Updated: 6 days ago

Report from Omuta City Ambassador, Michiyama Tomoyuki

Note: winning poems appear in English translation at the end of this article.

At my hometown zoo,

instead of drawing animals,

We put the animals’ feelings into words

through poetry that we write

and then read in front of everyone.

And everyone listens together.

It brought me great pleasure to see that simple premise be brought to life for the second time in fall of 2019. This second annual event also served to cheer on the new film, Life Sketch, which was partially filmed on location at the Omuta City Zoo. The film ran in theaters for five-months during fall of 2019, and featured Hayashida Mari (recipient of the Kinokuniya Drama Award), also an Omuta City native, and who was present at the poetry event to award her Actress’s Prize. Along with zoo staff, we composed poems and presented them in front of the giraffe area, where the Actress’s Prize was awarded to the most performative reading.

The first year we did the event, the two giraffes, Rin and Purin, gallivanted gleefully in the background during the reading. Would they perhaps show equal excitement for another round of poetry…

Photos courtesy of Omuta City Zoo

Poet Jordan A.Y. Smith, who participated as a judge last year was scheduled to participate as well, but just as he was scheduled to fly, a large typhoon was heading direct for Chiba where it inflicted major damage, so he had to cancel his trip in order to stay in the area to make sure local foreign students would be okay in the aftermath. Instead, Jordan participated by phone for an open mic session, uniting Chiba and all the children who participated. Jordan expressed how much he wished he could be there with them, and the children hollered their encouragement in unison, “Take good care!” It was a lovely, emotional movement amidst the powerful winds. I think the children could sense the care taken with his tough decision to be there for his local community. Jordan requested that his “Poet’s Prize” be awarded to a poem that made people laugh, and using that criterion, the other poets, actress, and zoo staff Shiihara Shunichi and Tomisawa Kanako made the award selection.

And thankfully, this second year’s event was overflowing with participants. Students from local elementary and middle schools, along with dozens of parents and guardians, and other spectators who came to watch just for fun––it was a well-attended and merry gathering. The typhoon brought heavy winds that whipped the papers out of a few hands as the young poets read, but undaunted, the children’s powerful poems came to life in their voices, producing a rare and special moment in poetic space-time. Under the bright sun, it all felt to me like a particularly momentous event.

The main purpose was to feel the combination of emotions, language, and voices.

To consider with compassion the feelings of animals.

To consider with compassion the circumstances of those affected by the typhoon.

To consider with compassion the thoughts of Jordan, who’d stayed behind in Chiba to be of help as needed.

We believe that children who cultivate a perspective like that can bring all the more kindness and warmth to the world through their rich language and loving hearts.

We hope this event will evolve from a local affair originating in Omuta City to something that can be enjoyed around the world.

☆ Omuta City Zoo homepage:

Winning Entries

Special Prize

Winner: Arai Mimori

1st Grade, Omuta Chuo Elementary School

Title: Just One Good Thing

Rin and Purin Poetry Prize

Winner: Abe Maiko

4th Grade, Tenryo Elementary School

Title: Every Day for Me

Michiyama Rain Poet’s Prize

Winner: Abe Hanako

4th Grade, Tenryo Elementary School

Title: I Love Mealtime

Jordan Smith Poet’s Prize

Winner: Ueno Amane

6th Grade, Hayame Elementary School

Title: Giraffe Wants Bento

Actress Poetry Prize

Winner: Tsuruta Mizuki

3rd Grade, Miyanohara Junior High School

Title: Kangaruminations

Zoo Director’s Poetry Prize

Winner: Ochi Kaito

4th grade, Hayamadai Elementary School

Title: These Human Questions

Winning Poems

Special Prize

Arai Mimori

1st Grade, Omuta Chuo Elementary School

Title: Just One Good Thing (Lion)

So broad, so fun,

Such delicious air to breathe.

Brought from the beautiful jungle,

to the small cage where I live now.

I used to run full speed,

to leap around

climbing trees,

but now here I am

in this tiny space.

But there is

just one good thing.

And that is

I’ve been given a name!

I’m so happy

they gave me a name.

When the zookeepers call my name

I get even happier.

When visitors call my name,

I get happier and even happier!

Rin and Purin Poetry Prize

Winner: Abe Maiko

4th Grade, Tenryo Elementary School

Title: Every Day for Me (Sloth)

I am a sloth.

Someone has come into my area.

Why do people have so much free time?

I’m always busy.

Food to eat. Hair to brush and naps to take.

Food to eat. Hair to brush and more naps to take.

Every day, tons to do.

Why does the squirrel monkey who lives across from me

Move around so much?

Just for food.

Don’ freak out like that just for some food.

Oh, here comes the zookeeper.

Carrying along some food.

Alright, time to hurry up before the squirrel monkey takes it all.

Moving right along here, yes I am.

Whew. Day in, day out, I’m just so busy.

Michiyama Rain Poet’s Prize

Winner: Abe Hanako

4th Grade, Tenryo Elementary School

Title: I Love Mealtime (Pig)

I am a pig.

Everyone says I’m fat.

Actually I’m not fat oink

oink oink oink

I am a pig.

But “oink” isn’t all I say oink.

Bu-heeee, bu-heeee, bu-heeee

My brothers and sisters just came over oink

And they brought dinner with them oink

I’m pretty classy, but even I dive in like


Every day I eat too much oink

Gotta admit it—I just love mealtime.

Jordan Smith Poet’s Prize

Winner: Ueno Amane

6th Grade, Hayame Elementary School

Title: Giraffe Wants Bento (Giraffe)

Actress Poetry Prize

Tsuruta Mizuki

3rd Grade, Miyanohara Junior High School

Title: Kangaruminations (Kangaroo)

I’m a kangaroo.

Today too I roominate.

I can fit anything in my pocket.

In no time, there’s so much stuff inside.

Secretly, I’ve been picking up the things visitors drop.

But losing things is tough for me too sometimes.

Yesterday, from my North Pole friend the polar bear,

I received a snowman––so lovely,

and somehow warm.

So I put it in my tummy pouch and went to sleep.

But when morning came, it was all gone!

Where oh where did it go…?

I am a kangaroo.

And today, I am roominating on the thief who stole it.

Zoo Director’s Poetry Prize

Winner: Ochi Kaito

4th grade, Hayamadai Elementary School

Title: These Human Questions

My hobby is loafing around. I’m always loafing around.

Humans are always facing me and making clicking sounds.

Whenever that happens, I fix my eyes on their devices.

What are these devices? Are they devices for observing me?

I stand up. I jump.

The humans get excited.

How can he jump so high?

The humans ask. I reply:

By jumping with all four of my legs and my fat tail!

But they show no reaction.

Then seconds later, the humans exclaim––

Oh, now I see!

They must be looking at the placard that introduces me.

––––Jordan A. Y. Smith

[interview + poem by Gander / translation by Nakagawa and Chozick]

Dancers Eiko Otake and Koma Otake were born in Japan and lived there until 1976, when they moved to NYC to pursue their dance career as a duo––which led to a stellar four decades plus change during which they have performed at venues including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Their fame abroad––evidenced by numerous prizes abroad, including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Scripps Award––has now exceeded that in their native Japan, though they began by training there with many of the legendary founders of butoh style (or school, or genre…see our introduction to Tokyo Poetry Journal Volume 6, which devotes some space to hashing out that question). Eiko and Koma developed their own style, albeit one visibly marked by the tempo, earthly-corporeal presence, and figurative abstractions of butoh progenitors. Their dances come in various lengths—from a few minutes to a full working day (post-New Deal and prior to neoliberalization)—all of them rivet and absorb audiences.

Their circle of collaborators, admirers, and friends grew over the decades, and eventually it came to include the poet, Forrest Gander. Gander is best known to us at TPJ due to the well-known fact that his career reached a soaring pinnacle when he became a member of the Board of Advisors for Tokyo Poetry Journal. But in between and around that he also accomplished a few other things that probably bear repeating here.

Many in the international poetry community know Gander as a highly accomplished and profoundly moving poet, a scholar of comparative literature, a master of translation, and a supporter of the field of poetry as a whole, teaching scores of literary luminaries in the MFA program in Literary Arts at Brown University (and at Harvard University before that). Gander has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and is known for his translations of Pablo Neruda, Raúl Zurita, and many Latin American writers, as well as for co-translation of Kiwao Nomura (with the indomitable Kyoko Yoshida). Gander’s edited volume of Gozo Yoshimasu translations, Alice Iris Red Horse (New Directions 2016), broke ground as “a book in and on translation,” pairing some dozen translations by different translators with essays about their experimental translation process. Most recently, his book Be With earned the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry (April 2019), confirming the sturdy bedrock beneath his already impressively thick regolith of accomplishments (Gander is actually educated as a geologist, unlike yours truly who had to dig deep for that last metaphor).

Eiko and Koma met Forrest Gander in the early 1990s, so their friendship is now pushing thirty. Gander’s sustained engagement with the dancers resulted in a short book of poetry titled after them: Eiko & Koma (New Directions 2013). The poems are “a kind of translative act” (as the translators say in the short interview below), a kind of ekphrasis of motion; at other times, they seem to meditate philosophically on the interpretation of the motions, all suffused by the marvel of two humans intimately relating to each other in body and spirit.

And here in Tokyo, two powerhouse translators became intensely interested in Gander’s volume: University of Tokyo faculty member and Ph.D. candidate Eri Nakagawa and Temple University (Tokyo) professor, translator, and television personality Matthew Chozick. Their interest was based both on the poetry and the dance that motivated it. The book just been released internationally by Awai Books is thus a case of "reverse-importation" (gyaku-yunyuu) of two Japanese dancers who made a name for themselves abroad and of Forrest Gander who has been drawing Japanese poetry into the English translationscape, yet whose poetry is still relatively unavailable. Nakagawa and Chozick’s translation is astonishingly smooth while extremely faithful; their volume is a rich case study in what poetry translation can accomplish.

We managed to catch up with the two of them to discuss their bilingual edition complete with beautiful photography of Eiko and Koma in performance and diagrammatic explanations of the dance.

(See more dances and readings via links at the end of the interview...)

Can you tell us what led to the choice of this particular volume from Gander’s oeuvre?

We hope this volume is just a starting point, and we selected it because it showcases Gander’s precision, originality, and buoyancy along with the fascinating Japanese subjects of Eiko and Koma. Aside from how amazing the original is to read and how we felt it needed to be more widely available, we enjoyed how the poems are recursive and fractal-like, especially from the perspective of translators. In a kind of translative act, Gander transposes the physical movements of Eiko & Koma into language; and underpinning that process is Eiko & Koma’s own idiom of the body, which also involves the translation of ideas and emotions.

What poems pushed your translatorly creativity the most? How?

The intertextuality in “Road-Entering” was a challenge for translation, since the references are not as well known in Japanese as in English. But perhaps more than anything else, the enjambment throughout pushed our creativity.

Yes—I love what happens with your faithful renderings of enjambment in the original. Can you talk about your strategy for dealing with them in the translation?

Since the sentence structure in Japanese is so different from English, we couldn’t identically replicate the original text’s enjambment. As a compromise we tried to determine what each particular line break achieved — whether adding a double meaning, accelerating or decelerating a sense of movement, highlighting an idea — and we tried to offer something in Japanese akin to that, which was a huge challenge and source of pleasure.

It was really a remarkable accomplishment in translation. I wonder about your process. In particular, this seems like it would be a complex project—in addition to managing the relationship of the English and Japanese, you had the added factor of working with poems that engaged intimately with dance performances.

Did the two of you act out any of the dances or pantomime the movements as you were trying to render the dance descriptions? Or did you translate based primarily on the semantics and other linguistic aspects of the English? In other words, how much was the dance directly involved in your translation?

Any excuse to dance is a good one! We received many funny looks in our neighborhood office/coffeeshop for pantomiming. But we had different, complementary strategies for visualizing the movements during translation. I (Matthew) tried to translate poems based on semantics and diagrams/photographs in the original book, whereas I (Eri) liked to check the poems against videos of Eiko & Koma.

Co-translating can do many things to two humans. What effect did it have on the two of you working as a team? Are you still friends? Most importantly, are you still Facebook friends?

We have yet to unfriend each other on Facebook! Co-translation was new to both of us, and it was a lot of fun collaborating. Twice a month we’d each select a poem, translate it, and then meet up to check them and discuss their nuances. You probably wouldn’t be able to guess who originally did what, since we spent a lot of time editing everything at the end and matching up the tones and diction.

Have Eiko and Koma also seen these translations? If so, did they offer any thoughts or feedback?

Eiko offered advice on adding a couple of English loanwords (in the katakana syllabary), since they’d be easier for Japanese to understand than Chinese characters.

I love it—her concern with ease of understanding, even though some might see her work anything but simple to interpret. But maybe that’s the appeal too—the simultaneous experience of simplicity and complexity… So what plans do you have for releasing the book? Any bilingual readings planned? Dance performances?

In Tokyo we’re excited to hold a bilingual reading in late August [2019] at Museum of Modern Art Tokyo with Gander, and it’ll showcase a new performance by Eiko. We’ll definitely keep you up to date on the details!

How many vacuums does it take to clean a bryophitic carpet?

We’ll confirm that with Gander!

Awesome. Let’s ask him in August—a fine season for mosses in Japan.


Videos of Gander reading from the English of E&K:

Videos of E&K Dances:

Note: Some of Gander’s readings in these early videos are of earlier versions of the poems. Some of Eiko & Koma’s dances differ each performance, so the dances that inspired Gander’s poetry often differ from the descriptions. The ephemerality of dance is one of its primary features, one that requires the viewer to be present in body just as the dancers are. The fact that the art embodies ephemerality and reminds us of the ephemerality of the body itself is perhaps the form’s most potent message.


Early draft of the world. Or

has all that came before

made them its repository? Grove of slash.

They are. Flowerless dirt.

Windmoan over leafy mound strewn

with two human forms,

veined and branched. To

become what one was: that

never happens. But now the

ground wrinkles with their languorous

pandiculation. Crescent

shoulder blade and blue

bays between expanding,

contracting ribs. That the

recognizable mammalian

familiarity recedes in

exposures, in dilated time.

Become one, inhuman, beyond

animal. Are they.

Translation into Japanese by Nakagawa and Chozick:



それまでのすべてが 彼等を作り



















超えて.そう,彼等は .


Poet to Poet: Contemporary Women Poets From Japan

Edited by Rina Kikuchi & Jen Crawford (Canberra: Recent Work Press, 2017)

––––by Tanya Barnett

Poet to Poet, a poetry anthology edited by Rina Kikuchi and Jen Crawford, is a collection of

translated poems written by ten of Japan’s contemporary female poets. In the anthology, Kikuchi acts as a co-translator and a bridge between the featured poets and her other co-translators. Poet to Poet offers a platform for the voices of one of society’s largest marginalized groups: women. In the introduction to this volume, Kikuchi points out that women poets from Japan are vastly underrepresented as both subjects of study and translated writers, and when they have been translated, it has often been by male academics. Through her selection of poets and co-translators, Kikuchi’s anthology is a response to the issue of underrepresentation that also challenges the presumption of who has authority when it comes to the translation of Japanese texts.

While some may not agree that women are a marginalized group, the fact remains that the perspectives and opinions of women have been ignored and discounted across transnational borders throughout history, whether it be with respect to government policy and lawmaking, access to healthcare, the gender wage gap, sexual assault, religious discrimination, cultural practices, or even our own bodies. Kikuchi has assembled a collection of poets who are forcefully and unapologetically female. By this, I mean that they speak to the real-lived experiences of life as a woman. The poets are Arai Takako, Ishikawa Itsuko, Itō Hiromi, Hirata Toshiko, Kawaguchi Harumi, Kōno Satoko, Misaki Takako, Misumi Mizuki, Nakamura Sachiko, and Yamasaki Kayoko (of whom Kōno and Misumi were featured in ToPoJo volume 4).

Kikuchi and Crawford address intersectionality through their selection of poets from Japan who range in age, region, language (dialect), and profession. Their inclusion of both renowned and up-and-coming poets helps to combat the grip that literary canons have on the translation and dissemination of literary texts. As Kikuchi herself states, this collection does not seek to be a definitive and “comprehensive representation of Japanese women poets writing today.” Rather, it provides insight into the multi-layered facets of daily life that women experience through the lens of certain contemporary poets from Japan. These poems are raw, humorous, violent, painful, joyful, heart-breaking. They cover a breadth of issues, ranging from aging to illness, menstruation, rape, imperialism, systemic cultural oppression, loss, the diaspora experience, and grocery shopping.

Furthermore, this collection confronts the longstanding images of Japanese women as seen through a male gaze often rooted in orientalism and sexism. The editors combat this not only through their selection of poets, but also through their selection of translators, most of whom are women. I would like to note that the four male translators who contributed to this collection have produced fantastic translations that are well-worth reading. However, Japanese studies and the translation of Japanese literature are fields that have been historically dominated by men, who at times have produced problematic depictions of Japanese women that fail to grasp female interiority and contribute to stereotypes that are pervasive in Western culture. At times, writers who have been accepted into the canon and whose works have subsequently been selected for translation and academic study have featured women characters who are often problematic, either in terms of their description, their role in plot advancement or the development of the protagonist, and the protagonist’s treatment of them. When these texts then become the subject of academic inquiry, the role of these women characters are often overlooked or oversimplified. In Kikuchi and Crawford’s anthology, women are not merely tools which serve the male protagonist, they are the protagonist and they carry with them the most important agency that exists in literature: narrative voice.

In addition to the careful treatment of translating gender, this collection tackles issues regarding the methodology of poetry translation. As one can see by the title, each of the translators are poets in their own right. The act of translation always requires the translator to decide the goal, or the priority, of their translation, be it loyalty to the original text, poetic devices, contemporary/premodern language, or aesthetically appealing in the target language. Kikuchi’s decision to employ poets as translators is a reflection of her goal for the translation, which was to “re-create in English what one sees and feels when one reads the original poem in Japanese.”

Many exciting moments of translation occur in this volume, and they will resonate differently with each reader. A few moments that resonated with this reviewer in particular… In Ishikawa Itsuko’s poem “Stone Monument,” Carol Hayes brilliantly captures the biting sarcastic tone of the original poem by translating anata as “you Your Majesty” when the poet addresses the Showa Emperor. Subhash Jaireth aptly conveys the isolation experienced by members of the diaspora in Yamasaki Kayoko’s “Coming Home for a Brief Visit,” particularly with respect to the final lines: “I gaze / at the face / of my motherland / mine and yet / nevermore / mine.” Melinda Smith’s translation of Kawaguchi Harumi’s “Artificial” manages to be simultaneously surreal, concrete, and rich with the beautiful imagery that appears in the original poem. One power of the poet is their ability to convey and elicit emotion through a series of fragmentary and fleeting verbally constructed images. Each poet accomplishes this in their translations. These poems “live and breathe” (as the volume’s own promotional language justifiably claims) on their own in English, while maintaining the authenticity of the original texts. In a display of transparency, Kikuchi’s inclusion of the original Japanese text side-by-side with the English translation is a special gift that allows the reader some insight into each co-translator/poet’s individual process.

Poet to Poet: Contemporary Women Poets From Japan is an exemplary collection of outstanding works by talented women poets who have been faithfully and masterfully translated by other poets, and it is an invaluable contribution to the field of Japanese literature and translation studies. By carefully coupling each co-translator/poet to one of the featured poets based on their individual styles, Kikuchi and Crawford have not only gifted us access to ten of Japan’s most talented women poets, they have also introduced us to a handful of new poets whose work we can look forward to exploring—the translators.

#bookreview #poetry #womenspoetry #japanesepoetry

Tokyo Poetry Journal

Tokyo Poetry Journal
c/o Jeffrey Johnson
English Department, Daito Bunka University
Iwadono 560 Higashimatsuyama-shi
Saitama-ken 355-8501 Japan

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