Tokyo poets get a night out to Howl

Howl, the bar in Aoyama, was founded just after Allen Ginsberg’s death in 1997.

Proprietor Maki Fujimoto, producer and graphic designer of Heaven Limited, was once sent on an assignment to interview Ginsberg for a special issue on the Beat Generation for the former Japanese popular culture journal Edge. Through an introduction by the Korean artist Nam Jun Paik, Fujimoto found himself on the Lower East Side of New York in Ginsberg’s apartment with Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, being questioned by the former as to whether his notes to his famous poem “Howl” were translated in the Japanese edition.

Later, in 1988, Fujimoto organized an exhibit and reading of Ginsberg with Yu Suwa’s translations and lecture in Tokyo at Gallery Watari (now Watari-um).

The walls of Howl are covered with framed broadsides signed by Ginsberg (one with the first stanza of “Howl” superimposed over the Japanese translation) and portraits of Surrealist poet, actor and director Antonin Artaud.

The ground floor is the main bar area; the third floor is a lounge where occasional scholarly lectures on such topics as “Live on the Edge as the Poet” (on Artaud), “Don’t Hide the Madness” (on William Burroughs) and “Pour quelle raison Rimbaud a-t-il renie la litterature.” Kazuko Shiraishi and Masayo Koike are two of the poets who have given readings there. A video hookup allows customers to view the readings live from the bar below.

For those with video capability on your Windows or Macintosh computer, a CD-ROM of the first volume of the “Poets’ Anthology” series is available; it features Shuntaro Tanikawa vs. Shozo Ben, live at Howl (1998). The publisher of the CD-ROM, Midnight Press, also recruits poets for readings at Howl.

Like giving blood — poets give readings at poetry cafe Le Sang des Poetes.

On the fourth floor is a small cafe, Le Sang des Poetes, (03) 5771-5598, where in a relaxed atmosphere one can enjoy poetry publications in Japanese and English, drink and listen to music.

The entrances of the bar and cafe conceptually act as covers of a journal, while the interior provides the contents of these literary-themed spaces.

Theories on the act of translating poetry must be as numerous as there are translators. Robert Frost’s statement “Poetry is what gets lost in translation” is balanced by Paul Engle’s comment that “Poetry is what survives translation.” Eliot Weinberger, in his preface to “Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei,” writes “Poetry is that which is worth translating.” Then there’s the aphorism “traduttori traditori (to translate is to betray).”

The winter ’99 and summer 2000 issues of the biennial Manao: A Pacific Journal of International Writing focus on translating Asian poetry, with essays by such translators as Sam Hamill, W. S. Merwin, Hiroaki Sato, Andrew Schelling, William I. Elliott, Leza Lowitz and Eric Selland.

Bill Elliott opens his essay, “A Poem Should Mean AND Be: Remarks on the Translation of Japanese Poetry,” by quoting from Archibald Macleish’s “Ars Poetica”: “A poem should not mean/But be.” Later, Elliott substitutes the word “translation” for Macleish’s “poem.”

Elliott goes on to modestly state, “I have never worked and would not willingly work in the absence of a native informant, for I do not possess sufficient knowledge of any subject that would be relevant to translation, as including the Japanese language. My knowledge needs supplementing, my errors correction. There are such matters as the historical meanings of words, their varying careers and reputations, slang, idioms past and present, social history . . . “

Scott Watson’s essay in chapbook form, “Mulling Over Basho and The Word Translation,” is irreverent and polemical.

Criticizing translators who lack facility in the Japanese language, Watson asserts, “The poetry, after all, cannot be explained to us by a native; it has to be experienced as word-life itself, as the words themselves and all the permeations and permutations of the words. Otherwise you force a split into physical and spiritual, into a linguistic impression and a thought felt, into the language and the poetry, when in truth there is none . . .”

Those interested may send a 90 yen self-addressed stamped envelope to 3-13-16 Tsurugaya-Higashi, Miyagino-ku, Sendai 983-0826.

In last month’s column I announced Gary Snyder and Nanao Sakaki’s Oct. 7 reading at the Confucian Temple Yushima Seiro in Ochanomizu. Snyder will also be giving an additional reading and a lecture titled “Zen and Ecology” at the Buddhist institution Komazawa University’s Memorial Hall in Tokyo.

Those interested in attending the reading and lecture should send an ofuku hagaki (return postcard) to Daihonzan Eiheiji Daionki Jimukyoku, Eiheijicho Shihi, Yoshida-gun, Fukui-ken 910-1294 with the note Poetry and Zen Dialogue.

The fifth annual Ginyu Shijin Taisho Contest, a contest for poetry and poetic drama performances, is to be held Nov. 12 in Ikutahara Town, Hokkaido. Request detailed information on the contest before applying. Briefly, applicants of any age and nationality are eligible to enter, to present works in Japanese or a foreign language (with a Japanese translation), limited to 15 minutes plus the Japanese version. The deadline for application is Oct. 15.

For more information in English or Japanese call or fax (011) 643-8420 or e-mail

Poetry Calendar Tokyo (Sept.-Oct. 2000 edition now available) must be the most complete listing of poetry events in the Kanto area — a real service to the community. The calendar is put out and updated by the small poetry cafe Heartland. Those who would like a copy should send a 90 yen SASE to: Poetry Calendar Tokyo, 3-12-10 Nishiogi-Kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo 167-0042.

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