AN UNDENIABLE FACT
A haiku by Yuri Kageyama
March 8, 2020 8:55 a.m.
No Voice (No Story being told)
AN ELEGY FOR JOURNALISM
_ a poem by Yuri Kageyama
Stories killed, stories buried,
Stories untold, stories denied,
Robert and Dori Maynard
Woodward and Bernstein
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.
YASUNARI KAWABATA’S ROOM
a poem by Yuri Kageyama
The soft light flickers even in daylight on moss, ferns and rocks, and a well trickles drops into a circular pool of peace, beyond the tiny shoji window, where he used to sit, smile and pick on kaiseki dishes with friends like Yukio Mishima and Yae, the head maid of the ryokan inn, talking about nothing and everything, that moonlit space, like a dream remembered at midnight. He wrote only after everyone left and went to sleep. In a silence that is his only. So intense he feels numb. And he wrote like he bled, effortless but draining. He only needed one night. To get away and soak in that special space, a fantasy complete with the passing of the seasons, knowing of the right word and the shock of an ancient doll’s face, so very similar to that place in his mind and soul and his writing. No one raises his or her voice. Everyone is frivolous, fragile, forgetful. Tea is bitter-sweet foam, served with a pungent pastry. He wrote. He could write. And the publisher found his manuscript done, always, outside the door in the morning.
No Gift of the Magi
A Poem by Yuri Kageyama
we were poor
not dirt poor but poor
me a reporter at the local rag
you a stay-at-home dad and part-time English teacher
and so when i opened that velveteen box
you handed me oh so casually on
anticipation about a
gem or jewel or sparkle
that other girls get
and saw a plain black fountain
the kind no one uses anymore
mont blanc or some other brand requiring finger-smudging
i was angry
“why did you buy this and
and then you
and i thought you were going to hit me
and you took the pen
and broke it in half
hot with something
that was beyond
the anger i felt
a feeling of not being
not like that O. Henry story
where the comb unwanted, the watch band unwanted
priceless proofs of
not that dumb purchase filled with
and you looked up
and said what I didn’t
think of and what you didn’t
want to say
“I bought you a pen
because you are
and that’s what writers use
_ a pen.”
write it down
a poem by Yuri Kageyama
write it down
sumi strokes on rice paper
sway over incense
fold origami style and
tie on a tree
write it down
beatings by your father
betrayal by your lover
rapes by your neighbor
scorn from your enemy
write it down
not to remember for legacy
but to purge and purify
not notes for later but
simply to forget
write it down
Yuri Kageyama is a poet, writer and journalist in Tokyo. She has a book of poetry – “Peeling” (I. Reed Press). Her works have appeared in many literary publications, including “Y’Bird,” “Pow Wow: Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience – Short Fiction from Then to Now,” “San Francisco Stories,” “On a Bed of Rice,” “Breaking Silence: an Anthology of Asian American Poets,” “Greenfield Review,” “Beyond Rice,” “River Styx,” “Other Side River,” “Yellow Silk,” “Stories We Hold Secret,” “MultiAmerica,” “Echoes From Gold Mountain” and “Obras.” She has read with Ishmael Reed, Shuntaro Tanikawa, Geraldine Kudaka, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Russel Baba, Seamus Heaney, Shozu Ben, Al Robles, Winchester Nii Tete, Eric Kamau Gravatt, Yumi Miyagishima, Yuri Matsueda and other artists. Her son Isaku Kageyama is a professional “taiko” drummer with Tokyo-based Amanojaku, led by Yoichi Watanabe. “A Back Alley Asian American Love Story, of Sorts,” a film by Niccolo Caldararo of Kageyama’s short story, was shown at the San Francisco and New York Asian American film festivals, and won awards at the 1986 Palo Alto Film Festival, 1987 Ann Arbor Film Festival and 1988 Onion City Film Festival. Yoshiaki Tago is now making a film of Kageyama’s readings with music, set to be completed later this year. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Cornell University, and holds an M.A. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.
David Hoenigman: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Yuri Kageyama: I was born in Japan and went to the U.S. for the first time with my parents when I was 6. I didn’t speak a word of English and didn’t say a single word for a year in elementary school. But I had mysteriously picked up English during this period of silence – though I can’t explain how that happened. I also spent a part of my high-school years in the U.S., again with my parents. While I lived in Japan, my parents sent me to international schools because they wanted me to be a scientist and thought English would be a useful tool. Although I have long had mixed feelings about my bilingual/bicultural upbringing, which had made me both emotionally and socially marginal, if not an outcast, I am now more at peace with it and am now trying to see it as an asset. I love Japanese writers and their sensibilities but I also love the English language. It is powerful not only because it has such a large audience but also because it is the kind of language that forces the writer to be direct and speak in a universal way and be strong as an individual. I also often write about musicians because they are good vehicles to explore themes of self-expression, cultural identity and eroticism that are central to my works.
DH: What Japanese writers do you love?
YK: Shuntaro Tanikawa, Kenji Nakagami, Hiromi Ito, Mieko Kawakami, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Kenji Miyazawa.
DH: I enjoyed your poem “Cecil Taylor”. What other musicians have you written about?
YK: I have written about musicians who are my friends and relations in San Francisco and Tokyo, and characters based on such people. One of my recent poems was inspired by the music of Winchester Nii Tete, a percussionist from Ghana with whom I have been collaborating on performance pieces of poetry with music.
DH: When and why did you begin writing?
YK: I have been a writer as long as I remember. It was a natural part of my everyday life like breathing or eating. As a child, I made up stories. Reading books and writing took on more importance as a way to cope with difficulties, a way to vent out emotions. I am not sure if this makes for good writing, but it is true I sometimes feel I may have killed myself (or killed someone else!) if I hadn’t had writing. My parents had a hard time paying tuition for the international schools and couldn’t afford dance or drawing lessons. To write, all you needed was a piece of paper and a pencil. And the whole world was there to explore. These days, my writing has allowed me to connect with artists of many genres in collaborations. I am working on a film about my poetry with Japanese director Yoshiaki Tago, and I do readings with African percussionist Winchester Nii Tete. In April, I read at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York with Eric Kamau Gravatt, an American traps drummer who tours with McCoy Tyner, and a Japanese couple on their honeymoon. The event was in celebration of an anthology of American fiction called “Pow-Wow,” edited by Ishmael Reed with Carla Blank (DaCapo Press), which came out earlier this year. My short story “The Father and the Son” is part of that book. Ishmael is going to publish one of the poems I read there “Little YELLOW Slut” in his online magazine Konch this summer.
DH: How exactly will you (and Yoshiaki Tago) make a film about your poetry?
YK: We are filming my readings, my son’s concerts of taiko and other footage of everyday life in Tokyo to make a poetic statement on film. We are out to say what life means, what death means, what cultural identity means, what womanhood/motherhood (manhood/fatherhood) means _ all that. Tago is a very talented filmmaker and so much of the logistics rest with him, and I don’t know what’s going on. But my poems always play visuals reel-like in my mind so I already have a feeling for what the movie should look like. Maybe I am not good at making friends in the normal way. But I think I connect very well with some artists of various genres, even people who are very different from me in background. My work and I personally thrive on these connections. One thing leads to the other, really, and the relationships I have forged with Tago, Winchester and many others are just as valid and meaningful as, if not more so than, the friendships that normal people have.
DH: I loved “The Father and the Son”. I found something about it very comforting, though before reading it I hadn’t realized I was in need of comfort. Does that make any sense to you?
YK: Thank you! What a nice thing to say. I don’t think the purpose of creative writing is the same as a pretty painting hanging in an office building. In that sense, it isn’t out to appease. But if a story can give true spiritual comfort, that’s the ultimate. Poets are shamans. We are purging this world of evil and pain and pumping in some good poetic energy through the magic of the word because we are in touch with the eternal and the extraordinary.
DH: Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?
YK: I am one of the few writers in the world who is a Japanese woman writing in English about the experiences of being Japanese in Japan and America. The world is increasingly global, and being multicultural is more accepted. I don’t have a message per se. I am writing because that is what I was born to do. I am always thinking about my writing, and life – every day, every moment – takes on more meaning for me if I am doing that. Nisei writer Toshio Mori once told me that as a writer you live life, and then you live it again when you write about it. So it is doubly difficult, time-consuming and heart-wrenching. But it is also a way to celebrate and feel love and everything else more intensely. That is basic to all writing (art) – not just multicultural writing. I don’t aim for multicultural writing. I aim for good and honest writing always. It just happens to be multicultural because that is who I am. My son Isaku Kageyama, who was born in San Francisco and is also bilingual/bicultural, is a professional “taiko” (Japanese drumming) player with Amanojaku, led by Yoichi Watanabe, in Tokyo. A traps drummer who was a friend happened to be in Japan studying taiko and so Isaku started learning taiko when he was 6. He now goes to teach taiko to Japanese Americans in Brazil, and performs all over, not just the U.S., but also China, Dubai, India. It’s exciting. I am proud of what I have achieved as a mother and don’t have qualms about taking some credit! Having a son who is an artist helps me keep going in my art. It gives me courage because as a mother I must practice what I teach and I have to show by example like all mothers. But I am starting to realize these days that it is my son who has helped me and given me so much, although all the while I thought I was helping him. The musicians I’ve met lately are all his friends, and friends of his friends. What goes around comes around. And so trying to be a good writer starts with trying to be a good person. If we can’t love the people around us, we can’t hope to save this world. That sounds like a platitude and I can’t express it any better, but it is very important.
DH: What projects are you currently working on?
YK: I have several short stories in various publications starting from the late 1970s to this year. (Links to the anthologies available from amazon are below:
On a Bed of Rice
San Francisco Stories-Short Fiction by Bay Area Writers-Premier Issue
The Stories We Hold Secret: Tales of Women’s Spiritual Development
Pow-Wow: Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience – Short Fiction from Then to Now
There are more that got published over the years that aren’t available on amazon. )
I feel they are still good stories. I am looking for a publisher that will put them out as a compilation in a book. So if anyone is interested, please let me know.
About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of Burn Your Belongings.
© 2009 Word Riot
Many years ago, when I’d just started working at a new office as a reporter, I got a call from Shozu Ben.
I found this great job for you, he says, teaching English at a school.
It’s perfect for you.
He can’t believed I’m not taking the job.
He can’t comprehend why a poet would take a full-time reporting job.
What about time for poetry _ real writing?
Why? he asks puzzled, maybe exasperated, even disgusted.
He probably thought I was ungrateful.
Now that I think back, it was so sweet of him.
I had just met him once at a reading.
He also probably thought I was very misguided.
Being a character in a book is flattering if the writing happens to be as good as “Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei” by David Mura (1991: Anchor-Random).
Across the boulevard, a Japanese woman strode straight toward me, wearing a dark coat, a black skirt, a black jacket, black stockings and long silver earrings. Her hair was permed, her face small, oval, a dimple like mine on her right cheek. Her lipstick was bright coral.
“Are you David Mura?” she asked.
“How did you know me?”
“Well, you said you’d be wearing a black coat and carrying a black shoulder bag.”
“I wondered if you could pick me out as an American.”
In many ways, Yuri looked like most of the Japanese women around us, but she possessed a flash that somehow wasn’t present in the others. Perhaps it was her lipstick, or the energy of her small frame. Young Japanese women seemed to fold into themselves when they greeted each other. It wasn’t just the gesture of bowing, it was the way their bodies always seemed to be stepping backward as they talked or giggled. Yuri had looked me straight in the eye and thrust out her hand in greeting. Her eyes and smile carried a wry, suspicious air. “Be forewarned,” they said. “Nothing gets past me.” Certain minority women in America have this toughness, this unwillingness to waste time with bullshit. Sometimes it’s strength, sometimes bitterness, sometimes both. With Yuri, I couldn’t yet tell.
She suggested a tempura restaurant nearby. Walking among the Japanese crowds, we talked in English. But I didn’t feel self-conscious as I sometimes did with Susie. Yuri and I both belonged, and did not; we shared a dual privilege. Even our clothing matched; I was also dressed in a black coat, black pants, white shirt.
The walls of the resturant and the booths were paneled in pine. There was a tatami room in back. We sat in a booth. Yuri ordered in Japanese. I wondered if it seemed strange to the waitresses that the woman was ordering, or that we were speaking English to each other. By this time, I could read enough kanji to get by on basic menus, and I could order for myself. Still, I was relieved to let Yuri order.
Nodding, she told me that many Sansei males she knew in San Francisco felt insecure about their sexuality _ they just didn’t feel attractive.
“And then, of course, they see white boys picking up on the Asian women …”
Still, Yuri didn’t always feel sympathy for the Sansei males. Many of them held traditionally Japanese chauvinistic values. They often felt that Japanese women, with their daikon legs _ short and thick like a Japanese radish _ square hips, and small breasts, lacked the beauty ahd glamour of white women. I felt pangs of self-recognition, and yet I was also relieved to know other Sansei men had similar uncertainties about their identity.
As Yuri and I talked, I thought how ironic it was that I had had to come to Japan before I could learn how other Japanese-Americans in my generation were dealing with their background. Oh, I had read Japanese-American novels and poetry, but they sometimes felt distant, almost mythical, unconnected to my experience in the white Midwest. Certainly Yuri had her biases, but she didn’t try to hide them. I felt an easy camaraderie with her. I knew she had praised my work in an article in San Francisco Poetry Flash. And something in our sensibilities resonoated with each other. I admired her willingness to speak out, to stand apart from the group.
The poems she showed me that afternoon confirmed that we were mining the same territory. It wasn’t just that they dealt frankly with sexual matters, or that her father appeared to have a temper like my father’s down to the occasional violence of his rages. No, there was a plunge beyond the acceptable and well-mannered, a sense of sexuality as destructive and violent, as representing a dark limit of human relations where rage reveals itself, a sense conveyed by images which left both the reader and the writer hovering on the edge of shame, anger, obsession.