Emily Wolahan at The Quarterly Conversation:
In, Alice Iris Red Horse, a range of poetry from throughout Yoshimasu’s career has been gathered and translated by a group of very talented translators (nine in total, though most not working collaboratively). A few interviews are also included, as well as a translator’s note attached to every poem. While some might resistance the idea of using text to scaffold text, an artist like Yoshimasu invites such ways of reading. Just as a good essay about Brice Marden’s marble paintings can contextualize and articulate the emotions they convey, the translator’s notes and handful of interviews in Alice Iris Red Horse shed light on how these poems function beyond the page. As many of these poems are intended to be accompanied in performance by noise and vocalizations, the scaffolding that these “extra” texts provide go some way to help contextualize Yoshimasu’s vision.
Sawako Nakayasu’s translation notes, for example, don’t merely scaffold or provide context for Yoshimasu, but engage in a conversation with him, perhaps revealing the core work in any translation. Discussing “…Stones Single, or in Handfuls,” she explains the first lines of the poem, which refer to a “narrow road.” To my ear this recalls Basho’s book (sometimes translated as) Narrow Road to the Interior, But Nakayasu reveals that Yoshimasu refers not to Basho but to a children’s song “Toryanse”: “This narrow road, where does it go? / This narrow road is the Road of the God Tenjin.” This nursery rhyme has a tune and “many pedestrian crossings in Japan have adopted the melody of ‘Torynase.’”