For Japan’s star poet Tanikawa, it is enjoyable, not work, at 90


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TOKYO — Shuntaro Tanikawa used to assume poems descended like an inspiration from the heavens. As he grew older — he’s now 90 — Tanikawa sees poems as welling up from the bottom.

The poems nonetheless come to him, a phrase or fragments of strains, as he wakes up within the morning. What conjures up the phrases comes from outdoors. The poetry comes from deep inside.

“Writing poetry has turn out to be actually enjoyable nowadays,” he stated not too long ago in his elegant dwelling within the Tokyo suburbs.

Cabinets had been overflowing with books. His assortment of historical bronze animal collectible figurines stand in neat rows in a glass field subsequent to stacks of his favourite classical music CDs.

“Prior to now, there was one thing about its being a job, being commissioned. Now, I can write as I would like,” he stated.

Tanikawa is amongst Japan’s most well-known trendy poets, and a grasp of free verse on the on a regular basis.

He has greater than 100 poetry books revealed. With titles like “To Stay,” “Pay attention” and “Grass,” his poems are stark, rhythmical however conversational, defying elaborate conventional literary types.

William Elliott, who has translated Tanikawa for years, compares his place in Japanese poetic historical past to how T. S. Eliot marked the start of a brand new period in English poetry.

Tanikawa can be a reputed translator, having translated Charles Schulz’ “Peanuts” caricature into Japanese because the Nineteen Seventies. He demonstrated his ear for the poetic within the colloquial with finesse, selecting “yare yare” for “good grief,” transcending the life-style variations of East and West within the common world of youngsters and animals.

“He was extra a poet or a thinker,” he stated of Schulz.

Tanikawa has translated many others’ works, together with Mom Goose, in addition to Maurice Sendak and Leo Lionni. In flip, his works have been extensively translated, together with into Chinese language and European languages.

Tanikawa’s poem “Two Billion Gentle-Years of Solitude” catapulted him to stardom within the early Nineteen Fifties. Tanikawa had his eyes on the cosmos and Earth’s spot within the universe, years earlier than Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote the magical realism traditional, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Tanikawa was at all times in demand, the darling of poetry readings world wide, a uncommon instance of a poet who effortlessly crossed over to commercialism with out compromising his artwork.

However poetry was once a job — his career, his every day work.

Tanikawa is the lyricist for the Japanese theme tune for Osamu Tezuka’s TV animated collection “Astro Boy.” He additionally wrote the script for the narration of Kon Ichikawa’s documentary of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

A well-liked writer of youngsters’s image books, he’s typically featured in textbooks.

He swears he doesn’t have “initiatives” anymore due to his age, which has made strolling and going out harder. However in the identical breath he says he’s collaborating along with his musician son Kensaku Tanikawa, who lives subsequent door, on what they name “Piano Twitter.”

He has already written dozens of poems to go along with the rating. They’re all brief, extra abstracted than his previous work, conjuring surreal photographs like staircases descending to nowhere, or a caterpillar dancing uncontrollably.

He isn’t positive how the work shall be introduced, however speculated it may turn out to be a e book with a barcode so readers can take heed to the poems being learn with music on-line.

Amongst his voluminous output, he’s most happy with his Nineteen Seventies “Kotoba Asobi Uta” collection, which utilized singsong alliterations and onomatopoeia, because the title “Phrase Play Songs” implies.

One repeats the phrase “kappa,” a legendary monster, as in: “kappa kapparatta,” which interprets to “the kappa took off with one thing” — a “rappa,” a “trumpet,” because it seems in a later line. The poetry is, each visually and aurally, a sheer celebration of the Japanese language.

That was distinctive, Tanikawa stated, and he nonetheless likes what he got here up with.

“For me, the Japanese language is the bottom. Like a plant, I place my roots, drink within the vitamins of the Japanese language, sprouting leaves, flowers and bearing fruit,” he stated.

Married and divorced thrice — to a poet, an actress and an illustrator — Tanikawa harassed he was altering with age, noting 90 felt a lot older than 80, and he was getting forgetful.

But he appeared on a current sunny afternoon completely comfy with social media and on a regular basis know-how, though he used a magnifying glass to make out nice print. He was interested in new films, together with what may be on Netflix. He likes consuming cookies, he stated, trying extra like a mischievous baby than the great-grandfather that he’s.

He normally works at his big desk in a spacious examine, which has a window that lets within the breeze and a fuzzy ray of sunshine. It seems out right into a yard with flowers. On the wall hangs a sepia-toned portrait of his mom along with his father, Tetsuzo Tanikawa, a thinker.

Whereas rising up, Tanikawa was extra afraid about his mom’s dying than of another demise. He additionally remembers how he noticed corpses upon corpses after the American air raids of Tokyo throughout World Warfare II.

“Loss of life has turn out to be extra actual. It was once extra conceptual after I was younger. However now my physique is approaching demise,” he stated.

He hopes to die as his father did, in his sleep after an evening of partying, at 94.

“I’m extra interested in the place I am going after I die. It’s a distinct world, proper? After all, I don’t need ache. I don’t wish to die after main surgical procedure or something. I simply wish to die, abruptly,” he stated.

When requested to learn his works out loud, he doesn’t hesitate.

He reads excerpts from his newest collaboration along with his son. Then he reads his debut work that, translated into English, ends with these strains:

“The universe is twisted, / That’s the reason we attempt to join. / The universe retains increasing, / That’s the reason we’re all afraid. / In two billion light-years of solitude / I immediately sneeze.”

“It seems like a poem written by another person,” Tanikawa stated.

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter:


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