Translation Tuesday: “In the City of White Paper” by Nagae Yūki

Each spring we wish / to leave the city, and we will always / end up staying.

In today’s Translation Tuesday, Nagae Yūki captures the alienation felt by urban office workers who have lost their connection with the natural world. She draws on the image of fleeting cherry blossoms, a staple of traditional Japanese poetry, to emphasize how little time we have to waste on meaningless tasks.

In the City of White Paper

Though not on the calendar,
the year begins for us city-dwellers
in April. That’s when the fiscal year
resumes and we trade in our selves
for desks. Earth still spins, news
cycles don’t stop to consider
our triumphs or griefs.

Along the concrete ridgeline,
we toil, not for what we need
but for surplus. We are chasing
something impossible to catch,
growing older all the time.
We have forgotten an essential
thing that we once intimately knew.

In the reflective surfaces
of office buildings, their crystallized
architecture of time and space,
we imagine that we can leave,
but time has already slipped away.

We need to board a train to glimpse
cherry blossoms, yet in the countryside
where the light moistens with aroma,
we choke, preferring the flowers
of our dreams. Each spring we wish
to leave the city, and we will always
end up staying. Everything is in bloom,
but for us another season begins:

Translated from the Japanese by Ravi Shankar

Nagae Yūki is a Tokyo-based poet. In 2012, she was awarded the Best Young Poet Award by Poetry and Thought in Japan. Author of two collections of poems, Absentee Cities (2018) and √3 (2016), she has recently been invited to poetry festivals in Finland, Taiwan, Korea, Kosovo, and Tunisia for multimedia poetry performances and installations, which frequently involve collaborations with natural elements, such as water, and technology, including original sounds and video art. She is currently developing off-page poetic work around a concept she calls “steric poetry.” She has also been invited by the Creative Writing Program at the University of Iowa (2018) and the Institute for World Literature at Harvard University (Special Event at Tokyo University, 2018) for performances and workshops. In October 2018, she gave solo and collaborative steric poetry performances in France.

Pushcart prize winning poet Ravi Shankar has published, edited or has forthcoming fifteen books, including the Muse India award-winning Tamil translations of 9th century poet/saint, Andal, The Autobiography of a Goddess (Zubaan/University of Chicago) and The Many Uses of Mint: New and Selected Poems 1997-2017 (Recent Works press). He currently holds a research fellowship from the University of Sydney and his collaborative chapbook, A Field Guide to Souther China written with T.S. Eliot Prize winner George Szirtes will be published in 2019 by Eyewear Publishing. 


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