Saturday, September 15, 2012




Anybody who's reading this and doesn't know the work of the great Japanese poet Shuntaro Tanikawa, I urge you to look at some of the many books of his translated into English. You can find reasonably-priced copies at Amazon or abebooks.

His poetry has been a delight and inspiration to me for decades, and I owe a deep debt to his translators, in particular William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura, who have co-translated at least a dozen collections. Harold Wright also did a "Selected" which is available. (I love Wright's translation of the poem, "Billy the Kid.")

The first volume of Tanikawa I read was "With Silence My Companion," a sequence of 25 sonnets, published in 1975 by Prescott Street Press, who did a great job of design and production (just holding the book and looking into it as I fan through its pages, is enjoyable).

Here's a couple poems from "Songs of Nonsense," published by Seidosha in 1991, trans. Elliott/Kawamura:


He leapt from the 9th floor,
bounced off the 6th floor terrace,
slammed into the 3rd floor eaves,
and fell in the bushes on the ground,
his cheeks and shins all scraped up.
He took the elevator back up to the 9th
and re-read his half-page suicide note,
which contained three misplaced prepositions
that he now corrected.
Then he ran up to the 16th floor
and once again jumped.
At the 12th floor level he sprouted wings;
a 10th floor wind took him in tow
and lifted him to circle the night sky, slowly.


A man or a woman?
Bowels spill out
of a large surgical incision.
Three doctors and four nurses freeze
over the body.
The room is as bright as a riverbank.
He—or she—is going to die
but is asleep right now!
In his dreams
he's brushing his teeth!
Though nothing further can be done,
the dying one doesn't give a damn.
While the family cry in the waiting room,
he dies brushing his teeth.



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