Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cool Announcement: Kaleidoscope: Selected Tanka of Shuji Terayama

Tanka is confessional fiction.
-- Chen-ou Liu

By “fiction of possibility,"  Terayama seems to claim the potential of fiction to create a legitimate reality.
-- S.Ridgely, Japanese Counterculture: The Antiestablishment Art of Terayama Shuji, p.30

My Dear Readers:

In celebration of  Tanka Poetry Month, I am pleased to introduce you to  Kaleidoscope: Selected Tanka of Shuji Terayama translated by Neverending Story contributors Kozue Uzawa and Amelia Fielden
About the Author:

The avant-garde stage and film director, poet, critic, author and founder of the experimental theater group Tenjo Sajiki, Shuji Terayama was born in 1935 in Aomori, Japan. He started writing tanka in his late teens and received the Tanka Kenkyu Award for Emerging Poets. He published several tanka collections before he stopped writing at the age of 30. Many of his tanka read more like scenes from a movie scene or short story. He died in 1983. The first English language collection of his tanka, Kaleidoscope, was published by The Hokuseido Press in 2008 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of  his death.

Shuji Terayama was the most renown and thought-provoking Japanese artist of the sixties of the 20th century, and his work constantly incited scandal and outrage (for more info. see "Introduction: Global Counterculture, Visual Counter" and "Chapter 1: Poetic Kleptomania and Pseudo-Lyricism," Japanese Counterculture: The Antiestablishment Art of Terayama Shuji by  Steven C. Ridgely, University Of Minnesota Press, 2011). He began his artistic career writing haiku, tanka, and free verse in his junior high school days. After reading Fumiko Nakajo's award-winning tanka collection, titled Chibusa Soshitsu (The Loss of Breasts), next year he submitted a 50-tanka sequence to the same tanka contest and won first prize. At the age of 18, he made his official debut in the tanka world.

Terayama’s tanka are unique in that they are based mainly on his imagination, which is often colored by his complex feelings of being "abandoned" by his mother, and that they are interwoven with cultural memory and personal mythology, and the emotions he experienced in his dysfunctional life and inner turmoil. As the translator Kozue Uzawa emphasizes in her Simply Haiku article, titled "Tanka of Shuji Terayama (1936-1983)," he "writes tanka as if it is a scene from a movie, stage play, or novel... He himself plays a role of a Korean boy, mixed blood boy, P.O.W., actress, factory worker, etc. His mother dies many times in his tanka." Through his tanka, Terayama argues for a "rational acceptance of the reality of his fictionalized and fictionalizing poet self -- a loyalty (shared with his reader) to the veracity of imagination, which trumps the typical bindings of factual existence" (Ridgely, p. 30) (I'll further discuss Terayama's view of the "fiction of possibility" (kanohsai fukushon) --  the "potential of fiction to create a legitimate reality-- in my forthcoming "To the Lighthouse" post, titled "Neolyricism and Fiction of Possibility").

Selected Tanka: 

being of mixed blood
I feel lonely
even if I win --
I walk along chewing
a hot grass stalk

striking a match
I see the foggy ocean--
is there a motherland
I can dedicate myself to?

submerging them
in the water
of a night-dark stream,
I wash my military shoes
from those captive days

failing even
to become an actress
I listen to
the sound of seagulls
shot in the winter marsh

in the end
there's no such thing as
exciting despair --
outside the factory,
pure green wheat

while an ant
toiled from the dahlia
to the ash tray
I was forming
a beautiful lie

with my cold gunshot
a sparrow on the roof
might be
my mother

having shot
a winter dove that
might be my god,
I go home
with smoking gun

for a small bird
to come back
after it's shot
there is a grassland
in my head

I was breathing
in unison
with a pregnant cow
waiting for her turn
to be slaughtered

when I smoke
a bitter bitter morning cigarette
the wings
of a seagull
skim my heart

in order to sew up
the horizon
my sister hid
a silk needle
in the sewing box

I gently comb
the turtledove
with my dead mother’s
scarlet comb --
its down keeps falling out 

birds banished
from the sky,
time, beasts
all collected here
in my arc-like toy box 

let’s sever
my stinky blood relationship --
the winter axe is placed
upside down
in a sunny spot 

when I was walking
through the dreary field,
under my arm
a wall clock for sale
abruptly chimed 

this wind
carrying carrot seeds
the orphan,
sunset, and me