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The Living World of Chiri Yukie’s Ainu Shin’yōshū
Indigenous peoples throughout the globe are custodians of a unique, priceless, and increasingly imperiled legacy of oral lore. Among them the Ainu, a people native to northeastern Asia, stand out for the exceptional scope and richness of their oral performance traditions. Yet despite this cultural wealth, nothing has appeared in English on the subject in over thirty years. Sarah Strong’s Ainu Spirits Singing breaks this decades-long silence with a nuanced study and English translation of Chiri Yukie’s Ainu Shin’yoshu, the first written transcription of Ainu oral narratives by an ethnic Ainu.
The thirteen narratives in Chiri’s collection belong to the genre known as kamui yukar, said to be the most ancient performance form in the vast Ainu repertoire. In it, animals (and sometimes plants or other natural phenomena)—all regarded as spiritual beings (kamui) within the animate Ainu world—assume the role of narrator and tell stories about themselves. The first-person speakers include imposing animals such as the revered orca, the Hokkaido wolf, and Blakiston’s fish owl, as well as the more “humble” Hokkaido brown frog, snowshoe hare, and pearl mussel. Each has its own story and own signature refrain.
Strong provides readers with an intimate and perceptive view of this extraordinary text. Along with critical contextual information about traditional Ainu society and its cultural assumptions, she brings forward pertinent information on the geography and natural history of the coastal southwestern Hokkaido region where the stories were originally performed. The result is a rich fusion of knowledge that allows the reader to feel at home within the animistic frame of reference of the narratives.
Strong’s study also offers the first extended biography of Chiri Yukie (1903-1922) in English. The story of her life, and her untimely death at age nineteen, makes clear the harsh consequences for Chiri and her fellow Ainu of the Japanese colonization of Hokkaido and the Meiji and Taisho governments’ policies of assimilation. Chiri’s receipt of the narratives in the Horobetsu dialect from her grandmother and aunt (both traditional performers) and the fact that no native speakers of that dialect survive today make her work all the more significant. The book concludes with a full, integral translation of the text.
Kim Dower’s poems are sensual and rhapsodic journeys through emotional landscapes sweeping everyday life. Playful, intelligent, funny, edgy, engaging—sometimes biting, ironic and dark, sometimes dreamy and surreal, full of poignancy and arresting metaphors, the daily, simple occurrences in Air Kissing On Mars startle and provoke, while stirring up the fairy dust and turbulent weight of memory; evoking the possibilities and gorgeous chaos of life. Open and inviting, these poems draw the reader into a world seen upside down, inside out, a sideways bird reporting on a universe filled with mystery and passion. Joan Didion meets Tinkerbell, Kim Dower’s poems are as whimsical and light as they are rich and intense. Simultaneously humorous and profound these passionate and personal poems, relatable to all, are drenched with vivid imagery, and sparkle with surprise. Lost languages, disappearing mailboxes, locomotives pummeling through dreams, taxi drivers thrown by the earth’s rotation, shadows in closets, vanishing carrots, men who exfoliate—all manner of haunting evocations come together in this opus of shining and startling wisdom.
Faced with debts at home and threatened by poverty, Akroma a brilliant and well-educated Ghanaian, using unorthodox means, successfully gets into Cameroon. He is bent on making a fortune. Drawing on his tremendous presence of mind and, capitalising on the early discovery that in Cameroon there is no conscience that money cannot buy, this illegal alien, travelling under three criminal identities, builds up a great amount of wealth. But he cannot buy the entire police force. One police man, Inspector Kum Dangobert, will get even with him, even if it means death. The rest of this very readable novel is about what happens when the Ghanaian evil genius is pitted against the best Cameroonian police superintendent. It is the clash of giants that ends in a cataclysm.
Profiles and Conversations
Read an article about domestic lives by Roy Hoffman in the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/25/garden/25Domestic.html
Alcools, first published in 1913 and one of the few indispensable books of twentieth- century poetry, provides a key to the century's history and consciousness. Champion of "cubism", Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) fashions in verse the sonic equivalent of what Picasso accomplishes in his cubist works: simultaneity. Apollinaire has been so influential that without him there would have been no New York School of poetry and no Beat Movement. This new translation reveals his complex, beautiful, and wholly contemporary poetry. Printed with the original French on facing pages, this is the only version of this seminal work of French Modernism currently available in the United States.
In "The Big Bang and the Good House", Tony, a former drug dealer, pits his urge toward chaos against the orderly pleasures of marriage, finally yielding to the solidity and spaciousness of domestic love: "I feel myself gathering weight, density. Cautiously, I allow myself to inhabit this Good House, which surprisingly fits like my own body". Julia, the aging protagonist of "Simplifying", risks her fragile health in a love affair; her generosity of spirit toward her lover is matched in inverse proportion by the frugality with which her lover doles out his affections. In "The March of the Toys", a young woman flees Delaware, her chronically ill father, and her grieving mother, only to find that she's traded the neediness of her family for the harrowing disturbances of her lovers. She muses, "I couldn't affect anyone's life. I could only attend it".
In "Hualapai Dread", an investment broker's infatuation with an enigmatic Hualapai Indian woman, as elusive as she is beautiful, brings out his most predatory instincts and unmasks her own deceit. Acting on similar but more destructive impulses toward the object of his sexual obsession, a character in another story takes his soon-to-be ex-wife on a bizarre "honeymoon for divorce". The close-knit family of "Builders" breaks under the strain of constructing their dream house with their own hands, and eventually they are forced to leave behind the illusion of safety and permanence: "Once the three had imagined themselves as a house on a hill, dug into stone with the tenacity of a lion. Now they sat tensely in canvas-backed chairs stretched like slingshots. They talked cautiously, with encouragement, hoping for the return of pleasure".
Embodying the transience and openness of the New West, the characters in All My Relations reinvent themselves, even as they struggle with the age-old, perilous necessity of loving.
These poems contain fasts and feasts, laments and love songs, histories, fantasies, and elegies, the amusing and heartbreaking debris of life on this world, all the while recalling Seneca's dictum, non est ad astra mollis e terris via ("the road from the earth to the stars is not easy").
The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s
This landmark book, together with its accompanying CD, captures the heady excitement of the vibrant, irreverent poetry scene of New York's Lower East Side in the 1960s. Drawing from personal interviews with many of the participants, from unpublished letters, and from rare sound recordings, Daniel Kane brings together for the first time the people, political events, and poetic roots that coalesced into a highly influential community. From the poetry-reading venues of the early sixties, such as those at the Les Deux Mégots and Le Metro coffeehouses to The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, a vital forum for poets to this day, Kane traces the history of this literary renaissance, showing how it was born from a culture of publicly performed poetry. The Lower East Side in the sixties proved foundational in American verse culture, a defining era for the artistic and political avant-garde.
The voices and works of John Ashbery, Amiri Baraka, Charles Bernstein, Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan, Kenneth Koch, Bernadette Mayer, Ron Padgett, Denise Levertov, Paul Blackburn, Frank O'Hara, and many others enliven these pages, and the thirty five-track CD includes recordings of several of the poets reading from their work in the sixties and seventies. The Lower East Side's cafes, coffeehouses, and salons brought together poets of various aesthetic sensibilities, including writers associated with the so-called New York School, Beats, Black Mountain, Deep Image, San Francisco Renaissance, Umbra, and others. Kane shows that the significance for literary history of this loosely defined community of poets and artists lies in part in its reclaiming an orally centered poetic tradition, adapted specifically to open up the possibilities for an aesthetically daring, playful poetics and a politics of joy and resistance.