Naked Memos

followed by a Q&A with the author

Gozo Yoshimasu

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Q&A with Gozo Yoshimasu 

LYL: How did you come to write in this style?

GY : When I began writing poetry in the 1960s, I incurred the displeasure of other poets for the frequent use of unconventional notation such as exclamation points or dots in my work. Though I got used to the fact that my style does not sit well on traditionalists, it has taken 50 years for me to become conscious of what I've been doing exactly. What I try to do is crack open the conventional composition of the language to reveal the innate imperfections underneath the exterior of elegance. In setting out to create flawed pieces, I try to establish an alternative ideal of poetry, by which such pieces find acceptance. I try to enter into this parallel world via my work.

I used to call my writing "naked writing". Or "magic note" or "Tsukuda newspaper". This style naturally evolved from my habit of using tiny side notes and rubi, which, for me anyway, have an uncertain noise about them. Over time, they took over the page and my writing settled itself into this form, as a corollary of that. But there is another reason for my writing being like this too. Without realizing it, I guess it was a way of also protesting against the constraints of publication: maximum wordcount, deadlines etc. So I started handing out limited edition copies of my handwritten drafts at poetry readings and gozoCine video screenings as a sort of omiyage—a souvenir of the occasion. This has become one of the ways I "publish" my writing.

LYL: Why do you use various colours in your writings?

GY : It's a sho that I've simply developed for myself, the methodology of which was the subject of my recent discussion with the Japanese calligrapher Kyuyo Ishikawa. It's also a hommage to artists such as P. Klee, Cezanne, Gogh, and W. Blake. John Cage is the other artist I give a tip of the hat to through this writing.

LYL: What do the different colours mean?

GY : They are there to provide a frisson to the textual arrangement; they also function as subtle stirrers of the subconscious and memory. Importantly and meaningfully, the manner in which I change the pens is impressionistic. In choosing a pen, I sometimes pick the very yellow or green that Van Gogh himself chose, in order to try to understand the color he used. I predict that I will radicalize the canvas, as Klee has probably done.

LYL: What do you hope to do with this kind of writing?

GY : I don't see this as only écriture. The Uchu no Shitakaze, or cosmic wind: that's what I am attempting to convey through my writing.

Thank you for your questions. I hope that your journal will become a treasure of Singapore.

translated from the Japanese by Sayuri Okamoto

Timestamp of Q&A: 28-29.Jan.2011 AM8:10.

Naked Memo #1 first appeared in Yoshimasu's photography book, Mesiita Ogon no Niwa, Iwanami Shoten, 2010. It is used here by permission of both the author and the publisher.

Information about the images in Japanese:
裸のメモ #1:エミリー・ディキンソン学会講演原稿 2010年6月19日発行(於早稲田大学)
*吉増剛造『盲いた黄金の庭』岩波書店/2010 所収。出版社と吉増氏の承諾を得て転載。
裸のメモ #2:『静かなアメリカ』出版記念講演原稿 2009年12月16日発行(於早稲田大学)
裸のメモ #3 gozoCiné上映会でのハンドアウト 2011年1月28日発行(於恵比寿amu)

Read the original in Japanese

Read editor’s explanation

Gozo Yoshimasu is one of the most prominent figures in Japanese contemporary literature and art. Born in Tokyo in 1939, he started writing poetry in the 1960s, while still reading Japanese Literature at Keio University. Over a career that has spanned 50 years, most of which he has devoted to poetry, he has also created artwork of various media ranging from photography to video to spoken performances. Winner of several prizes including the Takami Jun Prize (for Ogon Shihen/Golden verbs), the Rekitei Prize (for Neppu, a thousand steps/Devil's Wind, a thousand steps), the Purple Ribbon Medal, and the Mainichi Geijutsu Prize(for omote-gami, a photography book), Yoshimasu has taught in many universities worldwide including University of Southern California, University of Lyon and Waseda University. At the moment he devotes his time to creating gozoCiné(video works) and to the publication of both books and limited edition copies of Naked Memos.

Sayuri Okamoto is a contributing editor at Asymptote. She holds degrees in art history and Japanese literature and works as translator, writer, and curator. Born and raised in Shizuoka, Japan, she is currently living and working in London (UK) and Padua (Italy). In 2014, she received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for her translation of Gozo Yoshimasu's "post-3.11" poetry series Dear Monster.

This interview was conducted via an intermediary and a translator, our contributing editor Sayuri Okamoto. I am very grateful to Yoshimasu san for taking time off his busy schedule to do this Q&A.

Yoshimasu has published hundreds of issues of 裸のメモ(hadaka no memo)/Naked Memos; the limited numbers of color photocopies of his manuscripts, most of which are written on 原稿用紙(genko yoshi), or typical Japanese gridded draft sheets. Some of them are essays, some are drafts for guest lectures, some are hommages to artists, and some are heartbreaking confessions of his inner feelings. He 'publishes' his Naked Memos at lectures, readings, and more recently, at the screenings of his video project, gozoCiné, i.e., whenever he is presented with an occasion to talk in front of an audience. (He usually gives out 50 to 100 copies per session.) These handwritten drafts, issued over a few decades now, first went by the appellation "nakedwritings", then "magicmemo," then Tsukuda newspaper; the latest term he has settled on is Hadaka no memo (Naked Memos).