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Poems about March 11, 2011 disasters in Japan

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” 
谷川俊太郎「ことば」

WAGŌ Ryōichi: Pebbles of Poetry (Part I)
和合亮一『詩の礫』抄

TAKAHASHI Mutsuo: “These Things Here and Now”
高橋睦郎「いまここにこれらのことを」

YOSHIMASU Gōzō: “at the side (côtés) of poetry”
吉増剛造「詩のcôtésに」

ITŌ Hiromi: “Cooking, Writing Poetry”
伊藤比呂美「料理する、詩を書く」

ARAI Takako: "Half a Pair of Shoes" and "Galapagos"
新井高子「片方の靴」と「ガラパゴス」

HIRATA Toshiko: “Do Not Tremble” and "Please"
平田俊子「ゆれるな」と「どうか」

TANAKA Yōsuke: “Screaming Potato Field”
田中庸介「叫ぶ芋畑」

OHSAKI Sayaka: “Noisy Animal”
大崎紗香「うるさい動物」

Jeffrey ANGLES: “Return After Earthquake”
ジェフリー・アングルス「地震後の帰国」

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.

私の吉増剛造の英訳は『Guernica』というネット上の文学誌に載りました。アメリカの詩人、フォレスト・ガンダーは現在、剛造の英訳詩集を編集しているところなので、私に翻訳を一編依頼しました。これはその結果です。原文は『朝日新聞』の3・11の特集にも、『現代詩手帖』にも載った「詩の傍(côtés)で」です。フランス語も韓国語が交わる剛造の作品は決して英訳しやすくないが、結果は前衛的でポストモダンで、かなり面白いではないかと思います。

For years now, YOSHIMASU Gōzō 吉増剛造, one of Japan’s most important and widely published poets, has been writing his densely packed, long, meandering, associational poems that include snippets of other languages, thoughts, and quotations from his daily life.  He works them over and over, incorporating new ideas, so that the results are quite literally the results of many rewritings, done over the course of multiple months, often in different places and times.  Sometimes a work will begin in Brazil, will include parts that he wrote in France, then touch-ups done in Japan.  He is, in this sense, a perfect postmodern poet, collapsing space and time and showing us how globalized our world has become.
The new (and super cool) online journal Asymptote has included images of several of his works (which are themselves visual treats), including this piece which revolve around lines borrowed from Emily Dickinson.   There are several other great pieces of Japanese literature in this same issue, so check it out!

For years now, YOSHIMASU Gōzō 吉増剛造, one of Japan’s most important and widely published poets, has been writing his densely packed, long, meandering, associational poems that include snippets of other languages, thoughts, and quotations from his daily life.  He works them over and over, incorporating new ideas, so that the results are quite literally the results of many rewritings, done over the course of multiple months, often in different places and times.  Sometimes a work will begin in Brazil, will include parts that he wrote in France, then touch-ups done in Japan.  He is, in this sense, a perfect postmodern poet, collapsing space and time and showing us how globalized our world has become.

The new (and super cool) online journal Asymptote has included images of several of his works (which are themselves visual treats), including this piece which revolve around lines borrowed from Emily Dickinson.   There are several other great pieces of Japanese literature in this same issue, so check it out!