Report from Tokyo 4: My Supplement Sister, Takako Arai (now with Links!)

by 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.




2 comments for this entry:
  1. Jeffrey

    Imagine my shock of finding this posting with the video containing a video of me reading in a poetry festival where I was not even present! What an odd feeling to I have been reproduced, to have functioned (unknowingly) as part of a simulacrum, where sound repeats itself and echos across multiple iterations and multiple visions in multiple countries in multiple layers. Suddenly, I feel deliciously lost in a house of mirrors.

    There is much I want to say about Arai, who is one of the most exciting poets in Japan today (at least for my money), but I’ll save that until after I have recovered from my surprise!

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