, no,” and distract them with toy trucks. I wanted a few netsukes after reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes, Edward de Waal’s memoir about five generations of his glittering Jewish banking family whose Austrian property the Nazis aryanized in 1938 when the servants opened the cast iron front gates then fled to make it possible for heavy boots to echo in the marble halls. One servant stayed who knew how the Ephrussi family children were permitted to cuddle and caress their choice of netsuke selected from the collection of 264 pieces in a black vitrine cherished by Emmy, their mother, while she dressed for extravagant Austrian balls or opera, a gentle time. Anna secreted the netsukes inside her clothing then hid them in her mattress as she stayed in the house during German occupation while the family fled to London or were interred in concentration camps. Somehow hidden until the war was over, the netsukes passed down through the surviving family, and now Waal’s memoir.
Why I Collect Netsukes
3 Questions for Jan
What was your process for creating this work?
I had read Hare with the Amber Eyes and was very much moved by the behavior of the housekeeper who preserved the netsukes. I discussed my reaction with my husband so he started buying me netsukes and a small cabinet (vitrine) to put them in. I appreciated the fine carving of the netsukes as well as the idea of saving a special memory.
What is the significance of the form/genre you chose?
I write narrative, visual poetry, occasionally a prose poem. It's sometimes
difficult for me to articulate what form I'm using but I never write in rhyme.
What is the significance of the work to you?
I'm so glad I was inspired to write about a selfless character from the
Jan has had 364 poems published in various journals internationally and in the U.S. including: ABZ, Calyx, Mid-American Review, and Parnassus. Finishing Line Press published her three chapbooks and first full-length poetry collection, I Wanted To Dance With My Father. Orbis, England, nominated her for the Pushcart Prize in 2020 and Constellations nominated her for it in 2021.
Besides her poetry, Jan wrote a dissertation at the University of Rochester: Age and Natural Order in Second Language Acquisition after being a nun for seven years then living in Australia for fourteen years with her Aussie husband and two children. Jan has taught ESL in Rochester, New York and Loyola and DePaul Universities in Chicago. When not traveling, or gardening at their farm, Jan and her husband like to cook for friends.