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)