Books | POETRY MIGNETTE

AND THE BEATS GO ON . . .

Kan Mikami's 30 years of recording in a box

by Taylor Mignon

Kan Mikami has just released a CD box set to celebrate his 30-year recording history, here covered in 19 CDs.

I first had the pleasure of hearing Mikami perform at a publication party for his third book of poems, “Kaze Ahaha” (1993), and I was amazed at his full-throttled voice and irreverent style of guitar-play. As music critic Alan Cummings writes in the liner notes, Mikami’s words are an “uncompromising mandala of scattered personal images, overheard conversations, memories from decades past, elliptical invocations, satirical observations, cultural references . . . sung in Japan’s most uniquely powerful voice — thrilling, effortlessly emotional, soaring from a silky whisper to a rasping scream.”

Mikami lists enka singer Akira Kobayashi, James Brown and Miles Davis as influences. His autobiography, “Mikami Kan Foku ni Ikiru (Kan Mikami’s Folk Lives)” — published last year by Sairyuusha (sairyuusha@mitg.biglobe.ne.jp) — contains the poem “Ring, Rice Cooker, Ring!!” expertly translated by Drew Stroud.

The poem shows how the method of combining dissimilar items, like in Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry, is fresh and unexpected.

Look at the one-eyed dragon fly! Sometimes its balls are lyrical. Behind the stinking bog, the skunk cabbage blooms. The rattlesnake is red and wears a Buddhist amulet. Life is a pack of gods. The road to hope is down the sewage line. Hell is a tempura of words. They took the rising sun and hung it out to dry. What should we use to make up our minds tomorrow? We were so happy with our shopping carts! A mountain bed of fetuses piles up. The rice cooker is ringing. Shine, natto, shine! Look at our burning joy! Don’t kill me please! Sometimes I wear a loincloth, just for politics. Outer space and human drama. The old lady at the public bath jerks off at her counter. Justice is History’s water pistol. Since Kannon-sama is my mother-in-law, from the moon it all looks like hell down here . . . Yea! Fresh pickles! Death to the worm!

Like Shuji Terayama, the renowned tanka writer, filmmaker and director, Mikami was born in Aomori. He made his stage debut at a student cafe in Shibuya, Tokyo, in 1969. Suspecting bombs were being made at the cafe, the police raided it.

Drew Stroud notes that indeed Mikami “has thrown a bomb into the traditional music establishment,” eschewing big record deals and crowds. Mikami’s connection with Terayama isn’t just Aomori. When he was still in high school, Mikami’s book of poems was praised and recognized by Terayama.

Mikami later performed his song “Karasu (Crow)” in the Terayama movie “Denen ni Shisu (Dying in the Field).”

In an interview on Valentine’s Day, Mikami informed me that he “creates his own vision of the world, irrespective of supposed powers that be, like Terayama.”

Terayama could easily have had Mikami in mind when he wrote: In the darkness a pickle growls . . . Sing, someone, a lullaby as loud as possible — Translated by Masaya Saito from the booklet “Aya”

Kan Mikami, March 28 at Apia in Shibuya, (03) 3464-9590, and March 29 at Manda-la2 in Kichijoji, (0422) 42-1579. Call venues for times.

To kick off the Japan release of Chuck Workman’s film “The Source” (released here as “Beatnik”), Shibuya’s Club Quattro will host an evening of poetry and music on March 23.

Poets Kenji Muroya, Shigeo Hamada and Kazuko Shiraishi will be featured, along with musicians Takuji Aoyagi (Bookworm, Little Creatures), Kan Takagi, Masato Tomobe, Madoki Yamazaki (Bookworm, Noise on Trash), Miyuki Hatakeyama (Port of Notes), Ray Sandval (Quetzal) and Goro Nakagawa.

Also in tandem with the film’s release and with the permission of San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore, Shibuya Tower Books will use the City Lights logo on its signs and hold a promotion of books related to the Beat movement and poetry through May 6.

Workman’s film is a lucid presentation of film and video from over 100 archival sources and popular media references to the Beats. The list of poets and writers appearing in the film include the usual suspects and also, notably, Gregory Corso, who died Jan. 17 at age 70. To hear Corso quote “Death is a rumor spread by life” resonates powerfully, especially now. Actors Johnny Depp, John Turturro and Dennis Hopper also appear, performing recitations of works by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.

Jerry Garcia’s comments on Neal Cassidy are illuminating, as are the songs “Hydrogen Jukebox,” performed by Philip Glass and Ginsberg, and “Jack and Neal,” by Tom Waits.

The inclusion of Lydia Lunch and Henry Rollins in MTV poetry mode is dubious but may be of interest.

“Beatnik Reading Live,” 7 p.m., March 23, at Club Quattro in Shibuya. Admission 3,800 yen in advance, 4,300 yen at the door (includes one drink). For more information, contact Moviola at (03) 5366-1675.

“Beatnik” will be the late show at Cine Amuse in Shibuya from around the end of March. Contact Cine Amuse at (03) 3496-2888 for more information.

A publication party for R.C. Allen’s “The Yang-Yin Journal: A Critique of the Social Ego” will be held Tuesday. Allen is a U.S. scholar of Hispanic literature who has turned to writing on Chinese themes. His book contains philosophical adages, reflections on the social ego, musings on machismo and feminism, and Jungian meditations on the maxims of Han Shan, the Cold Mountain Poet.

The party, also celebrating the 21st anniversary of co-sponsor Saru Press, will also include a reading by Ryu Makoto from his new book “Caught in the Act,” together with a poetry reading by Yasutaka Sakamoto and the guitar playing of Leonardo Ottow.

“The Yang-Yin Journal Publication Party,” 4-8:30 p.m., March 20, at LTH Thai Restaurant, 3-107-2 Ishikawa-cho, Yokohama. For a copy of the book and one drink, the price is 2,000 yen; for the book and dinner, 3,500 yen. For dinner reservations, call (045) 662-6121.

Kevin Dobbs will read published material and discuss his work at Temple University Japan on Friday. Dobbs completed an MFA program in writing while teaching poetry workshops. He publishes poetry and fiction in U.S. literary journals, including Carolina Quarterly, Poet Lore, Sou’wester, Madison Review, Pacific Review, Writer’s Forum and Willow Review.