AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 657

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Session 657: Crossing Borders/Slippage: 20th Century Japanese Poetry On the Move

Organizer: Leith D. Morton, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan

Poets often 'rewrite' or 'reconceive' their poetics in other varieties of writing and this results in poetry crossing borders or 'slipping' into other genres, including prose, or even art or photography. For example, most of the 'shintaishi' poets in early 20th century Japan wrote tanka and haiku often on exactly the same themes and using much of the same diction, later they emerged as shi poets and sometimes as novelists. Such authors would include Yosano Akiko, Takuboku and Kitahara Hakushu. A parallel can be seen with later 20th century poets whose poetry becomes prose-poetry and then prose: Tomioka Taeko, Nejime Shoichi and Ito Hiromi can be cited as examples. Many surrealist poets saw their poetry as visual art objects, for example, Kitasono Katsue and Takiguchi Shuzo. Some contemporary Japanese critics see some modern poetry as closer to abstract art than verbal constructs ( the New York Frank O'Hara school is an American equivalent). The convergence of and slippage in genres of poetry that has threatened to break out several times over the past century, the rewriting that several Japanese poets have practised in their work, and related phenomena is the topic of this panel.

Hiraide Takashi and the Death of Genre
Eric V. Selland, , Japan

From its first inception, the work of poet Hiraide Takashi has brought traditional definitions of form and genre into question. In works ranging from ‘The Fighting Spirit of the Walnut’ (his first publication to receive wide recognition) to more recent ventures in the novel, Hiraide has produced work that is difficult to classify – Hiraide’s writing wanders along the boundary between poetry and prose, novel and memoir, diary and essay. Working from a perspective that melds Japanese and European Modernisms with contemporary Continental philosophy and Japan’s postwar situatedness, Hiraide is one of the first poets in Japan to have begun writing “outside poetry” – in other words, to engage the possibilities of poetic form in an era where poetic language is no longer a privileged language. In this sense he performs a similar role in Japanese poetry as that of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets in the American poetic landscape. In his first collection of essays on poetics published in 1982 (Hasen no Yukue – Traces of the Broken Ship), Hiraide expresses the need to approach the writing of poetry differently in each work as a means of escaping the problem of poetic stagnation which, he claims, most poets of his generation have not. In this presentation I will examine some of the strategies Hiraide has used, focusing mostly on works that I have translated, and consider how he has approached the redefinition of poetry in an era which has witnessed what one might call the death of poetry.

Poetry or Prose? —Hagiwara Sakutaro’s ‘Poetic Dialogue’ Niji o ou hito (Following Rainbows)
Carol Hayes, Australian National University, Australia

Poet, musician, critic, aphorist, essayist, amateur magician—Hagiwara Sakutaro was a man of many talents, who constantly ‘reconceived’ his mode of artistic expression. Although primarily a freestyle poet, famous for his contribution to the modernization of Japanese poetry, Sakutaro felt himself unable to express himself in poetry alone, and not only changed his poetic style from collection to collection, but also turned to other genres in his search for the best way of expressing himself. Aphorisms and ‘poetic dialogues’ became a vehicle to explore the philosophy behind the emotions which inspired his poetry, and furthermore a weapon in his role as a 'cultural leader' presenting his opinions on both literary and social issues. For Sakutaro, lyric poetry and aphorisms expressed the two opposing sides of his ‘living poetic sentiment’ — “Lyric poetry is my night, and philosophic poetry my day.” Focusing on the poetic dialogue Niji o ou hito (Following Rainbows) — a melancholy ode to all those who spend their lives following rainbows, no matter how far away or impossible to capture —this paper will explore the convergence between the philosophic poetry of his daytime (shisoshi) and the lyric poetry (jojoshi) of his night. These dialogues mark an important transition from the imagistic vision of Tsuki ni Hoeru to the pathos and nostalgia of Aoneko. By examining his experimentation with modes of expression, I aim to assess Sakutaro’s artistic achievements in the various genres and his consequent contribution to the development of poetry and literary arts in early 20th century Japan.

Yosano Akiko, Symbolist Poet: The Poems as a Palimpsest for The Poetics
Janine Beichman, Daito Bunka University, USA

One of the recurring criticisms of Yosano Akiko’s poetry, particularly of her tanka, has been its needless obscurity. Ordinarily, this topic is discussed in terms of the grammatical and stylistic characteristics of the poems that make them so difficult to understand; here, however, I take up the problem from a different point of view, that of the poet’s intention itself, insofar as it can be divined from her poetics. In other words, the question I ask is what poetic ideal was Yosano Akiko in pursuit of when she made her poems obscure? To answer this question, I show how two of her more obscure new-style poems, “Waga uta” (My poems) and “Kanashikereba” (Because I was sad), in fact make perfect sense if read as symbolic representations of her ideas on poetry, ideas which are clearly inscribed in the two major prose expositions of her poetics, “Uta no tsukuriyo” (How I write poems), and “Akiko Kawa” (Akiko on poetry). The connection or slippage between her poetry and prose is here made manifest. So what we have is a comparison of a poetics expressed in prose of pristine clarity and the same poetics expressed in poetry of symbolic denseness. The poems can be read, in other words, as palimpsests for her poetics. The larger argument is that the obscurity of a number of Akiko’s poems was an integral part of the poetic project of the symbolist Yosano Akiko.

Self-Translation and National Identity in Sekiguchi Ryoko’s Héliotropes
Joseph A. DeLong, University of Cincinnati, USA

Poet, translator, and comparative literature scholar Sekiguchi Ryoko published her first books of poetry in her native Japanese. More recently, she has begun to translate her own work into French, as well as to compose collections such as Héliotropes simultaneously in French and Japanese. In what she terms self-translation, both French and Japanese texts are “purposely threatened” in order to challenge “the myth of an original text.” Describing tropical gardens in Portugal, the francophone Héliotropes draws attention to itself as a transgression of multiple genre boundaries, most obviously as a self-translation and a collection of prose poems. The poems themselves explore two themes that, like genre, relate to the imposition of order: gardens and language. The eponymous flower, the heliotrope, derives its name from its tendency to turn toward the sun. In that way, the title suggests both growth (the flower is nourished by the sun) and determinacy (the flower turns toward the sun). This idea is in keeping with the work of contemporary genre theorists, such as Amy Devitt, who claim that genre is at once restrictive and generative of creativity. Ultimately, Sekiguchi’s exploration of the limitations and potentials of genre serves as a metaphor for the question of what it means to embrace a different linguistic and national identity, especially for reasons other than ethnic heritage or colonial coercion. “The myth of an original text” becomes the myth of an original, or authentic, national identity as the poet both chooses and is shaped by her language of composition.

Poetry and Photography ―Murano Shiro’s Taiso shishu―
Azusa Omura, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan

Taiso shishu (Gymnastic Poetry, 1939) was written by Murano Shiro (1901-1975) and consists of poems and photographs of gymnasts, the first time such a volume was published in Japan. These poems treat sport and the beauty of human body. The sports photos were taken by the German film director, Leni Riefenstahl and also the photographer, Paul Wolff. The title follows the book of German poetry Turngedichte (Turning Poems, 1923) written by Joachim Ringelnatz (1883-1934). There are two important issues in regard to Murano’s volume. First of all, Gymnastic Poetry altered the conceptual base of Japanese poetry and slipped it into another genre: photography. As well as other young poets in the interwar period, Murano was deeply involved in the Modern Movement. He did not have much interest in Surrealism and Dadaism, but Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) caught his attention. Murano attempted to eliminate humanity and focus on physical beauty alone in Gymnastic Poetry. Secondly, there is the question of why Murano chose photos taken by Riefenstahl, who was known as the director of a documentary film on the Berlin Olympics (1936). The Games were held under aegis of the fascist German government and her film was an exercise in propaganda to show Germany’s power to the world. This paper will examine the relationship between poetry and photography from the perspective of both literature and politics.

Modern Art and the Poetry of Maekawa Samio
Leith D. Morton, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan

Maekawa Samio (1903-1990) was one of the most important tanka poets in twentieth century Japan. He originally came to fame as a modernist poet in the 1930s. For Maekawa modernism meant, as he wrote in 1930: ‘Matisse, Picasso, Chirico, Chagall, Rimbaud, Proust, Monet, Cocteau, Valery, Le Corbusier, Manet, and also Chaplin’. These iconic modern artists were the initial inspiration for Maekawa’s modernist verse, which used visual imagery and startling tropes taken from surrealist art and literature. This paper will explore the sources of Maekawa’s troping and his attempts to create a new kind of verse fully modernist and, in that sense, revolutionary, in its aims and conception. The convergence of and slippage in genres of poetry that characterize modernist tanka at this time will also form one of the subjects of this paper. Visual phenomena, specifically the revolutionary advances made in representation by modernist artists like Matisse, Picasso, Chirico and Chagall, had an enormous impact upon modernist poets in Japan. How the visual impact of paintings and drawings was transmuted into language is one of the main topics for analysis. The paper will also examine the modernist writing of other important contemporary poets like Maeda Yugure (1883-1951) and Kubota Utsubo (1877-1967). Modernist poetry and painting had an intimate association in places other than Japan but the focus here will be on how Maekawa Samio utilized visual troping to invent a new kind of poetry and poetics.