“They’ve called Yuri ‘cute’ often during her life. She’s cute all right. Like a tornado is cute. Like a hurricane is cute. This Yuricane. These poems are honest. Blunt. When she says that writing a poem is like taking ‘a bungee jump,’ she means it.” Ishmael Reed for THE NEW AND SELECTED YURI: WRITING FROM PEELING TILL NOW. (full text below)
“Through the anguished eyes of a hybrid soul, Yuri Kageyama sees the boundless universe in everyday life. ”
Shuntaro Tanikawa, author of “Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude” and “Naked.”
“New and important …. articulate and beautiful …. 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.” _ Yo Nakayama, poet and translator. (full text of the review below)
“The prose is unvarnished, unflinchingly personal and adroit in quickly juggling themes of child abuse, racism and sexuality while maintaining a narrative flow …. Kageyama’s poems have addressed stereotypes about race and gender roles. They’re made even more powerful when Kageyama recites them with collaborators such as Ghanaian percussionist Winchester Nii Tete on African drums and Keiji Kubo on didgeridoo. Against the backdrop of a traditional Noh stage, it’s a heady, globalized mix of words and music.” _ Tim Hornyak in No. 1 Shimbun, February 2016: full text in this link.
“Kageyama’s images, scoured, purged of ornamentation, can have the effect of a stun gun …. The focus in Kageyama’s work is less on beauty, which can be delusional, than on truth. Serious literature, we realize, does not exist to comfort and mollify us, but to unnerve and agitate.”
Stephen Mansfield in a review of “The New and Selected Yuri _ Writing From Peeling Till Now” in The Japan Times, Aug. 14, 2011. (full text below)
“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 …. 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 …. 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.”
Stephen Hong Sohn, Assistant Professor, English Department
Stanford University, in a review of “The New and Selected Yuri _ Writing From Peeling Till Now” in Asian American Literature Fans Sunday Mega Review Round-Up, Nov. 6, 2011. (full text below)
“OBA-SAN! Rebel yell at the Bowery Poetry Club. Poems address Japanese/Asian women’s colonized identity _ brilliant. Really impressed. Love the poem about the sexual crisis between Japanese men and women.”
Peter Yeoh, Asia Managing Editor of Glass (Conde Nast) magazine on “Story of Miu,” by Yuri Kageyama, April 1, 2012, at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, directed by Carla Blank, with dancer Yuki Kawahisa and music performed and composed by Pheeroan akLaff with accompaniment by Tecla Esposito.
“Yuri – behind that prim Japanese face lurks a sultry demoness of words.”
Geraldine Kudaka, author of “Numerous Avalanches at the Point of Intersection.”
“Her poetry is a spiritual song that echoes across the borders of cultures, race and gender.”
Yoshiaki Tago, director of “Talking TAIKO,” “Worst Contact” and “Maid in Akihabara.”
“I found myself in turns challenged and entertained by the sheer soul-force of the person who comes shining through these words. Close to the heart, close to the soul, deeply human and remarkable.”
Ravi Chandra, author of “a fox peeks out: poems.” full text below.
“Yuri Kageyama is a shrewd denizen of the water-world, savage caricaturist, a ghostly wraith, perpetual exile and huge-passioned troublemaker.”
Richard Oyama, author of “The Country They Know.”
“Her gaze is honest, direct and outspoken.”
Donald Richie, author of “The Films of Akira Kurosawa.”
“These are the stories most in need of being heard, and her crisp-but-provocative writing provides a vehicle both uncomfortable and enjoyable.” _ Todd Ellis. (full text below and on his site)
“Then you pick up ‘The New and Selected Yuri.’ Then you reach into her body and pull out her heart and turn it around in your hand as you listen to everything it has to say. You listen, and you learn. You tremble. And you weep. It makes no difference if you’re male or female. You weep. There’s not much laughter in the selected Yuri. Hers is not a humorous point of view. But it’s real. It shimmers. It envelopes you. It smells and tastes full of reality. There is no Chanel between the lines of Yuri’s prose and poetry. There’s blood. There’s the reek of death. There’s the shadow of a life that cannot be, a worm, she calls it. There’s reality. Not seen through a glass darkly, but glared at in the full light of day, often with the help of a 7X magnifying glass. You may not love everything Yuri has written, but you’ll not soon forget it. How much more power can I put into a recommendation? Try it. Just try it.”
Charles T. Whipple, author of “A Matter of Tea,” 2010 Oaxaca International Literature Competition winner.
“Yuri Kageyama sings of love, jazz and everyday life.”
Milton Murayama, author of “All I Asking For Is My Body.”
“These poems convey an intelligent, sensitive and sexual woman who enjoys life to the full, and who can express herself in a language filled to excess with energy.“
The Mainichi Daily News.
“In her collection of new and selected poems, Kageyama debunks cultural stereotypes and explores how racism and sexism scar people.”
Cornell Alumni Magazine.
“Yuri Kageyama has consistently and uncompromisingly traversed and bucked the social boundaries, between two continents, within two countries, Japan and U.S., with biting sarcasm and sexual frankness. She peels back the Fetish of silk black hair, kimono layers, polite smiles harnessing pain, enryo and gaman, to reveal with raw honesty, deep insight and erotic unabashedness, the passions of the flesh and human creativity seeking self-expression in defiance of a sexist, racist and violent society.”
Genny Lim, author of “Paper Angels” and “Wings of Lai Ho.”
_WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA: MEDITATION AN UNDER-REPORTED CATASTROPHE BY A POET:
Yuri Kageyama, with her epic poem, has earned a place among the leading world poets. This work proves that the poet as a journalist can expose conditions that are ignored by the media. _ Ishmael Reed poet, essayist, playwright, publisher, lyricist, author of MUMBO JUMBO, THE LAST DAYS OF LOUISIANA RED and THE COMPLETE MUHAMMAD ALI, MacArthur Fellowship, professor at the University of California Berkeley, San Francisco Jazz Poet Laureate (2012-2016).
NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA is a commentary on what it means to be human in the 21st Century. While we are divided by race, ethnicity, language, geography and culture, the essence of our humanity remains constant. In NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA, the cast, director and playwright all come together to create a montage of courage, uncertainty and hope in the face of disaster. _ Basir Mchawi producer, community organizer and radio show host at WBAI Radio in New York, who has taught at the City University of New York, public schools and independent Black schools.
A truly emotional experience. _ Liliana Perez child psychologist and Ph.D.
A vital story of our times. Spoken word and music from a talented multicultural ensemble. A beacon of light in a darkening world. _ Paul Armstrong artistic director at International Arts Initiatives, a Vancouver-based nonprofit for cultural advancement through the arts and education.
I welcomed NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA _ into my consciousness, with deep gratitude, seeing it twice, two days in succession _ all the while marveling at the tough yet faithful production and its dedication to truth-telling. _ David Henderson poet, co-founder of Umbra and the Black Arts Movement, author of “‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky. Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child.”
Tragically, Fukushima is still constantly being shaken by earthquakes. NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA echoes the mourning of Bon Odori dance to warn us again and again that the nuclear age of post-World War II Japan has never ended. _ Hisami Kuroiwa movie producer and executive for “The Shell Collector,” “”Lafcadio Hearn: His Journey to Ithaca,” “Sunday,” “Bent” and the Silver Bear-winning “Smoke.”
Fukushima: Excellent musical accompaniment to poignant poetry, with minimal yet imaginative staging and choreography. Musicians were absolutely superb! _ Nana pianist and New Yorker.
What a delight was the new theater piece featuring Shigeko Suga, which did a short run at La MaMa. Ms. Suga and her fellow performers glided beautifully with wit, authority and grace through the stylized performances. See this show and be transported magically. _ George Ferencz co-founder of the Impossible Ragtime Theater, resident director at La MaMa (1982-2008), who has also directed at the Actors’ Theater of Louisville, Berkeley Rep and Cleveland Playhouse.
News that enraptures and engages through Sound. A Poet sings of the unreported calamity at Fukushima in NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA to Melvin Gibbs’ bass. _ Katsumi a Japanese living in New York.
It spoke of what’s most critically needed in this age. Despite advances in civilization and culture, the power of emotions has weakened, and people don’t know how to talk to each other. Everyone who took part in this performance, and those who came to see it, although of different races and thinking, all felt clearly the existence of what we know is so important, what we feel is so needed: Love. Love is not an abstract concept. It is about how we treasure our family, how we treat our lovers, our friends. I have lived to see many people who hurt others out of selfishness, betrayed others without qualms, and then went on to hide what they had done. But in the end, what is desired is not achieved, leaving only hunger, and, because of that, the cycle gets repeated again. What I saw here is not just cultural collaboration but what is at the center of that _ a warm feeling, and the expression of the message that the world cannot go on this way. I pray more people will be able to feel love through seeing this performance. I pray as someone who believes in love. _ Toshinori “Toshichael Jackson” Tani dancer, member of TL Brothers and instructor.
_FULL TEXTS of the reviews excerpted above:
THE YURICANE by Ishmael Reed
in a “Foreword for “THE NEW AND SELECTED YURI: Writing From Peeling Till Now,” an anthology published in 2011 of Yuri Kageyama’s poetry and other works.
They’ve called Yuri “cute” often during her life. She’s cute all right. Like a tornado is cute. Like a hurricane is cute. This Yuricane. I found that out when she was a student at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1970s. One of her poems about iconic white women became an underground hit on campus.
In 2009 the audience at New York City’s Bowery Poetry Club was also blown away by her poem, “Little YELLOW Slut,” a devastating look at the way Asian women are depicted in the media.
“The New and Selected Yuri” includes poems like this; the manner by which Japanese women are imprisoned behind a “Noh mask,” but Kageyama doesn’t leave it at that.
Unlike many American Gender First feminists,she is capable of understanding how men are also victims of outmoded customs, though they are not dismissed merely as “reproductive machines,” as one minister was caught saying in an unguarded moment. Women should be “quiet” and have bok choy ready when the men come home from
drinking with the boys.
It’s also the women, who bear the miscarriages, the abortions, the rapes, the beatings from a father, who, years later, can’t give an explanation for why he did it. In the United States, the white men who own the media and Hollywood blame the brutality against women on the poor and minority men. White middle class women, and their selected minority women, who want to remain on their payrolls in business, politics and academia, have become surrogates in this effort.
Courageously, Yuri Kageyama debunks this myth and correctly calls out men of all backgrounds and classes as women abusers. The father who inflicts gratuitous punishment upon his daughter is a NASA scientist.
These poems are honest. Blunt. When she says that writing a poem is like taking “a bungee jump,” she means it.
Very few of the world poets have Yuri Kageyama’s range. Her poems critique Japanese as well as American society. The Chikan. The arrogance of the gaijin, who, even when guests in a country, insist that everybody be like them. Some are erotic. You might find allusions to Richard Wright, Michelangelo, John Coltrane. Music is not only entertainment but like something that one injects, something that invades the nervous system.
I asked writer Haki Madhubuti, what he meant by African Centrism. He said that it was based upon selecting the best of African traditions.
Some of Yuri Kageyama’s poems might be considered Nippon Centric. She wants to jettison those customs that oppress both men and women, especially the women, and keep those of value. The Kakijun, The Enryo and The Iki.
July 8, 2010
POETRY AS STIMULATING AS A STUN GUN
THE NEW YURI AND SELECTED YURI: Writing From Peeling Till Now, by Yuri Kageyama. Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, 2011, 134 pp., $19.99 (paper)
Book review by Stephen Mansfield, THE JAPAN TIMES, Aug. 14, 2011.
In the babbling cosmos of contemporary literature, there have been a handful of distinguished cross-cultural writers who have made the English language their own. One thinks instinctively of Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian who maneuvered words with the elan of a chess master.
More proximate in time and place is the Tokyo-based Dutch writer, Hans Brinckman, a nonfiction author, who also happens to be a poet. Yuri Kageyama, a Japanese woman with an American background, appears to be perfectly at home with both cultures, but chooses to compose her poetry exclusively in English.
Like the manifesto loving European poets of the 1920s and 1930s, Kageyama’s intentions are concisely stated. In her Introduction she writes, “Racial stereotypes and sexuality have always been my obsessions.” These are themes fully explored in the pages that follow.
Kageyama’s images, scoured, purged of ornamentation, can have the effect of a stun gun. In one poem she writes:
SuperMom endures, her womb red and
heavy and big and open, wrenching out
babies and seaweed and stench.
SuperMom spurts out curdled milk like a
fountain in the desert.
In “For women only,” a poem about gender segregated carriages on the Tokyo subway, she infers that the issue of females being sexually harassed is grudgingly acknowledged, but shunted to the rear by more pressing concerns:
farthest from the ticket gates
the first car up front,
and the most dangerous
if we crash
After several dire warnings and premonitions about men and matrimony in the poems and short stories of this anthology, “After the storm” hints at the possibility of a mundane but precious happiness. The sexual fantasies and power infatuations of Western men are exposed in unsparing detail in “Little YELLOW Slut.”
A similar, worse-case treatment of male attitudes toward Asian women is dealt out in a later work, “an ode to the Caucasian male.”
The subject of casual duplicity is touched on in “Disco Chinatown,” when the author writes of male entitlement, of a man establishing proprietorial rights:
You tell me not to dance with anyone else
When I just met you tonight
And isn’t your old lady waiting at your
Unlike the writer Anais Nin, whose discreet affairs and erotic writings were sealed in the time capsule of diaries until after her death, Kageyama, a creature from a more divulging age, writes poems that celebrate the voluptuous.
Her artistic activities are documented in “Talking TAIKO,” movie in a DVD form by Yoshiaki Tago. It includes her live performances, commentary, interview snippets and contributions from several musicians, including the Ghanian master drummer Winchester Nii Tete. The performances remind us that the fusion of speech and drum, voice and animal hide, are among the most elemental and expressive of human sounds. Appearing in the flesh, Kageyama comes across as a supremely confident individual, in full control of her material, a person who appears to embody the idea that if an ordeal doesn’t destroy you, it will make you stronger.
The short stories, combining the economy of Jhumpa Lahiri with the hard-won maturity of vision that we associate with the novels of Margaret Atwood, are intimate portraits, segments of reality that allow us to eavesdrop on the intimate conversations of Asian women, or at least to imagine we are.
Beside the patent theme of death, “The Suicide” is about an inarticulate woman who manages to find her voice, only to have it silenced by her husband, though there is an ambiguity to the ending that offers hope. “The Father and the Son,” the final entry in the book, is a disturbing account of the conflicted relationship with a father, a respected scientist, prone, like so many highly educated Japanese males, to fits of domestic violence.
Because this is not feminist propaganda, the women in these narratives are not invariably strong-willed; nor do they necessarily stand up for their rights as we might hope. There are stories of women waiting patiently for men to improve, women who are prepared to make allowances, to cover up for shortcomings and inadequacies.
The focus in Kageyama’s work is less on beauty, which can be delusional, than on truth. Serious literature, we realize, does not exist to comfort and mollify us, but to unnerve and agitate.
With such a fierce and unsparing concatenation of images and observations on rape, parental abuse, loneliness, injustice, suicide, teenage abortion, racial slurs and human inanition, you could be forgiven for thinking this a joyless work. Although clearly not for the faint-hearted, Kageyama’s book of ordeals is full of life. And the rumble of authorial anger.
Asian American Literature Fans Sunday Mega Review Round-Up
THE NEW YURI AND SELECTED YURI: Writing From Peeling Till Now, by Yuri Kageyama. Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, 2011.
Book Review by Stephen Hong Sohn, Assistant Professor, English Department
Stanford University, 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.
Saying it her own way
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
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
Or she describes her inner world as follows:
forsaken bamboo forest of the mind
burrowing darkness like the earth
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.”
you see only the race in me
cuz, white man,
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.
Are my eyes
That see and see what I have seen
They can’t ever understand
The love of a Japanese woman
Pale powdered hands
Eyes downcast night pools of wetness
Fifteen years for her samurai lover
And when he comes back
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.
NEW MUSIC AND POETRY FROM UNREALITY
Richard Oyama for ASIAN WEEK, Dec. 29, 1979.
G.R. Watanabe and Yuri Kageyama are presenting “New Music and Poetry from Unreality” at the Chinese Cultural Center. Yuri Kageyama will be reading her poetry with music composed by Gordon Watanabe as well as two compositions by John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner. The program will also feature choreo-poems by Joyce Umamoto and slides of graphic works by artist Kyoko Yamanouchi. Following an intermission, Russel Baba, Kenny Endo and Watanabe will perform their own music. The theme is “Conscious Unconsciousness.”
One of the impressive things about the artists and musicians on this program is the power and passion of their art, the risks they are willing to take, and their absolute refusal to play it safe. They take the chance of making misakes, possibly offending the audience or turning our expectations upside down in order to communicate the full range of their emotions.
By turns, Yuri Kageyama’s poetry is sensuous, erotic, exquisitely delicate or brutally raw, drawing much of her imagery from Japanese culture. Her poems demonstrate a love of language, a fine eye for detail and a watercolor-like transparency. She reads poems which describe the disco subculture in Chinatown in all its low-life flash and nihilistic gang violence that wastes the youth. Her love poems are lyrical and deeply felt.
Probably the most controversial aspect of her work is the intimate description of sex it contains. One may say that the boundary between pornography and art is not always clearly defined in her work, that the depictions of sexual brutality toward women may be overly graphic or even titillating. I prefer to think that these are the risks she takes. Sex is an appropriate theme of subject for literature and the other arts. In this respect, her work shares an interest with such contemporary works as Anais Nin’s Erotica and Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses.
But perhaps her most successful poems are the ones composed for jazz musicians. These jazz poems are vivid, highly impressionistic, evocative word-paintings which pay homage to their music. The poems attain a remarkable intensity of emotion, with an awareness of the physicality of jazz and the jazz musicians themselves. They are sprinkled with statements of Zen paradox which recognize the quality of transport that music possesses at its height, and its magical ability to somehow “express the inexpressible.” Writing of this kind is a difficult feat to achieve, yet Yuri Kageyama’s poems share with us the interior landscape she sees and feels in music. It is often quite beautiful. She sings of “the basic blues on the shamisen.”
“Listening to one’s voice within often entails moments of open silence,” Yuri says. “Like the internal space of a Japanese garden.” With other artists on this program, her work is important and deserves to be heard.
Book review by Ravi Chandra
of “THE NEW AND SELECTED YURI:WRITING FROM PEELING TILL NOW,” Ishmael Reed Publishing Co., 2011.
I met Yuri Kageyama at an event honoring Ishmael Reed at LitQuake. Yuri performed her piece “Little YELLOW Slut,” a powerful spoken-word piece that punctuates stereotypes of Asian American women with the judgmental projection “Little YELLOW SluT.”
I was immediately taken by this piece, and was proud to soon be carrying Kageyama’s latest collection of work, which she generously gifted me in exchange for my modest first book, “a fox peeks out: poems.”
I was very impressed by Kageyama’s poetry and prose, which are both a tender and raw depiction of her Asian American sexuality and political mindset.
Some of the poems are in what’s now called the “wordfist” tradition, like “BIG WHITE BITCH,” taking aim at and taking down the oppressive forces of racism and sexism with a uniquely feminine yet tough-spoken mindset.
These are angry and direct. Some might find them shocking. But I found them vivid and real.
Others are a lament _ of childhood abuse by her rocket scientist father and of sitting next to him as he lay dying.
There are also many prose pieces. One discusses Japanese concepts such as Kakijun, Enryo and Iki. Another is a perhaps semi-autobiographical look back at 1970’s political-poetic movements in San Francisco.
Yet another is a dialogue between her and a younger Asian American woman living in Japan and struggling for relationship and power _ possibly a younger version of herself.
This is an emininently readable and enjoyable collection.
I found myself in turns challenged and entertained by the sheer soul-force of the person who comes shining through these words. Close to the heart, close to the soul, deeply human and remarkable. Recommended.
Book review by Tod Ellis on his site Dec. 27, 2016, of “The New and Selected Yuri: Writing From Peeling Till Now” Ishmael Reed Publishing Co., 2011.
Why hadn’t I heard of Yuri Kageyama before? She’s been quietly publishing poetry, essays, and short stories for over 30 years. Her style ranges between transgressive and journalistic, channeling similar frustrations as writers like Kathy Acker, but with a style devoid of flourish or absurdity. She’s published in journals and magazines, and had her one and only poetry collection, Peeling, published by her close friend and fellow author, Ishmael Reed, in 1988. The New and Selected Yuri, published in 2011, contains 41 short works of poetry and prose dating from 1978 to 2011. It contains short stories, essays, anecdotes, conversations, cultural explanations, and a wealth of poems.
Keeping with her 25-plus years of experience in journalism, her vision and messages are concentrated: She’s primarily chronicling the injustices of both the East and the West against women and minorities; how those injustices are fostered between individuals who otherwise should know better, but instead feed into biases and persecutions without understanding why or how. Her relationship with her father is defined by such a contrast — his high education and contributions towards NASA’s space program, and the physical abuse of his child — and seems to inspire much of the cognitive dissonance she explores:
when I got older and got the nerve
I asked him why he had done that
what was he thinking?
I wanted to know
and he said he didn’t know
he helped us get to the moon but
the rocket scientist didn’t know
he couldn’t remember why he hit me at all
Loc. 405, from “rocket scientist”
Yuri’s writing shouldn’t be this obscure. In her journalism and in her personal writing, she seeks out the unspoken stories of minorities or the disadvantaged* — and where do you go from there? These are the stories most in need of being heard, and her crisp-but-provocative writing provides a vehicle both uncomfortable and enjoyable.
Asian women have narrow roles to fulfill in both America and Japan. Americans need her and other Asian-American women to meet gross stereotypes (be grateful that white men might like you; accept their sexual invitations as gifts; your poetry and anger is an erotic invitation; you’re an unthinking target; feel honored to be desired). ‘Asian American Art Story’ — possibly nonfiction(?) — and ‘the Story of Miu‘ — definitely nonfiction — are favorites here. The narrator of the former is forcibly excised from her own cultural group for being a woman with strong opinions and aspirations; the latter is Yuri’s exchanges with a young woman named Miu who was then oppressed by young men pushing their sexual expectations on her.
It’s not always about sex, though: A culture’s religion can be just as oppressive, however loving the message. ‘The Nunnery’ is a story of two young Japanese girls attending a Christian school. Even the inviting religion ostracizes them based simply on physical traits — once a year, a graduating student is chosen to represent the Virgin Mary based on their academic performance, but the two leads are automatically disqualified because of their black hair and Asian features. If they’re disqualified from getting rewarded, why bother giving schoolwork their full attention? It just feeds a garbage cycle of oppression and bias. It’s gross.
Japan’s no different, currently confused by a cultural crisis as women seek educations and work in a society that suggests they keep quiet behind their Noh masks, as seen in ‘the Suicide’:
“[Women] don’t think, and, if we did, maybe I’d [kill myself], too. Or, at least, go away, some place far, by myself, and try to find a better way out. Yet then,” she smiled faintly, “there may be none. It’s like staring deeply into the fire. After a while, one feels one is inside the fire, an one wants to jump in and burn until nothing is left.” She paused. “I wake up at night, sometimes, and I get filled with the passion of wanting to die. Everything is so unbearable. Except dying _”
“Didn’t you hear? I told you to stop.”
Loc. 920, from ‘the Suicide’
She stops. And, Noh mask back on, returns to being a quiet and unfeeling thing.
‘Ikiru,’ her story of family loss and aging, was particularly difficult. Yuri’s relationship with her mom was nearly as deleterious as her relationship with her dad, and the turmoil she feels on seeing her mom waste away from pancreatic cancer is painfully accurate. Particularly of not being able to say what you’d like to say before it’s too late, and the guilt that comes after. You have all that time of watching someone whither away, and yet communication is still broken and miserable. There’s no reconciliation.
Admittedly, much of Yuri’s poetry went over my head, or I just feel inadequate rationalizing how to judge its free-verse structure. Poems like ‘rocket scientist,’ ‘Little YELLOW Slut,’ and ‘an ode to the Caucasian male’ were just as angry and clear as her best stories and essays, but many of the others lead my eyes to glaze over, lost from the writer’s thought processes. It’s clear much of her work is best heard — spoken-word poetry — and the introductions to the collection suggest as much. The worst stories and essays suffer the same: Rough editing (or the stream-of-consciousness prose-poetry in some parts) sometimes left me behind.
The New and Selected Yuri is a necessary collection of stories and poetry, but is hurt by the sometimes-clunky formatting. Given the rhythm of the poetry, too, I wish I could see Yuri perform them (as she does here!). Still, Yuri’s stories and poems cover the unspoken stories and perspectives of the Asian-American and Japanese women — something absent from and required in our cultures’ narratives — with style. Maybe not so much class, but the misogyny and racism she fights against is so bafflingly stupid and patronizing, who’s to say it deserves it?