Transference, WMU’s journal of poetry in translation, is having an open reading period through January 5, 2014. Please download the previous issue and submit at http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/transference/.
The journal Poetry Kanto, designed to bring Japanese and other international poets into dialogue, has just released its newest issue completely online. (Click here to follow the link.) In it are some translations of some important Japanese poets: ŌOKA Makoto 大岡 誠, one of the leaders of the Japanese poetic world in the mid-twentieth century, and TSUKAGOSHI Yūka 塚越祐佳, one of the new, dynamic generation of poets whose work I have been following in recent years with great interest. Alongside them is Gorō TAKANO 高野吾朗, the Hiroshima-born poet who tests the boundaries of language in his adopted language of English. Check out their work, along with the many other writers included in this issue.
My department, the Department of World Languages and Literatures at Western Michigan University, just published the inaugural issue of Transference, a journal of poetry in translation. The inaugural issue can be downloaded as a PDF by clicking here. It includes some wonderful translations of many poets from around the world, including many Japanese poets—Fujiwara Shunzei, Takamura Kōtarō, Yamanokuchi Baku, Doi Bansui, Ishihara Yoshirō, and even Natsume Sōseki.
We have just opened the reading period for the second issue. The journal publishes English translations of poetry from Arabic, Chinese, French and Old French, German, Classical Greek and Latin, Japanese, and Russian. We encourage translators to submit a short commentary on the art and process of translating along with their translations.
Submissions for our second issue will be accepted through January 5, 2014. Submissions can be sent in via the Transference website.
The newest issue of Asymptote, one of the very best journals of international writing out there, contains lots of gems, including a short story by Tawada Yōko, who in my book, is nothing short of a genius. (Whenever I hear all of the hype about Murakami Haruki being in the running for the Nobel Prize for Literature, as we did last week before Alice Munro finally took home the prize, I always secretly hope that Tawada, who is so much more creative and brilliant than Murakami, will stage a radical upset.)
Here is how the story in Asymptote begins:
One day, when you open your eyes, perhaps there will be a tiger standing beside your pillow. The sky is azure, the earth is amber, and should the two go to war, all words shall be swallowed up in the turbulence and suffer a hundred falls, a thousand scratches; and no beast, bird, or man shall be able to tell the chill from the swelter, joy from dolour. Perhaps the tiger will speak to you. No one may learn the words of the tiger, but on that day, perhaps you will listen carefully to what it says, and comprehend.
Next week, two of the most thrilling and dynamic Japanese poets, Mutsuo TAKAHASHI and Hiromi ITŌ, will be visiting Michigan for a series of three poetry readings and talks at Western Michigan University, University of Michigan, and Kalamazoo College’s Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. Details about each of the three events can be found in the posters above. Already, the poets are talking about how to make each of the events unique and fun, so no two events will be the same.
Mutsuo TAKAHASHI (b. 1937) stunned the poetry world in the 1960s with his bold evocations of homoerotic desire. Since then, he has published more than three dozen collections of verse and countless books of essays, earning a place as Japan’s most important gay writer. In addition to poetry, he has written novels, plays, haiku, tanka, countless essays, and even an opera libretto. Five volumes of his work are available in English, including Poems of a Penisist, which became a favorite work of Allen Ginsberg, and the memoir Twelve Views from the Distance, much admired by novelist Yukio MISHIMA. Takahashi currently lives in Zushi, Japan.
Hiromi ITŌ (b. 1955) made a sensational debut in the 1980s writing about sexual desire, pregnancy, and abortion with a directness that shocked some and made her a feminist hero to others. Since then, she has become a prominent fixture in the literary world, writing with unfailing originality about women’s issues and experiences. She has lived in California since 1997 and written several prize-winning works about her experience as a transnational migrant. Her English translations include Killing Kanoko, which was on the SPD Poetry Bestseller list for over one year, and the forthcoming Wild Grass on the Riverbank. She lives outside San Diego.
Tony Beckwith, who is both cartoonist and translator, has on his website a number of cartoons having to do with translation, interpretation, and language. Here are two, but for more, check out his website.
Looking through these was the most fun that I had this afternoon! Thanks to the folks at ALTA for sharing these on their mailing list.
But Achilles,weeping, quickly slipping away from his companions, sat on the shore of the gray salt sea, and looked out to the wine-dark sea. —Homer, The Iliad
Lapham’s Quarterly has a fascinating little article on the trouble of translating Homer, specifically his age-old description of the sea as “wine-dark.” I remember being especially fascinated by this turn of phrase when I first encountered it in Japanese. My imagination turned with images of dark, sultry, deep red wine, but as this article shows, the phrase may have meant something altogether different to the Greeks. The result: things only get more complicated for the translator, who has to decide on a meaning and chose an English turn of phrase that best represents that interpretation.
New English translations of Tawada Yōko
Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation, published by the English Department of Stanford University, has released its eleventh volume. In this issue is my translation of a series of poems by TAWADA Yōko 多和田葉子 (a writer who is nothing short of a genius in my book) called “People Born of Lines” 「線から生まれた人々」 . As I explain in an interview also included in this issue, these poems were inspired by the shapes of particular kanji (Chinese characters). For instance, she writes about the character 人 meaning “person,”
The character for ‘person’ look so sparse
No brain, no shoes to wear
If it just had hands, it could light a fire
But it cannot create light or warmth on its own
Then, in the next poem, she writes about the character 木, which means “tree” and is only a couple of strokes away from the character 人. In this playful and creative way, she works her way through a series of similar-looking characters with different meanings, thus producing a cleverly linked series of poems.
In 2011, Tawada and I read these poems together at the Worlds writer’s conference in Norwich, England, she holding up a big sign with the character being described, and me reading the English. (Martin Figura took the photograph above of me reading the poem inspired by the character for “rice.” This photograph is especially hilarious because the character for “rice” also means “America,” so it looks as if Tawada is using semaphore to telegraph my nationality from the sidelines.) Tawada and I look forward to reading this piece again when she visits Western Michigan University for a reading in April 2014.
The most recent issue of Monkey Business, is out, and it features some of the most dazzling literary voices from Japan. This is the third issue of a transpacific effort spearheaded by SHIBATA Motoyuki 柴田元幸, an extremely well known writer known for his superb translations of American novelists, such as Thomas Pynchon, Stuart Dybek, Rebecca Brown, and many others. In each of the issues of Monkey Business, Shibata, whose tastes in American literature are proof enough that he knows good writing when he sees it, has chosen some of the most provocative young writers and worked with excellent translators to bring them into English so they can co-exist in the same space with some of the great Anglophone writers.
Among the treasures in this issue are new translations of pieces by the early twentieth-century experimenters AKUTAGAWA Ryūnosuke 芥川龍之介 and YOKOMITSU Riichi 横光利一, all the way through new pieces by postmodern writers TAKAHASHI Gen’ichirō 高橋源一郎 and FURUKAWA Hideo 古川日出男. The issue even contains a manga of Kafka’s Metamorphosis by the NISHIOKA 西岡 siblings, known for their unusual, artsy style. Also inside is a small contribution from me, a translation of a short story by the brilliant writer KURITA Yuki 栗田有起, a surreal and incisive depiction of one woman’s experience with psychoanalysis. This issue also includes new work by Paul Auster, Charles Simic, Barry Yourgrau, and other leading English-language writers.
Three-Dimensional Reading: Stories of Time and Space in Japanese Modernist Fiction, 1911-1932, edited by Angela YIU, illustrated by SAKAGUCHI Kyōhei (University of Hawaii Press, 2013).
University of Hawaii Press has just published this innovative and creative collection of stories, which includes prose by many of the most exciting writers of the early twentieth-century Japanese literature.
This collection also includes my own translation of INAGAKI Taruho’s “Astromania” 稲垣足穂「天体嗜好症」, a oddly shaped, meandering, yet beautiful story about a young boy’s aesthetic awakening in the Western quarters of the city of Kobe. (In many ways, I think that Inagaki is subtly riffing off the discourse of sexology, which tended to stereotype an aesthetic orientation with homosexuality, but more about that at another time.)
Here is some information about the book from the press release.
A 29th-century dystopian society seen through the eyes of a mutant-cum-romantic poet; a post-impressionist landscape of orbs and cubes experienced by a wandering underdog; an imaginary sick room generated entirely from sounds reaching the ears of an invalid: These and other haunting re-presentations of time and space constitute the Japanese modernist landscape depicted in this volume of stories from the 1910s to the 1930s.
The fourteen stories selected for this anthology—by both relatively unknown and “must-read” authors—experiment with a protean modernist style in the vivacious period between the nationbuilding Meiji and the early years of Showa. The writers capture imaginary temporal and spatial dimensions that embody forms of futuristic urban space, colonial space, utopia, dystopia, and heterotopia. Their work invites readers to abandon the conventional naturalistic approach to spatial and temporal representations and explore how the physical and empirical experience of time and space is distorted and reconfigured through the prism of modernist Japanese prose.
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”
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.
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.
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.
|—||Zoltán Pék (via xiuho)|