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New Selected Poems

by

Special To The Japan Times

In the introduction to “New Selected Poems” Shuntaro Tanikawa is described as a “poetic volcano,” but a volcano, like the proverbial hedgehog, only does one big thing; Tanikawa offers something new in every book.

New Selected Poems, by Shuntaro Tanikawa (trans. William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura)
184 pages
Carcanet Press, Poetry.

“New Selected Poems” draws on more than 60 years of work, from the disarming enthusiasm of his first collection “Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude” (1952) to the muted and introspective “Kokoro” (2013), inviting us to seek the poet in the flow of reinvention itself.

The restlessness is partly evident in Tanikawa’s constant formal experimentation — the 14-line forms of “62 Sonnets” (1953), the pseudo-academic surrealism of “Some Forged Fragments of the Talamaika Tribe” in “Coca-Cola Lessons” (1980) — but it operates at a deeper level as well. Even the themes that emerge repeatedly — domesticity and conversation — inspire everything from cryptic Lynchian deconstructions to gentle autobiography. Fortunately, the translators are more than up to the challenge.

It’s tempting to see something of postwar Japan itself in Tanikawa’s neophilia and fuzzy optimism. You don’t get to be a nation’s favorite living poet unless they recognize themselves in you, after all.

But given how visible the mature Tanikawa already is in his earliest work, on balance it seems possible that he’s done more to shape the country than the other way around.