Another Thought to The Real in Poetry

May 20, 2009

posted by Caroline Picardyasusada02a

I came across this interview with Kent Johnson and John Bradley, where they discuss poet Araki Yasusada. I’ve included the introduction to the interview below, though I think the interview itself is really fantastic. I’ve also included one of Yasusada’s works, of particular interest in the context of this blog, since I recently posted some of Jack Spicer’s After Lorca.)

From the interview:

Araki Yasusada, according to the biographical information in Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada (published in 1997 by Roof Books), was born in 1907 in Kyoto and lived there until 1921, when he moved to Hiroshima. There he “survived” (if anyone can be said to truly “survive” such an event) the atomic bombing of that city, though his wife and one of his daughters perished in the blast. In 1972, Yasusada died of cancer. Eight years after his death, Yasusada’s son found some notebooks of his father’s containing poems, letters, essays for an English class, shopping lists, etc. These writings, in “translated” form, have been published over the last few years in such journals as Stand and Poetry Review in England, First Intensity, Conjunctions, Grand Street, and The American Poetry Review. In fact, it was after a special supplement of Yasusada material appeared in 1996 in APR, and a subsequent quarter-page editor’s note denounced the Yasusada writing as a “hoax,” that questions regarding the authenticity of the documents erupted. Harper’s Magazine, London Magazine in England, Wesleyan University Press, and the seminal anthology Poems for the Millennium (U. of California Press), all of which intended publication of Yasusada’s writing, dropped their plans like hot potatoes.

Since these complications regarding Yasusada’s identity have come to light, some editors and readers have claimed that they feel betrayed—they thought they were reading the work of a hibakusha, that is, a Japanese survivor of an atomic bombing, whose writing allowed us to see a life lived in the shadow of Hiroshima. To find out that this was not the case, some argued, spoiled the work for them. In fact, some readers felt that the “real” author/authors used the atomic bombing to generate sympathy for the alleged victim and thus exploited this emotion to ensure publication, and perhaps to expose a bias toward experiential as opposed to imaginative writing. Still others welcomed the controversy and the discussions it has generated.

Captivated as I’ve been by the issues raised through the Yasusada writing, I proposed interviewing Kent Johnson, with whom I have kept in close contact since our days at Bowling Green. He graciously agreed. We conducted the interview during May and June of 1999, over e-mail and at Sullivan’s Bar and Health Spa, in DeKalb, Illinois.

go here to read the complete introduction &  interview.


Excerpt from Double Flowering

The following letter, undated and handwritten n English was found folded within a copy of Kodaya Daikokuya’s Dreams About Russia, present amongst Yasusada’s belongings. In its original form the letter is heavily rewritten and corrected, but the arrows and marginal notes indicating rearrangement of the passages are relatively clear.

Dear Spicer:

This is the last letter. All day I have been pacing back and forth, trying to think about what this has all meant, wondering how I might say goodbye to you. I’ve been thinking of you writing to Lorca in a trance, of Lorca bemused by it all, sending poems to you for the sheer joy of it from the grave. Here and there, phrases from the passerby rise from the deep shade of the gingkos. Because I have lost some weight, my Father’s ceremonial kimono fits me just fine. It is a very expensive one which my aunt from Kobe kept in a glass case, surrounded by tiny Shinto votives. I wish so much you could see how the cranes move deeper into the golden reeds when I bow. I watch this happen in the mirror for both of us, and the effect is rather startling. The gesture has something to do with language, but I’m not quite sure how.

It may be that that’s what I heard the the passerby say beneath the gingkos, and so I wrote it down.

What does it mean to write letters to a dead man, knowing that I am writing to myself? I want you to exist, I might shout into the wind. I want you to speak back to me. It may happen, at any moment, that bossoms will blow in through the open screen and be pinned for a few moments to the kimono’s trees. In this transcient world, who’s to tell?

What you’ve taught me, Spicer, is that the real washes up like a dream from the unreal. Thus, when I say that on a beach against a cliff there is a boat older than Galilee, it is in the spirit of shellacking words to a page like objects to canvass. A lemon peel, a piece of the moon, two little girls playing and calling to their Father on the beach. The boat that is older than Galilee comes into the real, dragging a whole cargo of ghost-history with it. What you’ve taught me, Spicer, is that the unreal washes up from the real [sic, eds.]. Doesn’t the sound of the burned one drinking from the ocean make your hair stand on end?

Now here’s the thing I’ve been waiting until the end of our correspondence to say: You say you would like the moon in your poems to be a real moon, one that could be covered by clouds, a moon independent of images. And you say you would like to point to the moon, and that the only sound in the poem be the pointing. At first I was confused, thinking that you wanted it both ways. But now I know you mean that the pointing and the moon are one. Like these letters, for instance, which have at their heart an urn, made real by the facing gaze of two identical ghosts. An urn wrought by the moon itself and the sorrowful pointing at it. Why look any further for the real?

St. Augustine didn’t, and I think that after you read this passage from his Soliloquia you will see reflected there an image of what your own poems desire to do. And you will see that I am in here too, gazing back at you.

On the stage Roscius was a false Hecuba by choice, a true man by nature; but by that choice also a true tragic actor because he fulfilled his purpose, yet a false Priam because he imitated Priam but was not he. And now from this comes something amazing, which however no one doubts…that all these things are true in some respects…and that only the fact that they are false in one sense helps them toward their truth. Hence they cannot in any way arrive where they would be or should be if they shrink from being false. For how could the actor I mentioned be a true tragic actor if he were not willing to be a false Hector, a false Andromache, a false Hercules….? Or how could a picture of a horse be a true picture unless it were a false horse? Or an image of a man in a mirror be a true images unless it were a false man? So if the fact that they are false in one respect helps certain things to be true in another respect, why do we fear falseness so much and seek truth as such a great good?…Will we not admit that these things make up truth itself, that truth is so to speak put together from them?

I know that you know there’s no map for this, no destination, in our facing one another, to seek. What remains is the love in the words we move within. My daughters call, pointing to me, impatiently, on the moon-covered beach. The wind blows the blossoms in through the screen, all over the water and the trees and the cranes. Reading you, my lips move, and the urn turns, like a whole world, between us. This is where my communion with you ends and where it begins.

Now reah through, and place you hand on the papery flesh of this false face. And I shall put into my branching voice the ashy sky of your gaze.

Love,

Yasusada

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One Response to “Another Thought to The Real in Poetry”


  1. This was a great read though! Thanks..


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