New Selected Poems

New Selected Poems

New Selected Poems

New Selected Poems


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Shuntaro Tanikawa is the most inventive modern Japanese poet. Since his first book Two Billion Light Years of Solitude appeared in 1952, aged twenty-one, Tanikawa has contributed more to the development of a progressive post-War Japanese poetics than any other writer. His first Collected Poems, published in 1968, met both popular success and critical acclaim, distinguished for its refusal to compromise with the negative tones that dominated the poetic palette of contemporary Japan. Over the course of some sixty books of poetry, lyrics, prose-poems, narratives, epics and satires, Tanikawa's vitality has not waned; his work has remained experimental in form and theme, and widely read. This new selection supplements the original Selected Poems published by Carcanet in 1998, drawing on an additional eleven collections and incorporating a new editorial preface.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784100698
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 10/15/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 184
File size: 419 KB

About the Author

Shuntaro Tanikawa's sixty-odd collections of poems have received awards in England, China, Japan and the United States, including the 1988 American Book Award. He translated the Mother Goose Rhymes and, for several decades, the celebrated comic strip Peanuts. Having read at festivals on three continents and in numerous countries, Tanikawa has achieved a reputation as not only one of the most popular but also one of the most inventive Japanese poets of the modern age.
Shuntaro Tanikawa’s sixty-odd collections of poems have received awards in England, China, Japan and the United States, including the 1988 American Book Award. He translated the Mother Goose Rhymes and, for several decades, the celebrated comic strip Peanuts. Having read at festivals on three continents and in numerous countries, Tanikawa has achieved a reputation as not only one of the most popular but also one of the most inventive Japanese poets of the modern age.
William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura are professors emeriti of English Literature at Kanto Gakuin University in Yokohama, Japan. They have translated Tanikawa continuously since 1968.

Read an Excerpt

New Selected Poems

By Shuntaro Tanikawa, William I. Elliott, Kazuo Kawamura

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2015 Shuntaro Tanikawa, William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78410-069-8


Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude


    I govern the time
    by skipping three records.

    I reverse time
    by going back to largo from finale.

    I even govern the BBC
    by starting with the middle of Side 3.

    'Boys, be ambitious!'

    At the Bus Stop

    Around the circle here come
    a bicycle,
    a wrecker,
    a jeep.

    Around the circle here comes
    a 1950 Studebaker
    (an exciting proposal for the future).
    Around the circle here comes
    a thirties Dodge truck
    (the offal of modern science).

    Around the circle here come
    a truck,
    a cart,
    a motorcycle,
    and, last of all,
    my shabby silver bus.

    A Night

    A night –
    A good old man who died an hour ago
    is ascending towards the sub-stratosphere
    on a chariot especially dispatched.

    A night –
    A child to be born in about an hour
    is descending from the sub-stratosphere
    astride a stork.

    On Olympus
    Miss Clotho, Miss Lachesis and Miss Atropos
    are drinking coffee
    and watching the man and child on TV.

    A poet in Tokyo,
    while praying,
    saw them
    on the screen
    of the starry sky.

    A Grey Stage

    Clouds over the early a.m. town, about 90%.
    I have left the city behind in a nightmare.

    Night rain bleached the neon white.

    Both the history of this town
    and its geography
    have only three or four lines in the encyclopaedia.
    Not a single crisp footstep is heard.
    Greetings are at zero probability.

    Not having a map, I am uneasy.
    Suddenly feeling humble,
    I make cardboard trees to line the streets.

    A grey stage; a sky-blue nursery tale.

    In the early a.m. town, 90% humidity.
    And also some sort of inorganic matter ?
    I walk faster.

    Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude

    Human beings on this small orb
    sleep, waken and work, and sometimes
    wish for friends on Mars.

    I've no notion
    what Martians do on their small orb
    (neririing or kiruruing or hararaing).
    But sometimes they like to have friends on Earth.
    No doubt about that.

    Universal gravitation is the power of solitudes
    pulling each other.

    Because the universe is distorted,
    we all seek for one another.

    Because the universe goes on expanding,
    we are all uneasy.

    With the chill of two billion light-years of solitude,
    I suddenly sneezed.


    Blue sky and sun dissolve in a dirty creosol solution
    and in the dark corridor not science but eroded emotions pile up

    Clothing of even primary colours is defenceless against X-rays.
    White gowns also are inconsolable.

    When patients
    uncertainly confuse their feelings
    in the bottom of coloured test tubes,
    white doctors
    become efficient, cold machines
    and operate efficient, cold machines.

    I hear no human voices in the host of echoes.
    Here, everything is materialism.

    A hospital resembles a modern city that keeps no secrets.

    Secrets and X-Rays

    Although Mr X-Ray has interpreted me only materialistically,
    he continues growling, thinking he has found out all my secrets.

    In the dark corner, where the red-light burns non-lyrically,
    Mr X-Ray's fervour becomes the magnetic power of high voltage
    and creates a specially-compounded air.

    'This right Lunge is intact ...'
    I am conscious of voices in the words of men in white.

    Here is a system which passes through me,
    and here is a world of 'me' expressed by that system.

    There are no bodily secrets in hospitals;
    therefore the soul the more keeps secrets.


    (for a much loved little dog)

    Summer's almost here again.
    Your tongue,
    your eyes,
    your napping –
    It all comes back so clearly.

    You knew only two summers.
    I've known eighteen already.
    And right now I remember summers of mine and other people's
    in various places –
    in Maisons-Lafitte,

    in Yodo,
    on Williamsburg Bridge,
    and in Oran.
    And I wonder how many summers
    people have known so far.

    Summer's almost here again.
    A summer without you,
    a different summer,
    quite different.

    A new summer's on its way,
    bringing lots of different things,
    the beautiful, the ugly,
    encouraging things, despairing things.
    And I ask myself,
    what are all these things,
    what's brought them on,
    what can I do with them?
    You died.
    You went alone where no one could follow.

    Your voice,
    your touch,
    your feelings, even –
    it all comes back so clearly.

    But Nero!
    Summer's almost here again –
    a new summer, immeasurably vast!
    I'll keep on going as usual,
    moving through a new summer, autumn, winter,
    and spring, expecting still another new summer,
    learning to know all things new,
    answering all my own questions.

    A Contemporary Afternoon Snack

    In the midst of sighing and shouting
    God is not present.
    A new model car ran over him.

    In a world of metal and conferences
    a typewriter is typing a typist.
    Law sculpts a black torso
    and bank notes grow rich and buy slaves.
    people can't help longing for wolves.

    We mass-produce a million cliffs a minute.
    Next we must experiment making space and time.
    This drink is a fairy tale.
    This cracker is a meadow the colour of wheat.
    That cloud is an old-fashioned fugue.
    Anyhow I will make the afternoon snack a fantasy.


62 Sonnets


    I'm copying down my memories.
    Old visions are all good ones.
    The winter sunlight that warms my fingers
    also falls across today's empty chair.

    Between the window's outside and inside
    a fragment of the world is suspended.
    As I reach to touch it
    the beautiful thing gallops away.

    I keep gazing at everything.
    My heart reluctantly whispers
    but love hushes it.

    Today returns;
    yesterday is a blur;
    I can't imagine the shape of tomorrow.


    I won't let words rest.
    At times they feel ashamed of themselves
    and want to die, inside of me.
    When that happens I'm in love.

    In a world otherwise silent
    people – only people – chatter away.
    What's more, sun and trees and clouds
    are unconscious of their beauty.

    A fast-flying plane flies in the shape of a human passion.
    Though the blue sky pretends to be a backdrop,
    in fact there's nothing there.
    When I call out, in a small voice,
    the world doesn't answer.
    My words are no different from those of the birds.


    I've looked too long at the light –
    my shadow is pitch black.
    I try to calculate my loneliness
    but there's no solution.

    All distances return to me again.
    Intimate with no one save myself,
    I've no place to dispose of my words.
    I plot to convert them into sweat.

    The heavens are forever a tedious stage setting.
    Since everything's under them,
    they become the measuring rod of distance.

    Yet when I try to don sentimentality,
    unfortunately I find the sleeves too short.
    I recall my infancy.


    Clouds collect
    the sky's overflowing light.
    Wind whispers in my ear
    and suddenly a great emptiness awakens.

    Turning, I see someone.
    I quietly leave my words behind.
    People treat them politely.
    I sit on the world as on a chair.
    People collect
    the sounds of the earth.
    But no secret murmurings will persuade me.

    Yet sometimes a wind-like happiness emerges
    from among things indifferent to me,
    and when it does I am here again.


    In a fierce wind
    the earth is like a kite.
    Even at high noon
    we are aware of night.

    Wordless, the fretful wind
    can only run around.
    I think of the wind on another star –
    can they be friends?

    We have night and day on earth.
    Meantime, what are other stars doing?

    How do they endure expanding in silence?
    Blue sky lies.
    While we sleep night whispers the truth.
    Then in the morning we say we dreamed.


    Time saturates the cloudy night sky;
    falls like snowflakes, when I stir.
    My heart feels cold;
    only my blood is warm.

    Things enjoyable by day hold their breath –
    when I chase them they're no longer there.
    Imaginary months and years fill my head.
    I set them afire.

    Memories burn;
    premonitions burn;
    today is left a heap of ashen embers.

    I can't really believe my own existence
    and so I am given tomorrow in exchange for my dreams.
    When I awaken, breakfast is in the air.


    We often hear the dark side of life
    referred to solemnly:
    graves, hearses, wills ...
    These tell us nothing about death.

    The living cannot see beyond shadows
    and don't know what it's like to lose nothing.
    Surrounded by mirrors,
    we're always peeping into life in reflection.

    Since death lacks mirrors
    we shall soon be unselfconscious
    and able to be one with the world ...
    But in the rainy street today the living are busy living.
    The evening paper reports suicides:
    we're nothing but the distance which surrounds


    A cloudy day. No shadows.
    And I watched my words sicken.
    Trees and grasses sang my songs;
    my longings always came back down to earth.

    Following the first ominous silence
    we plunged pell-mell into a world of loquacity.
    If words find their answers among people
    they always fall ill apart from people.

    I wish my words were as whole as the trees and grass
    in that first silence
    out of which everything was born.

    What words know me intimately?
    Instead of myself singing
    I'd like hearing myself being sung.


    I grew unwittingly apart
    from the world in which I was born
    and can no longer walk again
    among the things of the earth.

    We know that even love is a possession,
    but we can't keep from praying
    that life will go on.
    And we accept the poverty of our prayers.
    I can possess nothing,
    though I love
    trees, clouds, people.

    I can only discard
    my overflowing heart –
    hesitant to call that an act of love.


    Even just sitting around
    I make my life bear fruit,
    not unlike trees that, immobile,
    move in the cosmic circle of life.

    That I may play sincerely
    all the days allotted me
    I just keep standing,
    until I wither.

    I am a discarded vessel
    in the shape of waiting,
    knowing I'll never be filled.

    If I have in this world a part to play,
    it is that:
    just standing.


    Isn't the world a puny star in the middle of nowhere?
    Twilight ...
    the world stands by idly,
    as if ashamed of itself.

    In such moments
    I collect the little names of things
    and somehow
    I lapse into silence.

    Now and then sounds call to the world,
    more confidently than my song:
    distant whistles, barking, the paper-boy.

    In such moments the world is listening,
    as breathlessly as twilight,
    reaffirming itself sound by sound.


Excerpted from New Selected Poems by Shuntaro Tanikawa, William I. Elliott, Kazuo Kawamura. Copyright © 2015 Shuntaro Tanikawa, William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface: Timeless Tanikawa,
A Checklist,
From Two Billion Light-Years of Solitude (1952),
From 62 Sonnets (1953),
From On Love (1955),
From At Midnight in the Kitchen I Just Wanted to Talk to You (1975),
From Definitions (1975),
From Coca-Cola Lessons (1980),
From A Letter (1984),
From Songs of Nonsense (1985),
From Floating the River in Melancholy (1988),
From Naked (1988),
From The Day the Birds Disappeared from the Sky (1990),
From To a Woman (1991),
From On Giving People Poems (1991),
From The Naif (1993),
From Listening to Mozart (1995),
From Rather Than Pure White (1995),
From minimal (2002),
From Mickey Mouse by Night (2003),
From A Chagall and a Tree Leaf (2005),
From Watashi (2007),
From Kokoro (2013),
Index of Titles,
Index of First Lines,

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