Translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles
The ninth volume in Vagabond Press's Asia Pacific Series.
This collection brings together the work of three of Japan’s most creative, innovative, and challenging contemporary poets. During the 1980s, Itō and Hirata quickly emerged as major new poetic voices, breaking taboos and writing about sexual desire, marital strife, pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood in such direct and powerful ways that they sent shockwaves through the literary establishment. In recent years, Arai has emerged as a leader of the next generation of poets, writing about working-class women and their fates within the world of global capital. All three poets have rejected the stayed, polished language that dominates poetic discourse and instead have favored dramatic voices that are raw, powerful, and frequently quite dark. Socially engaged and poetically aware, these three are poised to become some of the most important poetic voices of the twenty-first century.
ITŌ Hiromi (1955- ) emerged in the 1980s as the leading voice of Japanese women’s poetry with a series of sensational works that depicted women’s psychology, sexuality, and motherhood in fresh and dramatic new ways. In the late 1990s, she relocated to southern California, and since then, she has written a number of important, award-winning books about migrancy, relocation, identity, linguistic alienation, aging, and death. A selection of her early work appears in Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Hiromi Itō, translated by Jeffrey Angles (Action Books, 2009). Angles has also translated her wildly imaginative, book-length narrative poem Wild Grass on the Riverbank (Action Books, 2015), which won the 2006 Takami Jun Prize, which is awarded each year to an outstanding, innovative book of poetry.
HIRATA Toshiko (1955-) is a Japanese poet and novelist. During the 1980s, she, along with Hiromi Itō, emerged as one of the foremost voices so-called “women’s boom” of poetry. Her poetry is known for its directness, black humor, and eagerness to treat the kinds of day-to-day subjects that many other poets tend to leave out of their work. Tāminaru (Terminal), published in 1997 won the Doi Bansui Prize for poetry. She has also won the Hagiwara Sakutarō Prize for poetry for her 2004 collection Shi nanoka (Poetry on the Seventh Day/Is This Poetry?), in which she turns a description of what happens to her on the seventh day of each month into a poem (or anti-poem). In recent years, her eagerness to break the ordinary bounds of poetry has led her to start writing novels, many of which feature ordinary people caught in bizarre circumstances that lead them to question the traditional family system and the spots allotted to them in society. Among her novels are Piano sando (Piano Sandwich, 2001), Futari nori (Two on Board, 2004), which won the Noma Literary Prize for New Writers, and Watashi no akakute yawarakana bubun (My Soft, Red Place, 2007).
ARAI Takako (1966- ) comes from Kiryū City in Japan, a place known for textile production, and her father is the manager of a small, cottage-style weaving factory, which he established on his own property. At its height, the factory employed a few dozen people, the overwhelming majority of whom were women. Much of her work, especially Arai’s newest collection of poetry Beds and Looms [Betto to shokki] (Tokyo: Michitani, 2013), focuses on the lives of the women workers she saw while growing up in the factory. Much of Arai’s work is avant-garde, incorporating experimental stylistic features such as the incorporation of Gunma dialect, radical juxtaposition of images, and the frequent use of sentence fragments. At the same time, however, Arai’s poems are extremely socially engaged. A frequent theme of her work is the lives of working women and the ways that they have been shaped by contemporary trends, especially push toward globalization, the recent economic downturn, and the 2011 earthquake-related crises in northeastern Japan. Her second collection, Tamashii Dance (Soul Dance), was published in 2007 and awarded the 41st Oguma Hideo Prize. Several of the most important poems in that collection, including “Tsuki ga noboru to” (“When the Moon Rises”) were translated by Jeffrey Angles and published in the collection Soul Dance: Poems by Takako Arai (Tokyo: Mi’Te Press, 2008). Arai lives in Tokyo and teaches Japanese to international students at Saitama University. She is also the editor of Mi’Te, a journal of poetry and literary criticism.
Jeffrey ANGLES (1971- ) is an associate professor of Japanese and translation at Western Michigan University. He is the author of Writing the Love of Boys (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and translator of Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Itō Hiromi (Action Books, 2009), Forest of Eyes: Selected Poems of Tada Chimako (University of California Press, 2010), The Book of the Dead by Orikuchi Shinobu (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming) and numerous other works of prose and poetry. His translation projects have earned the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature, the Academy of American Poet’s Landon Translation Award, the PEN Club of America Translation Grant, and a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Grant. His first book of poetry written in Japanese, Hizuke henkōsen (International Date Line), will be published in the near future.
Poems of Hiromi Itō, Toshiko Hirata & Takako Arai
(Translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles)
2016. 138pp. ISBN 978-1-922181-74-9