Books | POETRY MIGNETTE

Poetry readings in Okinawa

Author takes inspiration from an unlikely source

by Taylor Mignon

In Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture Oct. 15, Shuntaro Tanikawa read such scatological, contemporary poems as “Onara (Fart)” and “Unko (Crap)” from his collection “Hadaka” (the English edition, “Naked,” is jointly published by Stone Bridge Press and Saru Press).

Tanikawa performed his poetry with the jazz band Diva first, then singer Mariko Takase sang the poems in clear and elegant Japanese, making the poems even more enjoyable and listenable. Takase’s reading of Tanikawa’s poem “Tobu (To Fly)” exhibited her powers of interpretation and exquisite intonation. On piano for Diva was Tanikawa’s son, Kensaku.

By coincidence, editor and poet Jerome Rothenberg had a few readings in Naha, with a number of Okinawan poets and singer Shokichi Kina at Kina’s live house. To enhance the mini-Renaissance of poetry in Okinawa, Yoshimasu Gozo also did readings there a few nights earlier. Though originally Gozo and Rothenberg were to collaborate on performances together, Gozo only had time to interview Rothenberg for an upcoming issue of the poetry journal Eureka.

Later, Rothenberg toured Hokkaido and Korea, where he met the well-known translator of Korean poetry, Brother Anthony (see Kyoto Journal 44 for Brother Anthony’s translation of “Heart’s Village,” a poem by Ch’on Sang Pyong).

Jerome Rothenberg published the groundbreaking anthology of primitive poetry “Technicians of the Sacred” in the late 1960s and “Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas” in 1972. Also in the early 1970s he edited “a first magazine of the world’s tribal poetries,” Alcheringa: Ethnopoetics.

Rothenberg’s reputation as an editor and anthologist is further solidified with his recent “Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry,” published in two volumes and co-edited by Pierre Joris.

Japanese poets in these volumes are Kenji Miyazawa, Shinpei Kusano, Ryuichi Tamura, Tanikawa, Makoto Ooka, Shiraishi, Yoshimasu, Sadakazu Fujii and Hiromi Ito.

Most recently Rothenberg has been translating the writings of Picasso. Rothenberg’s own poetry collection, “A Paradise of Poets,” is soon to be published. Below, taken from “A Paradise of Poets,” is an excerpt from “At the Grave of Nakahara Chuya (1907-1937) Yamaguchi, Japan, for Hiromi Ito”:

As sportscoats are to toothpaste as the boa is to scales as black teeth are to playful ghosts as seasons are to smiles As telephones are to toasters as angels are to air as wagon wheels are to ups & downs as horses are to fire As Buddha is to Buddha as a toenail is to glass as the way we make love is tight like that as ascensions are to cash As harbors are to hairpins as napoleons are to joy as bicycles are to icicles bones are to a dada boy

Rothenberg writes: “The poem comes from a second visit to Japan in 1997 — a festival in Nakahara’s home town [Yamaguchi] to celebrate him as a homegrown Dadaist & lyric poet . . . The ceremony at the family’s gravesite — the words on the memorial stone are Nakahara’s own — was in company of Japanese poets Ito Hiromi, Mikiro Sasaki, Takahashi Mutsuo, Tanikawa Shuntaro and Yoshimasu Gozo. A hat purchased at the local Nakahara Chuya Museum is a replica of that in a famous photo of the young Nakahara & was tried on away from the grave by all involved.”

The cover of “Poesie Yaponesia”

A bilingual anthology of poetry and fiction called “Poesie Yaponesia,” co-edited by Hillel Wright and myself, will soon be released. My first major editorial project was acting as advisory editor for the “Contemporary Writing From Japan” issue of Prairie Schooner, one of the most prestigious literary journals in the U.S. Since that issue has run out of print, I received permission to reprint in the anthology my translation of the Kazuko Shiraishi poem, “People Die.”

The compilation takes Hajime Kijima’s first fully comprehensive and bilingual anthology of contemporary Japanese poetry, “A Zig Zag Joy,” as its model, but widens the scope to include international writers who receive the muse from Japan.

A party and reading will be held to coincide with the book’s release. Many of the contributors will perform their works at the party: Atsuko Ueno, Kazuko Shiraishi, Yufuko Shima, Nanao Sakaki, Nana Naruto and Margaret Mitsutani, to name a few. The event will be hosted by J-Wave navigator and prose writer Robert Harris. Harris, who created and hosted a poetry show for J-Wave called Poetry Cafe, will introduce the writers bilingually. Below are some recent publications of contributors to “Poesie Yaponesia,” many of whom will take part in the book launching.

Naoshi Koriyama cotranslated with Elizabeth Ogata “Black Flower In the Sky: Poems of a Korean Bridegroom in Hiroshima,” which was recently published by Katydid Books (and will soon be reviewed in The Japan Times by Leza Lowitz). Koriyama’s newest project, translations of folk songs from the Amami dialect, is seeking a publisher. Two Amami songs translated by Koriyama are included in “Poesie Yaponesia.”

Elegantly produced by German chapbook publisher Ahadada Books are four volumes from Jesse Glass, a poet based in Fukushima: “Make Death Die,” “Against the Agony of Matter,” “The Book of Doll” and “Song to Arepo.” Each volume is 2,000 yen and may be ordered from Peter Riley Books at 27 Sturton St., Cambridge, England CB1 2QG.

Yusuke Keida is currently busy compiling the largest set of Beat writings translated into Japanese. His editing can also be seen in the little journal Blue Beat Jacket, which includes Hillel Wright’s interview with Allen Ginsberg and Sam Hamill’s essay on rhyme and a host of other international poets and book reviews.