Poetry Review: Spiral Staircase by Hirato Renkichi

Hirato Renkichi
Image via UDP

“Born Kawahata Seiichi on December 9th 1893 in Osaka, Hirato Renkichi attended Sophia University in Tokyo for three years before dropping out and attending Gyosei Gakko to study Italian. He started writing poetry in 1912, first publishing in Banso under the guidance of Kawaji Ryuko. Although he worked at Hochi Shimbun News and Chuo Geijutsu Art Publishing, he suffered from a pulmonary disease, often failing to make ends meet for his family. He passed away on July 20, 1922 in Tokyo, at the age of 29.”

Spiral Staircase: Collected Poems of Hirato Renkichi

Ugly Duckling Presse, Lost Literature Series #15, 2017

“We reside with powerful light and heat. We are the children of powerful light and heat. Our existence is powerful light and heat.” – from “Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement”

Renkichi’s poetry is a bulge and is a sag and is a canker. It is a rupture. A sore. Sour and undeniable.

Hirato Renkichi is the affirmation of the truly explosive resound of Futurism and the subsequent avant garde. A reflection across the world, the poetry found within this man’s mind is the mirror taken, polished, and shattered. Renkichi’s work forms the bang that comes off the reactions of violence toward the status quo, offering a quivering rigor, a vigorous rancor beyond the Europeans and Americans experimenting in their own scraped, industrialized and war-torn weight.

Renkichi’s poetry is like teeth gnawing at bone.

Renkichi as Japanese poet is an offer of candid spirited performance, his life a bang in itself (born: 1893; died at age 29: 1922). Ugly Duckling’s translation and extended preservation of Renkichi’s work appears to be one of the most important avant garde publishing moves in recent years, a gift for all of us to remember the scrape and weight of the world of systems of masses, of new ways of looking. Here we have a poetry that is exciting and universally acceptable: a spirit that is dynamic, carrying a poetry particularly resonant with the contemporary conflagration of information, the contemporary torrential migraines of superimposed media, and the contemporary dynamite disassociation of our everyday world. A world we know well and a world Renkichi knew well and knew how to describe.

In the depth of your scalding, scalding heart
The cooking stove of every craving is boiling
Both Heaven and Hell                     God and Satan
And above all, the beautiful aspiration
And baove all, the indecent activities
And also violence and gentleness
Love and jealousy
Become one
Making your heart dance
The endless human craving
The endless strength of steel kneading

– from “A Tropical Poem”

Renkichi’s poetry is the wettest dream. It is a core of an apple that feels like it must be discarded, but contains the origins of its life within the grotesque, rapid decay.

The work, the work: through the experienced eye/heart/mind of translator Sho Sugita, these poems spread out, are clouds of dust as tantalizing from the pristine edge/outside as within. Within the chaos. Within the play. Within the burnished aftermath in their 2017 iterations. I felt myself as a reader being taken into a void I could only anticipate through my own, personalized representations—curses and flames, rotten with life. I felt the mutation effect take place: how was this happening in the meanwhile of Marinetti? This Japanese Tzara, Breton: the existential “this world will always be bigger than it appears” staring into my reading eyes like the tip of the barrel of a gun, loaded, and maybe even smoking slightly.

The streets of Ginza increasingly panting like infected pustules. The stench of gas, a strange lady standing in anxiety.

Today’s the day—I won’t stand for this unless I raze those crimson lips to the ground—a strong young man jumps out of the electric train. An old-fashioned dramatic manner of walking. To that smile, as though becoming aware of something, I will invest in your smile, come now, burn, burn . . . . . .

– from “A Caricature of Early Dawn”

Renkichi’s work, collected here in the first English translation of Renkichi of any serious weight and girth, spreads itself open. It starts with “Kitchen,” with a poem of cinematographic creeping: object to object, space to space. This is new. This, I feel in Renkichi, deserves to be explored. And yet such creeping about can only last so long. The world does not wait for change and thus, I send through Renkichi’s scrawls and screams, neither can our eyes on the image. I see a Japanese Pound in the spin cycle of the masters, investigating and utterly enchanted by the new nature of an exposed reality.

Sparks dispersing in the wind
The aerial flower of war
Swirling pollen
Southern scent
Our eternal heat!

This fierce libido of wind!
This fierce libido of fire!
This fierce libido of scent!

– from “Hot-Blast”

In 2017, imagining the fin de siècle Japan on the verge of being crushed by the anticipation of that which can only be described as: incoming, incoming! Buried into indecipherable exhibition and yet symbolic of poetic emergence, in the idea of its ideal representation, Renkichi’s works are paramount. They are not the only experimentation in a landscape of burning suns of thousands of years in the making, but they are here, firm, within and of and yet above their own independent selves.

Renkichi’s poetry is an island’s suffocation.

This collection is exhaustive and contains the author’s intentionally-composed sequences “New Voice,” “Arabesque,” and “Hard Fight,” which explore the consistency of a world of fleeing and flight, explore the world opening up and gorging upon itself, the proposed possibility through its own consumption, the intensity and the ecstatic, the imperative, the juxtaposition: life versus death, make versus made, begin versus complete. The moments of Renkichi’s own heart are paired with the sequence Renkichi’s mentor arranged: “Development,” a focus of collage, phonetics, lists as variating as gyrating and unnerving.

Hirato Renkichi Spiral Staircase
Image via UDP

The latter chunk bulging out of this collection, this book, is the cloak around every piece of clean, shattered glass that makes up Renkichi’s visionary texts: a section entitled “Uncollected Poems: 1916-1922,” which includes the epic and absolutely interoperable, though fantastically stilted and very necessarily unfinished novel “Nothing Day / Not Guilty.” A futurist token as memorable as its Western origins and counterparts, this longer work is only chapter 1, and is thus laden with a sorrow-joy buzz murmur one would expect from movements in poetry dependent upon chance, risk, and the oppression of a certain and causal external world. “Uncollected Poems” closes the book with two beautifully-sculpted power children: “Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement,” (which should be pinned upon all of our walls to remind us “The city is a motor. Its core dynamo-electric.”) and a performance score banding the full spectrum into tension, “Toy / Wish-Tool,” which could plummet the reader into the phantasmagoria of the transcended word.

He dashed through (the wounded city)—if truth be told, he had no experience plundering—as an interview journalist, he is luckily able to enjoy a slice of bread—he is a laborer who unearths the human psyche—he is also a laborer who unearths his own psyche—he sinks into the polychrome and reemerges—going up and down the spiral staircase.

– from “Nothing Day / Not Guilty”

If only we had so much emerging and pounding literature, pounding on our door, the poetry corroding and disabling the locks we have put up to protect us. The phantasm of Renkichi one of those corrosive spreads, bringing us as he himself proclaims in “Four Developments in My New Poetic Movement of 1921”: levels of futurism, Dadaism, cubism, expressionism, and analogisme. A young man with the ability to harness all the incendiary, volcanic arousals across the globe, and present them through his own, stifled contexts, a Japanese world as elaborately failing through monotony, succeeding through a glowing through promise, failing through the surpluses, succeeding through the exuberant emerging machines, failing through the technological crosshairs of power and future, as succeeding as falling in need of severe reassessment. This poetry is that reassessment.

Renkichi’s poetry is the kitchen knife being thrown into the common house painting.

The translated Hirato Renkichi of today offers to upturn our contemporary notions of the grimness-cum-excitement. This 2017 reality as not so different from the destabilizations of the previous 100 years. I imagine the surge and burn of this poetry as an offering. As a gift. As a reminder that we are still riling each other in the muck. This book, and its staggering poems, offers us the chance to lift our filthy heads and revisit the absurdly beautiful, the beautifully absurd, surrounding our each and every individual day.

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