Books | POETRY MIGNETTE

The silken soul of modern poetry in Japan

by Taylor Mignon

At the Power of the Spoken Word reading at Ben’s Cafe last month, Yasuo Fujitomi, John Solt, Masafumi Suzuki and Misako Yarita read from their works. Scholar and poet Fujitomi read from poems published in his CD of the highmoonoon spoken literature series, “whatnever” (3,500 yen), a sophisticated production designed by long-time VOU member Shohachiro Takahashi.

Slapsticks have a way of slipping into Fujitomi’s poems. “The Wide Forehead” is an example of a prosey gag poem, though much shorter than other works: There is a company president whose forehead is so wide that it became a table. A conference has been held there since this afternoon. After it adjourned, children went out, and the forehead turned into a playground where they kicked the ball around. (John Solt translation)

The highlight of this program was when Fujitomi read Katsue Kitasono’s poem “Blue” in the Japanese followed by Solt’s translation from “Glass Beret,” awarded the 1996 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize. Set to music, the poem was then sung and accompanied with shamisen by Fuei Nishimatsu. Nishimatsu is iemoto (head) of the Nishimatsu school of shamisen and vocals and has given recitals at the National Theater and elsewhere in Tokyo, and in Rome, Budapest and Bangkok; she has performed at the Berlin Opera House, the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Chamber Music Festival in Kuhmo, Finland.

The opportunity to listen to the bluesy songs she has selected from the Edo Period presents itself with “Silk Soul,” sung in the jiuta style. You may hear pieces taken from kabuki, songs performed on floating pleasure-boat parties, geisha songs and a samurai song, as well as three original compositions in “Crescent Moon,” which is beautifully illustrated with shunga. Uncover this CD and obtain “Silk Soul” from highmoonoon for 3,000 yen each.

The latest offerings from highmoonoon are episodic Festschrift, homage volumes in honor of the distinguished scholar Howard S. Hibbett. Five volumes, of Japanese literature from the Edo Period, elegantly designed by Kenjiro Yamaguchi, are available in limited editions. In order from first to fifth, the volumes published so far by highmoonoon are: “An Account of the Prosperity of Edo” by Terakado Seiken, translated by Andrew Marcus, and his translation of “Tips for Travelers: Advice for Wayfarers from Late Edo Travel Literature” by Tachibana Nankei, Kyokutei Bakin and Kageyama Yasumi; the story “The Peony Lantern” by Asai Ryoi, translated by Maryellen Toman Mori; and two volumes translated by Chris Drake: “Copying Bird Calls” by Nishiyama Soin and “Haikai on Love” by Matsuki Tantan; the former is a 100-verse linked sequence.

Get highmoonoon’s order sheet at 9121 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Calif. 90069, fax +1 (310) 276-0242; Japan distributor is Fly Communications, 6-3-14-8F Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062, fax (03) 3407-6475.

Yasuo Fujitomi, John Solt and Misako Yarita appear in the April issue of “Gendai Shi Techo,” a special publication on Visual Poetry. Within, you can find the essay “Character, Shape, Image,” written by Fujitomi, Takahashi and Shutaro Mukai; and among a mini-anthology of visual poems are works by Yarita, Fujitomi and Takahashi. Solt’s poem “A Letter to Brother de Campos” is presented. Also included is an essay by Akitoshi Nagahata on visual poetry sites on the Internet which provides listings of relevant Web site addresses. Representatives from the issue will be on display at the Gallery Okules (03) 3445-5088 near Shinagawa Station April 25-May 2.

“Rain River” is a new collection of poems by Yusuke Keida. In a future installment, a more detailed profile on Keida will be forthcoming. Briefly, his love of the Beat writers is expressed in his own poetry, translations and editing of Blue Beat Jacket, an irregularly published ‘zine of Beat literature, much of it presented bilingually. Included in the collection is “Out of the Gogo-an,” which is dedicated to Solt. “Night Frogs,” below, was translated by poet and translator Sam Hamill.

you left with talk and laughter / cold days descended / every flower closed under clouds / in a mountain village cottage / i listen: early summer night frogs / break the dark stillness

Edited and published by Pradip Choudhuri in Calcutta, “Rain River” is a pocket edition of 66 pages containing poems which come out of daily breathing and walking where the natural world features prominently. Rather than the Calcutta address, contact the poet himself.

Send orders for “Rain River” to the poet at 1-5-54 Sugue-cho, Sanjo-shi, Niigata. 1,000 yen including postage.

“Heart of Bamboo: Poetry and Music in the Zen Tradition” is one of a series of professionally produced Copper Canyon Press audio-and-text reading guides designed to deepen the experience of appreciating poetry. Some of the poems offered here are by Sam Hamill from his collection “Gratitude” (Boa Editions), along with koto playing by Elizabeth Falconer, and the shakuhachi of Christopher Yohmei Blasdel.

This well-produced CD package includes a listener’s guide with the essays “Listening in the Zen Tradition” and “Editing by Ear,” both by Hamill. This unique collaboration deserves an in-depth review, but let it suffice to tell the backgrounds of the musicians and ordering information. “Heart of Bamboo” is the name of a poem dedicated to Blasdel in “Gratitude.”

Blasdel began shakuhachi studies under the tutelage of Japan’s Living National Treasure, the late Goro Yamaguchi. His discography includes “Zen Reveries” (Moonbridge) and he is the author of the comprehensive guide, “The Shakuhachi: A Manual for Learning” (Ongaku no Tomo-sha), and currently writes a column on Japanese traditional music for this newspaper. He and Hamill performed at Good Day Books in 1995.

Elizabeth Falconer, also a former Japan Times hogaku columnist, studied with the Sawai koto school in Japan for 12 years, and studied composition under Tadao Sawai and Hideaki Kuribayashi; she is the only American composer published by Dai Nihon Ongakukai Press. She has a solo CD, “Isshin” (Music and Arts Programs of America) and has done a series of Japanese folk tales combined with koto music for young audiences.