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Showing posts from January, 2014

Learning Japanese

I started learning conversational Japanese yesterday. Met Chisato, recommended by PB, at Panera Bread and looked at basic traveler's phrases. Pronunciation is not difficult. Memorization will take some effort.

I've been dipping into Buson's haikus for a month or two now. I do love the warmth and immediacy of his poetry. He makes me want to be a haiku poet. Never had that feeling when reading Basho and Issa. But it's hard to write haiku when the heart is in a state of agitation.

Bought Zen Landscape at the New Museum bookstore. Allen S. Weiss writes with genuine feeling about Japanese dry gardens, tea ceremony and ceramics. Wabi-sabi. Mono no aware. An aesthetics of simplicity, asymmetry, use value, old age and the seasons.

I'm really looking forward to our trip to Japan in August. I will launch the Japanese translation of The Pillow Book in Tokyo. GH and I are also thinking of visiting Kyoto, and a hot spring town between the two big cities.

Chikatetsu wa doko desu…

Yeng Pway Ngon's Poems of Rebellion

I must confess that I don't know any Singapore poetry written in languages other than English. Alvin Pang and Goh Beng Choo perform a signal service for me and others like me by translating Yeng Pway Ngon, an important poet who writes in Chinese. Born in 1947, Yeng has written not only poetry, but also essays, fiction, plays and literary criticism, 24 volumes so far. He was the editor and publisher of two literary magazines, Teahouse in the 1980s and Encounter in the 1990s. He has had a long and distinguished literary career. In 2003 he received Singapore's Cultural Medallion for Literature.

The pamphlet I bought from Books Actually last summer offers a selection of his early poems, published between 1967 and 1970. It is intended to be the first part of a series of translations of Yeng's poetry. Titled Poems 1 [Rebellion], the work is very much that of a young man, as he agonizes over his place in the world and lashes out at careerism and consumerism.

Steeped in the Anglo-…

Roberto Bolaño's "The Savage Detectives"

Just finished reading The Savage Detectives this afternoon, and loved it for the poignant depiction of the loss of youthful hopes. The formal ambition is also thoroughly admirable. The first and third parts are written by a young visceral realist novitiate Juan Garcia Madero in the form of diary entires. The second, and largest part, consists of the stories of about 50 people whose lives crossed with those of the founders of visceral realism, Ulises Lima (based on Bolaño's friend Mario Santiago) and Arturo Belano (Bolaño's alter ego). Written as if they are being interviewed, these stories show how impossible it is to pin down who the poets are; everyone has a different take on them. The parallel in the detective plot lies in the quixotic search by Lima and Belano for the stridentist poet Cesárea Tinajero, the mother of visceral realism.

Haruki Murakami's "Underground"

I'm planning to visit Japan in August and so when I found Haruki Murakami's work of journalism Underground at Kramerbooks in D.C., I bought it immediately, for who can resist a book subtitled "The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche"?

The first, and bigger, part of the book consists of interviews with the victims of the gas attacks, and the family of those who died. These interviews are ordered according to the subway lines on which the Aum attack on March 20, 1995, a Monday, took place. Dissatisfied with the presentation by the Japanese media of a collective image of "the innocent Japanese sufferer," Murakami wanted to discover and document the actual people behind the label of victims, to recognize that each person had, as he puts it, "a face, a life, a family, hopes and fears, contradictions and dilemmas." Most interesting, and moving, are the interviews of the subway staff who had to respond to the emergency. Their interviews are suffused…