MY POETRY AT AOYAMA GAKUIN IN TOKYO

My poetry at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. With Yuuichiro Ishii guitar and Kouzan Kikuchi on shakuhachi. Film by Yoshiaki Tago. Photos by Junji Kurokawa. Thanks to Professor Marc Menish for having us. 2017 Open Lecture on Disaster, Trauma and Hope.

My poetry at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. With Yuuichiro Ishii guitar and Kouzan Kikuchi on shakuhachi. Film by Yoshiaki Tago. Photos by Junji Kurokawa. Thanks to Professor Marc Menish for having us. 2017 Open Lecture on Disaster, Trauma and Hope.

My Poetry at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. With Yuuichiro Ishii guitar and Kouzan Kikuchi on shakuhachi. Film by Yoshiaki Tago. Photos by Junji Kurokawa. Thanks to Professor Marc Menish for having us. 2017 Open Lecture on Disaster, Trauma and Hope.

We presented four poems that are excerpts from my NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA: MEDITATION ON AN UNDER-REPORTED CATASTROPHE BY A POET:

MYTHICAL MONSTER

HIROSHIMA

HIROSHIMA

FUKUSHIMA

A MOTHER SPEAKS

the poster for the event

Not wanting to say “Me too” _ an essay by Yuri Kageyama

Not wanting to say “Me too”
_ An essay by Yuri Kageyama

I have written about sexual abuse many times, as a poet and as a journalist, but I have not talked about my personal experience with sexual harassment.
I was involved in what has been credited as the first sexual harassment case in the U.S. to surface at an academic institution.
That was the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a student.
It was a highly publicized case, but I requested, as did the other victims, to stay anonymous.
I remember I got a call from a fellow student to take part in a campus protest over the case. I told her I was reluctant.
But I had to join forces, she said, breathless over the phone, because what some of the women were saying was amazing.
She read from a letter that was part of the case against the respected professor at the Department of Sociology, a Marxist with a progressive reputation.
The letter went something like this: “We came to the university to get an education, to realize our dreams and to develop as people. The behavior of this professor is unethical, sexist and unprofessional.”
“And so can’t you come to the protest?” she insists.
I keep saying, “No.” But she insists.
And so finally I have to say it.
“I wrote that letter,” I tell her. “And I don’t want to join.”
She falls silent on the other end. It is a painful, sad and numbing moment.
And this is the same way I feel today, decades later.
I respect all those who are saying, “me too.” If there is any redeeming factor to coming out, it is in the knowledge of the systematic pattern of abuse _ that we are not alone, that this is not an extraordinary happening but everyday.
It must be OK to be victims, if it is practically everybody.
But I still don’t feel the trust.
I don’t feel anything good will come of it. And it is not up to the victims to bring justice to an abuser or a harasser. That is not our job.
I did not start the process back then, although I did write that letter when asked, for the investigation.
I had gone earlier to one professor whom I trusted. He shrugged and told me to grow up. He mentioned that he himself had married his student.
But word on the problem professor’s antics gradually got out.
The case initially divided the department _ between those who were stunned someone in their ranks would be preying on students versus those who thought the whole case was a ditched up witch hunt.
And so they did what grown-ups do. They hired an outside objective lawyer and investigator, from Stanford University, I believe, to talk to all the alleged victims.
I remember I was called into her office. Yes, it was a woman.
So I told her what happened, hesitantly, nervously, replying to her questions.
It was another painful, sad and numbing moment.
He had called to say he wanted to discuss one of my papers and told me to come to a downtown Berkeley cafe. But when I showed up, a little flattered a professor would want to talk about my work, he had not even brought my paper.
We sat at a table, dimly lit, in the fancier part of Berkeley that I had never been to before. He told me he was interested in me because I was Asian, and he was not interested in loud American women.
He made a joke, something about: “I’m the man. I like to be on top.”
He complimented me on what I was wearing, a top that appeared to have Asian motifs. It was one of my favorite shirts, and I happened to have it on when I talked to the lawyer.
And so I told her that was what I had on. She asked, apparently a part of an investigator’s modus operandi to see how reliable my memory might be.
As it turns out, at least one woman was physically attacked in his car. There was another student who was happy about becoming his lover, and told everyone he had changed her life, whatever that meant.
This woman’s existence was as alienating and depressing as the existence of the woman who was attacked was alarming and horrifying.
It didn’t help for me to know the one who was attacked was a woman of color.
I was just afraid. I did not want to go into the department halls in case he would be there, and I would have to deal with him.
Maybe I would not be as afraid today. But I was young, and he was an older powerful male, who had my future in his control, and he had specifically said he wanted me to do something that I did not want.
I was already feeling violated, weak and objectified. It was an awkward, sickening feeling.
Unfortunately, he was there once, in the department mailroom. Although I tried to get away, he approached me and asked that I retract the letter I had written in the case against him.
He promised in a pleading tone that I would get an “A” if I would retract the letter.
My case was one of the “more damaging” against him, another professor had explained to me, because I had gotten all A’s in my work in his class, as well as my other classes, but after I refused his advances, he had given a B for my overall grade.
You don’t want to even weep. You just want the world to go away, and you don’t want to think about it. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to even remember it.
I never finished my doctorate, settling for my Master’s.
The professor found another job, in a prestigious institution in Europe, and left on his own, still insisting on his innocence.
The lawyer doing the investigation recommended dismissal.
So we were vindicated, of sorts.
Years later, when a woman asked for my advice about a sexual harasser in her office, I told her just to stay away from him, never be alone with him, assuring her that I with my friends would be there for her physically, to protect her, if any situation arose she had to be with him. But I advised against making a public complaint.
So I don’t shout out, “me too.”
At least, I managed to write this today.
It’s strange and it’s not right I remember so much of it, the tiniest details _ the tone of the lawyer’s voice, the look in the professor’s eye, the dark orange glow of that table _ when it happened so many years ago.
People don’t understand you don’t have to be particularly beautiful or outstanding to be a victim.
It’s usually mundane, pathetic and devoid of glamour, neither Hollywood nor the Olympic team.
Some men just look around to what is available, vulnerable, close to them.
And I was there, a student, in that department.
I had a flowery Asian shirt on. That was all.

MY READING WITH MUNENORI TAMAGAWA

Artwork by Munenori Tamagawa

Artwork by Munenori Tamagawa

A COLLABORATION OF VISUAL ART, THE SPOKEN WORD AND MUSIC
THE VERY SPECIAL DAY
What: I read my poetry/story “The Very Special Day” while Munenori Tamagawa paints to guitar by Yuuichiro Ishii.
Where: Nagai Garou’s Tachikawa Gallery 1-25-24 Nishi Building 4 Fl Fujimicho Tachikawa, Tokyo TEL: 080‐9573‐5655
When: SAT Oct. 28, 2017 from 3 p.m. Reception party follows from 4:30 p.m ~ 6 p.m.
Who: Munenori Tamagawa, “the Basquiat of Japan,” has shown his work at the Seattle Art Fair, Tachikawa Art Brut and the streets of Tokyo, including Innokashira Park and the Shiodome Art Market.
Guitarist Yuuichiro Ishii, who studied recently at the Berklee College of Music on a prestigious scholarship, has performed with Fuyu, Mika Nakashima and Yusa, as well as my Yuricane spoken-word band.
Why: To celebrate the exhibition of Munenori Tamagawa’s recent works.
More What: Last year, Munenori Tamagawa and I created the children’s book THE VERY SPECIAL DAY, which brings together my story with his illustrations. More information on our evolving collaboration.
Artists make any day a very special day when we come together.


Video by Naomi Yoshida

Photo by Seiko

Photo by Seiko

SHARING ONLINE A REVIEW OF MY BOOK FOUND ONLINE

Kyoto Review cover

Kyoto Review cover

The writer Yo Nakayama has also translated my poems.
I so liked his versions I’ve read them with my poems.
Mr. Nakayama is an academic and a poet, too, and he has a flock of long hair and reading glasses maybe, and he is wise and soft and brave.
Or so I imagine, as although I maybe have met him, I can’t really remember.
I vaguely remember reading this review when I was younger, and frankly I didn’t really think much of it.
I was too busy dealing with things that went with trying to survive and being creative I did not really appreciate how this older poet was being supportive and so poignant.
And so poetic.
I am older now and do.
Nakayama died in 1997, it says online.
But his writing lives on.
Here, this person I know through Facebook, of all ways, has shared in a message this precious, kindhearted review of my work.
I am grateful, of course, and feel blessed.
But I also feel a sense of vindication about being a poet _ that we are all connected in doing the right, eternal thing by being poets.
Please read the review.
I’ve also updated my Review section on my site with this addition,
Sorry this is belated but thank you, Mr. Nakayama, truly from the poet’s heart:

Saying it her own way
a book review by Yo Nakayama in Kyoto Review, 22, Spring 1989
of “Peeling” by Yuri Kageyama, I. Reed Books, Berkeley, CA

New and important. Yuri Kageyama was born in Japan, but grew up in American culture.
Her work as contrasted with those of previous generations is very articulate and beautiful.
Should you take up this, her collection of poetry, you’ll find 32 exciting poems under five different sections.
In the first section she remembers time spent with her mother. Yuri seems to know where she is from, as here in a poem in which she describes her mother’s profile.

Her face from the side
the cheekbones distinct
is an Egyptian profile sculpture
an erotic Utamaro ukiyoe

and her mother’s lessons:

As soon as I would awake some chilly morning, she would
tell me to go smell the daphne bushes leading to our door.
I still remember their fresh fruitlike pungence

As Yuri grows older, she becomes uncomfortable with her mother and begins to hate her and her culture, which is alien to the American scene.

I dread your touch
when you return
that melts the hurt and vengeance
of wishing
to strangle you

Yuri feels almost physically hurt when she thinks of it. This is one of the characteristics your easily notice in her poetry. She is a physical writer, by which I mean that Yuri tries to write out of her own physical senses, especially when she talks about her involvement with music. In a short poem, “Music Makes Love to Me,” she confesses, “Music makes love to me everyday/ spilling cooled cucumber seeds/ wet flat disks to the tongue/ tickling/ shooting them with exalta-jaculation into my ear//” or in the section “Thought Speak,” she conveys her inner sensations as she listens to music:

music
is
the frantic flap of love doves taking dawn pre-cognizing flight
outside our window
music
is
the silence
between/your kisses

Or she describes her inner world as follows:

eyes closed
forsaken bamboo forest of the mind
hands groping
burrowing darkness like the earth
reaching out
shaking blood
muted and alone

As a young Japanese woman living in America, Yuri is constantly exposed to the situation that she has to say what she has to say: she, however, says it her own way, and I like it very much.
“A Categorical Analysis of the Asian Male or the Guide to Safe and Sane Living for the Asian Female” is a very funny piece in which she says there are four types: the Street Dude or “Lumberjack,” the Straight Dude or “Stereotype,” the Out There Dude or “Bum,” and finally the type four she calls the Ideal Dude, but this is the “Obake,” or the ghost, that is, she says “the perfect man who does not exist.” Once, Filipino writer Carlos Bulosan wrote that in America being a Filipino is a crime. And Yuri is, she says, “tired of the laundry men/ and the dirty restaurant cooks (cuz) they don’t have the powers.”

it’s okay
you see only the race in me
….
It’s okay
cuz, white man,
you have
whiteness
to give

The best part of the book is, however, that which deals with her physical intimacy with her lovers and her own baby. She could have written a categorical analysis of a male partner or the guide to safe and safe mating for a serious woman as well. Only after she has a baby of her own, she begins to realize the importance of the “Strings/Himo,” which she once wanted so badly to break out and couldn’t. Her reflection on the total life: “Having Babies Versus Having Sex” is the final poem in this book. When she sees her man rocking the baby, and looks into Isaku’s eyes and cries with him, she reaches her conclusion: this is the culmination of her womanhood.

Your eyes
Are my eyes
That see and see what I have seen
They can’t ever understand
The love of a Japanese woman
Who waits
Pale powdered hands
Eyes downcast night pools of wetness
Fifteen years for her samurai lover
And when he comes back

Nothing’s changed
Nothing’s changed

These poems could never have been written by anyone but a poetess who has gone through the labor Mother Nature imposes upon the one who creates. If not for Yuri’s sensitivity and capability, this book wouldn’t have been born.

My songwriting _ “Oh My Buddha” and “I Will Bleed”

Two of my songs in this new album

my songwriting

“Oh My Buddha” and “I Will Bleed,” two songs I co-wrote with Hiroshi Tokieda and Tea, are part of this great album that just came out (October 2017).
“Oh My Buddha” (audio of an earlier reading in the link) is an Asian take on what we often say: “Oh My God,” something that Toshinori Kondo pointed out some time back as what we should be saying as Asians.
And so I imagined what it would have been like to have been married to a great man like Buddha.
It might have not been as wonderful as it might seem.
Tea and I were talking about how fun it would be to write a pop song that was inspired by an Indian theme.
And so this is what we did.
I even rap or read my poem in the recording _ woooh la la !!

OH MY BUDDHA
_ a song about faith, love and other things
By Yuri Kageyama

REPEATING THEME:
My name is Yasodhara
Wife of Buddha
Mother of Rahula
I ride a white elephant
I am Siddharta’s woman

VERSE 1
You took off to find Nirvana
Became a hero for the poor
You just took off one sunny day
And found enlightenment
While I’m stuck in the kitchen
Barefoot and pregnant, alone

(Repeat theme)

VERSE 2
You’ve started a religion
See statues in your likeness
Of gold and bronze and wood
Sitting prim on that lotus
While I’m having your babies
Feeding them, aborting them, alone

(Repeat theme)

VERSE 3
You remember I cooked you breakfast?
So you could go and contemplate
Sitting 49 days under the Bodhi tree
To discover, sacrifice, meditate?
While I’m crying in my misery
Breathing my prayers, alone

(Repeat theme)

REFRAIN
You’re a superstar
I’m a nobody
You live in history
I die unknown
When I awoke
There was no sign of you
When I awoke
There was no sign of you
My universe went up in smoke
My universe went up in smoke
Oh, my Buddha
Oh, my Buddha

I am planning a music video, and I have asked Toshinori “Toshichael” Tani to come up with choreography.
He will dance in the video, which I will film.

“I Will Bleed,” to me, evokes a lot of things _ abortion, miscarriage, birth, heartbeat, love, death.
Love is such a powerful force it is both horrible and awful.
My poem is about that horror, inspired by the double suicides of Chikamatsu, which highlight how the puppets, in death, are able to transcend how miserable, human and lowly they were before that moment of death.
That beauty to me is about the kind of love that crosses boundaries, overcoming racism and other small, discriminatory, confining preconceptions.
It speaks of the potential of our human condition.
I wrote the poem for Hiroshi and Tea.
But it is a poem for all lovers, and the hope love will overcome hate around the world, through the purification of our bleeding.

Aging _ A Poetic Reflection by Yuri Kageyama

Artwork by Munenori Tamagawa

Artwork by Munenori Tamagawa

Aging _ A Poetic Reflection
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

Skin loosens
But that hotness
That is you
Enclosed
A clear bubble of heavenly air _
Because skin is fallible,
Sags, blotches, wrinkles _
But that,
Still burning, hotter, inside,
That is you
Age can’t ever change this feeling:
This feeling
Of the man you love
Moving inside of you
With
That certainty,
And that child
Growing, living
Inside
That is you

Old Wounds _ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

OLD WOUNDS
_ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

the pain throbs
gnarled stuck intestines
wobbly knobs of scars inside
tracing where the knife slashed
to deliver your son
so many years ago
the bleeding has healed

betrayal, forgiven but not forgotten,
sealed lips of hushed kisses,
the chasm of hurt
tugging, tearing at your chest,
has turned into heartbeats
fading with age
just going

da-thump da-thump da-thump
barely murmurs
whispers of skin
you were young then
and had dreams,
not knowing other things,
unlike honor,

can elude,
again, and again,
for skin color, sex, age,
growing used to anonymity
outgrowing disappointment
but old wounds
they hurt like new wounds

AN ELEGY FOR JOURNALISM A Poem by Yuri Kageyama

A Pen in the Sky I am a Writer

A Pen in the Sky
I am a Writer

AN ELEGY FOR JOURNALISM
_ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

Stories killed, stories buried,
Stories untold, stories denied,
Robert and Dori Maynard
Woodward and Bernstein
Margaret Bourke-White
Howard Imazeki
Gary Webb
Robert Capa
Anja Niedringhaus
Gerald Vizenor
Gwen Ifill
Joe Oyama
Gordon Parks
Do we write to live or live to write?
Do we write to remember or do we write to forget?
Do we write to remember or do we write to be remembered?
Do we write so we don’t kill or do we write so we don’t kill ourselves?
Do we make movies to live or live to make movies?
Do we make music to live or live to make music?
Do we write to live or live to write?
Do we live?
Do we live?
Do we live?

The poem is a part of my performance piece “NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA: Meditation on an Under-Reported Catastrophe by a Poet,” directed by Carla Blank, presented at ZSpace in San Francisco last year, debuting in an earlier version, without this poem, at LaMaMa in New York in 2015. This version combines what I wrote several weeks ago with what I wrote several years ago. I like this what this poem has become.

ISAKU KAGEYAMA AS A YOUNG DRUMMER

ISAKU KAGEYAMA as a young taiko drummer at Bon Odori in Tokyo and an Amanojaku children’s division performance doing among other pieces “Nidanuchi.”
Thanks to all his Bon Taiko students for expressing interest. Now that they’ve gotten us started, we are thinking of editing video of his omatsuri playing.

DECONTAMINATION GHOSTS _ a performance poem by Yuri Kageyama (excerpt from “NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA: Meditation on an Under-Reported Catastrophe by a Poet”

Mounds of bags in Fukushima

Mounds of bags called “flexible containers,” or “fle-con,” in Fukushima. Photo by Yuri Kageyama.

DECONTAMINATION GHOSTS a performance poem by Yuri Kageyama an excerpt from “NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA: Meditation on an Under-Reported Catastrophe by a Poet” being performed at Z Space in San Francisco July 8-9, 2017. Written by Yuri Kageyama. Directed by Carla Blank. Performed by Takemi Kitamura, Monisha Shiva and Shigeko Sara Suga with Music by Melvin Gibbs, Isaku Kageyama and Kouzan Kikuchi. Lighting by Blu. Film by Yoshiaki Tago.

(with video and Drum and Fue, as in Kabuki Ghost scenes)

(In English speak normally, quickly)
Flexible Container
(Chant very slowly in Japanese, both voices together)
Fooh reh kooh she boo rew
Kon tay nah
Fooh reh kooh she boo rew
Kon tay nah
Fooh reh kooh she boo rew
Kon tay nah

Decontamination Efforts in Fukushima. Photo by Yuri Kageyama.

Decontamination Efforts in Fukushima. Photo by Yuri Kageyama.

Flexible Container
Foo reh kon
Foo reh kon
Foo reh kon
(One voice starts counting slowly and keeps counting slowly in Japanese. Overlay as the other voice starts, with the slow mechanical Japanese chant)
Hitotsu Futatsu Mittsu Yottsu Itsutsu Muttsu Nanatsu ….
Foo reh kon
Foo reh kon
Foo reh kon
Fooh reh kooh she boo rew
Fooh reh kooh she boo rew
Fooh reh kooh she boo rew
Kon tay nah
Kon tay nah
Kon tay nah
(fade out)

Note to readers: The Japanese government is backing expensive projects for giant shovels to scrape off topsoil in a stretch of land as big as the state of Massachusetts, and storing them in plastic bags, mounds and mounds of them _ 13 million flexible containers by the official count _ so areas in Fukushima can be declared safe enough for people to come back and live. This wasn’t attempted in Chernobyl, or any place in the world. The government is ending aid in March for those who evacuated from the areas being declared safe after decontamination. Before the 2011 nuclear accident, the government used to set the safe limit for radiation exposure at about 1 millisievert a year. But these days health experts are saying the definitive link with cancer is detected scientifically at 100 millisieverts a year or higher, and so Fukushima people at most will be exposed to far less at under 20 millisieverts, which, they say, would be safe.

Decontamination efforts in Fukushima

Decontamination efforts in Fukushima. Photo by Yuri Kageyama.