by Joyelle McSweeney on Sep.26, 2011
In Tokyo I met my supplement sister, Takako Arai.
Takako Arai is one of the residing poet-dynamos of Tokyo, writing and performing dismaying and visionary poems and heroically running her independent Mi’Te Press in the face of a fearsome and expensive official publishing culture which made Johannes and me comparatively thankful for the aggravating state of American publishing.
Takako Arai also translated a number of my poems (no easy task, I’m sure, as about 25% of the words are neologisms) and performed alongside me at the Festival; I have to admit, she made my poems sound awesome. Her Japanese versions, so fast, so nimble, so aggressive, so lovely, so full of syllables!–sounded like a shredded insane glamorous shamanness-drag queen played by Jack Smith rattling an amber pillbottle holding his last two amphetamine pills like teeth over the heads of people waiting on a subway platform at eight a.m. for a train that won’t come—exactly the effect I am going for in my work!
Takako Arai’s own work is available in English on Action Yes and at Octopus and was featured in Belladonna’s Four from Japan which Sawako Nakayasu edited and translated in 2006. After the festival, Takako-san very kindly gave me her volume of poems, Soul Dance, translated by Jeffrey Angles and Sawako,and published by her own Mi’Te press.
As I read through the poems, I was amazed by how similar our sensibility and structural rhythms were. For example, here is an excerpt from her poem, “ Supplements” (trans. Jeffrey):
Potassium and calcium, magnesium and germanium
Glucosamine and glycogen, taurine and tumeric,
Cat’s claw, chitosan, eye drops made of maple, melatonin
A scond bowlful of supplements
And still nothing for my skin
Here the speaker is skinless, wears a skin of nothing, whilst the ever ramifying syllables of the supplements form a kind of pharmeceutical skin for the poem itself, an alternative DNA chain coming into riddle her mitochondria. The hectic, pellmell cascade of syllables eventually converts into nonsense sound:
Kekyo kekyo kekyo kekyo, hohohōhokekyo
In this passage, sound changes shape as it lifts off from the pharmeceutical spell, a no-place of non-meaning that also opens up a portal for possession, a door made of sound.
This poem is so close in energy and dynamics to my own poem series, King Prion, each section of which begins with the long initiatory nonesense syllable Hooooooo, a free floating piece of sound meant to serve as a spectral gateway to runs of toxic pharmeceutical syllables. The series opens
Lay in an array of pixels
Fat, simulated proteins
Looks just like nutrition!
Acts just like an avatar!
I just wanted to give my body to
A net of guarine
Ginko-balboa azatine melanine
Camphobacter phylacter nicotine
It was an uncanny, intoxicating feeling to hear my poem re- and un-written and pre-written by Arai Takako—or to imagine that I was re-, un- or pre-writing hers, that we were both perhaps automatic writing the same poem, vomiting up the supplements of culture, the pills we had been fed. I love these poems for their own merits, but I am also strangely comforted and strengthened and exhilarated to know that I have a split twin writing like a frayed wire on the other side of the globe, an impossible indicator, a sister-victim of the same fatal disease.
You can hear Arai Takako’s multimedia performance of her own poems(that’s Jeffrey Angles in the projected film) here. Takako-san is standing to the left of the projection, overdubbing some of the words and playing musical instruments.
You can here Takako-san and I performing my poems and her translations here; the King Prion run begins at 7:15.