Louis Esterhuizen. Japan se vernaamste anti-digter

Shuntaro Tanikawa (foto) is inderdaad ‘n Japannese digter met andersoortige petrol in sy tenk; vandaar dat Poetry International Web onlangs nog vir die tweede keer dié digter onder oog geneem het. In haar essay “The Poetry of the Anti-Poetic” skryf Yasuhiro Yotsumoto insiggewend oor Tanikawa as Japan se vernaamste anti-digter. Vir die doel van haar essay fokus Yotsumoto uitsluitlik om die bundels Definitions en Coca-Cola Lesson wat onderskeidelik in 1975 en 1981 verskyn het.

Volgens Yotsumoto was hierdie tydperk in Tanikawa se 60-jaarlange skrywersloopbaan van kardinale belang aangesien sy kreatiwiteit op daardie tydstip hoogty gevier het: “The poet, in his forties and at the peak of his creative energy, was rigorously exploring new possibilities in poetry by writing about unconventional (and often anti-poetic) material in equally unconventional ways. Tanikawa’s prose poems during this period, which he dubbed ‘language-oriented poems’ in contrast to his ‘poet-oriented poems’ are a prime example of Tanikawa’s achievements as a revolutionary of modern Japanese poetry.” (Oor die kwessie van Tanikawa se ‘poet-orientated poems’ het Yotsumoto vantevore ook op Poetry International geskryf. Gaan kyk gerus hier.)

Nietemin, Yotsumoto tipeer Definitions soos volg: “In an quasi-scientific, deceptively objective style, Definitions […] depict such prosaic everyday things as a chewing gum wrapper, a box of tissue paper, and even a piece of excrement on the street. The combined effect is that of a refreshing sense of wonder at the very existence of things (including ourselves), and a deadpan sense of humor.”

Oor sy bundel Coca-Cola Lesson het Tanikawa die volgende oor sy eie digkuns te sê gehad: “Since reality is made of consciousness, and consciousness of words, a poet as the master of words should be able to recreate reality, such as an edible radish made entirely of words!” ‘n Opmerking  waarop Yotsumoto soos volg uitbrei: “Many poems in the collection consist of several parts, which in turn relate to each other in such a way that the book as a whole can be consumed as one extremely intricate (and delightfully ‘delicious’) organism.”

Ten slotte, ‘n laaste samevattende kommentaar deur Yotsumoto: “Tanikawa has produced wearable poems, and poems that you can write with. His poems invade our life in the guise of the everyday, through mundane objects like a virus or the invisible Auntie in ‘Diary of Auntie‘. Tanikawa does not seem to be at all shy about this down-to-earth accessibility, or concerned about the dilution of his poetry. As he writes in ‘Coca-Cola Lesson,’ “Every single word might turn into something of unknown size and mass, and once any word occupied his head, it might connect to every word all over the world, and at the end he might be gobbled up by the world and die.”

Nou ja, toe. Hieronder volg die titelgedig uit Coca-Cola Lesson. Sterkte daarmee.

***

COCA-COLA LESSON

That morning the boy came to know words. Of course all his life he had spoken words like everyone else, and was even able to write some. For a boy of his age, his vocabulary was relatively large. In fact he was quite clever at using them to threaten, to cheat, to cajole and sometimes to tell the truth, but that was the extent of it. But now, using words just for such utilitarian purposes seemed to him somehow insignificant.

Something trivial triggered it. That morning he was sitting at the tip of a jetty, dangling his feet just as anyone else would do. During this time tepid splashes from waves wetted his bare ankles. There was no one around he could talk to and it was too insignificant an incident to talk about. But whatever caused it, at that instant he visualized in his mind the word ‘Sea’ and the word ‘Me’ at the very same time.

Presently he had nothing really to think or speak about. So he mindlessly let the two words ‘Sea’ and ‘Me’ knock against each other like tiddlywinks inside his head. Then something odd happened. The word ‘Sea’ grew bigger and bigger in his head, and brimmed over to merge into the sea in front of him the way two drops of water would, and suddenly they dissolved into one.

At the same time, the word ‘Me’ grew smaller and smaller like the tip of a thin needle, but never disappeared. Rather, the smaller it grew, the brighter it gleamed, moving from his head down toward his center, now floating like a single speck of plankton in the ‘Sea’ that converged with the sea.

For the boy this was an unimaginable experience, but at least at the beginning he was not surprised or uneasy. Instead, he even said “I see,” looking smug. But of course he was not exactly unruffled. He felt a certain powerful force, not his own, well up inside himself.

Rising up before he knew it, he mumbled, “I see, the sea means the sea.” Having said that he suddenly felt like laughing out loud. “Sure, this is the sea. It is not something named the sea, but it is the sea.” If his buddies were with him, such a monologue would be laughed away. He thought about that in a corner of his mind, and he mumbled again. “I am me. I am, right here.” Then this time he felt like crying.

All of a sudden he felt terrified. He wanted to dump everything out of his head. He wanted to make both the ‘Sea’ and the ‘Me’ vanish. He was afraid that his head might explode if even a single word came to his mind. Every single word might turn into something of unknown size and mass, and once any word occupied his head, it might connect to every word all over the world, and at the end he might be gobbled up by the world and die. That’s how he felt.

But, just like any boy of his age, he could not lose sight of his own self. Before he realized it, he was trying to pop open a can of Coca-Cola he had bought on his way to the jetty and was holding in his hand. To his surprise he could not do it. Why? Because the moment he looked at the can in his hand, an uncountable number of words like a swarm of locusts swooped down en masse inside his head.

However that was not necessarily as terrifying a situation as he had imagined. Don’t run away, stand firm! He opted for the only path to overcome fear, just as he would when fighting against much taller and older boys. In his hand, the can, painted in red and white, radiated words, absorbed words and breathed as if it were a living thing. Not knowing whether he was tormented or pleased, he faced the swarm of words. But once he separated them one by one, the huge swarm, which seemed like a swirling evil fog, was not at all different from the words on the page of a familiar comic book.

This battle of sorts actually took place in a flash, like in a nightmare. If, for instance, he saw the infinite universe that started or ended at the tip of his can, he was totally unaware of it. One might be able to opine that he named every bit of the unknown about to swallow him with all the vocabulary he could muster, which included his future vocabulary that was yet dormant in his subconscious.

When the totality of words, which can be likened to a single yet-unknown extraterrestrial life, converged into a vision of a volume of the dictionary, the battle was over. The sea was back to being the entity named the sea, and was again calmly undulating. And the boy pulled the tab of his Coca-Cola can, and drank up the foaming dark liquid in one gulp, and choked and coughed.  “It’s just a Coca-Cola can,” he thought. A moment ago it was a monster.

He stomped on the emptied can, instead of throwing it away into the sea as he always did. His bare feet hurt a little but he stomped on it again and again until the can was totally flattened. He himself was rather embarrassed with the strange experience. He did not even think of telling others about it, nor learn anything from it. Even if he should recall this incident in an incoherent context as he lies in his death bed decades from now, it will have turned into something hard to capture like a whiff of wind, along with all other memories, hence it will surely stimulate his sense different from his declining five senses to frighten him again.

That morning, though, the boy looked down at the flattened Coca-Cola can, and simply mumbled, “not for incineration.”

© Vertaling: 2011, Takako Lento
Uit: the art of being ALONE
Uitgewer: Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 2011

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