Since its founding decades ago, Poetry Kanto has been instrumental in introducing many Japanese poets to the English-speaking world. Recently, the editors of Poetry Kanto placed all of its annual issues since 2005 online. This means that a small treasure trove of Japanese poetry is suddenly accessible to anyone with a computer.
I have published a number of poems in Poetry Kanto over the years, including translations of Tada Chimako 多田智満子 (2007), Itō Hiromi 伊藤比呂美 (2012 and 2011), Arai Takako 新井高子 (2012), Minashita Kiriu 水無田気流 (2007),and my own poetry (2011). Click the links above to go directly to the pages for each of these writers.
The Kalamazoo Gazette just ran this story about the thousands and thousands of donations we received in response to my Twitter call in 2011 for donations of Japanese books to WMU’s library. Thank you so much to everyone who responded! I was extremely touched by everyone’s kindness and generosity.
The Japan Times obituary of Donald Richie, an inspiration to an entire of generation of Japanologists , contained this observation.
Widely considered the foremost foreign writer and cultural commentator on Japan, his physical energy may have failed him at times, but his creative energy was boundless. His death, like the felling of a great tree in a forest, has changed the inner landscape of literature on Japan. It is likely, however, that his work will remain unrivaled, not simply because of its quality and dimension, but because the time he inhabited can never be re-experienced.
Indeed, Richie saw a time and era in Japanese history that can never be recaptured. Perhaps better than anyone writing in English, he taught us what it was to feel their way through the historical changes that have descended over the nation. I will never forget my long conversations with him in Ueno as he told me about the years and decades gone by.
Rest in peace, Donald. I and many other people will miss you.
I recently stumbled upon this dialogue between the poet Takahashi Mutsuo 高橋睦郎 and the designer Hara Ken’ya 原研哉, in which they explore a number of topics having to do with art, language, and the power of words. One of the several things that struck me in this dialogue, were Takahashi’s comments on his attempts to move away from “individuality.” Considering that these come from one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Japanese letters (and an author on whom I’ve done a lot of critical work), these comments struck me as somewhat surprising.
I have never believed in the concept of “individuality” at all…Imagine that there is an apple and a peach, and that I am to paint a picture of them. At this time, my individuality is not necessary. What is necessary is the individuality of the peach and the apple. I should express and return that individuality as accurately as possible. I should return a peach and an apple. At that time, I require only the individuality of the peach and the apple. Perhaps my own individuality can be of use in accomplishing this, however revealing my own individuality is not the ultimate goal.
Speaking from my perspective, the more I express my own individuality, the deeper I fall into a hell from which I may not be able to rescue myself. I think that the modern hell is a hell created when everyone asserts themselves all the time.
So what is the purpose of expression? In the end, it is to redeem oneself from the hell of one’s own individuality through those subjects a person wants to express.
Whereas most people tend to think of language as a tool to assert individuality, Takahashi suggests that instead, it ought to more properly represent a tool to overcome individuality, to allow the outside world to travel through the self. In his other work, he has suggested that the image of a unified self is always predicated on a sort of lack or absence—a knowledge that the self is not total but, rather, cut off from the outside world through the prison of the body. Perhaps language is not a tool for conveying individuality after all, but merely a means to allow the outside world to flow through us and, in the process, to assuage the pain of being formulated through absence.
|—||TAKAHASHI Mutsuo 高橋睦郎, Interview with HARA Ken’ya, 28 Oct 2009|
University of Minnesota Press just published my translation of Twelve Views from the Distance, the memoirs of TAKAHASHI Mutsuo, originally published in Japan in 1970. The book is a beautiful object: the cover is embossed, and the design shows a small boat floating on a distant sea. In many ways, this captures the right mood for this memoir, in which one of Japan’s most important poets looks across the distance of the years and remembers his poverty-stricken youth in Kyushu during World War II.
On the back of the book are two blurbs. The first is by Edmund White, the great American known for his bold, homoerotic memoirs. (I was thrilled that White, whom I read with such interest during my own adolescence and coming out, agreed to write the blurb for my translation.)
Twelve Views from the Distance is a wrenching memoir about growing up in southern Japan during the war and just afterward in an extremely poor family of day laborers. Utterly dependent on his hard-bitten grandmother and his often absent mother, Mutsuo Takahashi withdraws into himself and lives in his very rich imagination. That he was destined to become Japan’s leading gay poet may or may not be obvious from these painful but lyrical memories.
The other is from MISHIMA Yukio, who wrote the following in 1970, just a few months before his dramatic suicide.
Mutsuo Takahashi has managed to achieve firm prose that, while unmistakably the work of a poet, shines with a black luster much like a set of drawers crafted by a master of old. This book is a magnificent collection of sensations and of memories, much like the toys we might find in a dark closet. The part toward the end in which the theme of his ‘search for a father’ crystallizes in a copy of an erotic book radiates a certain tragic beauty.
My translation of this book was supported through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the PEN Translation Fund. Thank you for believing in this project.
和田三造 WADA Sanzō (1883-1967)
「南風」 South Wind (1907)
東京国立近代美術館 The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
油彩・キャンバス・Oil on canvas
151.5 × 182.4cm
Bob Hicok, Poetry, February 2010
Reposting inspired by the Sandy Hook shootings
Mark McHarry wrote a thoughtful, detailed review of my book Writing the Love of Boysfor the online Australian journal Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific. He begins,
Edogawa Ranpo (1894–1965) and Inagaki Taruho (1900–1977) were widely read in early twentieth-century Japan. Murayama Kaita’s (1896–1919) works would prove influential among other authors. Writing the Love of Boys shows how they sought new ways to describe non-heteronormative sexuality in literature, and in so doing developed an aestheticism that would be taken up, in part, by boys’ love. Of the three, and in English, Ranpo’s works may be the most anthologised, but his keen interest in male homoeroticism is not widely known, and the homoerotic writings of Kaita and Taruho perhaps less so. Jeffrey Angles situates their work in modernist Japanese literature, mainly during the Taishō (1912–1926) and pre-war Shōwa (1926–1989) periods. His book is a fascinating glimpse of male-male desire in literature at a time of cultural and political ferment in Japan, and well worth reading by anyone interested in Japanese modernism, Japanese homoeroticism, or boys’ love.
Thank you, Mark, for the review!
|—||Jack Gilbert (via fiveoclockbot)|
The always fantastic online literary journal Guernica published my translations of the poem “at the side (côtés) of poetry” by the avant-garde Japanese poet YOSHIMASU Gōzō 吉増剛造. This poem is his response to a request byAsahi shinbun for a work about life in the post 3/11 world, and it appeared in an online collection of poets by major contemporary poets, as well as in the leading Japanese poetry journal Handbook of Contemporary Poetry 『現代詩手帖』. This translation will also appear in a collection of Gōzō’s work currently being edited by Forrest Gander.
Translating Gōzō’s work is not easy, considering how often it employs word play, sound associations, play across multiple languages, and even random-seeming personal asides; however, the results, I think contain many of the same playfully messy, challenging, and brilliant turns of the original. Check it out by clicking here.
The Brazilian Embassy in Tokyo has created a beautiful webpage called Palavras Cruazadas that features collaborations between Brazilian and Japan-based photographers and poets. The embassy provided a number of photos by photographers from one country and asked poets from the other to write something inspired by the image. The results were then translated and placed together in both Japanese and Portuguese with the images on the website. Among the contributors are the wonderful Japanese poets Hirata Toshiko 平田俊子, Suga Keijirō 菅 啓次郎,Arai Takako 新井高子, Tanaka Atsusuke 田中宏輔, and Nakanishi Kyōko なかにしけふこ. I also contributed a poem in Japanese. (Screen capture images above.)