Contemporary Japanese Poets: Hiraide Takashi

I’ve had the pleasure of following Hiraide Takashi’s poetry as well as translating his work since 1983, not long after he published his first book to attract broader critical attention – Kurumi no Sen-i no Tame ni. I was looking for some younger poets to include in a translation issue of a small English language magazine located in Paris and which I was co-editing. So Yoshimasu Gozo (a globe-trotting poet who seems to know virtually everyone) introduced us. A long association has sense ensued, which has included visits to countless unique and out-of-the-way night spots in Tokyo where Hiraide has demonstrated not only his fine sensibilities in food, drink and night life atmosphere, but a most notable ability to negotiate large amounts of liquid substances into his person. Perhaps Hiraide’s next book should be the handbook on unusual drinking establishments in Tokyo. After all, he’s already written the book on baseball. After a semester at the Iowa writer’s workshop in 1985 he made a very special pilgrimage to Cooperstown, the birthplace of baseball. How does he manage to do all this? Hiraide has stated in an essay that for him, poetry is a kind of baseball of sorts. I won’t attempt to explain this. But what I saw when I first attempted to translate some excerpts from the book mentioned above was surrealist prose poetry creating a strange atmosphere with images of subways and glowing lights. Over a glass of mizuwari Hiraide corrected me. In actual fact, these images were not surrealistic at all – they were extremely minute, almost scientific observations of his actual daily commute on the train between Shinjuku and Iidabashi where at the time he was working in book design for Kawade Shobo publishing. Hiraide’s work is not easy. He has now settled into a prose poetry style which is highly dense and complex. But it always retains a connection with the real, as can be seen in Wakai Seikotsu-shi no Shozo (Portrait of a Young Osteopath) – an imaginary naturalist’s notebook, and is also often filled with a kind of tongue-in-cheek sort of humor. One of Hiraide’s favorite American poets is John Ashberry, not surprisingly. I usually describe Hiraide’s poetry as having a certain focus on texture – there is the tendency to pull and stretch the Japanese syntax to see just how far it will go. This makes for very difficult translating. Both Hiraide and those close to him, with their critical awareness and interest in also writing theory and criticism, are probably the closest anyone in Japan comes to the type of avant garde tendencies seen in the U.S. in the eighties focusing on language. But I would call Hiraide’s poetry a kind of hyper-realism. Hiraide has become one of the most widely known and respected members of the younger avant garde set, those who emerged in the early eighties, now being included in the Shichosha collection of modern poets. He currently teaches literary and aesthetic theory at Tama Bijutsu Daigaku.
–Eric Selland
Note: Hiraide’s For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut, Translated by Sawako Nakayasu, is available on New Directions

One Response to “Contemporary Japanese Poets: Hiraide Takashi”

  1. me Says:

    I very much would like to read this collection soon,and of course with a mizuwari or two..

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