How To Live On The Planet Earth – The Collected Poems of Nanao Sakaki finally appears in print (from Blackberry Books – ordering details here.)
In honor of the occasion, a two-part transcription of a radio interview that Nanao and Allen participated in, in 1982, with David Barsamian, on KNGU radio, Boulder,Colorado, follows here.
For more on Nanao on The Allen Ginsberg Project see here.
DB: We’re very pleased to have in our studios right now a very prominent poet from Japan, Nanao Sakaki, and our very own Allen Ginsberg. Allen, you need an introduction but (on this occasion) I’m not going to give you one. You’ve heard enough of those [to radio audience] This man needs no introduction. (Well, he needs one but we’re not going to give him one.
AG: Well, I’m going to introduce him [pointing to Nanao Sakaki]
DB: You’re doing the introduction? Great. Tell us about Nanao-san
AG: Well, if any of you local people read the Colorado Daily Weekend this weekend and saw a big picture of the “distinguished Japanese poet”, Nanao, on page 16, on one of his rare visits to Boulder and Naropa to see his friends here, you may have got some glimpse of what he looks like, with hair combed back and tied back – long hair for a Japanese.. (and if any of you) live around Santa Fe, (you) may have seen a recent book of his called Real Play – (which is) actually a take-off on Gary Snyder‘s book, The Real Work – poems and drama. I first met Nanao in Japan, in Kyoto?
Nanao Sakaki: Yes. 1963. Yeah
AG:…when I was visiting Gary. And Gary and Nanao were already friends. And he told me a remarkable story, which is put in a poem in his book, of having been working on radar equipment on…where was that?
NS: South of Nagasaki
NS: Yes. Yes.
DB: Southern Japan
AG: And one day picking up something…how was that..what was that.. How did that go?
AG: It’s a very strange story
NS: Most.. my radar doesn’t.. didn’t work
NS: Because so many air attack by American fighters
NS: (Aircraft) every day attack my place
NS: So most of my radar is broken
DB: Is this in 1944?
NS: Nineteen forty-five
NS: Then I saw just briefly, just kind of a big airplane’s shadow and (a) B-29
AG: On the radar, right?
NS: Yes, and after three or four minutes later, my soldiers outside our radar site, (t)he(y) saw something kind of like volcanic cloud, and I went out and I saw this really huge smoke comes out..came out.. It was the Nagasaki bomb.
DB: That must have been August 9. 1945
NS: Nineteen.. 9th.. August 9th . After Hiroshima, three days later.
AG: In his poem “Memorandum”..
AG: ..which covers Carlsbad Caverns, Jemez Springs, Izumi Air Base, Hiroshima, Bandelier National Monument, and the northern edge of the Chihualhua Desert (different years), there is a brief account. [Allen quotes from Nanao’s poem] – “Izumi Air Base in Yaponesia/ South of Nagasaki./ Three days after the Hiroshima bombing/ I caught a “B-29 on my radar screen, / Due north, 30,000 feet high, 300 m.p.h./ Three minutes later/my soldiers shouted, “Look, a volcanic eruption!’/ In the direction of Nagasaki/ I saw the mushroom-shaped cloud/ with my own eyes.”
So Nanao is a very great poet, and an international poet, and an American poet also, because he writes both in Japanese and in English. The English is exquisite and precise (somewhat as a person trained in Zen meditation (and a) close companion of Gary Snyder might conceive of writing in English, if he were a very literate Japanese fellow who was also learned in reading Chinese classics). And he’s “a desert rat” who has lived (outdoors).. and lived in caves all over the United States, and visited deserts and mountains. This year’s most recent trip was to the…
NS: Monument Valley in Arizona.
AG: ..and he knows more about America than most Americans do, and helped me build my house out in California back ten years ago on some land I own with Gary [Kitkiddizze]. So he’s an old companion-poet, member of the world federation of meditative sharpie poets. So now he’s visiting Boulder, and some of the students at Naropa and himself, and a few of his friends from Santa Fe, are putting on a play, “The Snow…”
NS: Woman. “The Snow Woman”
AG: But where did we.. when are we going to do it? We didn’t know where to do it. We thought, well maybe..it’s a Noh play – very brief, twenty minutes. So we thought, well, up at Naropa. But no, they were busy that night, Wednesday (it’s Wednesday at 8), so we just said, well, why not do it open air on the Mall (in Boulder) between The Blue Note and Naropa?. So I’ll be out there, read a couple of poems, Peter Orlovsky will come, and then Nanao with a group of trained… one actor who is very well trained and has performed the play many times and some of the Naropa students will be putting on the play. Now I give you Nanao.
DB: I guess we can talk forever about poetry but we won’t understand it or appreciate it until you start reciting for us. Would you like to read some poems for our audience?
NS: Oh sure. Oh yeah. Like this one. [Nanao reads his poem “All’s Right with the World” – “Monday morning/ Nobody in my house./ Visit next door,/ Nobody there either./ Call the police/ Phone rings three times – no answer/ “Frankenstein” on TV tonight/ God’s in his heaven -/ All’s right with the world”…]
AG: Pretty empty heaven you got there.
DB: The poetry of Nanao Sakakai, a poem entitled “All’s Right with the World”.
AG: Nanao, can you read the first poem in the book? – very brief, very classic.
NS: Which one?
AG: The first poem in the book.
NS: Okay, yeah
AG: Very brief, very classic, very famous
NS: “If you have time to chatter/ Read books/ If you have time to read/ Walk into mountain, desert and ocean/ If you have time to walk/ sing songs and dance/ If you have time to dance/ Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot.”
AG: I’ll read that too
NS: Yeah, sure.
AG: I’ll read it in Americanese
[Allen reads the poem again]
NS: Okay, that’s American way.
AG: Now you read it once more in Japanese-American.
NS: No, I think not. It’s alright
AG: I like the way you read it though..
AG: ..because it sounds really authentic.
DB: Allen, (to) what do you attribute this… what seems to be now a world-wide phenomenon of poets working in English, English becoming this kind of international language? How is it working for you?
NS: I think.. different languages.. I have a good friend in Sweden. He is translating my poetry in(to) Swedish and he wrote to me once. He’s so.. almost a.. jealous
NS: Yes. “Nanao, you can write English and Japanese too”. And English looks like just your idea. like more international message. So, another reason – Japanese language expressions very tight for me. Now, if I write in English, I feel more free. And speaking too. The Japanese language very like caste almost.
AG: Caste system
NS: Yeah. Very heavy. You must know how to express just a simple word for you – maybe you must know ten expressions in Japanese – length, age, sex.. so it’s hard for me. But English is so simple – just you. So I..
DB: You think it’s more flexible..
DB: ..to work with?
NS: Yeah. Yeah. True.
AG: Do you write originally in English and then..?
NS: Yeah. First, I started writing in Japanese, then changing into English. But recently, I(‘m) mostly writing from (the) beginning in English..
NS: Yes. And..
AG: Since when?
NS: Maybe two or three years ago. Then sometimes I go back to Japanese way. And Japanese way gives another flash to English writing. And once more I go back to Japanese way. So back and forth always… It’s a good way to… yeah..
AG: Two years ago, Nanao and I worked on a translation of my “Plutonian Ode” into Japanese. That took a year.
NS: Yeah, that should..
AG: ..or longer
NS: Yeah, yes
AG: Yes. [to Nanao] Was that published ever?
NS: Yes, printed. Printed.
NS: In Tokyo.The
AG: Not the book?
NS: Not book, magazine.
to be continued