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Poetry Mignette 04/00

by Taylor Mignon

Yuriya Julia Kumagai's first volume of poetry, "Her Space-Time Continuum," originally written in English and published in 1994, acquired visual, "found," literary theory and language poetry influences to shape her own idiom. This hybrid approach reflected the speaker's fragmented identity evident in the poems. Though the poems in her just published companion volume "Double Helix into Eternity" follows a less experimental mode with stanzas lined on the left of the page, her new verse gains in lyricism as well as accesibility. Kumagai's poetry is projective in the sense that it is best experienced tthrough her dramatic readings.

Writing poetry initially as course work for an MA in Sydney Australia, she studied under a British theatre actress the recitation and performing of poetry, in order to correct her American English that she learned at elementary school in Long Beach, Ca!

Much performance poetry today relies on striking poses, exagerrated vocalizations, or gimmicks such as dubbing words over music rather than a grounding of poetry of substance. More expansive than self-indulgent, Kumagai's idiom reaches from quirky in a cross-cultural context to grandiose in a cross-cosmic context. Double Helix is an allegory of the narrator's search for establishing an identity, problematic because language or signs "have meaning only through difference" (Derrida).

Since the Japanese language volume "Nejirenagara Hateshinai" in 1998 proceeded the English version (Double Helix), presumably the poems were originally written in Japanese partially explaining how this latest volume may not have ventured into postmodern techniques which are not as respected in Japan as in other countries. Or perhaps the speaker, an individual undergoing transmigration, has managed to gain a solid identity than a personae leaning towards deconstruction.

A veteran performer, Kumagai was winner of the 1997 "gin-yuu-Shi-jin Tai-sho Contest" (Wandering Minstrel Prize) and first prize winner of the rou-doku no ta-me-no-shi-saku contest, both contests based in Hokkaido (more information on contests in an upcoming installment of this column). She is a member of the Japan Poets Club, the Japan Contemporary Anglo-American Poetry Society, and more poetry societies in the U. S., the U. K., and Australia. Kumagai's latest project is a spoken word CD (upcoming).

Yuriya Julia Kumagai at Ben's Cafe's "Power of the Spoken Word," April 23, starting at 7 p.m. after first open mic.

In addition to Kumagai's "Double Helix into Eternity," several new publications released this year include a bilingual internet journal of art, fiction and poetry; bilingual haiku with calligraphy volumes, criticism, and spoken word CDs. Below is a mini-guide to some of these offerings.

"The Plaza," a quarterly bilingual journal in English and Japanese, is "devoted to preserving global and intercultural relations." The journal, published since 1985, has this year gone online, with no. 36 the first virtual issue. Publisher and editor Leo Shunji Nishida states "In online publication, we will return to the ancient age when culture was transferred through the word alone without paper. It is the hope...of The Plaza to continue to provide this virtual forum for future generations."

In the current online issue (to be followed by its spring issue later this month, we have fiction by Michael Hoffman, book reviewer for Asahi Evening News; the story "Book of Changes" by Michael McCormick and poetry from R. L. Cook and Giovanni Malito, both from Ireland. (Malito edits the poetry broadsheet "The Brobdingnagian Times" and is a consultant for "Slugfest" Ltd., a literary journal based in the U.S.). There's also poetry and art by Al Beck.

Another feature of "The Plaza" is the selected works which offers its best art, fiction and poetry from the journal's inception. Click under selected poetry, and verse can be found by Antler, Cid Corman ["The Pleasures" (Kinkakuji-mae)], Tom Dow ("Visit to Kikawa Jinja"), Peter Dowling ("Omiya"), Stephen Forster ("The Foreigner's Cemetery in Yokohama"), Morgan Gibson, Kiyoko Ogawa, Jeff Poniewaz, Sherry Reniker, and D. M. Stroud, to mention a few. Quite an impressive list of many former or currently Japan-based poets.

Artwork such as woodcuts and watercolors are finely presented as well as virtual gallery of the works of former house artist Kazuo Omori (1889-1995). Visit the website at http://www.@u-kan.co.jp


"A Dream Like This World: One Hundred Haiku" by Koi Nagata, translated by Nana Naruto and Margaret Mitsutani (Todosha, 2,400 yen) is graced by the poet's own calligraphy and ink paintings presented here in color. Assonance and alliteration glide in this haiku:

the butterbur leans

as I weed around it

the spring moon looms behind.

Other gems in this publication are the aphorisms and prosey musings, also presented in Japanese and English on the same page, such as: "A true writer is a writer from hell."


"Inch by Inch: 45 Haiku by Issa" (Kobayashi) is printed in Sakaki's calligraphy, with Japanese, English, and roman letter transliteration. Also includes "Cup of Tea, Plate of Fish: an interview with Nanao Sakaki, conducted by John Brandi and Jeff Bryan. Available for 2,000 yen from Studio Reaf at 636-3 Kekurano, Minami-Izu-cho, Shizuoka 415-0321. Also availabe from Studio Reaf is the activist monthly "Ningen Kazoku" which regularly publishes Nanao's newest poetry, often bilingually. In February's edition is Sakaki's poem "What Shall I Do" and Maggie Sakaki's article simply titled "Nanao."


Indie label Little El Nino published its aptly titled CD "Poetasters' Park." Actually, professionally produced with musicians playing a variety of styles as the backing track, the CD is an indicator of the interest in spoken word, not necessarily high-brow poetry and certainly not the traditional 5, 7, 5 syllabic form. Highlights include poetry by Takeboo!, a twenty something unofficial spokesperson for his generation; Masa Hoshino Hal, an original gutteral performer emitting poetic contact buzzes, and the beautiful poetry of Inko Saito's voice.

This column is published monthly every third Sunday. Contact Mignon c/o Japan Times, by fax at 03-5994-1799, or email to poetrymignon@hotmail.com.

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