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:

the frantic flap of love doves taking dawn pre-cognizing flight
outside our window
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
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.

The Poetics of Being

The Poetics of Being
by Yuri Kageyama

When my first poem to be ever published, “The Big White Bitch,” appeared in Ishmael Reed and Al Young’s iconic “Y’Bird” 30 years ago, Geraldine Kudaka sighed, sympathy clear in her eyes, and remarked I was making a tough debut in the literary world as a “Third World feminist poet.”
I didn’t fully understand or maybe even care what that meant. And I probably still don’t.
I have never been much of a marketer.
If we believe in our work, as we certainly do, we must get the word out and get people to read what we have to say.
But for me, writing is a solitary act, a conversation with something absolute and eternal that is everywhere in everyday life, yet beyond everyday life.
I don’t write to please an audience, connect to a sociological category or further a political movement.
And so my poetry has basically not changed.
If the poetry I do, which may be what some call Third World feminist, is growing more readily accepted in the world today, perhaps because of advances we have made in diversity and sexual equality, that is as irrelevant to what I do as it was 30 years ago when I was writing in a room of my own, shouting in the wilderness, a shaman without a single listener.
That is because writing is solitary act, unaffected by how audiences may have changed.
That is not to say that the search for sexual and racial equality is irrelevant.
It is as relevant and pressing as ever.
There is sociological evidence that show how women of color today remain in some ways as underrepresented, stereotyped and powerless as they were in the 1970s.
The themes in my writing, which address how racism and sexism shape our relationships and our psyches, are not going to change like seasonal fashion plates, technological platform innovations or topical headlines.
The themes are too eternal, too universal, too real _ the pain the child feels when he or she is called “Jap,” the shock of realizing as a teen mainstream beauty standards mean the ugliest white person is going to “win” over the coolest-looking non-white person, the horror of knowing that around the world people are seeing their children starve, undergoing genital mutilation and risking their lives just to win the right to vote.
As poets and storytellers, we can only start _ right here _ with what we know, what we have seen, what is in our hearts, who we are, and no one can help us.
Writing is a solitary act.
We must be honest in a world full of lies, we must be fearless as we tremble in fear, and we must speak with our own voice, alone, and never try to please.
Last year, I got a new book out, “The New and Selected Yuri _ Writing From Peeling Till Now,” which compiles my poetry, stories and essays from the 1970s to today.
It, too, is published by Ishmael Reed, who put out my first book of poems, “Peeling” in 1988 _ as well as my first poem ever to be published, “Big White Bitch.”
The latest book includes a companion piece to that poem, “Little YELLOW Slut,” which runs down the stereotypes of the Asian female.
The imagery, this time, has taken a global turn, born in Hollywood and American pop but thriving, never lost in translation, in Tokyo, and vice versa.
I am proud of this poem and this book.
I am proud that someone like Ishmael Reed has believed in me and my work for more than 30 years.
I know nothing will ever stop me from writing more poems like these.
And I still have so many stories to tell.
I don’t feel I am returning to explore old themes.
I don’t feel I am trying to break new ground.
I am just writing.
The search for identity, love and erotica is as timeless as is my wish for racism and sexism to disappear from the face of this planet, no longer so urgent, so violent, so degrading.
Writing is a solitary act.
Gertrude Stein in “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” talks about giving a lecture in Oxford, and how she answered questions about knowing “she was right in doing the kind of writing she did.”
“She answered that it was not a question of what any one thought, but after all she had been doing as she did for about 20 years,” she wrote.
“This did not mean of course that they were coming to think that her way was a possible way, it proved nothing, but on the other hand it did possibly indicate something.”

Review of “The New and Selected Yuri”

A review by Stephen Hong Sohn, Assistant Professor, English Department, Stanford University, in Asian American Literature Fans Sunday Mega Review Round-Up, Nov. 6, 2011.

Yuri Kageyama is a poet whose work I’ve long been wanting to read, especially since her chapbook “Peeling” has long been out of print. She’s been on the literary scene for a number of decades and her work is both direct and passionate.
In “The New and Selected Yuri,” we get a broad range of poetic works and short prose stories with topics ranging from racism, fetishism, abortion, activism, interracial desire, among other such issues. There’s a lengthier narrative track toward the end of the collection that comes off as playscript: a dialogue between a younger woman named Miu and someone named “Me,” perhaps the ghostly authorial double.
While earlier sections are obviously very pro-choice in terms of the topic of abortion, what’s really interesting in “The Story of Miu” is the question of reproduction and what it means for the ostensible mother.
At one point, “me” states: “I try to tell young women this every chance I get, but it’s the most important experience in life to have a child, Okay?” (108).
Later, when Miu goes through with an abortion, we see that these words of wisdom do not necessarily bear fruit in this specific story. It’s interesting to see Kageyama represent this particular reproductive politic in light of so many of the other poems and reveals a complicated and contoured approach to imagining so-called womanhood.
One of the most obvious things to note offhand about Yuri Kageyama’s writings is that they reveal the anger at the heart of the racialized minority’s experience.
Anger tends to be undertheorized as a complicated and nuanced affectual impulse within cultural studies. The literary critic Sue J. Kim is currently exploring this topic I believe and I am reminded of it when I read Kageyama’s work; she reminds us that there are so many things to be angry about, so many ways to express that anger, and so many ways that anger pushes one to actually go out and do something. Sometimes anger is seen to be an emotional impulse that cuts off, or at worst, is simply an uncalculated violence, but Kageyama pushes us to think of anger as a way to reconsider racialized and gendered subjectivities, the power dynamics that bind and constrain and that one must resist.
In this way, I like to think of Kageyama as a kind of throwback, really rooted in the women of color, post-Civil Rights activist poetics, moving strongly in line with others such as Janice Mirikitani, Nellie Wong, Kitty Tsui, and Merle Woo.
I found this work particularly refreshing in this regard and Kageyama is not necessarily always going for the most lyrically and aesthetically crafted line, but uses elements like anaphora and repetition to strike out at and bring in the audience.
Indeed, I can’t imagine some of these poems without an actual performance and it’s very clear that there is a spoken word dynamic that would lend increased heft to the collection.
The fact that the book was put out by the Ishmael Reed Publishing Group is obviously no accident. Ishmael Reed has long had a very strong engagement with Asian American literary circles, especially and most famously with the “Aiiieeeee!!!” editors way back in the day.
Thus, this book reminds me of the strong comparative minority engagements that we sometimes forget about as we work through our respective race and ethnic studies areas.
A powerful work, and I’m especially glad there is a way to access Kageyama’s writings in one collected source.