Ariel Resnikoff interviews Yosuke Tanaka

PennSound podcast #47

Yosuke Tanaka and Ariel Resnikoff


The poet and translator Yosuke Tanaka visited Philadelphia and the Kelly Writers House in late 2014. The purpose of his visit was threefold: to join a scientific conference on cell biology; to see the Writers House in person after spending much time there virtually as a participant in the open online course called “ModPo”; and to sit down in the Wexler Studio with Ariel Resnikoff to talk about contemporary Japanese poetry. (His visit with ModPo’s teacher-curator Al Filreis resulted in a nine-minute video conversation about the experience of modern and contemporary American poetry from the point of view of a Japanese participant.)

Tanaka was born in Tokyo in 1969 and made his debut as a poet in the prestigious literary magazine Eureka at the age of nineteen. So far, he has published two poetry books, A Day When the Mountains are Visible in 1999, and Sweet Ultramarine Dreams in 2008.

Ariel Resnikoff is a poet, translator, and critic; has interviewed Jerome Rothenberg, among other writers; contributed “a test of Jewish American modernist poetics” in the Zukofskyian mode; and published poems in Eleven/Eleven, The Oxonian Review, Matrix Magazine, and Scrivener Creative Review. One of his major interests is the translation and study of the work of Yiddish American modernist poet Mikhl Licht.

Amaris Cuchanski introduces the podcast, part of the ongoing PennSound Podcasts series. Julia Bloch, who joined Ariel and Yosuke in the studio, welcomes them and introduces the conversation.

About Yosuke Tanaka, Yasuhiro Yotsumoto has written: “[He] writes about climbing mountains, riding a bicycle in a city while singing ‘Rally-ho’ and of feeling the moist air in the anticipation of summer rain. He also writes about food and of the sensation of tasting it. All of these materials are to him nature, which seems to be the main source of his creativity. And in his day job, he continues to deal with nature in the same way as in his poems by mixing old and new: he is a scientist specialised in the field of molecular cell biology.”

Below is a translation of the second poem Tanaka reads in the recording, “Salted Mackerel and Girl,” provided by the author.


Salted Mackerel and Girl
Yosuke Tanaka

Strange creatures
I haven’t written about them yet
Honey-like ecstasy
I haven’t written about that either
Natural disasters
I haven’t described them at all
Salted mackerel
I haven’t said anything about it either

But I
Am now thinking about wheeled luggage
Those bags with wheels that people drag all over the city
Where do they go with them?
They drag them bumping up staircases into train stations
I imagine, they are carrying suits to transform strange creatures
They will wear them
To transform into unusual characters
To feel their honey-like ecstasies
At home, at the office, on the stage,
That is where they must be headed
Dragging their wheeled luggage

Wearing masks
White girls
Are frequently seen
Especially young girls are wearing white masks
The natural disaster
Brought about
That sort of situation, in these days, somehow

Inside the mask
You found a salted mackerel lying about
Having deep dark circles under her eyes
The shadow of death was already on her face
She was grown up in a honey-like family
And spoiled,
Despite of such a strict
Upbringing, she was spoiled
In the end

I’m the good girl kept in cotton, wearing a white mask,
Why are you bitching me out?
We are packed into lots of wheeled luggage
Loaded on a wheeled box
That runs on tracks
To and fro
With murderous speed

He wears a black mask and a black hat and hides his face
He covers himself with a black coat
He stays at the corner of the car and looks at me
He darts strange glances at me
He must be a poet
He wears a lot of inlaid
Silver rings on his fingers
But his weird imagination is suddenly broken
When he notices a salted mackerel,
All the cells of the fish
Have shrunken in the salt
And what’s more
It is totally covered in white salt crystals

Coming out of the white lump
Salty drops spill over the burned summer asphalt!
Exposed to the strong rays of the sun
The lump of mackerel is burned, with love,
Scattering salt and oil
And all too soon
To be covered with ash and mud

Strange creatures wearing worn-out clothes
Rise up from the mud
One, two, three …
They stand
Extending their hands
And circle with extraordinary speed

You know, they are the spirits of the mackerel,
They are the spirits of the salted mackerel,
Are they an omen to disaster?
One, two, three …
They are
We saw
The spirits of
Circling, with extraordinary speed

Extending her hairy hands
Like a primitive man
The girl
Threw away her white mask
And joined in the circle of dance
She is given, a salted
Something special
Of her own

She, joins
Into the
Ring of dance
By the weird
Ashen gray
Where the
Depths of the world
Are whispered

All creatures
Should be altruistic
Like the mackerel, all the time.
Only with the altruistic ways of life,
Your world will draw 
The most natural curve, said they. 

Alas, she suddenly felt
An unearthly salty taste in her mouth
An indescribably fishy, bitter odor
Clung to her nose,
She groaned,
Her eyes rolled back,
She fell on her back
On the land of honey!

Oh, she fell because
The raw extract of the mackerel
Mistakenly entered into her mouth
Oh, it made her finally
Recover from the edge of death
She roars and roars and roars
To celebrate
The revival of

Like honey,
Like honey,

(You are still talking about salted mackerel, right?

One, two, three …
One, two, three … 

(translated by the author, with the kind help of Jeffrey Angles)

The signature public (PoemTalk #86)

Tyrone Williams, 'Written By H'Self' & 'Cant'

Tyrone Williams


Alan Golding, Lily Applebaum, and Herman Beavers joined Al Filreis in the Wexler Studio at the Kelly Writers House — the first time PoemTalk recorded in the new studio — to discuss two short poems by Tyrone Williams that appear in the book published by Omnidawn in 2008 called On Spec. The two poems appear in the book’s first section, called “Eshuneutics.” “Written By H’Self” [text] is the first poem in the section and the very first in the book. “Cant” [text] appears fourth in the book. We based our discussion on the recording of the two poems, available with many others on Williams’s PennSound author page, made during a reading he gave in the Segue Series at the Bowery Poetry Club in December 2007, prior to the book’s publication.

These densely allusive poems meant that our first task was to peel back at least some of the layers of referentiality; yet the layers overlap, are torqued, punned, entendred, homophoned, and doubly and triply and quadrupally historicized — sometimes in one word or phrase, conjuring social, geographical, historical, juridical, psychological, musical, poetic, theoretical registers. Among the allusions we trace: Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent”; the Washington/DuBois debate over the “Talented Tenth”; the “one-drop” racial rule; the John Henry Complex; the Cumberland Gap as an escape route; the Gap (source for jeans) and marketing fetishes; the folkloric figure of Stagger Lee, who murdered for the swiping of his Stetson; the Happy Feet of African American dancers and Disney animationists; the signature of the slave narrativist, needed to “prove” her and his capacity for self-authoring; Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition speech of 1896; “Terrible Tom” with his three historical personages, including the blind autistic musician whose race and music are categorically indecipherable; the historical relegation of black musicians to vernacular music; and Moby-Dick. After all this, Herman Beavers contends that Tyrone Williams “sings the holes in history” and indicates ways in which “History with a capital H is not adequate to talk about all this stuff.” And what alternatively can be adequate? Well, we’d argue: poetry — indeed, poems as specific and yet as capacious as Tyrone Williams’s.

Our director and engineer for this eighty-sixth episode in our series was Zach Carduner. Our editor was Amaris Cuchanski. And we at Kelly Writers House and PennSound sent a sweet thankful shout-out to Gary and Nina Wexler for making our dream of a recording studio here a reality.

Conceptual writing by women

PennSound podcast #43


Amaris Cuchanski has edited and now introduces a 20-minute excerpt from a one-hour recording made of an October 17, 2012, event at the Kelly Writers House featuring conceptualist writing by women, celebrating the publication of I'll Drown My Book. This excerpt is episode 43 in the PennSound podcast series. You can hear the entire recording — and indeed watch a video recording — of the event by visiting the Kelly Writers House web calendar entry and by visiting the speak PennSound page created for the audio recordings, which have there been segmented.

Nicki Resnikoff attended the event and was asked by the staff of the Writers House to describe what she witnessed. This is what Nicki wrote:

On Wednesday October 17th, the Arts Cafe was filled with members of the KWH community for what turned out to be a night of poetry — and laughter — as Laynie Browne hosted a reading from the recently released anthology of women’s conceptual writing, I’ll Drown My Book. Editor Browne took the podium to give a brief introduction to the anthology. She explained that the editors put this collection together with the intent of “opening, not binding, the term conceptual writing.” Browne then gave a brief introduction to each of the five readers for the night, mentioning some of their accomplishments and credentials. Each of the featured poets read from their own contribution to I’ll Drown My Book, as well as a selection from the anthology by another poet. Lee Ann Brown read three poems from her project “Philtre,” which she wrote while experiencing artwork created by others. She then read a piece in the anthology from Redell Olsen’s Punk Faun. Brown chose this selection as a companion to hers as it “takes poetry into the realm of art and performance in a very real way.” Rachel Blau DuPlessis read her piece “Draft 98: Canzone,” which she said came from a “realm of cultural pillaging.” Her other selected reading from the anthology was from Norma Cole’s “Collective Memory.” Jena Osman read from “Financial District,” which was first in her book Deborah Richards. Kristen Prevallet opted not to read from her piece in the anthology, given its essayistic form. In order to “convey the heart of it,” she called up a volunteer to whom she explained the essay. The volunteer then summarized this for the audience, calling the work “a take on space.” Prevallet also read from “Public Sphere and Private Space” by Rachel Levitsky. Cecilia Vicuna closed out the program. She gave no introduction to her energetic reading other than silently smoothing her clothes and hair while the room waited for her bilingual presentation. After performing two pieces, Vicuna took the time to note that all of the pieces of the night were connected by the idea of time travel, and to address her colleagues saying, “It was so incredibly beautiful to hear you all.” Vicuna then opened the anthology to show her contribution: abstract drawings, which she proceeded to “read” to the audience.

Erín Moure at 'Hot Texts' in 2012

Erin Mouré


On February 20, 2012, Erín Moure traveled from Calgary, Alberta, to read at a Belladonna* event, part of the “HOT TEXTS” project. She read with Rachel Levitsky and Christian Hawkey, and was introduced by Emily Skillings. Skillings and Krystal Languell hosted the event, which took place at The Way Station in Prospect Heights Brooklyn. Episode #41 of the PennSound podcasts series, hosted and edited by Emily Harnett, features a twenty-minute excerpt from the reading after a three-minute introduction.

A day like any other (PoemTalk #85)

James Schuyler, 'February'

from left: Erica Kaufman, Bernadette Mayer, Al Filreis & Julia Bloch—during a live interactive webcast that preceded this PoemTalk session by a few hours.


Bernadette Mayer, Julia Bloch, and erica kaufman joined Al Filreis to discuss James Schuyler’s poem “February.” Schuyler read the poem at the Dia Art Foundation in New York on November 15, 1988. John Ashbery gave the introduction, emphasizing how reluctant Schuyler was to read in public. He noted: “As far as I know, this is the first public [reading] he has ever given.” One can tell from the tone of Ashbery’s remarks that he felt that he and the audience were in for a rare treat, a savoring for which years of waiting were worthwhile.  Schuyler then read 17 poems, and one of them indeed was “February.” The poem was published in Freely Espousing (p. 15) and reprinted in Selected Poems (p. 6) and in Collected Poems (p. 4). Bernadette is astonished by the emphatic use of color, feeling it almost to be a knowing rule or constraint, and she herself derived from admiration of this very poem several color-poem experiments of her own. Julia then catalogues the coloration of what is otherwise typically a drab time of year in New York. And erica is delighted to assert that this is a “New York poem.” “Listening to him read,” erica added, “heightened my sense of one thing he does in his poems that I just love: the feeling you get that you’re getting access to something that’s pretty private. You’re watching a private reading of his own space, but that space he’s describing is also a space that’s physical and somewhat public.” So is “February” a nature poem? Perhaps an urban nature poem? Ashbery’s introduction on this point might have been a gloss on our poem: “He has been called a nature poet and it’s true that nature observed does play a large role in his poetry, but he’s about as far from Wordsworth as you can get …. Nature is merely what is adjacent, what one looks out on all the time.”

Toward the end of this episode Al and Julia note that earlier on the day of recording we hosted a live worldwide interactive webcast, featuring Bernadette Mayer, as part of the “ModPo” open online course. The photo atop this episode entry is a screenshot from that webcast. You can watch it here.

Our engineer for this episode of PoemTalk was Zach Carduner, and our editor is Amaris Cuchanski.


A chimney, breathing a little smoke.
The sun, I can't see
making a bit of pink
I can't quite see in the blue.
The pink of five tulips
at five p.m. on the day before March first.
The green of the tulip stems and leaves
like something I can't remember,
finding a jack-in-the-pulpit
a long time ago and far away.
Why it was December then
and the sun was on the sea
by the temples we'd gone to see.
One green wave moved in the violet sea
like the UN Building on big evenings,
green and wet
while the sky turns violet.
A few almond trees
had a few flowers, like a few snowflakes
out of the blue looking pink in the light.
A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They're just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can't get over
how it all works in together
like a woman who just came to her window
and stands there filling it
jogging her baby in her arms.
She's so far off. Is it the light
that makes the baby pink?
I can see the little fists
and the rocking-horse motion of her breasts.
It's getting grayer and gold and chilly.
Two dog-size lions face each other
at the corners of a roof.
It's the yellow dust inside the tulips.
It's the shape of a tulip.
It's the water in the drinking glass the tulips are in.
It's a day like any other.