Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reading Sawako Nakayasu for the First Time

The good people at Jacket2 have been publishing a series of short essays in which a poets and critics respond to a poems they're seeing for the first time.  They're looking for candor about what happens when we meet a new poem, and want the series to illuminate such questions as:
What do you do when you first read a new or unfamiliar poem? What are the processes and procedures that precede a settled “take” or a considered evaluation or an elaborated critical argument? To be frank, we’re often confounded when faced with a new work, and we doubt we’re alone.
I was happy to be tapped for this, and given a wonderful, odd prose poem called "Couch" by Swawako Nakayasu.  I'd never read her work before, and instead of rooting around for context I simply let the poem itself dance around in my head.

Here are some of my thoughts:
“Couch” reads like a French or Belgian Surrealist prose poem. Nakayasu’s name would have led me (perhaps wrongly or stupidly) to assume she’s got some connection to Japanese poetry, but I don’t speak Japanese and have read only the classic Japanese poets in translation, so I wouldn’t be able to tell if she’s relating to what the poets are doing in Nagoya or Osaka nowadays. But I do know enough about Francophone Surrealism to see that Nakayasu’s likely to have some kind of contact with that tradition: the narrative is sort of wry, sideways-funny, and feels like an incomplete allegory. “Couch” has a lot of ordinary, bourgeois realism in it: a couple getting divorced and trying to find a civil way to divide their possession, a domestic setting, and realist cues like exact times of arrival and departure. But it also has an understated wackiness...
The rest, including Nakayasu's poem, is available here.

The elegant, loopy little book from which the poem comes, Ants is available here.