Letter from Pablo Picasso to Gertrude Stein (1919)
—Écrivez si le coeur vous le dit.
Letter from Pablo Picasso to Gertrude Stein (1919)
—Écrivez si le coeur vous le dit.
The March 11, 2011 earthquake that shook northeastern Japan also reverberated throughout Japanese society, forcing it to reconsider many of things things that it had taken for granted—its usage of energy, its relationship to the natural environment, its relationship with the government, and its modes of organizing at the grass-roots level. Almost immediately, writers took action. Many figures known for their involvement in social issues, writers such as Ōe Kenzaburō, Tsushima Yūko, and Ishimure Michiko, began respond and publish statements to the press, helping to use their influence to help shape reconstruction efforts and talk about new directions for the Japanese nation.
Perhaps the segment of the Japanese literary world where the seismic forces of 3/11 were felt most strongly, however, was the poetic world. Many Japanese newspapers include regular columns that include free verse (shi), tanka, or haiku poems, but in just the few days after 3/11, poetry began to emerge from those small columns and take a more prominent place in the news, eventually finding its way into a central position in the discourse that had started unfolding across the nation. Poetry exploded into the mainstream, serving as one of the ways that the nation thought about and processed its own complicated feelings about the disasters.
Because I was in Japan at the time and experienced the quakes, numerous aftershocks, and anxiety personally, I have been unable to forget it. After a few weeks of uncertainty and great worry, everything I had come to Japan to do was cancelled, and so I cut my stay short and returned to the United States ahead of schedule. As one way of working through the experience and my complicated feelings about returning to America, I began translating a number of poems about the quake and the resulting disasters, mostly poems written by poets whom I admire. Most of those translations have been published in various journals, mostly online.
Here is a collection of links to some of those translations. Some appear with the original Japanese. Most of the poems first appeared in the May 2011 special issue of Handbook of Contemporary Poetry 『現代詩手帖』dedicated to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. Some were also published in a special section in the daily newspaper Asahi shinbun published in commemoration of the first anniversary of the quake. Others were published in various magazines or newspapers, but still, these poems are only the tiniest tip of the iceberg. There are thousands upon thousands more poems out there.
TANIKAWA Shuntarō: “Words”
ITŌ Hiromi: “Cooking, Writing Poetry”
TANAKA Yōsuke: “Screaming Potato Field”
OHSAKI Sayaka: “Noisy Animal”
Jeffrey ANGLES: “Return After Earthquake”
Pulitzer Prize winner Sharon Olds shares work from her winning collection, Stag’s Leap. Olds also talks with the NewsHour about her partner’s New Hampshire nature retreat where she spends her days, about finding her poetic voice in her 30s, and the “usefulness” of poetry.
National Poetry Month 2013
The Academy of American Poets has produced this poster to celebration National Poetry Month this year. Check it and the other plans for the month out on the Academy’s website.
In celebration of National Poetry Month 2013, I wanted to share a site showing a number of poems in the original handwriting of the poets. Although we all have all seen Emily Dickinson’s envelope poems, I realized while looking at this page that I had never seen Virginia Clemm Poe’s deliberate, calligraphic handwriting, or the childlike, big writing of Anne Sexton. Somehow a poem comes alive in such a different way when written in the author’s own hand. Check the photos of the manuscripts out by clicking here.
Denise Levertov reads:
“I’ll dig in, into my days, having come here to live, not to visit…”
The always beautiful literary journal Manoa, published by the University of Hawai’i, has an especially impressive and beautiful new issue centering on the theme of freedom and what that means for individuals, societies, cultures, nations, and religions. It also contains an extract from my translation of Takahashi Mutsuo’s Twelve Views from the Distance—the entire first, unforgettable chapter of the book about a young boy dealing with his own mother’s attempts to find freedom in adversity. Check Manoa out by clicking here.
David Burleigh at The Japan Times, just published this review of my translation of Takahashi Mutsuo’s memoirs Twelve Views from the Distance 高橋睦郎『十二の遠景』. He describes how the book describes the grinding poverty and difficulty of Takahashi’s early life, then states,
Takahashi invokes a world that has now mostly disappeared, along with its bitterness and hunger. Yet it was also a rich world, for those who managed to survive it.
And what was the secret of survival? Undoubtedly to some extent it was the poet’s imagination. Near the end he writes: “My undeveloped, youthful soul felt a strong affinity for what was outside my world in the realm of the other.”
With photographs and a retrospective afterword by the author, this is an excellent translation of an absorbing and necessary book.
Because I worked on this translation a little at a time, often working in half-hour increments pilfered from other projects, this translation took me a number of years from start to publication, beginning in 2006 until around 2010. It was then another couple of years before it found its way into print in late 2012 with University of Minnesota Press, which took quite a chance on deciding publish this rather unusual, but profoundly beautiful book. This project was a long labor of love, and so it means an enormous deal to me that this book review—the first to be published—is so enthusiastic.
Each year, University of Chicago holds a contest in which people submit translations from Japanese into English. The winners are placed online and win a significant cash prize. This year’s winners were just announced: Annika Culver and Andrew Murakami-Smith. Here is more information, plus links to the two super stories online.
Annika A. Culver is Assistant Professor of Asian History and Asian Studies Coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She recently published the book Glorify the Empire: Japanese Avant-Garde Propaganda in Manchukuo (University of British Columbia Press, 2013). Current projects include a book chapter, “Japanese Mothers and Rural Settlement in Wartime Manchukuo: Gendered Reflections of Labor and Productivity in Manchuria Graph, 1940-1944” for Dana Cooper and Claire Phelan, eds., Motherhood and War, and a monograph on images of women and consumerism in early 20th century East Asia. In autumn 2013, Culver will join the faculty at Florida State University as Assistant Professor of East Asian History.
Andrew Murakami-Smith is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Language and Culture at Osaka University. While writing his dissertation on “Dialects and Place in Modern Japanese Literature,” he did two years of research at Osaka University. After obtaining his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1997, he returned to Osaka to work as a translator at a patent lawyer’s office. He has a continuing interest in regional dialects and cultures of Japan, especially the dialect, culture, and image of Osaka. He has translated into English some 15 works of modern fiction, poetry, and essays relating to Osaka.
The online journal Transformative Works and Cultures just ran a special issue about transnational fandoms and boy’s love manga. In it was a review of my book by Emerald King (a name that itself sounds like it is right out of a boy’s love manga). Here is the link. In one place, the reviewer writes,
Writing the Love of Boys is an engaging and challenging text that encourages readers to interrogate their understanding of boys’ love narratives in Japan as more than just a current popular cultural trend. The book is of interest not only to scholars of boys’ love narratives and associated bishōnen culture, but also to students of Taishō modernism and gender studies.
I received this call for submissions. Inventory is a handsomely designed, well-conceived publication. I encourage friends interested in translation to submit.
Call for Submissions:
INVENTORY Nº4 (Princeton University Journal of Translation)
Submission deadline for next issue June 1, 2013
We consider translations of poetry and prose from any language – ancient or modern – into English. We welcome new translations of previously translated work, and we encourage our translators to engage imaginatively with the conventions and possibilities of literary translation. We regret that we are unable to accept translations into languages other than English.
Poetry submissions should include 3-6 poems (no more than five pages), and fiction submissions should not exceed 2000 words. We do accept excerpts, but request that you include a single-paragraph summary of the full work. Please attach a copy of all pieces in their first language.
Inventory is particularly interested in translations of works involving visual and graphic elements. Should the text you are translating comprise a graphic or visual component, we kindly request you include this element with your submission as an attachment not larger than 10 MB.
Submissions should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating in the subject line the genre and first language of the submission, if applicable.We ask that you include in the body of your email a brief paragraph describing the piece’s translation history, as well any relevant information about why you have chosen to translate the piece at this time.
Published writers retain copyright of their material and are free to publish again elsewhere. We regret that we can accept unsolicited submissions by email only.
Thank you for your interest, and please contact the editors at email@example.com with any questions. You may also visit our website for further information.
The new volume (number of 11) of Mantis, the journal of poetry and translation published at Stanford, contains my translation of a series of poems by Yoko Tawada 多和田葉子 done for Worlds 2012, a writer’s conference that Tawada-san and I attended last year in Norwich, England.
These poems were inspired by the shape of kanji and so the visual quality of the language is as important as the sound and meaning. Below is a picture, taken by Martin Figura last year in Norwich. I am reading reading the translation, while at the side, just out of the frame of the picture, Tawada is holding up a print-out of the kanji that inspired that particular poem.
This photo is particularly amusing to me because the character “rice” (米) also is used as an abbreviation for “America” or “American.” It rather looks as if Tawada-san is holding up a sign announcing my nationality.
Click here for information on how to order a copy of Mantis.
University of Minnesota Press just published my translation of this study by the Japanese Lacanian psychiatrist Saitō Tamaki 斎藤環. When this book was first published in Japan in 1998, it struck a nerve and became a bestseller, making the Japanese public aware of the epidemic of long-term withdrawal within its own national borders. Now, for the first time, this important work is available in English.
I just read Peter Minter’s essay about Japan, poetry, translation, and the productive power of forgetting in Southern Review. From it comes this haunting passage. Check out the entire essay by clicking here.
Against the sheer existential horror of all we forget, each poem in a life becomes a fugitive, delicately precise machine for remembering an event and its organic dislocations. A poem is like an ark for a moment or series of moments, a small vessel amidst a sea of epic or reflexive forgetfulness that we glide off headlong toward our friends and readers or indeed future selves. Perhaps that is what our species has been doing for thousands of years, making poems to send information forward and outward so others can see and remember. Madeleines for the survivors. Holographs of the forgotten. Genealogies of invisibility.