The title poem of this collection by Kiwao Nomura (translated by Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander) alone could take up pages of a review. This poem’s mosaic of images, jostling sensibilities, lush refrains and iterations, as well as the sharpness of pathos hovering over and permeating each tercet, fully compel a reader’s attention.
The poem begins:
it’s pigsty I
the darkness maybe darkness stupendously stretching out now like taffy
man fed with man star with star
The refrain, “it’s pigsty I,” recurs in each tercet and immediately brings to the fore Nomura’s word play and intriguing syntax holding up his curious imagery – for instance, “darkness stretching like taffy” – and producing textures that are at once palpable and absurd.
Other examples of Nomura’s wild imagery include:
gushing sunlight like nightsoil onto the eternal joist
every day is vertigo its margins boiling over like foam
when eternity canters off in the shape of a horse
The iteration, “it’s pigsty I,” stands out prominently in the poem, and the phonetic rhyming of this phrase creates a distinct internal rhyme. This phrase moves around the poem like a mobile caesura between other iterations and a mélange of images. In fact, the relationship between “pigsty” and “I” is not just within its rhyme, but, owing to the absence of any grammatical relationship or link by punctuation (lack of period, comma or semi-colon), the two words are inter-dependent. As a result, the phrase alternates in its lyric valence – as a phrase that’s an utterance, a blurt-out, or a deeply anguished premise for all that is to follow in the poem. Iterations abound in Nomura poems, not just in the title poem, and they variously jut out in mid- or at the end of sentences and fluctuate in their parts of speech—functioning as nouns, participles, demonstrative pronouns, et al—depending on their context.
The confluence of images such as “solitude” (both “decent” and “crappy”), “muddy corridor”, “starvation”, and “burning skull” conjure up a bleak conviviality of associations. The collection’s psychological impact is heavy and brooding, and at the same time, perforated with dark humor. This translation by Gander and Yoshida is able to capture in large parts the eccentric and shamanic diction of Nomura – the introduction refers to Nomura as a “pilgrim-poet” – that adheres to a philosophy of seeking and testing its own premises.