Poetry by Torii Shozo
Translated by Taylor Mignon

Torii Shozo (1932-1994) was a member of the influential avant-garde journal group VOU (pronounced "Vow"), edited by his esteemed mentor, Kitasono Katue. Torii's first book, published at the age of 22, was A Bibliophile's Notebook, a book of essays on the books he loved. 8 volumes of his poetry, mostly in limited editions of between 125-300 copies, were published between 1955 and 1994. The poems here were published from his fifth volume, Alphabet Trap (1984). He was a private publisher of fine, rare poetry books specially bound and printed on washi paper, in addition to the journal he edited, TRAP. Among the pioneering Japanese poets and artists he published in TRAP, were poets overseas such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and David Mamet and photography by Nicole Rousmaniere. His book collection of Japanese and Western Modernism and Surrealism is one of the most formidable in Japan.

The heading to each poem in Alphabet's Trap contains a letter of the alphabet, written in roman letters accompanied with a proper title, for example "(e) Holy Crime." Each poem is composed of between three and six stanzas ranging between one and seven lines. In each work, the letter stands as abbreviations for people. (One critic who knew Torii Shozo and is familiar with VOU Club remarked in conversation that at least a few of the characters in the poems resemble actual people.) The "guest" characters who populate these works include an "imprisoned thin man" in letter "d," and artists such as the Belgian Paul Delvaux (printed in roman letters) make chameo appearances. The list of characters continue with a Chubby Cardinal, a Catholic priest, a devoted deacon, an eternal woman, private detectives (including the Japanese comic book hero Mike Hama), police officers, "thin long naked children" and blue lovers. Beings of a mystical nature include apparitions and ghosts, Dracula, dead bodies, and spirits. Torii Shozo's poetry is marked by a distinctive combination of surrealism,eroticism and wit."

 

 

c) Circuit Looping

on a desolated red desert
a cardboard steamship is floating

the cabin with no windows
cut-glass walls
annoying the breast of Mrs. C in fur
whose slacks' bottom, unknown, is ripped

one day a shot, healthy hugs

while hot perfume bathes
the inside pocket's box of Cleopatra is concerned
the absolute principalist Mr. C's
diarrhea reflex looks unhealable

in the distant skyline a thin long moon climbs
sand dimly begins migration
a silver bookworm's tombstone propagates

 

d) Shooting Carnival

in dispersed chars of rock, at acute angles
a seething sun shines
the valley's gallows, darkly, deeply are sinking

treachery's costume is death
an imprisoned thin man's
naked eye is made congested
waiting for the time of terror

a withered tree faces the void, penetrating

sand fluttering upward with a sudden gust
the crippled General D appears & calls
followed by armed, gray-haired soldiers

all's well that begins well

oppressive shots repeatedly report
white summer's sphinx perishing

 

f) New World

at the hill's midpoint, a desolated desert exists
a visible blazing jet plane
is Mr. F's every morning sidewalk
Mrs. F doesn't know this

in the desert a pond lies
a brick submarine's hot limbs are bleached

at the desert's distant hill's
crest, a lonely crane surfaces

this nimble morning sun rejects
the angelic shadow of Mr. F
who discarded his front teeth

in Mrs. F's raped
dream, endlessness expands


Taylor Mignon (translator) is a member of Japan's most aesthetically progressive poetry groups: gui, delta and Sei-en (Blue flame). His English versions of Torii Shozo poems can be found online at sendecki.com and
assemblylanguage.com. Papyrus-based publications containing Torii translations are Poetry Kanto and Faces in the Crowds: A Tokyo International Anthology, (ed. Hillel Wright, Printed Matter Press, 2002). Mignon edited the Prairie Schooner special issue on writing from Japan in 1996 and is guest editing a special section on Japanese poetry for an upcoming issue of the Canadian journal Vallum.