Isobar Press publishes poetry in English by Japanese and non-Japanese authors who live (or have lived) in Japan, or who write on Japan-related themes. Isobar is now also starting to publish English translations of modernist and contemporary Japanese poetry, and English translations of poetry in languages other than Japanese but which has a strong Japanese connection.
In London, Isobar books are available from the London Review Bookshop, 13 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL, tel: 020 7267 9030; and from John Sandoe Books, 10 Blacklands Terrace, London, SW3 2SR, tel. 020 7589 9473.
READING AT THE ITALIAN CULTURAL INSTITUTE
Full house at the Italian Cultural Institute for the launch of Andrew Fitzsimons‘s version of Ungaretti’s First World War book, The Sunken Keep! Andy read and discussed Ungaretti’s work with Masahiro Tsuji from Meiji University (photo below). I don’t have a photo of Sergio Maria Calatroni, alas – sorry, Sergio! – but he read the Italian originals beautifully and spoke most movingly about his responses to the poems while creating his paintings. It was a powerful event! – and the Italian/Japanese/English trilingual jigsaw worked really well thanks to the two great simultaneous interpreters. Sergio’s full set of 33 paintings (16 of which are reproduced in the book) will be on display on the ground floor of the Italian Cultural Institute until Thursday 8 February (closed on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4) – I really recommend it. Many, many thanks to the Institute for enabling this!
Andrew Fitzsimons – The Sunken Keep: A Version of Il Porto Sepolto by Giuseppe Ungaretti
Il Porto Sepolto was written in the trenches of northern Italy while Giuseppe Ungaretti was serving as a private in the Italian army ; when the collection was published in Udine in 1916, it changed Italian poetry. Part of its impact was due to the influence of Japanese poetry, which Ungaretti had recently encountered in Italian translation. In his introduction, Irish poet and Tokyo resident Andrew Fitzsimons explores the nature and history of Ungaretti’s engagement with Japanese poetics; the book also includes sixteen vibrant illustrations by another Tokyo resident, the renowned Italian artist Sergio Maria Calatroni. This is the only complete translation into English of the Udine first edition: the poems of a ‘man present at his own / fragility’ that spoke to their moment, and continue to speak one hundred years later.
‘The Sunken Keep, in the hands of Andrew Fitzsimons, approaches the poetry of the inexpressible which Giuseppe Ungaretti sought. In these austere versions, matched by the dramatic artwork of Sergio Maria Calatroni, the reader is taken along the edge of an abyss: at turns a sea coast, a frontline trench in WW1, an uninhabited universe. Once read and absorbed Ungaretti’s translucent poems will remain forever. – Gerald Dawe, Trinity College Dublin
‘This is a book to keep close to hand. Not only are the translations very powerful but the drawings by Sergio Maria Calatroni have a resonance which complement the poems.’ Ian Brinton on the Discover War Poets web site run by the English Association in the UK. Click here to read the full review.
Paul Rossiter – Temporary Measures
Paul Rossiter’s previous book, Seeing Sights, which collected poems written between 1968 and 1978, was mostly set in the mountains of northern England and Scotland; Ian Brinton described it as a ‘beautifully crafted volume’, with poems that ‘bear excellent comparison’ with some of the early work of Gary Snyder. The story is continued in a more urban key in Temporary Measures, which gathers poems from 1978 to 1981. The poems are mostly set in London, with excursions westwards in England and southwards to the Dordogne region of France – and, more distantly, to Tang Dynasty China by means of versions of Du Fu and Wang Wei. Performance is a frequent theme, whether the performance of music (John Cage, Art Pepper), of dance (Merce Cunningham, a nightclub hostess), or of everyday activities (railway maintenance workers stepping over a live rail). The fourth part of the book moves further afield, responding to places and occasions in Kuwait, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece.
‘In Paul Rossiter’s new volume there is an inherent emphasis upon the particular, the moment, the making of nothing into happening. There is a quiet humanity of attentiveness … that brings to mind the objectivist world of Williams or Reznikoff. . . . Paul Rossiter’s poetry gives life to the everyday with which our lives are filled.’ – Ian Brinton, Tears in the Fence.
Click here to read all of Ian Brinton’s review.
Genzō Sarashina – Kotan Chronicles: Selected Poems 1928–1943, translated by Nadine Willems
Kotan Chronicles by Genzō Sarashina takes the reader into the lives of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, and their interaction with Japanese settlers in the 1920s and 1930s, a period when the traditional world of the kotan, or Ainu village, was being destroyed by the rapid development of the island. With a distinctive and powerful artistic voice, vividly captured in Nadine Willems‘s translation, the poems probe this extraordinary cultural encounter in Japan’s far north, depicting both the beauty of the Hokkaido landscape and the back-breaking work required to survive there in an era of economic hardship. Kotan Chronicles constitutes an exceptional witness of its times.
‘These valuable translations, prefaced by an expertly written scholarly introduction, provide a compelling and trenchant account of life on the geographic and intellectual frontiers of imperial Japan.’ – Paul D. Barclay, Chair of Asian Studies, Lafayette College
‘Such a rare treat – one of the few examples of Japanese proletarian poetry to appear in English.… This courageous version not only captures the colloquial, multivocal style of the original poems, but also constitutes an important document in the recuperation of pre-war Japanese poetry.’ – Eric Selland
Click here to read more.
Click here to read a sample from this book published in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.
Click here to read an interview with Nadine Willems by Kris Kosaka in the Japan Times.
Peter Robinson – Approach to Distance: Selected Poems from Japan, with Japanese translations by Miki Iwata
Peter Robinson (1953– ) is among Britain’s internationally recognized contemporary poets. He has also had a long and deep relationship with Japan, the country where he would spend eighteen years teaching English literature in Sendai and Kyoto. Approach to Distance: Selected Poems from Japan presents a bilingual gathering of the poems he wrote during his residence in the country, a key period in his creative life. Miki Iwata’s introduction sets the choice of poems in context, and her translations bring over into Japanese the emotional intelligence, trans-cultural understanding, and wit-inflected feeling that characterize this poet’s widely appreciated work.
‘It’s as if he carries a listening device, alert for the moments when the tectonic plates of mental experience slide quietly one beneath another to create paradoxes and complexities that call for poems to be made’ – Roy Fisher
‘… a major English poet’ – Poetry Review
Click on the cover to get more information.