Room, translated by James Garza

When Kurobe Setsuko (1932-2004) was awarded the twentieth annual Japan Poets Club Award for her 1986 collection Maboroshido [Door of Illusions], she was in a coma caused by a cerebral haemorrhage. It was not her first (she had suffered one in 1972), but it was to be her last. Though she lived 19 more years, she never regained consciousness. While Kurobe’s output encompassed both lineated and prose poetry, it is perhaps the latter that best showcased the technique of “deformation” that the poet and psychiatrist Nakano Kaichi argued set her work apart: part of the fascination of Kurobe’s poetry lay in charting the sudden associative leaps by which she transformed the rudiments of sense data into fantastical, uneasy wholes. I admire the way Kurobe’s “Heya” [Room] transforms hesitation, imagination and process into its constitutive virtues—it is a poem that does not start from a pretence of mastery over its subject matter, but co-creates that subject with the reader through an incremental poetics of space. The voice is precise yet self-revising—or perhaps it is self-revising because of its need to precisely locate itself in Euclidian space. Yet, within that voice there is also room for perplexity, an openness to things in flux. Crafting this kind of voice in translation was my biggest challenge. James Underhill has written that a poetic voice arises from “the dynamic interaction” of “formal elements.” This resonated with my approach: I paid attention to the effect of sound patterning (particularly repetition and alliteration) on both breath and mood, giving play to speech rhythms that performed their own dark expansions and contractions. Something suggestive also happened when I put the poem in a text box: both compact and digressive, open and closed, it seemed to teem with the contradictions of its own occult insights.

Original poem by Kurobe Setsuko. Reproduced by kind permission of the poet.