Kiwao Nomura was born October 20, 1951 in Saitama Prefecture. He graduated from Waseda University, majoring in Japanese literature. A leading writer of the post-war generation, he is in the forefront of contemporary poetry. At the same time, he is known to be a prolific critic, translator, and essayist on comparative poetics. His work has been translated into many languages and published in magazines abroad, especially in France and the United States. He has performed internationally and released two CDs of collaborations with musicians. He played a leading role in Contemporary Poetry Festival 95, Poetry Goes Out and Contemporary Poetry Festival 97, Dance and Poésie. In 2007, he organized The Festival of International Poetry: Toward the Pacific Rim. From August to November 2005, he was a fellow at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in the United States. In December of the same year, he served as a director of the Japan-European Contemporary Poetry Festival in Tokyo.
Kyoko Yoshida was born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. She was a participant of the 2005 International Writing Program at University of Iowa. Her stories have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Chelsea, The Cream City Review and The Beloit Fiction Journal, among other places. She is working on a novel about the visit of American Negro League baseball players to Japan in the 1930’s. In addition, she translates Japanese contemporary poetry and drama. Recently a Visiting Scholar at Brown University, she teaches English at Keio University and lives in Yokohama.
Forrest Gander is the author of books of poems, translations, and prose, much of it published by New Directions. He has edited several anthologies and translated individual books by Latin American writers. Two of his books of translation have been PEN Translation Award Finalists. Recent titles include Eye Against Eye (poetry with photographs by Sally Mann), the novel As a Friend, and translations of Mexican poet Coral Bracho (Firefly Under the Tongue: Selected Poems). A United States Artist Rockefeller fellow, Gander is also the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim, Whiting, and Howard foundations. He is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Brown University.
Praise for Spectacle & Pigsty
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“You’re the one./ Unbearably sucking air rasping and gasping... tearing open./ shrieking.... unbearably bare.” That challenge to a reader (or perhaps a ghost or a god or a marine invertebrate) might serve as well as anything else to introduce this first English version of one of Japan’s most celebrated living poets. Nomura commands headlines, and headlines festivals, in his native country for poems that—on the evidence here—succeed through astonishment, shock, and disorder, almost in the manner of Kathy Acker or William S. Burroughs. The opening work casts the poet as “pigsty I/ burning to set an earthly convenience store on fire no reason whatsoever.” Soon afterwards “the crybaby I am” confronts “horripilation of being/ horripilation of being,” confessing, “I feel like scattering my seed”; envisions “tears and flesh mashed to a pulp” as if they were grapes pressed for wine; and pursues, “in a liquid crystal sea,” undulations imagined as “sleepless women... rolling heavy flesh weeping secretions.” Nomura explores his own imagination and discovers the originality of the extreme: “perhaps I’m the first/ poet to write about the perineum.” Gander, a distinguished poet and a prolific translator from the Spanish, teams up with Yoshida (who grew up in Japan) to generate startling, idiomatic versions of a poetry that must be just as discomfiting in the original.
“Mr. Nomura… is incomparable to others both in his consistency and power to execute.”
—Makoto Ooka (Ooka’s poetry column appeared daily for 20 years on the first page of Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s leading National newspaper)
An interview with Forrest Gander
(conducted by Rusty Morrison)
RM: How did you come to this project? How did the idea develop? Tell us how you met Mr. Nomura?
FG: I met Kiwao Nomura in Japan in 2010. He was standing in a green room surrounded by flamenco musicians from Sevilla, modern dancers from Yokohama, and a famous one-eyed butoh performer from Tokyo. I had come backstage after a performance choreographed by Mariko Nomura, a well-known dancer and choreographer and Kiwao’s wife.
Our meeting came about through Kyoko Yoshida, a fiction writer who came to Brown University as a visiting scholar in 2009. When Kyoko figured out that I was very interested in contemporary Japanese poetry, and particularly in the work of Gozo Yoshimasu, she said she thought I would like Kiwao Nomura’s work. The trouble was that there were very few translations available. I don’t remember if it was Kyoko or me who suggested that we try to translate some of Nomura’s poems together. But that’s how the project began.
RM: Can you describe your methods as a translator when working in this kind of collaboration with a fellow translator? How did the two of you engage in the act of revision? Was Mr. Nomura (the poet you are translating) involved in the process?
FG: In the late 70’s and early 80’s I fell in love with Japanese literature and culture. I studied Japanese briefly in college and I traveled to Japan for the first time in 1985. But I don’t speak or read Japanese. Besides being brilliant and bilingual, Kyoko was the most diligent co-translator imaginable. After we talked about the range of poems we wanted to include, Kyoko began to send me files. In each file, I would find: the poem in kanji (logographic characters borrowed from Chinese); the poem in romanji (Romanized script so that I could pronounce the sounds); a literal English translation with notes about variables; and a first translation. She would also send me a sound file of her reading the poem. I was traveling a lot during the time that we worked most intently on the translations, and I have distinct memories of people looking curiously at me on buses and in cafes in Europe and Latin America while I listened to Kyoko’s Japanese recitations on my laptop.
I would respond to Kyoko with questions and suggestions and drafts and the translation would travel back and forth between us over and over. For the most part, Kiwao, who doesn’t speak English fluently, trusted us to do the job.
RM: What, specifically, were some of the largest or most daunting challenges you faced as you worked through the text? And, the most exciting rewards or surprises?
FG: What we find in innovative Japanese poetries like Gozo Yoshimasu’s and Kiwao Nomura’s has, as far as I know, no equivalents in contemporary poetry in English. The mix of the philosophical and the whimsical makes for a tone that is absolutely weird to Westerners. Also, in Japanese there are puns that take place between characters and pronunciations that cannot be accounted for in our alphabet. In one particularly difficult poem, “(or chasm),” Nomura uses characters that allude to Japanese mythology but might also simply be breath-sounds, Hooha and Ketha. But English language breath-sounds would probably sound different from those sounds, just as dog barks are represented by very different onomatopoeic impressions in different languages. In one remarkable and very exciting layer of our translation of this poem, “(or chasm),” Kyoko and I took a class in butoh movement from the butoh dancer, Akira Kasai, to whom it is dedicated.
RM: You are an esteemed translator of Spanish poetry, and you have been active in translation for many years. Has translating Japanese had a different impact upon you? Has this translation project changed you as a writer?
FG: I’m afraid it sounds facile because I think we all know this intuitively, but I’d offer that everything we love changes us. Certainly the forms, the syntactical innovations, and the compositional originality of Nomura’s poems inspire me and offer me new possibilities and models.
RM: When you read translations by other poets, what questions do you bring to the text? What are you looking for? What stimulates your interest? and what sustains your interest?
FG: I depend most immediately on the quality of the language in English. So the same things that draw me to poetry in English draw me to poetry in translation. Since I’m also interested in translation theory and have a smattering of familiarity with several other languages besides Spanish, there are particular questions concerning, for instance, syntactical sequencing or the use of articles and prepositions or rhythmical constructions that may come up. The old questions about whether the translation stuffs the other language into the polished brown shoe of normative English…
RM: Who are the writers you are reading currently for kinship? Who are the writers you are reading currently to be challenged?
FG: Opening up my most recent notebook, I can tell you some of the books I’ve been reading in the last two months: Andrew Zawacki’s Glasscape, Kabir Mohanty’s The Kernal is a Fact, Joan Retallack’s Proceedural Elegies: Western Civilization Continued, Anja Utler’s Engulf-Enkindle in Kurt Beals’ translation, Alice Jones’ Gorgeous Morning, Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl, Alphonso Lingis’ Dangerous Emotions and Rosmarie Waldrop’s Driven to Abstraction.
RM: Are there artists or musicians whom you especially return to? and why?
FG: I’ve been obsessing through a Nico Muhly stage lately. I go back to John Abercrombie regularly. There are two ceramic artists, Rick Hirsch in America and Ashwini Bhat in India, and a glass artist in New York, Michael Rogers, whose respective bodies of work draw me in close. Diane Samuels, yes. The great Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide and the North American photographers Lucas Foglia, Deborah Luster, Sally Mann, and Raymond Meeks.