日付変更線 International Date Line

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)
Jack Gilbert: “Trying to Have Something Left Over” From Collected Poems (Knopf, 2012)
Thanks to Matt Bell for posting this on his blog.

Jack Gilbert: “Trying to Have Something Left Over”
From Collected Poems (Knopf, 2012)

Thanks to Matt Bell for posting this on his blog.

The new October 2010 issue of Gendaishi techō 現代詩手帖 [Handbook of Contemporary Poetry] is a special issue dedicated to the translation of poetry, and it contains a number of articles about translation, roundtable discussions, original works of poetry, and some translations themselves. 
Among them, is my own poem called 「同居人」 (The Co-habitant) in which I use the image of a stalker outside a house, rather like one might see in a horror/suspense film, as a metaphor for the work of a translator.  Also in the same issue is a transcript of a talk that I did last year in Tokyo with the talented poet Tanaka Yōsuke 田中庸介 and the haikuist and translator Miyashita Emiko 宮下惠美子.

The new October 2010 issue of Gendaishi techō 現代詩手帖 [Handbook of Contemporary Poetry] is a special issue dedicated to the translation of poetry, and it contains a number of articles about translation, roundtable discussions, original works of poetry, and some translations themselves. 

Among them, is my own poem called 「同居人」 (The Co-habitant) in which I use the image of a stalker outside a house, rather like one might see in a horror/suspense film, as a metaphor for the work of a translator.  Also in the same issue is a transcript of a talk that I did last year in Tokyo with the talented poet Tanaka Yōsuke 田中庸介 and the haikuist and translator Miyashita Emiko 宮下惠美子.

田中恭吉・画、萩原朔太郎著『月に吠える』感情詩社、大正6年TANAKA Kyōkichi illustration for HAGIWARA Sakutarō’s groundbreaking, first book of poetry Howling at the Moon, published in 1917.  Hagiwara is often considered the “father of modern Japanese poetry.”

田中恭吉・画、萩原朔太郎著『月に吠える』感情詩社、大正6年
TANAKA Kyōkichi illustration for HAGIWARA Sakutarō’s groundbreaking, first book of poetry Howling at the Moon, published in 1917.  Hagiwara is often considered the “father of modern Japanese poetry.”

ウォルト・ホイットマンの手書きの原稿Walt Whitman, Original manuscript for the “Calamus” poems  
The “Calamus” poems, first published in the third edition of Leaves of Grass (1860),  describe Whitman’s longing for the companionship and love of men. By treating the subject of love between men so boldly, these poems became some of the most infamous pieces of poetry in mid-19th century America.  Not only was the book banned in Boston and other places, it resulted in Whitman losing his job and suffering at the hands of critics.  Now, however, these poems are an essential part of American poetic history, and Whitman occupies a rightful place as one of the great visionaries of American letters.  Happy Banned Books week, Whitman!
この詩は『草の葉』第三版(一八六〇年)に収録されたが、男性同士の性愛を描写しているため、批評家に「猥褻」と思われて、ボストンで発禁本になった。ホイットマンは仕事を失って、多くの人に批判されたが、現在『草の葉』は「アメリカ自由詩の出発点」として永遠に歴史に残る。
For more photographs of the manuscript, click here.

ウォルト・ホイットマンの手書きの原稿
Walt Whitman, Original manuscript for the “Calamus” poems
 

The “Calamus” poems, first published in the third edition of Leaves of Grass (1860),  describe Whitman’s longing for the companionship and love of men. By treating the subject of love between men so boldly, these poems became some of the most infamous pieces of poetry in mid-19th century America.  Not only was the book banned in Boston and other places, it resulted in Whitman losing his job and suffering at the hands of critics.  Now, however, these poems are an essential part of American poetic history, and Whitman occupies a rightful place as one of the great visionaries of American letters.  Happy Banned Books week, Whitman!

この詩は『草の葉』第三版(一八六〇年)に収録されたが、男性同士の性愛を描写しているため、批評家に「猥褻」と思われて、ボストンで発禁本になった。ホイットマンは仕事を失って、多くの人に批判されたが、現在『草の葉』は「アメリカ自由詩の出発点」として永遠に歴史に残る。

For more photographs of the manuscript, click here.

Poetry Reading in Fifteen Languages: A Symphony for the Senses

Poetry Reading in Fifteen Languages:  A Symphony for the Senses
Portage District Library (Portage, MI)

Sunday, September 30
, 2:00-4:00 PM

As a celebration of this community’s diversity, the Portage District Library and the Department of World Languages and Literatures of Western Michigan University are collaborating on a poetry reading in fifteen languages.  We are bringing together area residents from different areas of the world, asking them to select a favorite poem or read a poem of their own in their language.  We encourage the audience to sit back and let the rhythms, movement and intonations flow over them and evoke personal feelings and meanings.  We will distribute translations into English as well. No registration required.  Free. Reception with foods from around the world will follow.

Contacts:
Marsha Meyer, Portage District Library: MMeyer@portagelibrary.info
Cynthia Running-Johnson, Department of World Languages and Literatures, WMU: c.running-johnson@wmich.edu

So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read in school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.

It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.

Jeanette Winterson, from In Defense of Poetry

Alvin Pang: “Candles”
アルヴィン・パン「蝋燭」(シンガポール英語での朗読)

Alvin recorded this reading at Worlds 2012 in Norwich, where he shared a number of poems from his new collection When the Barbarians Arrive (Arc Publications, 2012).  The cadences and grammar of the Singlish (Singaporean English) have borrowed an incredible amount from Chinese, making listening to this poem a real treat.   

The Japan Times published an article earlier this year about Hiromi Itō, the brilliant writer who is one of my greatest muses and the subject of my work as a translator.  (In 2009, Action Books published my book of translations Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Hiromi Itō, and little by little, I am working on a translation of her long work, Wild Grass on the Riverbank『河原荒草』. ) The entire article can be found by clicking the link above, but here is one highlight.

"When I was in my 20s or early 30s, I really didn’t like being called a feminist," she said. "People were trying to categorize me, classify me as a feminist poet and I hated it. I wanted to be a poet, not a woman poet. I was really against the way men tried to push us aside and not let us into the mainstream of poetry."

That she has misgivings about the term “feminism” — because she thinks it goes without saying that she’s just as capable as a man — is an irony that is not lost on Ito. When explaining that she tweaked her 2001 translation into Japanese of Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in The Hat” to make it appear to Japanese readers that the cat is giving equal attention to the girl while addressing the brother-sister duo, she quipped good-naturedly, “See, I’m a feminist.”

The online poetry journal Big Bridge has in its May 2012 issue a special selection, edited by Jane Nakagawa-Joritz, of contemporary Japanese poetry.  Among them are a number of Japan’s most interesting, avant-garde poets.  Among them are two of expatriate poets living in Japan (Phillip Rowland and Jane Joritz-Nakagawa) and two Japanese poets (Yoko Danno and Goro Takano) who live in Japan but write and publish exclusively in English. 

Arai Takako 新井高子, trans. Jeffrey Angles
Danno Yōko 團野葉子

Sekiguchi Ryōko 関口涼子, trans. Eric Selland

Takagai Hiroya 高貝弘也, trans. Eric Selland

Takano
Gorō 高野吾郎
Tanaka Atsusuke 田中宏輔, trans. Jeffrey Angles

Torii Shōzō 鳥居昌三, trans. Taylor Mignon

Tsukagoshi Yūka 塚越裕佳, trans. the author and Judy Halebsky

Philip Rowland

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa

Thanks to the folks at Big Bridge for bringing more work from Japan into English.

三好達治 MIYOSHI Tatsuji (1900-1964)
「家庭」Household

Household

Because his son was about to start school
The father wrote poems every day
The poems turned into a cap and backpack
Into textbooks and crayons
Into a little umbrella and other things
The first of April
The son was led by his mother
Through the town of blooming cherry trees
To the entrance ceremony
For the first graders in the Citizen’s School
Held inside the old castle
In the house which had now grown quiet
Left alone with the elderly maid, the father
Listened to the songs of the birds
Listened to the roar of the sea
As if hearing for the first time in ages

   Translated by Jeffrey Angles
   An early translation of this poem appeared on Poetry International Web

家庭

息子が学校へ上るので
親父は毎日詩(うた)を書いた
詩は帽子やランドセルや
教科書やクレイヨンや
小さな蝙蝠傘になった
四月一日
桜の花の咲く町を
息子は母親につれられて
古いお城の中にある
国民学校第一年の
入学式に出かけていった
静かになった家の中で
親父は年とつた女中と二人
久しぶりできくやうに
鵯どりのなくのをきいてゐた
海の鳴るのをきいてゐた

From YOTSUMOTO Yasuhiro’s introduction for Poetry International Web

To many Japanese baby-boomers who were born within a decade or so after the end of World War II, Tatsuji Miyoshi was the national poet, and his works appeared in their textbooks almost every school year. Those poems were perfect for classroom teaching: short and handsome, simple yet profound…
   Those were the days shortly after the poet’s death in 1964 at the age of 64. Nowadays, unfortunately, Tatsuji Miyoshi is not heard about so often, although his collected poems are still in print in several editions and there is even a poetry award commemorating his work. Most contemporary poets seem to consider him a poet of the past, whose poems might have played fine emotional tunes at the time, but lacked social and historical awareness. The fact that, during the war, Miyoshi wrote poems in moral support of the soldiers on the frontlines, if not for the regime itself, must have been partly responsible for such a view.
   But if you set aside the ideological judgments and appreciate the landscapes of Tatsuji Miyoshi’s poetry as they are, you will find an extraordinarily wide range of styles and extremely sophisticated techniques, which few poets today can match…
   The reader of his work feels as though they had known him personally, and it is his compassion more than anything else that is so touching. Tatsuji Miyoshi is a poet of attachment as opposed to detachment: he reduces the distance between himself and his object, whether it be a human being or nature, until they become one. His songs are born in that moment of togetherness. And yet, “being a poet”, as he wrote in ‘The Shore of the Sky’, he is also a traveller at heart: he moves on, trying to see beyond, “blinking it eyes at the scent of the tides, chasing after clouds that fly away” (from ‘The Lamb’). Tatsuji Miyoshi travelled rather hastily through the most violent and tragic period in the Japanese history. But he has left behind him the songs which are to stay with us for a long time.
In celebration of National Poetry Month