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俳人・宮下惠美子、骨董専門家・宮下進は西ミシガン大学で講演をする

Western Michigan University’s Soga Japan Center is pleased to bring husband-and-wife team Susumu & Emiko Miyashita to WMU to give two talks part of its ongoing Premodern Japanese Culture Workshop and Speaker Series. The talks will be held back-to-back on Thursday, February 13, 2014 in 3025 Brown Hall on WMU’s campus. 

From 4:00 to 5:00 p.m., the haiku poet Emiko Miyashita will talk about the history of haiku and the translation of haiku poetry into English. Although Westerners think of haiku as a form of short verse arranged in the pattern of 5-7-5 sounds, there is also a style of haiku known as “free rhythm haiku” that follows freer rules. Miyashita will talk about the work of the modern free-rhythm haiku master Taneda Santōka 種田山頭火 (1882-1940), the place of his work in the history of haiku, and the difficulties of translating his work for contemporary Western audiences. The talk will be in English with examples of translations problems drawn from Japanese.


From 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., Susumu Miyashita will talk about the aesthetics of the tea ceremony and the ways that its profound appreciation of simple, rough ceramics and utensils contributed to Japanese aesthetics. People frequently describe the tea ceremony’s appreciation of rough, simple beauty as being uniquely “Japanese,” but is that necessarily the case? This presentation re-evaluates the assumption that other nations and people cannot appreciate the aesthetics of tea. Susumu Miyashita, an expert in tea-related antiques, will show examples of tea culture, and talk about the aesthetics that have shaped the tea ceremony and notions of “Japaneseness” over the years. This talk will be in Japanese with English interpretation. 

Emiko Miyashita 宮下惠美子 is a haiku poet who, since 1997, has been writing in both Japanese and English. She is a director of the JAL Foundation, known for its World Children’s Haiku Contest. She is also a manager of the Association of Haiku Poets and a councilor of the Haiku International Association. She has translated more than ten books about haiku and waka poetry, Noh theater, and Japanese sweets. 

Susumu Miyashita 宮下進 is a graduate of Dōshisha University in Kyoto. He is the owner of a shop in the Ginza (Tokyo) that specializes in tea antiques. 

In 2013, the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures and the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale hosted a workshop about shakkyōka 釈教歌, poems on Buddhist themes. The papers and presentations from the conference are now available on the web, and they provide a fascinating, critical look at this often overlooked sub-genre of classical Japanese poetry. 

In 2013, the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures and the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale hosted a workshop about shakkyōka 釈教歌, poems on Buddhist themes. The papers and presentations from the conference are now available on the web, and they provide a fascinating, critical look at this often overlooked sub-genre of classical Japanese poetry. 

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/. 

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. 

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.

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, 2014Submissions can be sent in via the Transference website.

高橋睦郎X伊藤比呂美のミシガン州朗読ツアー

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.

New English translations of Tawada Yōko
多和田葉子の詩の新英訳

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. 

To order a copy of Mantis, click here.

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」

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.

対談の日本語の原文はこちらにあります

I recently stumbled upon this dialogue between the poet Takahashi Mutsuo 高橋睦郎 and the designer Hara Ken’ya 原研哉, in which they explore a number of topics having to do with art, language, and the power of words.  One of the several things that struck me in this dialogue, were Takahashi’s comments on his attempts to move away from “individuality.”  Considering that these come from one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Japanese letters (and an author on whom I’ve done a lot of critical work), these comments struck me as somewhat surprising.

I have never believed in the concept of “individuality” at all…Imagine that there is an apple and a peach, and that I am to paint a picture of them. At this time, my individuality is not necessary. What is necessary is the individuality of the peach and the apple. I should express and return that individuality as accurately as possible. I should return a peach and an apple. At that time, I require only the individuality of the peach and the apple. Perhaps my own individuality can be of use in accomplishing this, however revealing my own individuality is not the ultimate goal.

Speaking from my perspective, the more I express my own individuality, the deeper I fall into a hell from which I may not be able to rescue myself. I think that the modern hell is a hell created when everyone asserts themselves all the time.

So what is the purpose of expression? In the end, it is to redeem oneself from the hell of one’s own individuality through those subjects a person wants to express.

Whereas most people tend to think of language as a tool to assert individuality, Takahashi suggests that instead, it ought to more properly represent a tool to overcome individuality, to allow the outside world to travel through the self.  In his other work, he has suggested that the image of a unified self is always predicated on a sort of lack or absence—a knowledge that the self is not total but, rather, cut off from the outside world through the prison of the body.  Perhaps language is not a tool for conveying individuality after all, but merely a means to allow the outside world to flow through us and, in the process, to assuage the pain of being formulated through absence.

高橋睦郎『十二の遠景』英訳の表紙
ミネソタ大学出版部

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. 

Bob Hicok, Poetry, February 2010Reposting inspired by the Sandy Hook shootings

Bob Hicok, Poetry, February 2010
Reposting inspired by the Sandy Hook shootings

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。

Why are names (words) so mighty? Because facts, ancestry, maternity, faiths, are. Slowly, eternally, inevitably, move the souls of the earth, and names (words) are its (their) signs.
Walt Whitman, “An American Primer" (April 1904)