please see video on YouTube.
From Shuntaro Tanikawa To Shuji Terayama
The video mail exchange between the two famous Japanese poets is a YT upload from Eigagogo in Portugal.
Their styles are so different.
But the love they have for each other is beyond any doubt.
The relationship you see through their works is strangely more moving than the individual works.
This sounds corny and pedantic, but I can’t think of any other way to put it: Art ultimately is about love.
Not just love for someone, but love for life, love for what comes after your life, love for the absolute, love for your art, love for that something that goes beyond the finite, love for the spiritual, love for god.
Maybe that’s not even love, and it’s something else.
But I can’t think of a better word, right now.
Hiromi Ito in English
Mikiro Sasaki once told me that as a poet I was “Hiromi Ito in English.”
He meant it as a compliment, the way he always has, so much like a poet, to-the-point short-on-words observations.
He probably doesn’t remember having said this any more than he remembers me or my poems.
Some years back, when Ito was far less famous than she is today, though she was already a star, I translated some of her poems in English while I was still living in San Francisco.
She loved my translations and she asked for more although I ran out of time and never followed through with what could have been a very interesting collaboration.
My poem is in one poetry anthology Ito is in:
“other side river,” California: Stone Bridge Press, 1995.
I also had an opportunity to chat with Ito at a cofee shop when I came to live in Japan.
She told me that her menstrual periods would begin right before or during her poetry readings even though she wasn’t due for that cycle.
Then she said, “Yuri-san you’re the first person I’ve told this to who didn’t act surprised.”
Well, I just thought it made perfect sense.
Poetry is so erotic, hormones, lightning nerve shots, thought/speech going haywire, your uterus would want to bleed out of cycle, naturally.
She also told me she was afraid of Shuntaro Tanikawa’s eyes _ they have that flicker from inside of someone who is trying to take, she said, visibly shivering.
Like all artists, Tanikawa is the kind of person who never stops being curious, and perhaps that energetic ego-centric desire was what repulsed Ito.
Ito also talked about how she couldn’t eat properly when she loved a man.
Food/sex/womanhood/reproduction/desire/ are all wrapped in one.
It is true, when you stop to think about it, eating, having sex, living day by day make utterly no sense and are rather grotesque and terrible.
When you stop too long to think about it, like after you come off an illness, it takes such an extra conscious effort to carry out the act of eating _ lift the fork, stab the mush, cut, carry to mouth, open mouth, close, open/close, open/close, swallow.
And imagining what’s happening to the food once it hits your blood-curdling feces-filled organs is nothing but a childhood nightmare.
I am a Poet
Common widsom is: Fiction and journalism don’t mix. A reporter getting carried away with make-believe while on the job will end up in a lot of trouble.
I have always kept that side of me that is a poet separate from my work.
Poetry is so private and touches that deep core inside of you that’s nowhere objective enough to be acknowledged by someone who is a dedicated reporter.
My first poem to get published (and that was some time back when I was still a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley) was a totally politically incorrect piece titled “Big White Bitch.”
A couple of my other poems:
Loving Younger Men
Only the bodies of young men aroused her;
the pure innocence in their wide dark eyes,
the wild still animal strength in their muscles,
the smoothness of their skin, so shiny, stretched
out over their boy-like shoulders, flat stomachs,
abdominals rippling gently, their thick thighs
that could thrust forever into the night, their
soft moist lips, where their tonges, so delicious,
dwelt, which darted against, into her vagina,
making her moan with joy, forgetting everything,
which felt so strong against her own tongue at one
moment, yet another, seemed to melt like caramel
in the back of her throat,
their dry fingers, that touched her in the most
unexpected and expecting spots,
their penises, half-covered by their black curls,
seemed smaller, less developed, less threatening,
yet as their shoulders strangely widened
when they held her, their penises filled her,
pointed against her deepest uterine insides,
hurting her with a pleasurable pain, as though
she could sense with her hand, their movements
from outside her belly. Her father beat her as a girl.
She ran from him, crying, please don’t hit me! please
don’t hit me! No, rather she stood defiant, silent,
silent tears drunk down her chest, till he, in anger
slapped her again and again, once so hard she was
swung across the room, once on her left ear so
that she could not hear for three weeks. She
frequented bars, searching for young men who desired
her. She sat alone drinking. She preferred
the pretty effeminate types _ perfectly featured,
a Michelangelo creation, island faces with coral eyes,
faces of unknown tribal child-princes. To escape
her family, she eloped at sixteen, with an alchoholic.
who tortured her every night, binding her with ropes,
sticking his penis into her mouth until she choked,
hitting her face into bruises, kicking her in
the stomach, aborting her child, his child.
The young boys’ heads, she would hold, after orgasm,
rocking them in her arms. She would kiss the side of their
tanned necks, breathe in the ocean scent of their hair,
lick their ear lobes and inside their ears. When they
fell asleep, sprawled like a puppy upon her sheets,
their mouths open, she would lie awake watching,
watching, watching, admiring their bodies, how so
aesthetically formed, balanced, textured. What
she enjoyed the most was their fondling her breasts,
suckling, massaging the flesh, flicking the tongue
against the nipple, biting, sucking till her nipples
were red-hot for days. She could come just by this,
When she is alone, she cries. In the dark, she reaches
upwards, into the air, grabbing nothing.
sizzling chopped garlic
nearly cut bok choy
shrieking sesame oil
a giant spoon
scraping the wok
his arm from behind hugs her stomach
he kisses her ear
“how’s your day?”
the shoyu turns greens into black
he tells her the latest occurrences
the spoon bangs
the bok choy
gnarled and wilted
“dinner is ready”
steam from the dish
reaches the ceiling
My book of poems, “Peeling,” can be ordered, by the way, at amazon.com or from I. Reed Books in Oakland:
and from me in Tokyo:
c/o The AP
Shiodome Media Tower 7th Floor
1-7-1 Higashi Shimbashi
Japanese poet Shuntaro Tanikawa gave me some nice words to put on the backcover. He says my poetry is seeing “through the anguished eyes of a half-breed the boundless universe in everyday life.”
Poet, essayist and novelist Ishmael Reed, who published my book, was a literature professor at UC Berkeley when I met him.
He has written wonderfully delicious books like “Mumbo Jumbo” and “Yellow Back Radio Broke Down.” He is now retired from the university but busy as ever writing.
He recently won the so-called “genius award” MacArthur Fellowship.
He came to Tokyo to read his poetry with musicians at the Blue Note jazz club. A CD version of the performance “Conjure Bad Mouth” made No. 4 on the Village Voice’s Jazz Vocal list.
The bottom line is: Poetry is everywhere, if we stop to listen.
What makes life worth living are the poetic moments.
The infinite color of the sky, the rattle of the Tokyo commuter train, the way love hurts in your chest, even the cheap bounce of singsong words on a billboard.