Sawako Nakayasu was born in Japan and has lived mostly in the US since the age of six. Her books include Texture Notes (forthcoming from Letter Machine Editions, 2009), Hurry Home Honey (Burning Deck, 2009), Nothing fictional but the accuracy or arrangement (she, (Quale Press, 2005), and So we have been given time Or, (Verse Press, 2004). Books of translations include For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Takashi Hiraide (New Directions, 2008) which won the 2009 Best Translated Book Award, as well as Four From Japan (Litmus Press, 2006) featuring four contemporary poets, and To the Vast Blooming Sky (Seeing Eye Books), a chapbook of poems by the Japanese modernist Chika Sagawa. Her own poetry has been translated into Japanese, Swedish, Arabic, Chinese, and Vietnamese. More information can be found here: http://www.factorial.org/sn/sn_home.html
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It made me very happy, and pleased. I got to give a number of readings in the US, and also in Japan, where I started a kind of bilingual, simultaneous-interpretation-translation-based form of reading. I also realized that my “work” now had a price tag, and that people might read it while taking a crap.
My most recent book is Hurry Home Honey, but it’s actually some of my oldest publishable work – including some things I wrote as an undergrad! Every book feels totally different – the circumstances of life and thought keep changing so much.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I never chose poetry, though I did choose to write, and I’ve dabbled in all kinds of genres. When none of the other teams would have me, poetry took me in. I also harbored a desire to write music, and out of all of the language arts, poetry comes closest to that.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing intitially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I start a zillion things, and finish a few. Speed varies. Some drafts come out looking close to their final form, while other pieces percolate out of fragments and notes and sketches and revisions. Texture Notes comes from a blog – those pieces came out more or less intact, as did the Ant poems.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Some ideas are bigger than others, and take longer (or more pages) for me to exhaust. Some ideas are poem-length, and some ideas are very very small. I try not to force the issue too much, and stay open to how things go.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do like to give readings, and I like to attend them. I like the physicality of humans being attached to text, and I like the sound of language.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I have a slight theory allergy. I don’t really like the question/answer binary – poetry can do and be both.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The writer should write, like the gardner should garden, and the poemer should poem. (Sometimes I get this in Japan: “You write poetry…so you’re a poemer?”)
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’m super grateful to people who put in that kind of time, energy, and effort into my work. Sometimes people will misread it, which can be amusing.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
This I heard from John Solt, who got it from Kenneth Rexroth: “There are lots of great writers out there who are shitty people. Try to be a decent human being rather than a great writer.” …or something like that.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?
They’re not really different genres. Translation engages different parts of my brain, which I like. It’s also a good way to be “writing poetry” even when “writing poetry” of my own isn’t happening.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I’m not much of a routine-monger, though that may be changing. I’ve used the same blank white notebook from Muji for a number of years now. I’ve tried the routine idea a bunch of times, and I’ve also tried to virtually “clock in” (by sending an e-mail) in order to write for a certain amount of time each day.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don’t really worry about this too much – it doesn’t bother me if I haven’t written consistently; I’m not the most consistent person. I don’t hunt for “inspiration,” and usually there’s enough around that does that job.
13 - What was your most recent Hallowe'en costume?
I can’t remember. I hate Halloween, and have a theory that most ethnic minorities do too.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Other kinds of composition – music, architecture, visual arts, urban planning, texture. Ants, Fassbinder, James Turrell, Jessica Stockholder, Jan Svankmeyer, Pippilotti Rist, Charles Ives, Janet Cardiff, Olufar Eliasson, Vito Acconci, Marina Abromovic, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Conlon Nancarrow. I prefer to write in urban environments rather than in nature.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Gertrude Stein, Frank O’Hara, Thalia Field, Rosmarie Waldrop, John Weiners, Carla Harryman, Nathalie Sarraute, Fiona Templeton, Francis Ponge, Sagawa Chika, Ayane Kawata, Barbara Guest, Andre Breton, Hiraide Takashi, Jackson MacLow, Ted Berrigan.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to be able to whistle, and to ride a bicycle without being a danger to myself and others. I want to swim with my face in the water. And be good at cooking Mexican food so that I can have it wherever I live. And have enough money so that I can make my own arts institution. And go to India.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Something to do with music. Or dance. But it’s not really either/or – writing can be done alongside many other things.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
At some point it just became something I did, regardless of whatever else I was or wasn’t doing. When I was younger it was clearly a way to say things that I was afraid or unable to or too shy to say. Now it’s more like habit, interest, and an ongoing desire to write.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The Earth Dwellers. In a year with 13 moons.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Book-length translations: poetry by Kawata Ayane, and the Collected Poems of Sagawa Chika. An anthology of 20th c. Japanese poetry, with Eric Selland. A couple of books of my own poetry.