Winner, Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature by the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University
Ayakawa Nobuo was born in Tokyo in 1920 between an influenza epidemic and a major earthquake. He died in Tokyo in 1985 while playing Super Mario Brothers. His poems… are strange, awkward, desperate, forceful, wild, and moving in these scrupulous, long-awaited English translations. You might read Ayukawa to see what war did to him. You might read him because he’s a major poet whose work, still gathering force behind him, speaks directly to Americans in this dismal, blood-spattered moment of our own history.AMERICA & OTHER POEMS by Japanese modernist poet Nobuo Ayukawa marks the first time this seminal work has been translated into a single volume in English. This landmark selection spans three decades from 1947-1976, ranging from Ayukawa's early work about his war experience on the front lines to later poems in which the influence of Western culture on Japanese society can be clearly felt. His lyrical, complex poetry offers a rare perspective on the modern Asian war experience from an ordinary soldier's point of view, and a unique window into the complex post-war relationship between Japan and America. This award-winning translation also features an essay by Ayukawa on his poem “America,” as well as essays contextualizing Ayukawa and his work by Shogo Oketani.— Forrest Gander
About the Author
Nobuo Ayukawa was born in Tokyo in 1920 and is considered the “pilot” of modern Japanese poetry. He was one of the founding poets of the Arechi (Wasteland) group, and translated the work of T.S. Eliot and later, William Burroughs, into Japanese. Ayukawa was drawn to Eliot after encountering "The Wasteland" when it was first translated into Japanese in the 1930s, and the Arechi poets bore witness to the disillusionment of post-war Japan in a new language inspired by Modernism.
Stylistically, Ayukawa rejected traditional Japanese poetic concerns of recording the movements of nature or exploring purely emotional themes. Instead, he mined his past experiences as a soldier in World War II and paid homage to his literary influences in abstract, lyrical modernist works that collaged remembered conversations among friends with literary quotations taken (and in some cases, reworked) from Mann, Eliot, Kafka, Pound and others. He also made it his mission to keep the war experience alive while fostering a national debate about war responsibility in his poetry and criticism.
In addition to being a much-admired poet and translator, Ayukawa was a well-respected literary and social critic. He published over a dozen books of poetry, essays and literary criticism. He died in Tokyo in 1986.
About the Translators
Shogo Oketani is a freelance translator, poet, and fiction writer who has worked in the high-tech field and taught translation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. With Lowitz, he received a fellowship in translation from the NEA, and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature by the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University. Oketani has also translated the fiction of Sakaguchi Ango for Manoa. His own fiction has appeared in Kyoto Journal and Wingspan, among others. In addition to writing and translating, Oketani is a martial artist who teaches courses on Self-Defense.
Leza Lowitz is an award-winning writer and editor who has published over a dozen books on Japan, including Other Side River, a groundbreaking anthology of contemporary Japanese women’s poetry, and Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By. She has received an Independent Scholar fellowship from the NEH, and, together with Oketani, a fellowship in translation from the NEA and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize. Her fiction and poetry have received the PEN Fiction Award, the PEN Josephine Miles Award, and many others.