Five Questions for Marian Pierce

Marian Pierce’s short stories have been published in Portland Monthly, GQ magazine, The Japan Times, The Mississippi Review, Puerto del Sol, STORY, Scribner’s Best of the Fiction Workshops 1997, and other venues. She was shortlisted for the 2008 David Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, for an author writing about the Far East. Her story “Tokyo Pleasureland” appears in Yomimono #15.

Photo: Janice Pierce Photography

What was the inspiration for your story?

 In 2005 I spent 3 months in Tokyo doing research for a novel I have been working on, oh, forever! On an exceptionally hot August day, I took a break and went to Asakusa Kannon Temple. I sat down under a ginko tree next to an old man, and remarked in Japanese to him how hot it was. We started conversing, and he told me about his experiences during the firebombing of Tokyo. He also handed me a fan at one point, which is described in the story.

The Swedish man in the story is based on someone who I talked to at the “Gaijin House” I was staying in in Saitama at the time. He was just as girl crazy as described!

Describe your writing space.

 
When I write by hand I lie on my couch, sit at my kitchen table, or sit cross legged on the floor or a patch of grass somewhere. When writing at my computer, I sit at little desk which faces a bulletin board filled with photos of friends and family.

What are you working on now?

 A novel about, in part, the crash of JAL Flight 123 in 1985.

What’s the last book you’ve read?

 
 Under the Banyan Tree by R.K. Narayan. I love Narayan’s humor, the compassion that infuses his writing, and his deceptively simple style.

What is your favorite place in Japan?

That’s a hard one, but I absolutely loved Yakushima Island and the ancient Jomon sugi trees.

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Review of SKY = EMPTY

Poet and former expat Judy Halebsky’s recently published collection, Sky = Empty, is reviewed in The Japan Times. Halebsky, who was awarded the 2009 New Issues Poetry Prize by judge Marvin Bell, contributed three new poems to Yomimono #15. An interview with Halebsky appears in Yomiono #14.

Incidental Music by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa

Yomimono contributor Jane Joritz-Nakagawa’s fifth book of poems, incidental music is out with BlazeVOX and is available from Amazon.

Whereas traditional poetics relied on meter and rhyme to create structure, the poems in incidental music use chains of association, sound, and logic to explore the form behind form. These cleverly wrought poems do what the greatest of poetry does — serve as objects of contemplation inviting the reader into a small universe both familiar and unfamiliar, knowable and unknowable. These poems challenge and thrill.

JEFFREY ANGLES

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa’s incidental music presents an atonal surround sound of turbulent registers. In this work there is dissonance and friction at the level of figuration—a “welding of phenomenological scalpels”. These poems are filled with humans facing human conundrums. Joritz-Nakagawa’s lyrics emphatically convey that a wound is not a tomb—the tone is often solemn but also wry. “These are not full truths” — chaos threatens time and despair close to oblivion is unraveled in paradoxical lines, yet there is a bold confidence emitted, a pact is made to keep going. Amidst the rumble is an evanescence that can’t be collapsed into a flat plane.

—BRENDA IIJIMA


incidental music is attentive to the deep formal traditions of poetry in the western tradition: the sonnet, the pantoum, the cinquain, the rondeau, the triolet, the ghazal. And yet, as Jane Joritz-Nakagawa well knows, these traditions get their strength in how they intertwine with the contemporary. Incidental music is both innovative and inclusive of all that poetry can do.

—JULIANA SPAHR

Five Questions for Morowa Yejide

Morowa Yejidé is a fiction writer and a native of Washington, D.C.  She was educated at Kalamazoo College, where she received a B.A. in International Relations, and graduated from the international exchange program at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.  Her literary works have appeared in the Adirondack Review, Istanbul Literary Review, Underground Voices, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, the Taj Mahal Review, and the Willesden Herald. Her story, “Tokyo Chocolate,” about an African-American exchange student in Japan, appears in Yomimono #15.

 

What was the inspiration for your story?

 I think we discover many profound things in people and places that we least expect. For me, that place was the dining room table of a Japanese family that hosted my year-long exchange student experience. That table was the place where real and imagined history, dreams and disappointments, commonalities and differences all mixed together to reveal new truths. “Tokyo Chocolate” was a great way for me to look at the layers of that discovery through the eyes of a character in an unusual situation.  I wanted the reader to experience this situation as if it was a box being slowly unwrapped.  When we come to the end– along with the character– we discover something that maybe we hadn’t expected.  It was my desire to create this effect that inspired me to write “Tokyo Chocolate.”

Describe your writing space.

 I don’t have one specific writing space.  It often changes depending on my family and schedule.  I write when and where I can, which usually tends to be the dining room table, a pen and notebook in the bathtub, or my iPad.

 What are you working on now?

 A literary novel.

 What is the last book you read?

 Song for Night, by Chris Abani.  I love stories that depict the interior world of a character, and how that character projects that out into what is around them.  Chris Abani does this with beauty and precision.

What’s your favorite place in Japan?

 The shores of the Japan Sea.  I can still close my eyes and feel as if I’m standing on its black sands, with the brightly colored volcanic pebbles sprinkled about me.

Five Questions for Ann Tashi Slater

 Ann Tashi Slater is an Associate Professor of American Literature at Japan Women’s University in Tokyo. She did her BA in Comparative Literature at Princeton and her MFA in Fiction at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her publications include a story in American Dragons, an anthology of work by Asian American writers (HarperCollins). Her stories have also appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly and Private: A Journal of Arts and Literature. Her translation of a novella by Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas was published in Old Rosa: A Novel in Two Stories (Grove Press). Slater does radio and TV programs for NHK, and has also worked in Tokyo publishing and journalism. She’s Tibetan-American, was born in Spain, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has lived, traveled, and worked around the world in places including France, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Bali, India, and Tibet.  Her story “Things You Dreamed of and Things You Didn’t” appears in Yomimono #15.

1. What was the inspiration for your story?

 A trip I took years ago with my kids to see the Big Buddha in Kamakura. When we got there, my son—who was about three—stood at the foot of the Buddha, saying, “Where’s the Big Buddha? Where’s the Big Buddha?” It seemed like a very philosophical question at the time and still does!

2. Describe your writing space.

My writing space is a tatami room with a view of trees, sky, crows perched on rooftops and stone walls. It’s filled with things from my travels: a statue of Ganesh from India; a Mexican Day of the Dead tableau of a skeletal orchestra; a bird cage from Hong Kong. There are old family things—a Tibetan prayer wheel, my grandmother’s sandalwood rosary, photos from turn-of-the-century India and Tibet. And other photos: Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn on the Spanish Steps in Roman Holiday, a shot of elephants crossing the African plain. Lots and lots of books. A small sofa for napping . . . I mean, deep thinking. And always—under my desk or at the window watching the rain fall or sprawled on the tatami—my little Westie.

3. What are you working on now?

I recently finished a multi-generational novel based on the Tibetan side of my family and set around a funeral in Darjeeling; it’s about letting go of the past, how death gives us a chance to move forward. I’m now writing a travel memoir set in India, ranging from the byways of Old Delhi to the monasteries of Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s home-in-exile. I’m really enjoying writing this book. A travel memoir is shaped a lot like a novel, but non-fiction has its own challenges: how to bring a true story to life, transform it into art; how to find the story that lies beneath “what happened.”

4. What’s the last book you read?

Learning to Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival by Alison Wright. A memoir about the author’s road to recovery after she barely survived a horrific bus accident in Laos. This book made me think about how through faith—and what we do because of faith—we can change what seems to be our fate. Also, Olive Kitteridge, which I really enjoyed for its nuanced, precise illumination of the characters’ mental and emotional states. And I recently re-read the tour de force trilogy at the end of Unaccustomed Earth. Lahiri’s portrayal of Bengali immigrants in America, of how they navigate family and romantic relationships, loss and its aftermath, is deeply believable and very moving.

5. What’s your favorite place in Japan?

I love Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. The wide veranda, the huge pillars, the cherry and maple trees, the view of the city. The two “love stones” at one of the shrines: pilgrims who walk the 18 meters from one stone to the other with their eyes closed will, it’s said, find true love.

JAPLISH WHIPLASH by Taylor Mignon

JAPLISH WHIPLASH, the long-awaited collection of poet Taylor Mignon, is reviewed in this past weekend’s Japan Times. You can read the review here.

Several poems in this collection were previously published in Yomimono. Mignon also contributes a new series of short poems, “The Saitama Suite,” to the current issue, which can be ordered here.

Five Questions for Marcus Bird

Marcus Bird, author of the short story “Gaijin Girl” which appears in Yomimono #15, is a writer, creative-entrepreneur and designer. Raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and now living in Tokyo, he specializes in T-shirt designs, web work, cartoons, and social media. In 2009 he launched his design company, which is a fusion of Jamaican and Japanese culture. He has done television commercials, modeling, and video-editing. Here, Marcus answers five questions about writing and other stuff. 

1. What was the inspiration for your story?

Two things in particular. First was an image that was stuck in my mind when I first moved to Japan. In the afternoon a day or two after I arrived, I saw a woman wearing a black one piece skirt, with Banana yellow high heel shoes. The second connecting thought came much later. I was living in a small town in Japan at the time, and I noticed that there were several well-educated, well-traveled Japanese women that only dated foreign men. I used this observation to create the mythos behind my main character. The name of the story itself is a play on words. “Gaijin Girl” is loosely written to mean “Gaijin’s Girl”. So I started the story chatting about the yellow shoes… and just filled in the blanks from there.

 
2. Describe your writing space.

I’m not sure how to answer that. *laughs*. I wrote Gaijin Girl in between teaching classes on a busy day at a Japanese Junior high school. However, to give a more comprehensive answer, I have to admit I never have an ideal space in my mind. I read Stephen King’s On Writing and he mentioned a quiet room with no distractions. My mind is usually too busy for absolute silence. I can write for hours listening to a Gorillaz album on repeat in a quiet room, or in a noisy Starbucks listening to reggae music. Over time my “writing space” seems to be a place where I can sit comfortably, while listening to some sort of house, or semi-relaxed music. But I wrote a lot of short stories in between teaching classes, or jotting down notes on pieces of paper and patching them up at home while Entourage is playing in the background. I guess I need a little white noise to focus when writing a lot… but once i’m amped about the project, I tend to squeeze in bits at work, at home, on the train etc.
 
3. What are you working on now?

A project called “Guest House”. Take a guy chasing a creative dream. Put him into a lavish guest house in central Tokyo with a crazy landlord and an amped up rotation of frisky foreigners and see what ensues. 

 
4. What’s the last book you’ve read?

I just finished The Valkyries by Paulo Coelho.  He is definitely a very deep writer.
 
5.What is your favorite place in Japan?

Hmm. I lived in a quiet town before, with temples and chill people that say “Ohayo Gozaimasu!” when you walk past… but the pulse and energy of a buzzing metropolis makes me more comfortable than lots of trees and easy access to the beach. I’d have to say Tokyo, especially since I live there.

You can read Marcus Bird’s story in the latest issue of Yomimono. Purchase a copy here.