For the star Japanese poet Tanikawa, it’s fun, not a 90-year job

TOKYO (AP) – Shuntaro Tanikova previously thought that poems come down from heaven. Having become – now he is 90 – Tanikov sees that the poems are coming out of the ground.

Poems, words, or passages come to him when he wakes up in the morning. What inspires words comes from outside. Poetry comes from the depths of the soul.

“Writing poetry has become a lot of fun these days,” he said recently at his elegant home in the Tokyo suburbs.

The shelves were full of books. His collection of ancient bronze animal figurines stands in neat rows in a glass box next to stacks of his favorite CDs with classical music.

“In the past, something was that it was a job, a commissioning. Now I can write as I want, ”he said.

Tanikova is one of the most famous modern poets of Japan and a master of free verse for everyday life.

He has published more than a hundred books of poetry. With titles such as “Live,” “Listen,” and “Grass,” his poems are sharp, rhythmic, but conversational, challenging complex traditional literary styles.

William Elliott, who translated Tanikuwa for many years, compares his place in Japanese poetic history with how TS Elliott marked the beginning of a new era in English poetry.

Tanikov is also a well-known translator who has translated Charles Schultz’s comic book Peanuts into Japanese since the 1970s. He gracefully demonstrated a hearing for the poetic in colloquial language, choosing “spring ravine” for “good grief,” surpassing the differences of East and West lifestyles in the universal world of children and animals.

“He was more of a poet or a philosopher,” he said of Schultz.

Tanikova has translated many other works, including Mother Goose, as well as Maurice Sandak and Leo Lioni. In turn, his works have been widely translated, including into Chinese and European.

Tanik’s poem “Two Billion Light Years of Solitude” brought him fame in the early 1950s. Tanikov looked at space and the Earth’s point in the universe years before Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote the classic of magical realism, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Tanikov has always been in demand, a favorite of poetic readings around the world, a rare example of a poet who effortlessly switched to commercialism without violating his art.

But poetry used to be work – his profession, his daily work.

Tanikova is the author of the lyrics for the Japanese themed song for Osama Tezuki’s TV series “Astro Boy”. He also wrote the screenplay for the story of Kona Ichikova’s 1964 documentary on the Tokyo Olympics.

A popular author of children’s picture books, he often appears in textbooks.

He swears that he no longer has “projects” because of his age, which makes it difficult to walk and go outside. But in the same breath, he says he is collaborating with his son, musician Kensaku Tanikova, who lives next door, in what they call “Piano Twitter”.

He has already written dozens of poems to go to the score. They are all short, more abstract than his past works, creating surreal images like stairs descending into nowhere, or a caterpillar dancing wildly.

He is not sure how the work will be presented, but suggested that it could become a barcode book so readers can listen to poems read with music online.

Among his voluminous works, he is most proud of his 1970s series “Kotoba Asobi Uta,” which used alliterations of songs and anatomy, as the name implies, “Songs for Word Games.”

One repeats the phrase “kappa”, a mythical monster, as in: “kappa kapparatta”, which means “kappa starred with something” – “rappa”, “trumpet”, as it turned out in the next line. Poetry, both visually and aurally, is a pure celebration of the Japanese language.

It was unique, Tanikov said, and he still likes what he came up with.

“For me, the Japanese language is the ground. As a plant, I put down my roots, drink the nutrients of the Japanese language, sprouting leaves, flowers and fruiting, ”he said.

Married and divorced three times – with poet, actress and illustrator – Tanikov stressed that with age he changes, noting that 90 years felt much older than 80, and he became forgetful.

However, it appeared to be a recent sunny day, quite comfortable on social media and everyday technology, although it used a magnifying glass to view the fine print. He was interested in new movies, including what might be on Netflix. He, he said, likes to eat cookies, more like a naughty child than his great-grandfather.

He usually works at his huge table in a spacious office that has a window that lets in the breeze and a vague ray of light. Goes out into the yard with flowers. On the wall hangs a portrait of his mother with his father, the philosopher Tetsuzo Tanikova, in sepia.

Growing up, Tanikov feared his mother’s death more than any other death. He also remembers seeing corpses on corpses after American air raids on Tokyo during World War II.

“Death has become more real. When I was young, it was more conceptual. But now my body is approaching death, ”he said.

He hopes to die, like his father, in a dream after a party at 94 years old.

“I’m more curious where I will go when I die. It’s a different world, right? Of course, I don’t want pain. I don’t want to die after major surgery or anything. I just want to die suddenly, ”he said.

When asked to read his works aloud, he is not ashamed.

He reads excerpts from the latest collaboration with his son. He then reads his debut work, which in English translation ends with the following lines:

“The universe is twisted, / so we try to connect. / The universe continues to expand, / So we are all afraid. / In two billion light years of loneliness / I suddenly sneeze.

So what does he think?

“It’s like a poem written by someone else,” Tanikova said.

But is this a good poem?

He nods confidently.


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter:

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