Contemporary Japanese Poets: Kiwao Nomura

Kiwao Nomura (1951 – ) is the leading experimental voice in contemporary Japanese poetry. He is also a major critic and theorist. Along with Shuri Kido, he has been responsible for providing a whole new interpretation of Japan’s postwar period in literature, and has also written on French poets, including an analysis of Rimbaud seen through the concepts of Deleuze and Guattari.


Nomura’s work dissolves conventional meaning relationships while disrupting many of the formal mechanisms which traditionally have made poetry recognizable as poetry. Chief amongst these, and one which would immediately catch the Japanese reader with a more traditional literary education off guard, is the use of plain speech rather than a more formal poetic language (i.e. poetry as a privileged or heightened language). This dismantling of the frame which, in visual art terms, communicates to the viewer that what they are seeing is a painting, i.e. art, allows the poem to explode beyond its boundaries, producing a trajectory which moves in multiple directions at once.

In Nude Day, Nomura takes us on a tour through hell on earth, much like Dante’s Inferno; accept that for Nomura, hell is birth itself. The parades of flesh winding their way through Nomura’s poem are living creatures both human and non-human, and often subhuman, but ultimately embodying the human condition. The title, Nude Day (The Day Laid Bare), is expressed here in a way to bring out its relationship to Agamben’s concept of “bare life” – human life stripped down to its most basic, biological reality, vulnerable and powerless. Nomura also mentions Burroughs’ Naked Lunch as something relating to what he is getting at. The entire work is overshadowed by the colossal earthquake and tsunami which destroyed much of the northeastern region of Japan in March of 2011. Though expressed in the language of the absurd and the Felliniesque, Kiwao Nomura’s Nude Day (The Day Laid Bare) has an existential urgency. The poem’s constant repetition of lines like “all things are laid bare,” “stripped to the bone,” echoes Heidegger’s insistence that the way in which our lives are ordered  and controlled in modern, capitalist society leads to a “leveling down” of Being.

Note: These poems first appeared on Big Bridge. Selections from Nude Day have also appeared in Eleven Eleven.



Parade 1



Nude day


Stripped bare












Roadblock 1 (Sand on Lips)



When disquiet

With its as much as one hundred legs

Puts down roots all around me


Who’s voice is this?


“You have to go on with your own water

As far as that of which we cannot speak”


With water?

All wet and shiny?

Losing all color?


A distorted face appears

A monkey wrench for a neck


On lips






Parade 2



The day laid bare


Go in pursuit of unknown flesh, of the disappeared

If not, you yourself will become a fugitive


 Stripped to the bone


Ground of unraveling sutures

Remains of dissolved flesh


Go, follow – give chase


It’s a parade. The First Flesh arrives. Seems like a mere octopus, or something an octopus has on its exterior. It moves forward, spewing something incomprehensible, but then, as it grows distant, it is revealed, revealing, no doubt, the human. Then it multiplies, from belly to belly, a fetus with only a head seen in perpetual motion.


Seen in perpetual motion


With the first flesh in front, the Second Flesh undulates. Go in pursuit of that wretched nerve center mimicking animated ashes


Because it is equal to the fate of the breast


All is laid bare

The stones give off a scent in the confusion “according to internet media rumors, there was a tattoo imprinted on the breast”


Third Flesh – of all things, masquerading as sand, or engulfed by sand, in either case, all that can be seen is sand, an enormous amount of sand, its sun-soaked, smug expanse.


All is laid bare



“Two pages torn from the latest issue of a comic book, Hunter x Hunter


The Fourth Flesh is working. For instance, when you are immersed in afternoon sleep in the eternity of water, that which divides in many fish gathers together and eats the history of your diseased skin, eats it all up nicely.


The Fifth Flesh is so smelly you could call it stench itself


All is laid bare

Like gum which has lost its flavor, I who am nothing more than myself


The Sixth Flesh is the hand, shaking pom-poms all around. How ridiculous. It’s not as if it’s a cheer leader. It should probably be thrown out of the field. It has the limitations of a crustacean.


The Seventh Flesh is the shadow of flesh shimmering, giving birth to flesh though it is a mere shadow, raising its young in the hollow of an eye socket. Hold them in your arms when they’re grown – you’ll be covered in blood. Why is it – do you say live out the sullen remainder of your days as a monk?


Adenylic acid, guanylic acid


“While walking in the Western Market someone stumbled toward me, skin blackened as if they had attempted to burn themselves alive”


Like gum which has lost its flavor, I who am nothing more than myself






Roadblock 2 (Atomic Bomb Brick)



Of course it’s not as if

An atomic bomb brick

Came flying over nor is it the case that

I brought it home


Here right out of the blue

This suddenness continuing on forever

Or something

An atomic bomb


Actually, a screenwriter friend

Came like the wind from Hiroshima to my house

And gave it to me as a gift


From the Calbee Foods warehouse

Formerly the Hiroshima military supply depot

Its pedigree noted on a piece of paper and again like the wind

He left

But how troublesome

I tried adding it to the objects arranged in the entryway but it just didn’t fit

Then I moved it to the glass case in the living room

With the rock collection

But still it didn’t fit in

An atomic bomb


Wrested from the depths of the earth

A fragment, filled

With fine scars, a mysterious


Or something

So I placed it on the palm of my hand

Nothing to do but gaze fixedly upon it

And then music I’m sure it was

Music I heard coming from somewhere

In the bone at the bottom of the ear

A torrent of metallic blood

Colliding, crushing


The metallic

Rainbow squeaking, made to undulate severalfold

Or something







Parade 3



Stripped to the bone


The day laid bare


No one can escape

And yet there are runaways, always runaways, everywhere – it is the real.


The Eighth Flesh appears, in every respect its flattened figure a kind of zone – blood zone, knowledge zone, ground zone. Each zone separate, the gaps between their names which matter little are sewn together. A voice is heard from somewhere saying it’s all gas so there’s not much you can do.


“The collarbone snaps”


The Ninth Flesh – one becomes mesmerized by its swimming around and around aimlessly. Said to have the ability to charm, those who have grown weary are warned against becoming so inactive they end up falling in with a plop, floating next to the ninth flesh.


Cytidylic acid, thymidylic acid


In this way the Fourth Flesh and the Sixth Flesh run strictly parallel, competing in their hushed silence like cotton. Eventually they are surprised to find they have transformed into the ninth flesh. Similarly, the Seventh Flesh and first flesh collide, thereby forming The Tenth Flesh, while the Fifth Flesh and the Third Flesh merge to form The Eleventh Flesh. Meanwhile the Second Flesh and the Eighth Flesh move along arm in arm, the perfectly harmonious couple, but of course, they produce nothing.


The Twelfth Flesh is blind, but it is of course specialized, and is a master at spewing out words, much more so than the first flesh, but obviously it has no reproductive capacity. It is a disposable product.


Much like myself


If someone asks, it must be The Thirteenth Flesh. The spirit just makes it in, but the two are at cross purposes after all. When the spirit tries to lie down the flesh stands up, and when the flesh needs to rest the spirit gets up, walks around in the arcade of bones and joints, and tries to go outside.


The Fourteenth Flesh wears an expression of anger and indignation, so one must hasten to apologize or else one might get clobbered, or draw its profile using quick-drying ink


Or something to that effect


The Fifteenth Flesh has discarded eyes and ears, even its beautiful legs, and has renounced mathematics, single-mindedly developing the meaning of its existence in a region inundated by sand, but the result is more like an eye socket laughing meaninglessly above a set of kneecaps, or nerves foaming up in order to dream.


The Sixteenth Flesh is an old curmudgeon, gradually cozying up once he’s found the meaning of existence. He opens his big mouth, which can only be described as like that of a comic book character, and gulps everything down at once.


With frightening speed

Actions take hold of the human


Blood drips

From the hands of people become like empty shells


Like testimony


To the here


And the now






Roadblock 3 (Oh la la Piece ‘a Meat)



Oh la la

Piece ‘a meat


Crushed to the toes by the crowd the nonperson

Heads toward the chaos of a foaming polar region


The nonperson laughs from the knees

While streets and more streets surge forth in a coma


The nonperson devours thighs

And the bruise of love floats there like a dirigible


The nonperson hurries toward the backside

While longing resounds like the roar of the sea


The nonperson swings its hips

And the structure of woman becoming water without end becomes visible


The nonperson shuts itself up inside its navel

Mother, soon a casket will dance in midair


The nonperson climbs up the back

And bones grow from the bed, flowers blooming from their tips


The nonperson scratches its belly

While the metallic grass demonstrates mental telepathy, making a mechanical noise


The nonperson raises a racket in the heart

Is that forested place the door to the other world, begun to decay?


The nonperson sits on one’s shoulders

That there is no end is a frightening wand I should think


The nonperson slits someone’s throat

Only the freedom of being cut to pieces screams at the top of its voice


The nonperson runs through one’s mind at the last minute

It is the dazzling glare in which at any moment the skin is peeled away to reveal another head


Piece ‘a meat

Oh la la




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