The first US publication by the legendary tanka master of love, homoerotic desire, and destruction.
“Only when a man becomes all naked do you know the shades of his life as an existential being,” writes Tatsuhiko Ishii in his sensuous, exhilarating new collection of poetry Bathhouse and Other Tanka
. For many decades now, Ishii has turned the classical poetic form of the tanka into its own innovative contemporary tradition. What was originally a five line 5-7-5-7-7-syllable verse form Ishii writes in one line, constructing his poems out of sequential one-line tankas, as if Basho and Lorca bathed together under the moon. In moving elegies to Yukio Mishima and Genji (the Shining Prince), tributes to Ezra Pound and Claude Lorrain, as well as to the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Mount Fuji, Ishii’s poetry resonates with a mix of philosophical lyricism, inquisitive exuberance, and homoerotic desire. “The ocean plane shines in the sun,” he writes in one poem in the aftermath of 9/11. “From now on every place will be a battlefield, sure.” In one sequence, we glimpse Proust through a photograph by Paul Nadar, in another clipping pubic hair and washing a horse become a rumination about real poetry. Ishii pens songs of momentary love and flames of lust, of mankind’s self-destruction and the self mirrored in the seven deadly sins. No other poet today can write about sniffing a young man in Tokyo or Tasmanian oysters like Ishii does with such majesty. Hiroaki Sato, the bestselling author of On Haiku, has been translating Ishii for over thirty years and captures the rhythmic pulse and turn of his “Poetry … harmful, a dream. Even the world, finally, due to poetry, liquefies …”
Tatsuhiko Ishii, poet and essayist, was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1952. For much of his life, he worked as a journalist for one of Japan’s largest newspapers and book publishers, The Asahi Shimbun, covering cultural affairs locally and abroad, while also working for their editorial, advertising, and production departments. At age twenty he won the New Poet’s Prize in Japan, and in 1997 he received an Asian Cultural Council grant to spend several months in the United States to research gay culture. Ishii has published a dozen collections of tanka since 1982, one edition of which appeared in France in 2012.
Hiroaki Sato is a translator of Japanese poetry and prose, classical and modern, who has won a PEN Translation Prize and two Japanese-U.S. Friendship Commission translation prizes. A newspaper and magazine columnist for forty years, particularly for The Japan Times, he is also a book reviewer and contributes essays to many publications. His nonfiction book On Haiku (“a treasure”—Books on Asia) and his translation of Sakutaro Hagiwara’s The Iceland are both published by New Directions. He is also the author of the recent A Bridge of Words: Views across America and Japan.
Hiroaki Sato’s brilliant translation maintains Ishii’s innovations, including the poet’s nontraditional use of punctuation. This collection is an excellent introduction to the beauty of Ishii’s verse.
— Isle McElroy - Vulture
During the Heian period, tanka were used as a form of communication between lovers. Ishii’s tanka retain some of that ancient veneer, agony obfuscated by apathy, the body of the beloved, just out of damp reach.
— Nina Li Coomes - The Believer
[Ishii’s] writerly gaze is distracted, attuned to the tactile, to subtly pungent smells, to moisture dripping from a sumo wrestler’s chest. … The poems are peripatetic delights. Poetry for him is an intercontinental playground, and Ishii maps his messy personal desires across it.
— Patrick Preziosi - Commonweal Magazine