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.
Just back from the Tokyo Poetry Festival, the poets Joyelle McSweeney & Johannes Göransson (the editors of Action Books), have started blogging about their experiences on the always awesome, theory-driven, poetry criticism website Montevidayo. They were particularly struck by the haiku performance artist Ginema ギネマ, who takes the traditional form of haiku and explodes it, performing in strange, new, often funny, often terrifying ways—turning it into dramatic performance art that screams out from the stage with a ragged voice. (If the playwright KARA Jurō 唐十郎 were to write haiku, this is no doubt what it would sound like!)
I immediately looked online and found this Youtube video of her reading some of her poems. Many are in modern, colloquial Japanese—not the stilted, restrained classical Japanese that one usually finds in haiku. Half as interesting as the poems themselves are the reactions of the audience, who shout things like “Huh?”, “What are you talking about?”, “I don’t get it!”
Here are my quick, off-the-cuff translations of the poems in the order they appear in the video.
stone cold dead
can’t even shoo the flies
in the drain
my womanly love
in the garden
where I spread herbicide
suck my finger
like a dog
on a moonlit night
you say you painted it
must be talking about the window of your idiocy
i suck the ripe persimmon
of the night we cannot meet
what about the electrical cord?
my pinky toe
on the red bruise
is it longing?
from the plaster
i call out
the man from the past
I cannot be burned
so the crows
will carry me away
that’s a dog isn’t it!?
here in a place
Cy Twombly, Problem II & III (1966)
Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt
One of my favorite artists, the idiosyncratic and always interesting Cy Twombly has passed away. His wild and scribble-like drawings and paintings, almost always executed on a grand scale, still somehow always manage to maintain something personable and intimate about them, something that draws the viewer into his playfully warm world. (The ability to create a warm and inviting work while just using scribbly, free, stridently non-representational—perhaps even anti-representational lines is itself quite a feat, rarely achieved by his abstract expressionist contemporaries.
This work, which I photographed just the other day at the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt, reminds me of the kind of simple image a young, learning child might draw on the great blackboards at school as he is learning about the wondrous shapes that make up the world. The title, Problem, suggests exactly this sort of innocent query as some child (or childlike artist) attempts to solve a problem of shape, form, and line.
The New York Times ran this story about the death of Cy Twombly.
Cy Twombly, whose spare childlike scribbles and poetic engagement with antiquity left him stubbornly out of step with the movements of postwar American art even as he became one of the era’s most important painters, died in Rome Tuesday. He was 83.
The cause was not immediately known, although Mr. Twombly had suffered from cancer. His death was announced by the Gagosian Gallery, which represents his work.Michael Stravato for The New York Times
In a career that slyly subverted Abstract Expressionism, toyed briefly with Minimalism, seemed barely to acknowledge Pop Art and anticipated some of the concerns of Conceptualism, Mr. Twombly was a divisive artist almost from the start. The curator Kirk Varnedoe, on the occasion of a 1994 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, wrote that his work was “influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well.” The critic Robert Hughes called him “the Third Man, a shadowy figure, beside that vivid duumvirate of his friends Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.”
Mr. Twombly’s decision to settle permanently in southern Italy in 1957 as the art world shifted decisively in the other direction, from Europe to New York, was only the most symbolic of his idiosyncrasies. He avoided publicity throughout his life and mostly ignored his critics, who questioned constantly whether his work deserved a place at the forefront of 20th-century abstraction, though he lived long enough to see it arrive there. It didn’t help that his paintings, because of their surface complexity and whirlwinds of tiny detail – scratches, erasures, drips, penciled fragments of Italian and classical verse amid scrawled phalluses and buttocks – lost much of their power in reproduction.
But Mr. Twombly, a tall, rangy Virginian who once practiced drawing in the dark to make his lines less purposeful, steadfastly followed his own program and looked to his own muses: often literary ones like Catullus, Rumi, Pound and Rilke. He seemed to welcome the privacy that came with unpopularity.
“I had my freedom and that was nice,” he said in a rare interview, with Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, before a 2008 survey of his career at the Tate Modern.
The critical low point probably came after a 1964 exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York that was widely panned. The artist and writer Donald Judd, who was hostile toward painting in general, was especially damning even so, calling the show a fiasco. “There are a few drips and splatters and an occasional pencil line,” he wrote in a review. “There isn’t anything to these paintings.”
But by the 1980s, with the rise of neo-Expressionism, a generation of younger artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat found inspiration in Mr. Twombly’s skittery bathroom-graffiti scrawl. Coupled with rising interest in European artists whose work shared unexpected ground with Mr. Twombly’s, like that of Joseph Beuys, the new-found attention brought him a kind of critical favor he had never enjoyed. And by the next decade he was highly sought after not only by European museums and collectors, who had discovered his work early on, but also by those back in his homeland who had not known what to make of him two decades before.
In 1989 the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened permanent rooms dedicated to his monumental 10-painting cycle, “Fifty Days at Iliam,” based on Alexander Pope’s translation of the “Iliad.” (Mr. Twombly said that he had purposely misspelled “Ilium,” a Latin name for Troy, with an “a,” to refer to Achilles.) That same year, Mr. Twombly’s work passed the million-dollar mark at auction. In 1995 the Menil Collection in Houston opened a new gallery dedicated to his work, designed by Renzo Piano after a plan by Mr. Twombly himself. Despite this growing acceptance, Mr. Varnedoe still felt it necessary to include an essay in the Modern’s newsletter at the time of the retrospective, titled “Your Kid Could Not Do This, and Other Reflections on Cy Twombly.”
In the only written statement that Mr. Twombly ever made about his work, a short essay in an Italian art journal in 1957, he tried to make clear that his intentions were not subversive but elementally human. Each line he made, he said, was “the actual experience” of making the line, adding: “It does not illustrate. It is the sensation of its own realization.” Years later he described this more plainly. “It’s more like I’m having an experience than making a picture.” The process stood in stark contrast to the detached, effete image that often clung to Mr. Twombly. After completing a work, in a kind of ecstatic state, it was as if the painting existed and he barely did anymore: “I usually have to go to bed for a couple of days.”