Chika Sagawa - Though largely ignored for many years after her death, she is now often cited as the first female Japanese modernist poet. Night eats color, Flower bouquets lose their fake ornaments. Day falls into the leaves like sparkling fish And struggles, like the lowly mud, The shapeless dreams and trees Nurtured outside this shriveled, deridable despair

Chika Sagawa, The Collected Poems of Chika SagawaTranslated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu. Canarium Books, 2015.

The first comprehensive collection of one of Japan's foremost modernists to appear in English translation, THE COLLECTED POEMS OF CHIKA SAGAWA is an essential book. The project received a grant from the Japan Foundation, and poems from it have appeared in Poetry, Asymptote, Fascicle, and elsewhere.

Chika Sagawa was the pen name of Aiko Kawasaki, who was born in 1911 in Hokkaido, Japan. One of the first female modernist poets of Japan, she was a member of the literary community surrounding Kitasono Katue and was highly esteemed by many of her contemporaries. She died of stomach cancer at the age of 25.

Night eats color,
Flower bouquets lose their fake ornaments.
Day falls into the leaves like sparkling fish
And struggles, like the lowly mud,
The shapeless dreams and trees
Nurtured outside this shriveled, deridable despair.
And the space that was chopped down
Tickles the weeds there by its feet.
Fingers stained with tar from cigarettes
Caress the writhing darkness.
And then the people move forward.

Translated by Sawako Nakayasu
Chika Sagawa was born in 1911 on Hokkaido, an island in the north of Japan. At 19 and with the encouragement of her brother, she left home for Tokyo. That transition from the outskirts of the country to its political and social center figures prominently in her poetry. In Tokyo, she was exposed to western artistic movements, like Dada and surrealism, and western writers. Her first published work was not poetry, but translation, of modernist contemporaries working in English (Woolf and Joyce). Only just beginning her writing life, she died at 25 from stomach cancer. Though largely ignored for many years after her death, she is now often cited as the first female Japanese modernist poet.
Her poetry ascribes human descriptors to inhuman things. A sky will stand, or be clutched. Figs sleep. A city opens and closes. The effect is often exquisite; her poetry contains some of the loveliest images I have read. But beauty is often a burden in her writing. The sky does not exist merely to give humans pleasure; it has a life, plagued with wanting. By endowing these things with human activity, she also curses them with human plight. To exist, in the poetry of Chika Sagawa, is to suffer.
It is unclear as to whether suffering—experienced through a common vocabulary by all things—creates any sort of kinship. Man and nature exist together in the same space, a habitat of words that is at once spectacular and awful. We see this occurring in ‘Backside.’ The poem is a small marvel, like a fist of orange and gold leaves on a tree otherwise skeletal. But its smallness belies a biblical scope. In eight lines she renders the world, her trees replete with light and images of the sea. Then, fingers appear, disembodied and blackened. The fingers are stained with tar from cigarettes—what people give off appears before they do—and her image suggests that a stain is more than a blemish, it’s a wound: a scar with coloration. Darkness writhes; night eats. Flowers wilt and are deemed ‘fake.’ The world is in a sort of unmistakable agony; one can hear the wind in the trees as a kind of wheezing, lungs made to strain.
It is when this ‘despair’ is established that the last of God’s creation comes creeping in. It is hard not to read that final line as something horrible, but then, the horror goes both ways. One can see the trees cowering, but one can also see how a world like this could cow a person. That last sentence starts to take over the poem—is it people who are enduring this world, or is it the other way around? Whose fingers are those? That cigarette might just be a sort of ballast, as Salinger once wrote, against a world as callous as branches in autumn. - Zack Newick

Insects multiplied with the speed of an electric current.
Lapped up the boils on the earth's crust.
Turning over its exquisite costume, the urban night slept like a woman.
Now I hang my shell out to dry.
My scaly skin is cold like metal.
No one knows this secret half-covering my face.
The night makes the bruised woman, freely twirling her stolen expression, go mad with joy.
Morning bread
In the morning I see several friends escaping from the window.
Temptation of the green insect. In the orchard a woman stripped of her socks is murdered. Morning, sporting a silk hat, follows along from behind the orchard. Carrying a newspaper printed in green.
I, too, must finally get off the hill.
The city cafés are beautiful glass spheres, and a troop of men have drowned in wheat-colored liquid.
Their clothing spreads in the liquid.
Madam with the monocle tears off her last hunk of bread and hurls it at them.
My picture
Because the phone rang suddenly the villagers were surprised.
So does this mean that we must relocate.
The village mayor panicked and removed his blue jacket.
Yes, mother's allowance chart was indeed correct.
So long, blue village! The summer, again, chased after them like a river.
The rooster with the red chapeau disembarked at a deserted station.
Rusty knife
Hazy blue dusk scales the window.
A lamp dangles like the neck of a woman.
Blackened air permeates the room — a single blanket is spread.
The books, ink, and rusty knife seem to gradually be stealing the life out of me.
While everything sneered,
The night was already in my hand.
The blue horse
A horse came tearing down the mountain and went mad. From that day on she eats blue food. Summer dyes blue the women's eyes and sleeves, and then whirls merrily in the town square.
The customers on the terrace smoke so many cigarettes that the tinny sky scribbles rings in the ladies' hair.
Sad memories should be thrown out like a handkerchief. If only I could forget the love and regret
and the patent leather shoes!
I was saved from having to jump from the second floor.
The sea rises to the heavens.
Green transparency
Transparency of one acacia leaf
Month of May   angels who toss their clothes there   legs dirtied green
Smiles that chase me   memory, a swan's neck, glimmers in front of her
Now   where has the truth gone
Birdsong congealed by evening mist   pictures of trees printed on the walls of the sky   a green wind gently flicks them off
Pleasure is on that side of death   calling from that side of the earth
For example witness the sun, grown heavy, dropping towards the blue sky
Run!   My heart
Become a sphere at her side
And then in a teacup
— A layered love   it makes us miserable
The furrows of milk quaver, my dream rises
Seasonal monocle
Autumn, sick with yellow fever, is the Arabian script staggering on the windowpane.
All time goes to and fro here,
Carrying their vanity and music.
Clouds burn such things as the thinking of a rooster, or amaranth.
Fingers tap the air above the keyboard.
The music rings like a wail, then drifts off.
Another faded day remains,
A crowd of death lays stagnant.
Glass wing
People carefully pass along love, held between glass wings, which the sun destroys on the street corner.
The sky stands facing the window, darkening as the ventilator turns.
Leaves are in the sky, drawing a single line, the rooftops leaning in.
Trains crawl along the bulging street, the sailor's collar rotating between the blue creases of the sky.
The dressed up lines of summer pass by and crumble into the flask.
The fruits of our hearts rain happy shadows.
A fence dirtied by dust continues,
Leaves turn from red to yellow.
Recollections accumulate upon the path of memory. As if spreading white linen.
Seasons have four keys, slide down the stairs. The entrance is shut again.
The blue tree is hollow. When hit, it sounds.
While the night sneaks out.
That day,
I am as sad as the skin of the boy in the sky.
Eternity cuts between us.
I lose countless images to that other side.
Illusion of home
A chef clutches the blue sky. Four fingerprints are left; gradually the chicken bleeds. Here, too, the sun collapses.
Inquiring wardens of the sky. I see the daylight take off.
Empty white house where no one lives.
The long dreams of people encircle this house many times over, only to wilt like flower petals.
Death gently clings to my finger. Peels off the layers of night one by one.
This house continues the brilliant road to the distant memory of a distant world.
Ocean of memory
Hair disheveled, chest splayed out, a madwoman streels.
A crowd of white words crumbles upon the crepuscular ocean.
A torn accordion,
a white horse and black horse storm across over it, frothing.
White and black
A white arrow runs. The nightbird is shot down, dives into my pupil.
Incessantly obstructing the sleep of figs.
Silence prefers to come to rest in my room.
They were the shadows from candles, a pot of plucked primula, mahogany chairs. Time and flames tangle together, as I watch over them planing the circumference of the window.
Oh, the black-faced man comes again today in the rain,
Slaps around the garden in my heart, and runs.
O rain, which comes in boots,
Must you trample the earth all the night through.
Reality disintegrating only in naked midday light. All ash trees are white bones. She is unable to explain with her back to the clear window. However, her ring replicates its reflection time after time. Gorgeous stained glass, superficial time. Then they will detour around the house and choose a busier street. Dark sweaty leaf. The wind above it limps and cannot move. While rejecting the illusion of darkness, I understand. The mistrust between people. Outside, a salty air stirs the spirit.
From the morning balcony   rushing in like a wave
flooding all over the place
I nearly drown upon a mountain path
and choke, many times bracing myself from falling forward
The city in my vision opens and closes, making my dreams spin
and in its pursuit, the men nearly collapse with tremendous force
I am abandoned 

Like a cloud
Insects pierce green through the orchard
crawl the undersides of leaves
ceaselessly multiplying.
Mucous expelled from nostrils
may seem like blue mist falling.
At times, they
without a sound flutter and vanish into the sky.
The ladies, always with an irritated look in their eyes
gather the unripe fruit.
Countless scars are attached to the sky.
Hanging like elbows.
And then I see,
the orchard cleaving from the center.
A bare patch emerges there, burning like a cloud. 


Raining like flower petals.
Hit by a heavy weight, insects descend the tree shade.
Gathering at the mast wall, trailing a faint breeze –
Sounds are killed by the sun, the waves.
My skeleton places white flowers upon it.
Interrupted by thoughts, fish climb the cliff.

Dark Song

Upon the new carpet all abloom
Quietly  slowly
Two donkeys pull a cart.
On the street where the proud flower petals burn
Silk feathers are dyed by pollen.
And where her toes touch
A white rainbow is portrayed.

Ocean Angel

The cradle rings loudly.
A spray shoots up,
As if stripping off feathers.
I wait for the return of those who sleep.
Music marks the bright hour.
I try to protest, raising my voice –
The waves come erase it from behind.

I was abandoned in the ocean.

translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu

Sawako Nakayasu with Chika Sagawa, MOUTH: EATS COLOR, Sagawa Chika Translations, Anti-Translations, & Originals. Rogue Factorial, 2011.

Edges of the Zone (a paper) by Steve Dolph on
Interview with Thomas Fink on Galatea Resurrects

Ten poems by Sagawa Chika are conveyed into English and other languages through a variety of translation techniques and procedures, some of them producing multilingual poems. Languages used include English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese.
Mouth: Eats Color is a brilliant infra-textual work, brainchild of the bi-cultural poet/translator Sawako Nakayasu. The collection provokes, expands, and disavows the parameters of language and person and tradition, to forge a beautiful weave of performance and interrogation. This is a project of multilingual wit and passion, echo upon echo upon echo…——Anne Waldman
You will not read this book. Your mouth is full of birds, believe me. Their song is vulgar, coarse and that’s not their natural coloring. Or you either for that matter. If a translator is not polite, what good is she, if she asks what it matters who is speaking?——Steve Dolph
Glorious transgressive inventivity of permutation! Reveling glissement, poem into poem—it’s really a single poem, it’s the single poem that realizes the dream in which there is no “original”—which implicitly asks, then, what a poem is: a burst of moving words, words moved, like the reader is, deeply. The glass, the gloves, the sun pouring down. The reader is mostly the sun pouring down. The text.——Cole Swensen
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that literature exists for the sake of truth: rather, it exists to create better and more beautiful lies, and to enshrine like insects frozen in crystal the gorgeous and inventive asymmetry of mistakes. In this rigorously irreverent book, Sawayaka not only accepts the fact that every translation is “always already” [sorry] a mistranslation, but capitalizes on it, romping, torquing, messing up, re-galvanizing. A tour de force!——Nada Gordon

One of the things that you don’t know about me (will this make us closer or drive us further apart?) is my love of Dante in translation. But only in translation. I can’t read Italian, so I can’t say that I love Dante, any more than Dante could claim to love Place (we are inert to each other). But I read the translations like a glutton at a buffet—there’s one for each part of the palate: Singleton’s for a narrative stroll, Carson’s coarser Celtic turns for a jeu de maux, the Hollanders for rigor and statelier play, and creaky Ciardi for when I wonder why I was so dour at thirteen. One of the ancillary pleasures of reading translations is the translator’s introduction, in which the translator invariably defends translation as a matter of translation. Translation, in other words, being the hopeless and hopelessly optimistic effort to communicate the thing that may not be communicated. Leaving aside the easy case—there is, for example, no word in English for the sound of the separation of skin from flesh, such as, I am told, there is in Japanese–there is the harder nut, where words seem to mean the same thing, betraying in their seductive and false fungibility, the infra-thin difference between inhabiting the bon and mal mot. (The latter would be a joke in Swedish.) And so, translators are a uniformly fretful bunch, caught in the content-impossibility of their task. Though, like contented sado-masochists, they have perfected the single gesture of expatiation and inculpation. And like lucky voyeurs, we may be witness to this: in the London Review of Books, Julian Barnes recently used Lydia Davis’ translation of Madame Bovary, and her associated public slaggings on prior translations, to perambulate the well-ploughed grounds of translation itself. Oh, it’s a very good read, indeed.
That is to say, full of gossipy pleasures plus the kind of armchair participatory satisfaction usually felt (one imagines) by followers of televised sports. And while my reading French allows me the luxury of whistling and booing the above game, Sawkao Nakayasu-Chika Sagawa’s book both opens and forecloses such flabby participation. For Nakayasu, a poet of our time, has collaborated with Sagawa who has been dead for some time, but was a poet of the modernist period, a time possibly closer to our own than the more recent post-modern past. For although it cannot be said with mathematical precision, it is true as a rule that everybody loves their grandmother. The moderns reveled in the possibly libratory freedoms of free-ranging authority the postmoderns found so disappointing/embarrassing, which we find simply acts as matters of fact. (There is great relief in stasis.) Mouth: Eats Color is a book of poems about a book of poems, its translations and translations of translations turn and detourn and are intercut with new and rehashed information to no end save another stanzic ending. Though I don’t know as I agree with the “anti-” qualifier in the title, as it seems that the concept of a kind of translation which is against-translation, like that expression which is against-expression (see Dworkin & Goldsmith), is very much for translation as such. For, strictly logically speaking, the negation of something is also proof positive of its predicate existence. (For a brilliant poem on/not on/about/not about translation, see Caroline Bergvall’s “Via,” composed of all the first lines from all the translations of Dante’s Inferno in the British Library, by date of publication.) In other words, Nakayasu and Sagawa work here in French, English, and Japanese, revisiting certain pieces with a particular kind of fidelity, spinning off on others with another kind of faithfulness. I say Nakayasu and Sagawa both because that is how the title goes, and as the process used by Nakayasu to establish collaboration is as conceptual as it goes:

Now that you are back, one of the things that is very interesting about Nakayasu and Sagawa’s book is how it confounds history: not only relative to the multi-lingual stance taken based on the time Sagawa originally wrote, a time in which Japanese modernists were, like their European counterparts, very hot on the polysemous (this involved signification via various Japanese scripts as well as other languages, an affective register lost to the mealier-mouthed among us), but to the time of this writing, as noted above. So Nakayasu used Google language tools to compose some of the “Promenades” pieces which wend their way through the book, torquing the French and Chinese by feeding them through the internet machine, and deployed what she calls (by way of an email to me) a “keyboard hiccup,” typing while thinking in English on a keyboard set to Japanese, then translating the results into English. (I’ve done the same using symbol fonts, such as Wingnuts, but these results are more transubstantiation than hiccough. This is the third register of medieval materiality, where a thing is transformed—i.e., rendered legible in its other instantiation—only by way of the grace of the Geist.) The techno-melts fold in nicely with the modernist mash, oddly leavening the whole. (Japanese modernists liked to incorporate French, while l’ecriture chinoise was favored by a number of French modernists, such as Claudel, who used it allegorically, in addition to Pound’s ideograms, which worked in the collage as a kind of second space, given that the characters often functioned in a kind of constellatory description versus a strict immediate transcription.) (For Japanese modernism in the 1920’s, see William O. Gardener’s Advertising Tower; for the ideogram, see Marjorie Perloff’s essay, “Refiguring the Poundian Ideogram: From Blanco/Branco to the Galáxias.”
) (I’m not sure why I say oddly, though it opens up another discussion as to the pains and pleasures of reading in translation, wherein happiness is found at that point at which the text is both familiar and foreign enough. Both are matters of cognition and recognition: the translated text should be understandable as a text and understandable as a text that is not entirely at home. In other words, I want something “Italian” left hanging about my Dante.) And it is this sense of leavening which also underscores the possibility of smoothing the lines on translation’s lovely brow. For in this, our conceptualist age, translation is not a matter of difference and repetition, but of simultaneity. The poems in Mouth: Eats Color are all faithful unto themselves. You have doubtless noted that this review has not quoted a single one of the poems in the book. To quote any one of the poems in the book would be to select one as more something something than another, like picking my Dante du jour and forcing it on you. Or to identify the pieces as versions or inversions of some phantom originary work. Alternatively, I could have cited a series of single lines or pieces to illustrate how each moves and mutates through the book, but this would be a show of showing rather than telling. For the larger point is that these are all poems. Not translations. Not variations on a thing or theme. In other words, each work is its own piece in which the fact of translation, however defined, however infidel or true-blue to whatever Platonic notion of communication (there is this thing X which is conceived in language #1 as A and may be rendered in language #2 as B, which is to say, a kind of equivalency, such that x = a = b, where we all kind of know that metaphors, like all language shifts, are matters of addition and subtraction) is not a matter of mutation but metamorphosis. There is this poem. There is another poem. There are similarities between them, arguably no more or less than may be found in any other linked collection. The piling-on here works as a matter of simultaneity, not difference, not repetition. (Where was it said recently that all poetry is a matter of equivalencies? It was a wrongheaded statement, of course, but interesting as betraying a fundamental belief in fungibility, or the numbing aggregate effect of snowflakes.) (Just as my parentheticals in this are not parenthetical, but paratextual asides.) Like a jealous spouse or second-rate deity, translation loves to examine its partners for signs of cheating. Once we embrace the faith of the faithless, however, we are left with the even more optimistic hope of an open communion. - Vanessa Place

Sawako Nakayasu’s Mouth: Eats Color is enthusiastic. It’s enthusiastic about the plural nature of meaning, about disavowing loyalty to any single language, about the act of translation as a kind of breakage. Her own poetry which often has the quality of being exuberant but measured, folds into this new book of translations as if she is having a conversation with not only Chika Sagawa but the work itself as a separately conscious entity. Or perhaps more accurately the book is in the act of collapsing several conversations, continually re-engaging the same subject on various planes.
The collection tests the flexibility of language and Sawako Nakayasu isn’t particularly gentle about it. But being gentle is for writing tributes and Mouth: Eats Color is more of an elongation, a circular extension of the text.  And while she’s very polite, there’s muscle behind the way she translates, assembles, dissembles, resembles. “Promenade,” a poem repeatedly translated in Mouth: Eats Color changes its first line from “Seasons change their gloves” to “Season bag” to “Seasonal gloves” to “Seasons change their gloves,” every variation slipping easily into the next until they stop reading like re-translations of the same poem so much as chorus.  The flow between her poems and Chika Sagawa’s poems offers up questions of where translation ends and collaboration begins, or if the act of translation is even possible—posits that even if content were able to sync perfectly between two completely different languages it might not survive the desire to insert authorial perspective. The collection asks that the reader consider the point when a translation deviates from the original just enough to become an entirely new work and offers up no answers except to say that the authenticity of a poem never mattered in the first place.
Sawako Nakayasu doesn’t seem sad about the inherent obstacles of translating poetry, actually she seems pretty buoyant—bouncing between 2-3 languages and shuffling phrases like a deck of cards. She asks that the reader skips pages, or not. She asks that the reader looks up French words, or not. She, very softly, complicates the reading experience.  She translates the same poem again and again, no derivation being further from the original in meaning than the next—they are all translations with the same level of accuracy because this book asks that we throw away our tools of measurement not because accuracy does not matter but because it is an impossible task. The translator dances around the primary text, makes small non-invasive steps towards the poem but the original and the translation can never overlap in meaning, which is not to say that it is  “less than” the primary text.
I keep returning to the poems that utilize more than one language. Yes, they are taunting and yes, I like it. The words I cannot understand—are they extending the poem, repeating the words I do recognize, or perhaps they mean nothing? It is possible that they exist as beautiful placeholders of a meaning I am being asked to insert. The dialogue extends towards the reader and the offer is exciting.  It is easy to mourn the limitations of any single language. It could be said that language is a reflection of its correlating culture and that experience is growing increasingly cross-cultural, leaving language a bit crippled to conduit experience accurately. Sawako Nakayasu isn’t phased by the limitations of language, she just goes ahead and uses all the languages at her disposal and it feels like a relief. There’s a recognition of the deficiency of any single language as a conduit for experience, or possibly that a loyalty to a single language limits experience.
Sawako Nakayasu considers the text without interrogating it. She exercises Chika Sagawa’s poems, pulls at it like taffy without exhausting the material. I imagine she is probing for limits and just discovering that they are further out than expected and I imagine she finds this exciting. I am excited too. - Saehee Cho

Chika Sagawa (real name Ai Kawasaki (chika)) was born in Yoichi-cho in 1911 (Meiji 44). We were sickly since we were young, but talked about dream that sensitivity watched in girls who were full of imagination keenly to friend like story. 
 "ndarishiteorimashita which sea urchin does those hallucinations even if we wake up as soon as it decreases by number like running out of shitsu hitakunaito size, and puts island connections, and is constipated with sen tsutari, hair with face. As it was only what we saw in my story toiheba dream, we did un connections at that time in sho time when my friend was dream again (Chika Sagawa "is children's story style" more)
 We enter a school of higher grade in studies in A retachikaha, choritsushotarukotojogakuko and we know and meet Hitoshi Ito who was close friend of older brother, Noboru Kawasaki by attending school train going from Yoichi. 
 "Aiko (chika) of younger sister of Noboru Kawasaki became fourth grader of girls' school at 17 years old a year. (omission) when this girl found me at Otaru Station by morning train when there was business that I returned to house of village, and was at station to return again when went down, came near me in innocent manner similar to the 13-year-old time. I also treated this girl student like one's younger sister (than Hitoshi Ito "portrait of young poet")
 We begin interchange with poet and writer of Tokyo through Kamigyo shitachikaha, nobori and Hitoshi Ito of older brother who went to Tokyo earlier in 1928 (Showa 3) after girls' school graduation. When oneself begins to write poetry immediately, the talent flowers at a stretch. We announce a lot of superior poetry. Katsue Kitazono of poet in particular became understanding person whom chikano was the best for.
  chikano poetry was thing which gave impression that we were intellectual and were hard affected from European the highest literature that modernism and Hitoshi Ito and others at the time introduced, but nature which Midori of Yoichi that was hometown in the depths was rich in breathed.
 "One and sea urchin green of flood flock from morning, and balcon is filled every day. Carry smell of sea noaosato grass; soku zumaruyauda. Whenever wind returns back of a leaf and runs, one and sea urchin of wave rustle (from Chika Sagawa "dark summer")
The poetry was fraught with feelings of short life. On heavy disease nikakattachikaha January 7, 11, the following day, we leave a will saying "everybody get along well" and, in the autumn of 1935, close the life less than 25 years old. However, in November of this age, "Chika Sagawa book of verse" is published from *morisha. Work which is original, and is full of images beyond the times continues affecting many poets and the young reader with strong impression, and interest in Chika Sagawa shows surge more and more now. -


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