Sawako Nakayasu


Sawako Nakayasu is a transnational poet and translator who has lived in Japan, France, China, and the US. Her books include The Ants (Les Figues Press) and Texture Notes (Letter Machine), and recent translations include Tatsumi Hijikata’s Costume en Face (Ugly Duckling Presse) and The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa (Canarium Books), which won the 2016 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation and the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize. Other books include Hurry Home Honey (Burning Deck) and Mouth: Eats Color – Sagawa Chika Translations, Anti-translations, & Originals, which is a multilingual work of both original and translated poetry. Her translation of Takashi Hiraide’s For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut (New Directions) received the 2009 Best Translated Book Award from Three Percent. Nakayasu has also appeared on Japanese television as a poetry judge, performed in a re-enactment of Yvonne Rainer’s Grand Union Dreams (dir. Yelena Gluzman) as well as in Cornelius Cardew’s Paragraphs 4 & 7 from The Great Learning (dir. Tomomi Adachi).


My art merges the act of writing with other approaches, techniques, manifestations, and modes of art, sometimes inspired by scientific modes of inquiry. Mostly, this results in poetry. My poetics, translation theory, editing practice, feminism, multiculturalism, and interdisciplinary work have, over the years, woven into each other. I have lived in the US, Japan, France, and China – English and Japanese are my native languages; French is the language I formally studied; and I have limited avenues into Korean grammar and Chinese vocabulary. In my work I tend to foreground a multiplicitous relationship to languages, ecology, and consciousness, aiming, ultimately, for a kind of artistic and cultural pluralism. Such pluralism can be alienating, but alienation can be inclusive – the scholar Marta Mancelos has referred to this quality in my work as “the concept of ‘othering’ in order to better include.”

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In 2006, I was awarded the Witter Bynner Poetry Translator Residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. During this time, I produced first drafts of almost all the poems I translated for what evetually became the book, The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa. As its title suggests, it was a large project, and I continued to work on the book for many more years, until it was published in 2015 from Canarium Books. This work was awarded the PEN Translation Prize for poetry that year, as well as the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, in addition to spending many weeks on the Small Press Distribution bestseller list and being reprinted within a year of publication. This project of translating Chika Sagawa was what brought me to the Santa Fe Art Institute, but during this time, I also wrote many of the poems which were later collected in my book, The Ants. Many poems with references to desert landscapes would not have been written had it not been for my time spent at the SFAI, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

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