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Translator's note: On March 11, 2011, when “flowers of prunus (m)ume” were yet to bloom, a complex catastrophe of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation took more than twenty thousand lives and forced the evacuation of two hundred and eighty thousand people in Japan.Shortly after the tragedy, while its trauma was still vivid, Japanese poet Gozo began to grope for a way to respond genuinely to the invisible wounds in the minds of the people and the She (sea, see). Through Dear Monster, an ongoing prose-poetry project, he returns to the fundamental, and for him newly ethically charged question: What is poetry?
Four years later,with hundreds of thousands of lines spun of this magic carpet of poetry, Gozo’s self-reflective Monster has extended to more than six hundred pages. The prose poem “、、、、Stones Single, or in Handfuls” is the overture to this monster: Gozo’s first attempt to find a “non-barbaric” and genuine form for his song “nach Fukushima.”
In “、、、、Stones,” Gozo breaks the Japanese language into phonemes and incorporates fragments of other languages including English, French, Chinese, and Korean. He uses multiple scripts—romaji, Korean hangul, ruby annotations, coined man’yo-gana, and pictographs alongside normal Japanese phonetics (hiragana and katakana) and ideograms (kanji).
The result is a reenactment, though largely undesigned, of the chaos Gozo saw with his own eyes in tsunami-devastated Rikuzentakada and the visions that grew from the event. In the now-chaotic coastal village, a combination of objects turned askew and memories from different times and remote places seemed to surge and overwhelm the poet: he saw a blue sign for the convenience store Lawson carried away by the wave; he saw a visionary whale turning into a hill; he saw a tatami-mat becoming a door to another world; and he heard a flute buried in the mud blowing an inaudible whistle to commemorate the dead.
Together, these images and sounds trigger further references so that the poem, visionary and real at once, enacts a kind of divination. Yet it is also site specific. Gozo takes particular memories of scenes, songs, and people from one place to another, inviting them to be present to the now-here of his “poetry-making”: he remembers a song from child, stands at Walden Pond, and walks into the New Bedford Whaling Museum remembering Melville.
Gozo’s poetry is to our everyday language as a tsunami is to a wave. It takes in everything. It finds everything before it already a part of it. And the poetry trembles with awe for what it approaches and absorbs.
(Selected poems by Gozo Yoshimasu in English, Alice, Iris, Red Horse (edited by Forrest Gander), will come out from New Directions in Spring 2016.)
Born in 1939, influential innovative Japanese poet Gozo is also known for his visual art and performances. His selected poems in English, Alice, Iris, Red Horse (edited by Forrest Gander), will come out from New Directions in spring 2016.
Sayuri Okamoto is a writer, translator, and curator who has been working with (and on) Gozo Yoshimasu since 2011. In 2014, she received PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for her latest translation of Dear Monster: The Naked Poems of Gozo Yoshimasu.
Derek Gromadzki holds MFAs from Brown University and the University of Iowa, where he is a doctoral candidate in comparative literature. He is currently lecturer in Italian at Washington University in St. Louis.
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