UC Berkeley – Poem Analysis

Title: Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 –

Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 is a set of poem that is influenced by a tragic event in March of 2011, when a 9.1 magnitude earth quake hit Japan and caused tsunami as well as a nuclear disaster at Fukushima. Lee Ann Roripaugh employs an actual event as main material and influencing factor to come up with Tsunami vs. Fukushima 50. Modern characters like Godzilla and The Watchmen’s Dr.Manhattan are included in the book to represent nuclear anxieties. The author has her own character, who she called “Tsunami” that represent power of nature as well and product of human error. Considering that tsunami has been well recognized in ancient Japanese artwork as something that is powerful and destructive. The author extends this characteristics in a more modern context with modern events.

The Fukushima disaster has been explained behind various illustrative images. The power and horror of the tsunami have been represented differently in the poems such as “awoken venom / cobra come unchanted // glittering rush / of fanged lightning”. The fear and fright of people who experienced it could be found in metaphor such as “animal portent foretell the rise of tsunami”, “pressuring their trunks / down to the ground / like seismic antennae”.

In addition to mentioned spectacular imagery and personification, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 has extraordinary character development. For instance “ama, the woman of the sea” describes life of a pearl diver from her childhood to late seventies. During her early years, she “dove / naked, wearing only a loincloth / and a tenugui”. There was also a part where she moved to Toba City, and do a job that very exposed to people, “performed for westerners / and tourists in modest white / cotton suits,”. Audience can also learn about her marriage, her family members that include her daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters. And though living a casual life of human, she immediately dives back into the ocean the moment she sees the arrival of “the rising wall of curled surf” – which is an imagery of the coming tsunami.

The author also employs different characters and different perspective to describe the tsunami and how each of them feel and experience the coming tsunami. There are lives of a female pearl diver, workers watching the meltdown, locals losing family member, and people watching the tsunami arrives on the beach. This employment allows readers to be aware of the way how different people experience the disaster, and since readers are one of mentioned characters, they can imagine how others’ were feeling when they saw the tsunami coming.

The first poem – “radioactive man” refers to an ideal hero, who is a barely survivor that is willing to go back to the central of the epicentre to feed abandoned animals, and afraid that the “cesium” poison would poison his own children

Sometimes I think of visiting
my two kids… but then I remind myself
of the invisible dust coated
in cesium particles that’s in
my clothes, my hair, my skin…

in the American Watchmen comics,
Dr. Manhattan was once tricked
into believing he’d given everyone
he’d ever loved cancer, through
exposure to his radioactive body

just the thought of it undid him…

The poem “mothra files again,” refers to a pregnant survivor worries about the trustworthy of the propaganda being spread by her government: “everything was fine, fine, fine”

I unknowingly exposed my twins
small as a pair of Bing cherries,
to radioactive contamination while
believing everything was daijobu.


The character comforts herself falling asleep in front of monster movies, where

Mosuru is summoned by her
twin fairy priestesses, who sing
for her when they’re in danger…

how fiercely she defends them…

And Roripaugh offers the frightening side of her personified tsunami, but also its beauty in “beautiful tsunami”:

it’s no secret she’s a little bit vain…
in the way reptiles are vain…
with her Hello Kitty barrettes…
all that snaky girlzilla hair…

she surfaces like a terrible fish
rises like the Dark Phoenix
comes in for the kiss like Narcissus

She also garners sympathy for the personified tsunami as a victim of different types of abuse in “origins of tsunami:”

barbed wire that interns her

shoes that pinch
the jeans that ride…

…boy in a drunken rage
who smashes her face…

…don’t tell don’t tell…
don’t make any waves


In “animals foretell the rise of tsunami.” Animals offer hints of the coming disaster. However, the warning signs are dismissed until there are visible signs in “song of the mutant super boars”. It raises a concern of human refusal to respond to nature’s signs of disasters though they have been repetitively warning throughout the poem. The monsters have been identified and described to rise out of neglect, anger, and abuse.


Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 is a prime example of how poetry can record and honor history, face the horror of nature and humanity with empathy and witness, and reach the corners of the collective unconscious that prose, photography, or video cannot. Like a tsunami, Roripaugh’s poems are powerful, awesome, and impossible to ignore. This is a talented poet at the height of her powers who etches beauty from destruction. Putting a storm on the page is no easy task, and Roripaugh has succeeded with a furious magnificence.


The collection closes with “origami of tsunami: a technical manual and glossary,”. The final poem employs popular and consumerist language an educational format and purpose. For instance, “icg/itsu: (international coordination group for the tsunami warning system in the pacific)” is “defined” as “tsunami’s HMO sans Aflac.”.


Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 is a great example of using poetry to record and honor history, and reminding people the power of nature and its horror when it is angry. The collection is dedicated to people that are affected by the disaster in 2011 and at the same time continue the tradition of Japanese to capture tsunamis that damage the country. Perhaps it also reminds local of potential tsunami and disaster in Japan and remind people to be careful.


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