- Purchase/rental options available:
Manoa 15.2 (2003) 207-208
[Access article in PDF]
Faces in the Crowds: A Tokyo International Anthology. Edited by Hillel Wright. Tokyo: Printed Matter Press, 2002. 254 pages, paper $25.
Faces in the Crowds is a hyperkinetic grab bag that gathers the Tokyo spoken-word poetry scene and the city's writing groups under one roof. The publisher, locally owned and cooperatively operated Printed Matter Press, has managed to survive and thrive in Tokyo for thirty years. Every so often, new editors take the helm and morph the journal into a reflection of the zeitgeist.
Expatriate writers in Tokyo have always been drawn together by their kinetic energy, so the group is in constant motion. This movement has given the literary community a fluid, spontaneous quality, like a parade or carnival. Hillel Wright, a poet, novelist, and coeditor of the recent bilingual anthology Poesie Yaponesia, has captured that flux in this bursting-at-the-seams collection. Wright seems to delight in the offbeat moment, and Tokyo is certainly a city that at any given moment is teeming with unusual people. Thus, the book's title is apt: the poets jostle and grind like a human wave washing over the Tokyo streets—singing and shouting, bemoaning and celebrating this crazy thing called life.
Subtitled A Tokyo International Anthology, Faces casts a wide net. Wright has made sure to include denizens of the Tokyo scene, as well as members of their posses abroad and whoever else fits within the six degrees of separation. He also includes translations of Japanese poems and works in English by such Japanese poets as Naoshi Koriyama. Many of the contributors live in Japan, though some hail from Canada, Australia, China, Ghana, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Their subject is not the expat experience but rather that universal quagmire of being human, alive, political, engaged, and disenfranchised. The only stylization is a lack of it—like free-form jazz. It's this style that sets this collection apart, making it more like a "happening" than a conventional anthology.
An engaging foreword by original expat Donald Richie asserts, "We are no longer in the bar at the elegant Algonquin but in Ben's Café in grubby Tokyo, but we are much more alive, much more concerned, and much more cool."
When the writing is good, it's eye-and-mind-opening good. When it isn't, it's sophomoric; there are lots of poems about sex, breasts, love hotels, and more [End Page 207] breasts. Still, this collection attests to the range of talent emanating from Tokyo; reading Faces, we come to know the twisted and creative psyches of its writers.
Anyone wanting a bird's-eye view of the expat poetry scene in Tokyo and its satellites across the globe would do well to check out this book. Its vaudevillian range of styles and tones gives us a glimpse of the Tokyo-International Express as it shuttles by in all its wild and wonderful glory.
Leza Lowitz is Manoa's corresponding editor for Japan and reviews editor. She has written two books of poetry and translated eight books from the Japanese. Along with her cotranslator, Shogo Oketani, she was awarded a 2003 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature for America and Other Poems by Ayukawa Nobuo.