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––––Jordan A. Y. Smith

 

[interview + poem by Gander / translation by Nakagawa and Chozick]

 

Dancers Eiko Otake and Koma Otake were born in Japan and lived there until 1976, when they moved to NYC to pursue their dance career as a duo––which led to a stellar four decades plus change during which they have performed at venues including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Their fame abroad––evidenced by numerous prizes abroad, including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Scripps Award––has now exceeded that in their native Japan, though they began by training there with many of the legendary founders of butoh style (or school, or genre…see our introduction to Tokyo Poetry Journal Volume 6, which devotes some space to hashing out that question). Eiko and Koma developed their own style, albeit one visibly marked by the tempo, earthly-corporeal presence, and figurative abstractions of butoh progenitors. Their dances come in various lengths—from a few minutes to a full working day (post-New Deal and prior to neoliberalization)—all of them rivet and absorb audiences.

 

Their circle of collaborators, admirers, and friends grew over the decades, and eventually it came to include the poet, Forrest Gander. Gander is best known to us at TPJ due to the well-known fact that his career reached a soaring pinnacle when he became a member of the Board of Advisors for Tokyo Poetry Journal. But in between and around that he also accomplished a few other things that probably bear repeating here.

 

Many in the international poetry community know Gander as a highly accomplished and profoundly moving poet, a scholar of comparative literature, a master of translation, and a supporter of the field of poetry as a whole, teaching scores of literary luminaries in the MFA program in Literary Arts at Brown University (and at Harvard University before that). Gander has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and is known for his translations of Pablo Neruda, Raúl Zurita, and many Latin American writers, as well as for co-translation of Kiwao Nomura (with the indomitable Kyoko Yoshida). Gander’s edited volume of Gozo Yoshimasu translations, Alice Iris Red Horse (New Directions 2016), broke ground as “a book in and on translation,” pairing some dozen translations by different translators with essays about their experimental translation process. Most recently, his book Be With earned the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry (April 2019), confirming the sturdy bedrock beneath his already impressively thick regolith of accomplishments (Gander is actually educated as a geologist, unlike yours truly who had to dig deep for that last metaphor).

 

 

Eiko and Koma met Forrest Gander in the early 1990s, so their friendship is now pushing thirty. Gander’s sustained engagement with the dancers resulted in a short book of poetry titled after them: Eiko & Koma (New Directions 2013). The poems are “a kind of translative act” (as the translators say in the short interview below), a kind of ekphrasis of motion; at other times, they seem to meditate philosophically on the interpretation of the motions, all suffused by the marvel of two humans intimately relating to each other in body and spirit.

 

And here in Tokyo, two powerhouse translators became intensely interested in Gander’s volume: University of Tokyo faculty member and Ph.D. candidate Eri Nakagawa and Temple University (Tokyo) professor, translator, and television personality Matthew Chozick. Their interest was based both on the poetry and the dance that motivated it. The book just been released internationally by Awai Books is thus a case of "reverse-importation" (gyaku-yunyuu) of two Japanese dancers who made a name for themselves abroad and of Forrest Gander who has been drawing Japanese poetry into the English translationscape, yet whose poetry is still relatively unavailable. Nakagawa and Chozick’s translation is astonishingly smooth while extremely faithful; their volume is a rich case study in what poetry translation can accomplish.

 

We managed to catch up with the two of them to discuss their bilingual edition complete with beautiful photography of Eiko and Koma in performance and diagrammatic explanations of the dance.

 

(See more dances and readings via links at the end of the interview...)

 

 

Can you tell us what led to the choice of this particular volume from Gander’s oeuvre?

We hope this volume is just a starting point, and we selected it because it showcases Gander’s precision, originality, and buoyancy along with the fascinating Japanese subjects of Eiko and Koma. Aside from how amazing the original is to read and how we felt it needed to be more widely available, we enjoyed how the poems are recursive and fractal-like, especially from the perspective of translators. In a kind of translative act, Gander transposes the physical movements of Eiko & Koma into language; and underpinning that process is Eiko & Koma’s own idiom of the body, which also involves the translation of ideas and emotions.

 

What poems pushed your translatorly creativity the most? How?

The intertextuality in “Road-Entering” was a challenge for translation, since the references are not as well known in Japanese as in English. But perhaps more than anything else, the enjambment throughout pushed our creativity.

 

Yes—I love what happens with your faithful renderings of enjambment in the original. Can you talk about your strategy for dealing with them in the translation?

Since the sentence structure in Japanese is so different from English, we couldn’t identically replicate the original text’s enjambment. As a compromise we tried to determine what each particular line break achieved — whether adding a double meaning, accelerating or decelerating a sense of movement, highlighting an idea — and we tried to offer something in Japanese akin to that, which was a huge challenge and source of pleasure.

 

It was really a remarkable accomplishment in translation. I wonder about your process. In particular, this seems like it would be a complex project—in addition to managing the relationship of the English and Japanese, you had the added factor of working with poems that engaged intimately with dance performances.

Did the two of you act out any of the dances or pantomime the movements as you were trying to render the dance descriptions? Or did you translate based primarily on the semantics and other linguistic aspects of the English? In other words, how much was the dance directly involved in your translation?

Any excuse to dance is a good one! We received many funny looks in our neighborhood office/coffeeshop for pantomiming. But we had different, complementary strategies for visualizing the movements during translation. I (Matthew) tried to translate poems based on semantics and diagrams/photographs in the original book, whereas I (Eri) liked to check the poems against videos of Eiko & Koma.

 

Co-translating can do many things to two humans. What effect did it have on the two of you working as a team? Are you still friends? Most importantly, are you still Facebook friends?

We have yet to unfriend each other on Facebook! Co-translation was new to both of us, and it was a lot of fun collaborating. Twice a month we’d each select a poem, translate it, and then meet up to check them and discuss their nuances. You probably wouldn’t be able to guess who originally did what, since we spent a lot of time editing everything at the end and matching up the tones and diction.

 

Have Eiko and Koma also seen these translations? If so, did they offer any thoughts or feedback?

Eiko offered advice on adding a couple of English loanwords (in the katakana syllabary), since they’d be easier for Japanese to understand than Chinese characters.

 

I love it—her concern with ease of understanding, even though some might see her work anything but simple to interpret. But maybe that’s the appeal too—the simultaneous experience of simplicity and complexity… So what plans do you have for releasing the book? Any bilingual readings planned? Dance performances?

 

In Tokyo we’re excited to hold a bilingual reading in late August [2019] at Museum of Modern Art Tokyo with Gander, and it’ll showcase a new performance by Eiko. We’ll definitely keep you up to date on the details!

 

How many vacuums does it take to clean a bryophitic carpet?

We’ll confirm that with Gander!

 

Awesome. Let’s ask him in August—a fine season for mosses in Japan.

 

Links:

 

Videos of Gander reading from the English of E&K:

http://eikoandkoma.org/forrestentanglement

http://eikoandkoma.org/forrestfaithfullness

https://vimeo.com/11544789

Videos of E&K Dances:

http://eikoandkoma.org/videos

Note: Some of Gander’s readings in these early videos are of earlier versions of the poems. Some of Eiko & Koma’s dances differ each performance, so the dances that inspired Gander’s poetry often differ from the descriptions. The ephemerality of dance is one of its primary features, one that requires the viewer to be present in body just as the dancers are. The fact that the art embodies ephemerality and reminds us of the ephemerality of the body itself is perhaps the form’s most potent message.

 

 

BREATH

 

Early draft of the world. Or

 

has all that came before

made them its repository? Grove of slash.

They are. Flowerless dirt.

 

Windmoan over leafy mound strewn

with two human forms,

veined and branched. To

 

become what one was: that

never happens. But now the

ground wrinkles with their languorous

 

pandiculation. Crescent

shoulder blade and blue

bays between expanding,

contracting ribs. That the

 

recognizable mammalian

familiarity recedes in

exposures, in dilated time.

Become one, inhuman, beyond

 

animal. Are they.

 

Translation into Japanese by Nakagawa and Chozick:

 

 

「息」

 

世界の初期草案.あるいは

 

それまでのすべてが 彼等を作り

自らの貯蔵庫に?切り屑の木立.

彼等は.花無しの土.

 

嘆きの風が吹き

葉の山を散らす

二つの人がたは

脈打ち枝分かれする.かつての

 

姿に戻るために:それは

決して起こらない.だが今

地面に皺が寄る

彼等の気だるい

 

伸びに合わせて.三日月形の

肩甲骨と蒼い

入江がいくつも見える

拡張,収縮する肋間.それは

 

見慣れた哺乳類の

親近性が失われていく

露出の膨張する時間.

一つになる,人を脱し,動物を

 

超えて.そう,彼等は .

Review:

Poet to Poet: Contemporary Women Poets From Japan

Edited by Rina Kikuchi & Jen Crawford (Canberra: Recent Work Press, 2017)

––––by Tanya Barnett

Poet to Poet, a poetry anthology edited by Rina Kikuchi and Jen Crawford, is a collection of

translated poems written by ten of Japan’s contemporary female poets. In the anthology, Kikuchi acts as a co-translator and a bridge between the featured poets and her other co-translators. Poet to Poet offers a platform for the voices of one of society’s largest marginalized groups: women. In the introduction to this volume, Kikuchi points out that women poets from Japan are vastly underrepresented as both subjects of study and translated writers, and when they have been translated, it has often been by male academics. Through her selection of poets and co-translators, Kikuchi’s anthology is a response to the issue of underrepresentation that also challenges the presumption of who has authority when it comes to the translation of Japanese texts.

 

While some may not agree that women are a marginalized group, the fact remains that the perspectives and opinions of women have been ignored and discounted across transnational borders throughout history, whether it be with respect to government policy and lawmaking, access to healthcare, the gender wage gap, sexual assault, religious discrimination, cultural practices, or even our own bodies. Kikuchi has assembled a collection of poets who are forcefully and unapologetically female. By this, I mean that they speak to the real-lived experiences of life as a woman. The poets are Arai Takako, Ishikawa Itsuko, Itō Hiromi, Hirata Toshiko, Kawaguchi Harumi, Kōno Satoko, Misaki Takako, Misumi Mizuki, Nakamura Sachiko, and Yamasaki Kayoko (of whom Kōno and Misumi were featured in ToPoJo volume 4).

 

Kikuchi and Crawford address intersectionality through their selection of poets from Japan who range in age, region, language (dialect), and profession. Their inclusion of both renowned and up-and-coming poets helps to combat the grip that literary canons have on the translation and dissemination of literary texts. As Kikuchi herself states, this collection does not seek to be a definitive and “comprehensive representation of Japanese women poets writing today.” Rather, it provides insight into the multi-layered facets of daily life that women experience through the lens of certain contemporary poets from Japan. These poems are raw, humorous, violent, painful, joyful, heart-breaking. They cover a breadth of issues, ranging from aging to illness, menstruation, rape, imperialism, systemic cultural oppression, loss, the diaspora experience, and grocery shopping.

 

Furthermore, this collection confronts the longstanding images of Japanese women as seen through a male gaze often rooted in orientalism and sexism. The editors combat this not only through their selection of poets, but also through their selection of translators, most of whom are women. I would like to note that the four male translators who contributed to this collection have produced fantastic translations that are well-worth reading. However, Japanese studies and the translation of Japanese literature are fields that have been historically dominated by men, who at times have produced problematic depictions of Japanese women that fail to grasp female interiority and contribute to stereotypes that are pervasive in Western culture. At times, writers who have been accepted into the canon and whose works have subsequently been selected for translation and academic study have featured women characters who are often problematic, either in terms of their description, their role in plot advancement or the development of the protagonist, and the protagonist’s treatment of them. When these texts then become the subject of academic inquiry, the role of these women characters are often overlooked or oversimplified. In Kikuchi and Crawford’s anthology, women are not merely tools which serve the male protagonist, they are the protagonist and they carry with them the most important agency that exists in literature: narrative voice.

 

In addition to the careful treatment of translating gender, this collection tackles issues regarding the methodology of poetry translation. As one can see by the title, each of the translators are poets in their own right. The act of translation always requires the translator to decide the goal, or the priority, of their translation, be it loyalty to the original text, poetic devices, contemporary/premodern language, or aesthetically appealing in the target language. Kikuchi’s decision to employ poets as translators is a reflection of her goal for the translation, which was to “re-create in English what one sees and feels when one reads the original poem in Japanese.”

 

Many exciting moments of translation occur in this volume, and they will resonate differently with each reader. A few moments that resonated with this reviewer in particular… In Ishikawa Itsuko’s poem “Stone Monument,” Carol Hayes brilliantly captures the biting sarcastic tone of the original poem by translating anata as “you Your Majesty” when the poet addresses the Showa Emperor. Subhash Jaireth aptly conveys the isolation experienced by members of the diaspora in Yamasaki Kayoko’s “Coming Home for a Brief Visit,” particularly with respect to the final lines: “I gaze / at the face / of my motherland / mine and yet / nevermore / mine.” Melinda Smith’s translation of Kawaguchi Harumi’s “Artificial” manages to be simultaneously surreal, concrete, and rich with the beautiful imagery that appears in the original poem. One power of the poet is their ability to convey and elicit emotion through a series of fragmentary and fleeting verbally constructed images. Each poet accomplishes this in their translations. These poems “live and breathe” (as the volume’s own promotional language justifiably claims) on their own in English, while maintaining the authenticity of the original texts. In a display of transparency, Kikuchi’s inclusion of the original Japanese text side-by-side with the English translation is a special gift that allows the reader some insight into each co-translator/poet’s individual process.

 

Poet to Poet: Contemporary Women Poets From Japan is an exemplary collection of outstanding works by talented women poets who have been faithfully and masterfully translated by other poets, and it is an invaluable contribution to the field of Japanese literature and translation studies. By carefully coupling each co-translator/poet to one of the featured poets based on their individual styles, Kikuchi and Crawford have not only gifted us access to ten of Japan’s most talented women poets, they have also introduced us to a handful of new poets whose work we can look forward to exploring—the translators.

 

#bookreview #poetry #womenspoetry #japanesepoetry

  • Tokyo Poetry Journal

Updated: Dec 29, 2018

––Jordan A. Y. Smith, Michiyama Rain, Oshima Takeo

 

On October 20, 2018, three poets, a zookeeper, a veterinarian, forty young student writers, and a pair of splendid giraffes gathered for a special poetry session at the Omuta City Zoo in beautiful Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture. Omuta City Coal Mine, designated in 2015 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fueled the industrial revolution at the heart of the rapid modernization of Japan’s Meiji Era until the transition to petroleum based industry.

 

You might say that the sudden economic shift and the subsequent population decline has left a certain mark on the atmosphere of Omuta—that of sympathy, of compassion. The city has worked to transform itself, rising from the coal dust as it were, to reshape itself in the contemporary economy—one set to change yet again as fossil fuels are on their way out. The sense of history, of community is palpable. The bright greetings of children on the way to school in the morning, the conversations of hikers on Mt. Miike, the year-round preparations for the summer festival—it’s a town where people have learned deep lessons about sticking together, caring for each other.

 

 

The feeling equally defines the zoo itself, known as Japan’s leader in respecting animal subjectivity and in providing spacious habitats that strive to imitate the natural flora and atmosphere for the animals. The zoo’s programs in “Habitat Enrichment” and “Husbandry Training” are attended by zoo directors, zoologists, veterinarians and staff from all over Japan, earning the Enrichment Award in 2016 in acknowledgement for their commitment to innovation and leadership. (See more or head down for a visit: http://www.omutacityzoo.org/)

 

Children were asked to immerse themselves in animal mindsets, adopting the feelings of the animals they observed and interacted during a walk through the zoo. As they roamed around, each young poet wrote down their thoughts, then crafted them into a single poem to be read in front of the giraffe habitat—with the two giraffes listening intently, leaning in at times to get a closer look.

 

The readings were nothing short of inspiring, with simple words used deftly to depict what animals can mean to humans. It was an exercise in compassion, and one that showed how much our experience of a zoo and its animal residents can change when we take the time to engage, imagine, and express.

 

The event was organized by Omuta City ambassador to Tokyo, Michiyama Tomoyuki, known also by his nom de plume, Michiyama Rain, which graces the covers of his two poetry volumes and his poems in ToPoJo volume 4. Michiyama invited two poets from Tokyo, Oshima Takeo (Poetry Slam Japan champion 2016, featured in ToPoJo volume 4) and ToPoJo’s own Jordan A. Y. Smith, to write with the children and to participate in the readings. We were joined by the Zoo Director, Mr. Shiihara Shun'ichi, and the zoo’s head veterinarian, Dr. Kimura Ran.

 

This five-person panel was treated to a delightful variety of poems—from rabbits to lions and from poop to pride, the diversity was both of species and of theme. Oshima describes the readings:

 

It was such an honor to participate in the Animal Perspectives Poetry event—when I heard these poems by the children of Omuta, it felt like shockwave was cracking open the ground below my feet. I’d been doing things all wrong. It’s not my, but the children who truly approach the essence of this thing we call “poetry.” The practice of calling oneself a poet, reciting at countless livehouse events, appearing in poetry slams—its only relevance lies in how it draws us to the essence of poetry itself. However, just one moment after that realization, I noticed something else. It was through all those activities that I had come to be standing there, afforded the chance to experience this thrill.
The Omuta area and every one of the children there possess an astonishing force. The memory of sitting together in front of the giraffe habitat as the evening eased on, listening to recitals of one poem after another, will remain with me for life. And every time I consider the question of what poetry is, I’ll recall the experience of Animal Perspectives Poetry.

 

After the readings, each panelist gave a prize to the poem we felt was the most eloquent, powerful, or generally outstanding. The recipients were all from local schools, and the winners were from first grade in elementary to second year of middle school. All of the poems elicited reactions from us in different ways, from somber reflections to choruses of laughter.

 

Michiyama, who masterminded the innovative event, explains the background:

In lieu of sketching, we will translate the hearts and minds of animals into the language of poetry, and recite them together.
Putting a plan like that into action was a first for me. It was also the first event I planned as Omuta City Ambassador, bringing poets from Tokyo and the larger world of poetry to the hometown I love so deeply. I was a bit worried that no one would attend, but we were overwhelmed with the positive responses from local elementary and middle school children and their supportive parents, who also came along.
And the brilliance and innocence of those forty children brought me to tears. The giraffes, leaning over for a listen or frolicking around behind us. Translating feelings into words, and words into voices gave a keen sensation of being present in the Now. I hope what we began in Omuta will spread around the world.

 

After the readings, Michiyama and Smith went on FM Tanto Radio, discussing and reading the poems in Japanese and English translation. Updates of those translations are below. We congratulate these young poets on using words to bring us closer to animals, to respect their emotional lives and subjectivity. We hope that the exercise of in poetry will help them grow as poets, and that the exercise in compassion will help us all rethink our relationship with our fellow inhabitants of planet Earth.

 

 

Michiyama Rain Poetry Prize recipient

Hirakawa Yukino

Hayamadai Elementary School, 4th grade

 

“Places to Shine”

––Snow leopard

 

Though at first I hated it so much,

I am wondering why.

Now I love it here.

Though you all knew we’d have to part one day

So many of you came to see me

And you remembered my name.

Now, I’m so grateful to everyone.

Though I’ve made so many new friends,

I have to return to the place I was before.

Sorry that I didn’t come out very often during the daytime.

Now, I’m filled with such happiness.

And that is because now there are two places

Where I can shine like the star, my namesake.

Thank you, thank you!

My name is Spica.

 

 

 

Oshima Takeo Poetry Prize recipient

Fukuchi Rino

Taisho Elementary School, 5th grade

 

“I’m So Number One, I Call Myself ‘Sir’”

 

Before my eyes: a hunk of meat.

Perhaps too big for me to eat—

Is that what you think? Ha! You idiots.

What do you take me for?

I’m just sleepy right now,

And don’t want to eat too much.

I’m so number one, I call myself “Sir.”

I’m so number one, I call myself “Sir.”

Where do I belong?

What is this place?

It’s not Africa.

Where is this place? Anyway,

I’m so number one, I call myself “Sir.”

I’m so number one, I call myself “Sir.”

Sir Myself is going to sleep.

In my dreams,

On the wide savannah,

I’m so number one, I call myself “Sir.”

I’m so number one, I call myself “Sir.”

 

 

 

Jordan Smith Poetry Prize recipient

Tsuruta Mizuki

Miyanohara Middle School, 2nd grade

 

“I Am the Royal Lion”

 

I am the royal lion

My sharp claws, sharp fangs, and golden mane

Give me great pride.

I rise early each morning to sharpen these claws,

And these fangs I lavish with love as I brush them one by one.

And my-oh-my, would you look at this mane?

It takes me five hours to set it, man!

But I, the Royal Lion, am a wee bit sad

Because everyone’s scared of me.

Especially the girls, who often shriek,

“He’s so scary! Ahhhhh!”

But my royal lion heart is strong

Today too I groom my royal self with pride.

Because, my-oh-my, am I the king of the beasts!

I am the Royal Lion—take care, you!

 

 

 

Zoo Director’s Prize for Poetry recipient

Sakamoto Kohaku

Tegama Elementary School, 1st grade

 

“Self-introduction”

––rabbit

 

I eat grass.

After I eat, my poop comes rolling out.

When I’m in a bad mood, I stamp my feet.

When I’m happy, I wiggle my nose and snort.

My ears are long, so I can hear lots of sounds.

People always tell me I’m cute.

That’s how I introduce myself.

 

 

 

Rin and Purin Poetry Prize

Awarded by Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Kimura Ran

Kawamura Yukina

Yoshino Elementary School, 6th grade

 

“The True King”

––Mandrill

 

My face is red. As is my rear end.

Humans are so lucky—their faces so uniform.

But compared with them,

My face is even more colorful.

People treat me

Like the jester of the animal kingdom.

Someday, I want to be an awesome animal,

Like the lion,

A meat eater.

But even if I’ll never be a lion,

With this face I have now,

I’ll still show the world my best.

And I,

The true king,

Will show them what it really means to be a mandrill.