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Pantoum 4
Jane Nakagawa 中川ジェーン

falling short of useful questions
a tsunami for my ripped up heart
the earthquake creates a lapse
in crude town feelings

a tsunami for my ripped up heart
and value-free science
in crude town feelings
as if by an invisible hand

and value-free science
still paying the rent
as if by an invisible hand
moving capital around the globe

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa’s sixth poetry book, notational, was recently published from Otoliths in 2011. She lives in central Japan. Email is welcome at janenakagawa at yahoo dot com. 

Source: http://www.fieralingue.it/corner.php?pa=printpage&pid=3705

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。

Connotations Press has just published online a bilingual sampling of contemporary Japanese poets, including some of Japan’s most brilliant writers, such as the Tanikawa Shuntarō 谷川俊太郎 (the fun writer sometimes known as “Japan’s national poet”), Takahashi Mutsuo 高橋睦郎 (who is nothing short of a staggering genius in my book), and others. There are a few of my own translations in here, and a more than a few poems that react to the disastrous earthquake last year. The selection was edited by Alan Botsford Saitoh, poet and editor of the annual Poetry Kanto.

Tanikawa Shuntarō, translated by Elliott & Kazuo
Tanikawa Shuntarō 谷川俊太郎
. Across the 60 years of Tanikawa’s publishing career he became and remains the most widely-read of all post-war Japanese poets
Read more…  

Nomura Kiwao, translated by Jordan A. Yamaji Smith
Nomura Kiwao
 
野村喜和夫 studied Japanese literature at Waseda University and pursued doctoral studies in French literature at Meiji University. Read more..

Tanaka Yōsuke, translated by Jeffrey Angles

Tanaka Yōsuke
田中庸介 (1969- ) is a research scientist specializing in molecular cell biology at the University of Tokyo. Read more…  

Hachikai Mimi, translated by Miho Nonaka
Hachikai Mimi
蜂飼耳 was born in 1974, in Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan. She received a Master’s degree in Ancient Japanese literature
Read more…  

Minashita Kiriu, translated by Leith Morton
Minashita Kiriu
水無田気流 was born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1970 and was educated at Waseda University. Her first book of poetry Onsoku Heiwa
Read more…  

Abe Hinako, translated by Hiroaki Sato
Abe Hinako
阿部日奈子(born 1953). “Born in Samarkand, Uzbek,” she once said of her life, “I moved south through China during the Cultural Revolution
Read more…  

Hirata Toshiko, translated by Jeffrey Angles
Hirata Toshiko
平田俊子 (1955-) is a prominent Japanese poet and novelist. During the 1980s, she, along with Itō Hiromi, emerged as one of the
Read more…  

Takahashi Mutsuo, translated by Jeffrey Angles
Takahashi Mutsuo 高橋睦郎
(1937-) is one of Japan’s most prominent living poets. Since first attracting the attention of the Japanese literary world
Read more…  

Yotsumoto Yasuhiro, translated by Leith Morton
Yotsumoto Yasuhiro
四元康祐 was born in Osaka in 1959, and was educated at Sophia University in Tokyo, and at the University of Pennsylvania.
Read more…

Sugimoto Maiko, translated by Carden & Tarcov
Sugimoto Maiko
杉本真維子 (b. 1973, Nagano) published her first chapbook in 1998. Read more…

MIYAZAWA Kenji 宮沢賢治 (1896-1933)
"Strong in the Rain" 「雨ニモマケズ」

This poem is probably the most well known, most often memorized poem in contemporary Japan.  It was discovered in the notebook of the great and wildly imaginative poet and writer MIYAZAWA Kenji upon his death.  Although there are relatively few translations of his work into English, he is currently one of the most beloved authors of early twentieth-century Japan. 

Miyazawa was from Iwate 岩手, one of the regions most devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake.  This film was created after the earthquake as a way of encouraging Japan in its recovery.  Reading the poem is the actor WATANABE Ken 渡辺謙.  Although the Chinese viewer who added the translation did not acknowledge the translator in the film, this appears to be Rodger Pulver’s translation

In celebration of National Poetry Month 2012

震災一周忌イベントでの日本現代詩の英訳の朗読
(平田俊子、ジェフリー・アングルス、谷川俊太郎)

From the WMU Soga Japan Center webpage

On March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake struck northeastern Japan triggering a massive tsunami and the now infamous meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant. One year later, on March 27, 2012, the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit held a memorial service at the Michigan State Capital’s Rotunda to commemorate the lives that had been lost and to showcase recovery efforts in the devastated region of Japan.

Dr. Jeffrey Angles, the director of Western Michigan University’s Soga Japan Center and an associate professor of Japanese, appeared alongside the Consul General of Japan Kuninori Matsuda, the mayor of Lansing Virg Bernero, and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder at the memorial service. 

The Consul General Kuninori Matsuda (in photo below, at right) extended a special invitation to Angles, who was in Japan during the earthquake and lived through all the anxiety that followed, because over the last year Angles has translated and published numerous poems written by various poets about their experiences during and after the March 11 disasters.  For his contribution to the memorial service, he read English translations of three poems. 

The first, “Do Not Tremble,” was written by the feminist poet Toshiko Hirata during a time when the aftershocks were still rolling through northeastern Japan.  The second, “Thoughts Before a Blackout,” which Angles originally composed in Japanese, was written during the rolling blackouts and frightening uncertainty that followed the aftermath of the disasters.  The third, “Words,” was by Japan’s most popular poet, Shuntarō Tanikawa and optimistically describes the power of language and communication in helping to overcome the trauma of the disasters. The final poem appears in the newly published collection March Was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown

The memorial service was attended by about two hundred people.  Afterward, numerous people approached Angles to tell him how moved they were by the poems he read.

“One person told me that he especially appreciated them since the other speakers had emphasized the infrastructural and economic devastation of the disasters,” Angles said. “That listener told me he felt it was the poems that really gave the most dramatic, human face to what had happened. It was also wonderful to hear that ordinary Michigan residents, including elementary school students, had donated $268,000 to the Japanese Consulate’s office for the recovery efforts.” 

“The 3/11 disasters seem to have changed the way that many Japanese people think about their own lives,” Angles said.  “Many people lost their lives. It will be probably be well over a decade before northeastern Japan has fully recovered.  Our thoughts are with the people of northeastern Japan as they rebuild.” 

The always fascinating online journal of international literature, Words Without Borders, has just published two of my translations of poems about the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Japan.  Words Without Borders published these in commemoration of the first anniversary of the Japanese earthquake. 

One of the poems, “Noisy Animals" 「うるさい動物」 is by the young poet OHSAKI Sayaka 大崎清夏, and the other "Do Not Tremble" 「ゆれるな」is by HIRATA Toshiko 平田俊子.  These poems show two profoundly different emotional reactions to the 3.11 disasters. 

Ohsaki Sayaka (1982-) was featured in the journal Yuriika (Eureka) as one of the newest, rising stars of the Japanese poetic world.  She describes herself as a “badger-like girl that lives in Tokyo,” making books, writing poems, and staying in constant motion. Her first collection of poetry, a slim book entitled Jimen (Ground), was recently published. 

Hirata Toshiko (1955-) is a prominent Japanese poet and novelist.  During the 1980s, she, along with Itō Hiromi, emerged as one of the foremost voices so-called “women’s boom” of poetry.  Her poetry is known for its directness and black humor.  In the last decade, she has increasingly turned to writing novels, which often feature ordinary people in bizarre circumstances that lead them to question the traditional family system and the spots allotted to them in society.

『三月は毛糸でできていた』震災文学集(英訳)
One year after the March 11, 2011 earthquake that destroyed much of northeastern Japan, editors David Karashima and Elmer Luke have put together a stunning collection of translations of fiction, poetry, and reflections on the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.  Included in here are pieces by many of Japan’s most important authors, including TAWADA Yōko 多和田葉子, KAWAKAMI Hiromi 川上弘美, IKEZAWA Natsuki 池沢夏樹, KAKUTA Mitsuyo 角田光代, and many others.  There is even one short, surreal manga, and some poetry by TANIKAWA Shuntarō 谷川俊太郎, whom some people have called the “national poet” (国民の詩人) and American poet J.D. McClatchy. 
I received a copy of this collection last week, and within a day, I eagerly devoured most of the pieces in here.  3.11 wrought almost unimaginable devastation, leaving many voiceless, unsure about how language could address the huge gaping hole, the huge rubble of meaning left in language and in the nation.  “How,” I remember Takahashi Mutsuo asking, “can we write after this disaster?  Nothing seems big or strong enough to deal with destruction on this scale.”  Everything, even language, was thrown into doubt; however, this collection shows the many diverse ways in which writers all over Japan (and even abroad) dealt with this crisis of representation.  As we well, the crisis forced these writers forward, compelling them to address the cries of anguish, fear, and anxiety about the future. 
Here are the reflections of TANIKAWA Shuntarō 谷川俊太郎, the poet who opens the collection. (This translation was my small contribution to the project.) 

『三月は毛糸でできていた』震災文学集(英訳)

One year after the March 11, 2011 earthquake that destroyed much of northeastern Japan, editors David Karashima and Elmer Luke have put together a stunning collection of translations of fiction, poetry, and reflections on the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.  Included in here are pieces by many of Japan’s most important authors, including TAWADA Yōko 多和田葉子, KAWAKAMI Hiromi 川上弘美, IKEZAWA Natsuki 池沢夏樹, KAKUTA Mitsuyo 角田光代, and many others.  There is even one short, surreal manga, and some poetry by TANIKAWA Shuntarō 谷川俊太郎, whom some people have called the “national poet” (国民の詩人) and American poet J.D. McClatchy. 

I received a copy of this collection last week, and within a day, I eagerly devoured most of the pieces in here.  3.11 wrought almost unimaginable devastation, leaving many voiceless, unsure about how language could address the huge gaping hole, the huge rubble of meaning left in language and in the nation.  “How,” I remember Takahashi Mutsuo asking, “can we write after this disaster?  Nothing seems big or strong enough to deal with destruction on this scale.”  Everything, even language, was thrown into doubt; however, this collection shows the many diverse ways in which writers all over Japan (and even abroad) dealt with this crisis of representation.  As we well, the crisis forced these writers forward, compelling them to address the cries of anguish, fear, and anxiety about the future. 

Here are the reflections of TANIKAWA Shuntarō 谷川俊太郎, the poet who opens the collection. (This translation was my small contribution to the project.) 

The Asahi Shinbun online is posting a series of poems about the earthquake written by some of Japan’s most important contemporary poets in commemoration of the first anniversary of the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear disaster.  The poems come with a film of the poet reading his or her work.

Just now, I watched Takahashi Mutsuo’s contribution to the series, a stunning invocation of the effects of the triple disaster on language.  It begins “Language was what was broken / We did not realize this at the beginning / Because the destruction came so slowly.” He continues on through his reflections on the role of poetry and language in the wake of a catastrophe on such an enormous scale.

In his personal conversations with me, Takahashi lamented that after the earthquake, he went through a period of blankness, in which he felt that language was not enough to grasp, to conceive the scale of the horror inflicted upon the nation.  Nothing he wrote could cope with the scale of the disaster, and he did not know how to heal.  This coincided with his own realization of his advancing age—another concern reflected in this poem.  Still, in this poem, he seems to find the way forward, as he realizes that the world began with the destruction of the big bang and is hurtling toward entropy.  He cautions us that language is not always necessary.  It is not always necessary to pour trauma into language.  Waiting can sometimes be the path to heal. 

Takahashi is most recently the author of the book Two Thousand Years of the Poetic Mind: From Susanoo to 3.11 「詩心二千年:スサノヲから3・11へ」, published by Iwanami Shoten(岩波書店, 2011).

My translation of WAGŌ Ryōichi’s 和合亮一 “Pebbles of Poetry 01”「詩の礫01」, the opening portion of Wagō’s Twitter feeds documenting his experiences in and after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, has been posted on the website of the online journal Japan Focus.  This journal has, in recent issues, been focusing on the economic, social, political, and ecological ramifications of the earthquake, and so I am especially glad to see them include these Twitter feeds.  

Wagō’s Twitter feeds about his experiences have earned more than 14,000 followers on Twitter, and numerous poets across Japan have read these in their events to raise money for the victims of the disaster.  Wagō’s powerful and often epigrammatic text seems to have touched a nerve in Japan.  

To read the text, click here

The outstanding, small journal 『北方文学』(Northern Literature), published in Niigata, has published three of my poems in its most recent issue.  The issue was a special issue dedicated to contemporary poetry and contains poems by many of Japan’s most important poets, TANIKAWA Shuntarō, YOSHIMASU Gōzō, TAKAHASHI Junko, TSUJI Takashi, and many more. 
While the editors were working on it, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, and so many of the poems (including mine) ended up being about the earthquake.  It has been inspiring to see how virtually every forum for publication in the nation, including smaller venues such as this journal, have taken up the subject of the earthquake, while the nation works through the dramatic, lasting psychological effects of the disaster.

The outstanding, small journal 『北方文学』(Northern Literature), published in Niigata, has published three of my poems in its most recent issue.  The issue was a special issue dedicated to contemporary poetry and contains poems by many of Japan’s most important poets, TANIKAWA Shuntarō, YOSHIMASU Gōzō, TAKAHASHI Junko, TSUJI Takashi, and many more. 

While the editors were working on it, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, and so many of the poems (including mine) ended up being about the earthquake.  It has been inspiring to see how virtually every forum for publication in the nation, including smaller venues such as this journal, have taken up the subject of the earthquake, while the nation works through the dramatic, lasting psychological effects of the disaster.

The poet WAGŌ Ryōichi 和合亮一, who was in the heart of the earthquake/tsunami zone on March 11, 2011, documented his experiences in a powerful and poetic Twitter feed, which quickly earned over 14,000 followers on Twitter.  He later published the feed under the title “Pebbles of Poetry” 「詩の礫」 in the journal Handbook of Contemporary Poetry 『現代詩手帖』。  Below is my translation of the early part of the work. 

Pebbles of Poetry (Excerpt)

01

The earthquake hit. I went to the emergency evacuation area, but things calmed down, so I returned to go to work. Thanks everyone for worrying about me. Your words of encouragement are greatly appreciated.

Today is the sixth day since the disaster. My ways of looking at and thinking about things have changed.

Everywhere I end up, there is nothing but tears. I want to write about this, writing with all the power of an Asura.

Radiation is falling. It is a quiet night.

What meaning could there be in harming us to this extent?

The meaning of all things is probably determined after the fact. If so, then what is the meaning of that period “after the fact”? Is there any meaning there at all?

What is this earthquake trying to teach us? If there is nothing it is trying to teach us, then what can we possibly have left to believe?

Radition is falling. It is a quiet, quiet night.

I was told that when I came back in from outside, I should wash my hair, hands, and face. We don’t have any water to wash ourselves.

I hear that no supplies have reached Minami Sōma, the city where I used to live. They say that’s because no one wants to go into the city. Please save Minami Sōma.

What does your homeland represent to you? I will not abandon my homeland. My homeland is everything to me.

They say the radioactivity isn’t enough to immediately cause abnormalities in our health. If we turn the word “immediately” around, does it become “eventually”? I am worried about my family’s health.

Maybe so. There are clear limits to things and to meaning. Perhaps that is what draws us away from meaning.

The day before yesterday, the corpses of a thousand people were washed onto the shores of Minami Sanriku, the same place that I used to like to go to from time to time to get away from the heat.

If we are to search for meaning in all of this, it is probably not meaning we would find but, rather, something close to the darkness of non-meaning—that temporary stillness lodged inside whenever we look directly at things, head on.

As I was writing this just now, the earth rumbled again. Everything shook. I held my breath, got on my knees, and watched the trembling until it was over. I am betting with my life. In the rain of radiation, I am all alone.

For a longer excerpt, please see the website of the Handbook of Contemporary Poetry.

Tokyo Before and After the Earthquake Blackouts

Darwinfish105, one of the most professional and artistic Youtube videographers from Japan, has created this hauntingly beautiful video showing Tokyo at night both before and after the earthquake.  One can easily see the results of the post-earthquake blackouts and attempts to save power. One of the messages that one takes away from this film is how incredibly alive the city of Tokyo still is, even despite the severe problems that Japan is now facing.

Thanks to the blog Pink Tentacle for bringing my attention to this video.

Songs about the Great East Japan Earthquake

After the earthquake, the Japanese poet WAGŌ Ryōichi 和合亮一, who lives in the disaster zone, wrote about his experiences in short bursts of poetry using his Twitter feed.  The result was a daily diary in verse that documented his experiences during and after the quake, tsunami, and subsequent destruction of his home region.  The poetry journal Handbook of Contemporary Poetry 『現代詩手帖』 has collected these Twitter feeds and published them in their May 2011 issue under the title “Pebbles of Poetry” 「詩の礫」.  Over the last few weeks, this collection has been receiving a great deal of critical and public attention as Japan explores the psychological affects of the devastation.

The important Japanese composer NIIMI Tokuhide 新実徳英 has taken segments of “Pebbles of Poetry” and set them to music.  The result is a series of nine bittersweet songs called “Pebble Songs” 「つぶてソング」.  The composer himself made videos of the songs and loaded them to Youtube.  Here is the first of the nine songs. The rest of the songs can be found on the Youtube channel of his wife, the singer Niimi Minako 新実みなこ

Jeffrey Angles, associate professor at Western Michigan University, was ambivalent about leaving Japan after earthquake

Published: Sunday, April 17, 2011, 2:06 PM

Shown here in his home office, Jeffrey Angles is an associate professor of Japanese literature and translation at Western Michigan University and was in Tokyo when that country was struck by an earthquake last month.