David Burleigh at The Japan Times, just published this review of my translation of Takahashi Mutsuo’s memoirs Twelve Views from the Distance 高橋睦郎『十二の遠景』. He describes how the book describes the grinding poverty and difficulty of Takahashi’s early life, then states,
Takahashi invokes a world that has now mostly disappeared, along with its bitterness and hunger. Yet it was also a rich world, for those who managed to survive it.
And what was the secret of survival? Undoubtedly to some extent it was the poet’s imagination. Near the end he writes: “My undeveloped, youthful soul felt a strong affinity for what was outside my world in the realm of the other.”
With photographs and a retrospective afterword by the author, this is an excellent translation of an absorbing and necessary book.
Because I worked on this translation a little at a time, often working in half-hour increments pilfered from other projects, this translation took me a number of years from start to publication, beginning in 2006 until around 2010. It was then another couple of years before it found its way into print in late 2012 with University of Minnesota Press, which took quite a chance on deciding publish this rather unusual, but profoundly beautiful book. This project was a long labor of love, and so it means an enormous deal to me that this book review—the first to be published—is so enthusiastic.
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.
In fall 2012, University of Minnesota Press will be publishing two books by one of Japan’s most important poets, TAKAHASHI Mutsuo 高橋睦郎. One is my translation of Twelve Views from the Distance 『十二の遠景』, a sumptuously beautiful book first published in 1970. This book describes Takahashi’s troubled, impoverished early life in rural, southern Japan and the ways that his family’s fortunes intersected with the rise of the Japanese empire and World War II. Takahashi’s friend, the novelist MISHIMA Yukio 三島由紀夫, lauded the book with these words.
It is magnificent that in this book, Twelve Views from the Distance, the poet 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 other forthcoming book by Takahashi is a reissue of Hiroaki Sato’s translation Poems of a Penisist, which brings together much of Takahashi’s most important early poetry, much of which deals with existentialist themes and homoerotic material. This collection includes the long poem Ode (頌 Homeuta), which the publisher Winston Leyland has called “the great gay poem of the 20th century.” It is said that Allen Ginsberg was so impressed by this collection of poetry that he personally lobbied Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights Books to publish more of Takahashi’s work.