Poetry International Poetry International
out on the town but seriously

PIW interview with Yumi Fuzuki

Chihiro Morino
March 13, 2019
Yumi Fuzuki’s 2009 debut book created a sensation among Japanese poets, who are increasingly aged, this interviewer included. Not just because she won some of the most prestigious poetry awards while still in high school, but also because her poems demonstrated an exceptionally high level of technical achievement. It was like the time that Nadia Comaneci emerged seemingly out of nowhere at the Montreal Olympics and scored a perfect 10. (And that was years before Fuzuki was born.) Several years after her first book was published, I went to Waseda University in Tokyo to give a lecture. After the lecture, a young woman came up to me and introduced herself. Fuzuki was then a student of the university’s Education faculty. She looked to me a shy and even timid person, just as in the title of her latest book A Timid Poet, Out on the Town.
Shortly after that, Fuzuki became a popular figure in the mass media, appearing on radio and TV and contributing poems to commercial magazines. Then I heard this rumor: Fuzuki had applied for an audition to be a popular culture idol, or 'ai-doru' as the Japanese call it. I actually saw a few pin-up photos of her in colorful costumes but could not make too much sense of it. What is this whiz kid poet doing in the entertainment industry?

After examining her poetry career closely for this article, I started to understand what that was really about: Fuzuki was trying to expand the territory of poetry, not just hers but the general concept of poetry as perceived by the Japanese public. And I suppose there was another agenda as well: she was being a rebel against established contemporary Japanese poets, just as she was rebelling against school and grown-ups by writing poems as a high school student. After all is said and done, she may not be timid at all but rather a daredevil.

To know more about her, I asked Fuzuki ten questions. Here are her answers:

1. Do you remember the first time you came across ‘poetry’?
My first memory about poetry is reading a poem titled ‘Life’ by Shuntaro Tanikawa. I was in the 3rd grade of elementary school and the poem was in the textbook. I loved the sound of the poem, which was like music, but could not quite catch its meaning. That was my first experience being confused by language. But even before that, I believe I was exposed to the sensation that could be called ‘poetry’ without being aware of it.

2. Do you remember the first time you wrote a poem?
I started writing poems in the margins of my diary. It was autumn and I was 10. I wanted to make a record of what I felt in my daily life in a style different from a prose. The first poem was called ‘When I Die’, in which I imagined my own death.

3. What was the biggest influence on the development of your own poems?
As a teenager, I belonged to an art club in my school and was making oil and acrylic paintings on a daily basis. And I met various artists, photographers and painters in the local art galleries. Those experiences meant a lot to my poems. And so did the climate of my birth place, Hokkaido, which is snow country.

4. It’s been about ten years since you made your debut as a poet. How do you see your poems changing?
When I was in my teens, I was writing poems to protect myself by shutting out the others. What motivated my creation was my frustration and anger against school and society. I now realize that the function of poetry is more than this. Poetic language can also ‘connect’: it blurs the boundary with others and lead you to unexpected images.

5. In your poems, the narrator often talks to ‘you’. In your mind, what does this ‘you’ look like?
It’s the other being in my own mind. It is a mirror-like presence who receives the voice of my poems and sometimes talks back to me.

6. Do you think your poems are rooted in the tradition the Japanese verse tradition? If so, in which way?
For sometime after my debut, I was conscious of being positioned in the family tree of the Japanese women’s poetry. But not anymore. Women poets today are so diverse and not everyone is writing about women’s lives or bodies, which used to be the hallmark of women’s poetry.  I am not sure if you call it tradition, but I was influenced by such women poets as Sachiko Yoshihara and Hiromi Ito.

7. Imagine a person who has never written a poem before. If you were to teach that person how to write a poem, what kind of method would you use?
I would have her expose herself to artworks such as photography, paintings and music and ask her to put words down in free association. Rather than conceiving language out of language, I believe it is better if poetic language is generated from non-linguistic expression. I myself often glance through photography books or listen to music as a warming up exercise for writing poems.

8. I feel the sense of professionalism in your poems. In other words, you are not writing poems just for yourself but also to serve for your readers or ‘clients’. Do you think you are a poet by vocation? Would you aspire to be one?
Well, I am a professional poet in the sense that I earn my living by writing. But I have met many ‘poets’ who are neuroscientists, newspaper journalists, designers, or school teachers. I have respect and admiration for them. To me, anyone who has a poetic sensitivity and uses it for their work and life deserves to be called a ‘poet’.

9. Which phrase do you like the most among all the poems you have written so far?
The evening sky is in flames.
It’s beautiful because it’s me who’s watching it

-- from ‘Eyelash Marsh’ included In this Suitable World, This Unsuitable Me

10. What do you want most now? The place you want to visit?
Well, now that I have this opportunity for my poems to be translated into English [by Jordan A.Y. Smith], I wish to publish English versions of my books and visit bookstores in foreign countries on a reading tour. I have visited UAE, Finland and Korea so far and will stay for a few days in Beijing, China, in April with several Japanese novelists. Naturally I am interested in the publication of Chinese translation, too. Finally, it’s my goal to stay and write in New York some time in the next few years.  
© Yasuhiro Yotsumoto
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Lira fonds
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère