BOOK REVIEW: Monkey: New Writing from Japan: Vol. 2: Travel ed. Ted Goosen & Motoyuki Shibata

MONKEY New Writing from Japan: Volume 2: TRAVELMONKEY New Writing from Japan: Volume 2: TRAVEL by Ted Goossen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: December 28, 2021

This anthology of travel-themed short writings by prominent Japanese authors includes: short stories, essays, poems, excerpts from longer works, and even an illustrated story [i.e. “The Overcoat” by Satoshi Kitamura.] The nature and degree of travel varies considerably with some pieces being travelogues or setting-centric fiction, but other pieces explore travel in a more symbolic sense (e.g. “Hell” by Kikuko Tsumura or “Decline of the Aliens” by Hideo Furukawa.] And one piece, “Cardboard Boxes and Their Uses” by Taki Monma deals more with the topic of being shut in, so it might be considered a study in travel through its absence.

The anthology includes works by literary stars such as Mieko Kawakami, Haruki Murakami, and Yasunari Kawabata, and showcases translation by some of the most well-know translators of Japanese literature. [The edition ends with a dozen brief statements by translators about what they have found particularly daunting to translate — not necessarily because the literal translation is difficult but because the elegance of the origin language can be lost to clunkiness in the translated language.]

Among my favorite pieces were “The Dugong” (a historical fiction story with a “Journey to the West” feel to it,) Haruki Murakami’s essay entitled “Jogging in Southern Europe” (which anyone who’s ever exercised amid people who don’t exercise will find amusing,) “Five Modern Poets on Travel” [particularly the tanka of Kanoko Okamoto and the haiku of both Hisago Sugita and Dakotsu Iida,] and “Every Reading, Every Sound, Every Sight” by Jun’ichi Konuma. That said, I don’t think there was a clunker in the bunch, each piece was well-composed and translated, and I’d highly recommend reading this book.


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Bucktoothed Monkey Mastermind [Common Meter]

I saw a bucktoothed monkey sit
on the ground all alone.
It looked the doofus - its dental-
mental shortfall shone,
but is the size of incisors
a measure of one's smarts?
Has anyone done the study,
gathered data, made the charts?

What if that dentally-outsized
primate is a dreamer-
a mastermind, a supervillain,
or just a first-rate schemer?
What if it just wants us to think
that it's a huge dimwit?
So, it doesn't show its erudition,
or its razor-keen wit.

Instead, it waits for us to be
lulled to a false repose,
so that it can show us we're all
a bunch of biased schmoes.

Brass Monkey

the brass monkey seemed real --
not like a real monkey,
but like a real supplicant,
making a real offering

i guess its realness 
was the realness
of human wishfulness

it looked real
because it looked like
what a human desires in
a monkey --
rather than how an 
actual monkey would behave,
hightailing it with the fruit
up to too lofty a height
to have its jackfruit repossessed

i read that the original
"brass monkey"
was a cannonball rack 
on an old-timey sailing ship,
then the term came to
refer to cold weather, 
because the differential
contraction of cold metal 
would cause the cannonballs 
to pop off the rack --
hence the saying:
"cold enough to freeze
the balls off a brass monkey!"
and, somewhere along the way,
it also became a low-brow 
malt liquor cocktail

seems strange that so many 
brass monkeys would exist
that weren't monkey-shaped,
or even made of brass --
but such is the way of words  

DAILY PHOTO: Lounging Cotton-Top Tamarin

Taken at Lincoln Park Zoo in the summer of 2018.