Letter Machine Editions, 2010
Review by Daniela Olszewska
Sawako Nakayasu was born in Japan* and has lived mostly in the US since the age of six. She is the author of the very excellent Hurry Home Honey (Burning Deck, 2009) and the very excellent translator of Kawata Ayane’s book of poetry, Time of Sky//Castles in the Air (Litmus Press, 2010) and Takashi Hiraide’s For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut (New Directions, 2008).
Nakayasu’s second book, Texture Notes, is comprised of forty-eight interrogations of the visual and tactile surfaces that populate an artist’s terrain. The pieces use dates for/instead of titles, highlighting the project’s origin as a daily log/diary**. These poem-notes are arranged by the day of the month rather than “actual” chronological order—ex.: 9.2.2003, 6.3.2003, and 10.4.2003 (instead of 9.2.2003, 9.3.2003, 9.4.2003…). This destabilization of the expected order mirrors the destabilizing influences of the textures themselves.
Nakayasu’s textures range from the concrete “field of bicycles” and “avalanche of undercooked hamburger meat” to the more abstract “layers of loss” and “point of bad return.” The absurdity*** of the more concrete textures reminds the reader that not even solids are “safe” from reevaluation, from recontextualization. Meanwhile, the more abstract textures insist that any idea, any concept, may solidify under the correct lens (the artistic lens, the poetic lens, the Nakayasu lens…).
This book takes on surfaces that fulfill need—yellow is “an extension of want, or a boing”—but also bring danger—“Which appears first at the back of the mouth and I consider swallowing, or the inability to swallow it away. A dark alley of the body.” Nakayasu’s textures can be menacing; the speaker of the Texture Notes tells us that s/he are in the process of: “Learning to sleep belly up, without fear of a large angular object such as a bookshelf of a park bench or a giant brick landing on my stomach as I lay sleeping.” However, this menace is not necessarily a negative; the speaker is: “Letting my mouth hang open in awe, without fear of a peculiar sort of spider crawling inside and laying eggs and causing a mysterious disease to appear in my throat seven years down the line.”
These interrogations are important because they suggest that the world(s) of the surface, the world(s) often dismissed as (literally and figuratively) not deep enough, contains an embarrassment of riches on the levels of language and imagery. Nakayasu shows that the surface need never feel boring, even when stacked up against her more-heralded siblings, the under and above-grounds. These Texture Notes establish that textures have the ability to create and/or encompass “the light that arrives, gives, retreats, goes awry around every left corner, every bend.”
* Why do reviewers (and the writers of poets’ “official” bios) always mention a poet’s birthplace or childhood home when that birthplace or childhood home is/was outside of the USA? Should we treat this text differently because it was made by a “foreigner?” Does the poet’s place of birth/childhood home somehow make her/his book (and, by extension, the review of her/his book…) a “multicultural” work? After reading Texture Notes, does the reader possess a better understanding of What It Means To Have Been Born In Japan? Will a Japanese reviewer of Texture Notes qualify her/his review with the information that Nakayasu grew up in the USA?
** For those of you who have never attempted to turn a daily log/diary into a “legitimate” work of literature, let me assure you, it’s a really hard thing to pull off. Especially since the literary daily log/diary must “look easy” in order for it to work.
*** I apologize; “absurdity” is an unacceptable word to use. My iPhone’s dictionary application claims that absurdity means “at variance with reason; manifestly false.” Nakayasu’s treatment of these textures is anything but “manifestly false.” Our dear speaker explains to the reader that they are after:
…a claim for honesty all the time, or at any given moment, which is never to say that one honesty might correspond to the next, from one moment to a further one down any given line. And the light that arrives, gives, retreats, goes awry around every left corner, every bend.