Dark, dark, too dark a dark everywhere / Lovers drooping their necks / Dark as though picking up that darkness / And, again, inside that darkness / There are wolves and dogs on the prowl’
“We must quickly volunteer ourselves, dash forward blindly, and create,” wrote poet Hirato Renkichi (1893-1922) in his 1921 Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement. Referred to as the “Marinetti of Japan,” after the Italian founder of Futurism, Renkichi’s experimentations with style, space, and speed in his poetry influenced the Japanese avant garde for years to come. His contemporary, Hagiwara Kyojiro (1899-1938), an anarchist and Dada poet, incorporated his revolutionary politics into his poetry and infamously wrote “Poetry is a bomb! Poets are dark criminals hurling bombs at the hard walls and doors of prisons!” in the manifesto for Aka to Kuro (Red and Black), an anarchist poetry magazine. AAWW.ORG
Hirato Renkichi (平戸 廉吉?, 9 December 1893 – 20 July 1922 was a Japanese avant-garde poet, art critic, and translator who was active during the Taishō period of Japan.
Hirato Renkichi, né Kawahata Seiichi, was born in what is now Takatsuki, Osaka, Japan, in 1893. He attended Sophia University in Tokyo for three years before dropping out of school. He later studied at Gyosei Gakkō, a Catholic language school.
His first publication was in Bansō (Accompaniment), a literary journal that was edited by the poet and literary critic Ryuko Kawaji. He continued to write poems and art criticism for coterie journals, including Gendai Shiika (Modern Poetry), Taimatsu (Torchlight), and the proletariat journal Tane maku hito (Sower). His translations of Paul Fort, Arthur Symons, and Jean Cocteau appeared in various literary magazines. In 1921, he printed flyers of “Nihon miraiha undo dai ikkai no sengen” (First Manifesto of Japanese Futurism) and handed them out in several locations across Tokyo.
Hirato died of complications from a pulmonary disease on July 20, 1922. A posthumous collection of his poems was published in 1931 by Kawaji Ryūkō, Kanbara Tai, Hagiwara Kyōjiro, and Yamazaki Yasuo. wikipedia
The post bellow “Hirato Renkichi: The Black Shadow-Man Illuminated” bellow was originally published on Hyperallergic.
Already in the three short volumes which Hirato had hoped to publish, but for which he was unable to raise money, we see a growing tendency to break up the language and images, abstracting them into a pulse of pure energy that conveys the meaning rather than simply expressing it.
Given the maturity and audacity of Hirato Renkichi’s writing — a poet who is generally described as the major Japanese Futurist and progenitor of various later Japanese avant-garde poetry groups — it is difficult to assimilate the fact that he died at the early age of 29, after having long suffered pulmonary disease. But in the pages of the English language edition, Spiral Staircase: Collected Poems of Hirato Renkichi, recently published by Ugly Duckling Presse, one recognizes that this is, after all, the work of a young man, even if he seems to have almost come to maturity in his techniques.
The gatherings written before World War I are filled with poems, as translator Sho Sugita describes them, with issues of “nature, nostalgia, and the sublime.” “Spring! Spring!” for example, begins with a gush of youthful excitement,
Spring gushes out of there
From the body of the stalwart man
From the beads of sweat plopping out to scatter
Like a burbling fountain gushing out
and results in what comes near to a swoon,
O, confusion confusion
In “Yesterday There” the poet attempts to imagine what it might be like to be young soldier, leaving his family to go off to war:
Yesterday there—a youngster—a youngster like me
threw his pen away and fought. Left the wife, children
and house and fought.
Yesterday there—separation—tears—the tears I’ve
Became known to the girl’s heart. Soaked into leaves of grass.
Bemoaning his own lack of experience, all the poet can do is to call up in ironic sympathy the fact that “on the other end of the world,” “Just once I had seen a wounded Czechoslovakian soldier.”
Other, slightly later works, remind one of the hundreds of poems written by poets early in their careers (Americans as varied as Marsden Hartley, William Carlos Williams, Djuna Barnes, and Hart Crane, to name only a few, tried out the same genre). Hirato writes:
“A Caricature of Early Dawn”
Train sending off many carts, married lady, giant watch store,
the pedestrian walk lasting quite a ways away, a flowery
scene. The flowerpot under the willow is a memory of the
past, a Fugi dawn violet.
The streets of Ginza increasingly panting like infected
pustules. The stench of gas, a strange lady standing in
Already in the three short volumes which Hirato had hoped to publish, but for which he was unable to raise money, we see a growing tendency to break up the language and images, abstracting them into a pulse of pure energy that conveys the meaning rather than simply expressing it. In his “Speck, Fishhook, Crest, Antenna, Hoof,” for example, Hirato demands that the reader
Look, all around
The specks shimmering in blaze
All the hues clouding.
By the end of that same poem, the poet has turned to the F. T. Marinetti-like language of machine, war, and power:
Listen to the sound of the gun,
Shadows ringing fishhooks while running
Women and their ornamental crests.
The ferocious beasts
In the city fighting and wiggling in packs.
There is almost a ring of Eliot in the passage.
By the time we reach the later poems collected after Hirato’s death, mostly from magazines of the period, we have already encountered a very Japanese blending of Italian and Russian futurisms:
“Ensemble,” for example, is a very potent mix of Marinetti’s “words in motion” with the vocalizations of the Russian zaum poets.
In Hirato’s “Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement,” which he passed out in printed form in various Tokyo parks, we can hear Marinetti’s voice whipped up in the Japanese poet’s own conceits:
We rise within powerful light and heat. We are the
children of powerful light and heat. Our very existence is
powerful light and heat.
Intuition must preplace knowledge; the enemy of Futurist
anti-art is concept. “Time and space have already died, and
we already live in the absolute.” We must quickly take risks,
advance in defiance of danger, and create…….
Most graveyards are already useless. Libraries, museums
and academies do not even amount to the sound of one
automobile skidding on the street. Try sniffing the stench
behind the piled books; the superior freshness of gasoline
Scholar Eric Selland’s afterword summary nicely bookends Sho Sugita’s informative introduction. In all, this book is a compelling portrait of Hirato, Japanese Futurism, and their internationalist connections.
Hirato Renkichi’s Spiral Staircase: Collected Poems (2017), edited and translated into English by Sho Sugita, is published by Ugly Duckling Presse and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.