“La poesia è un ologramma del mondo” – Shuntaro Tanikawa: ‘Letters’ e poesie

An Echo

My voice went roundabout.
It called the sinking sun before it called you.
It called the woods, the sea, people’s names.
Yet now I know that every echo was your voice

Letters: corrispondenza in forma di video tra il poeta-scrittore Shuntaro Tanikawa e il regista Shuji Terayama, 1982-83, sui concetti di identità e illusione del significato. La corrispondenza si interruppe per la morte del regista e ‘Letters’ fu completato dal poeta Tanikawa.

Video Lettera: Terayama-Tanikawa, n.1

A Letter

Your letter came just after you hung up.
Over the phone you were joking but your letter was quite serious:
‘ I wish I were an impala out on the savannah.’
That’s how the letter ended abruptly.

The next day –Friday –it was ninety degrees.
We met by a fountain in the underground mall.
You were twirling your white purse.
I was imitating Chaplin.
Then we ate some pizza.

We never mentioned the impala.
Some things we can talk about only in letters;
and some questions we can hardly ask in words
if we want to go on living in this world
where stars and blistered feet exist together.

Video Lettera n.2

Obsession with an Apple

You can’t say it’s red. It’s an apple –not a colour. You can’t say it’s round. It’s not a shape but an apple. You can’t say it’s sour. It’s not a taste but an apple. You can’t say it’s expensive. It’s not a price –it’s an apple. You can’t say it’s pretty. It isn’t beauty –it’s an apple. You can’t classify it, because it’s not a vegetable but an apple. It’s a flowering apple, a fruit-bearing apple, an apple that trembles on a branch in the wind. It’s a rain-beaten apple, a peckable apple, a pickable apple. It’s an apple that falls to earth, an apple that rots. It’s a seed-bearing apple, a budding apple, an apple that need not be called an apple. An apple that need not be an apple; an apple that may be an apple. Apple or not, one apple is all apples.
Jonathan, crab, golden, winesap, Fuji, Tsugaru apples. One apple. Three, five, a dozen apples. Fifteen pounds, twelve tons, two million tons of apples. Apples to be produced, apples to be transported. Apples to be weighed and packed and sold. Apples to be sprayed, digested, consumed. Apples to be annihilated. Apples! Apples?
That one, that one there, there one over there. That one there, there in the basket. That one falling off the table, that one transposed to canvas, that one to be baked in the oven. A child holds it and bites it. That one, there. However much it rots, however many are eaten, apples go on growing on trees and endlessly filling the stores, shining. Of what is an apple a replica? Of what time a replica? We can’t answer. It’s just an apple.
We can’t ask. It’s just an apple. We can’t discuss it. Finally, it’s nothing but an apple, even now…


No echo, no reverberation.
On a corpse lying
on the ground
the first
of rain

I won’t let words rest.
At times they feel ashamed of themselves
and want to die, inside of me.
When that happens I’m in love.

In a world otherwise silent
people –only people –chatter away.
What’s more, sun and trees and clouds
are unconscious of their beauty.

A fast-flying plane flies in the shape of a human passion.
Though the blue sky pretends to be a backdrop,
in fact there’s nothing there.
When I call out, in a small voice,
the world doesn’t answer.
My words are no different from those of the birds.

Video Lettera n.4

A cloudy day. No shadows.
And I watched my words sicken.
Trees and grasses sang my songs;
my longings always came back down to earth.

Following the first ominous silence
we plunged pell-mell into a world of loquacity.
If words find their answers among people
they always fall ill apart from people.

I wish my words were as whole as the trees and grass
in that first silence
out of which everything was born.

What words know me intimately?
Instead of myself singing I’d
like hearing myself being sung.

Video Lettera n.5

Who are you, asking,
‘Who are you?’
An indistinct figure appears
on the mud wall.


Hands grown
absolutely useless
only dream of writing
some words
for the last time.

Video Lettera n.6

Before We Were Born

When you were yet unborn
and I was yet unborn,
we smelled together the scent of the air
when lightning sliced the cloudy sky.
And I realized that
some day suddenly we would meet
on an ordinary street corner here on Earth.

The Metaphor of the Sea

Not that people look at the sea –
the sea with shining eyes looks at people,
eyes unchanged from the beginning of time.

Not that people hear the sea,
the sea hears people
with the ears of numberless shells under the seabed.

People set out on a journey towards an indelible horizon,
dragging a single seam of water,
and at the mercy of the storm and lull of the sea.

What will bring the man and woman together are
matched chopsticks and teacups, some pots and pans,
and emotions that bubble, boil and overflow.

What binds them even more profoundly, however, is
this wholeness called the sea,
the tirelessly repeating, ever beautiful sea.

Not that people sing of the sea –
the sea sings of people.
The sea celebrates people.

da New selected poems –
Shuntaro Tanikawa



* in copertina la casa di Tanikawa
progettata dall’architetto Kazuo Shinohara