Only Yesterday is a masterpiece by Mutsuo Takahashi, one of Japan's eminent and essential poets.
In 2018, soon after Mutsuo Takahashi turned eighty, he published his magnum opus, a collection of poetry entitled Only Yesterday, a work containing 153 poems that showcase the poet's enormous erudition as he revisits the themes he has explored for the last five decades: the nature of beauty, love, homoerotic desire, art, and aging. At the same time, it also includes numerous socially engaged poems inspired by contemporary problems, such as exploitation of the nameless masses and the culture of hero worship. What makes this collection so is that even when talking about contemporary issues, Takahashi weaves into all poems motifs and ideas borrowed from ancient Greek culture, so that Greece serves as the lens through which Takahashi—a lifelong scholar of both modern poetry and classical literature—views the world, even as he writes in an elegant blend of classical and modern Japanese. The result is a dazzling piece of world literature that bridges East and West, new and ancient, all within a witty, idiosyncratic collection that's been translated beautifully by acclaimed translator Jeffrey Angles, whose work earned this book a grant from Japan Foundation.
Poetry, History, Asian & Asian American Studies, LGBTQ+ Studies.
“This collection of poetry is like a sea filled with islands. The sounds of the surging waves of the Japanese language carry us toward the many facets of Greece that Takahashi holds so dear. In the poetic dreams which pass before our eyes one after another, we gaze at leisure upon its landscapes.”—Mimi Hachikai, author of The Quickening Field
“The most apt metaphor to describe Takahashi’s poetic production is the performance of a tightrope walker. With great care and indescribable pleasure, he skillfully crosses the taut rope connecting the vulgar and the sacred, poetic form and free verse, as well as Japanese verse and ancient poetry.”—Hisaki Matsuura, (author of Triangle and Le calligraphe)
“The god of poetry does descend to us from time to time—that’s what I thought as I read this collection of poetry… It is filled with deep emotion and feeling, knowledge and educated culture, and beyond that, the shadow of ideology. Yet what drives the production of Takahashi’s poetry is his wit.”—Natsuki Ikezawa, author of Still Lives and A Burden of Flowers
Mutsuo Takahashi (b. 1937) is one of Japan's most prominent living poets. Since first attracting the attention of the Japanese literary world in the 1960s with his bold evocations of homoerotic desire, he has published forty- eight books of poetry and numerous collections of essays, literary criticism, and fiction, winning nearly every major literary award in the nation. In 2017, the Japanese government designated him as a Person of Cultural Merit, its highest award for literary figures. The same year, Takahashi was elected to the Japan Art Academy. Several collections of Takahashi's poetry are available in English translation: Poems of a Penisist (Chicago Review Press, 1975, reprinted University of Minnesota Press, 2012), A Bunch of Keys (The Crossing Press, 1984), Sleeping, Sinning, Falling (City Lights, 1992), Two Shores (Dedalus, 2006), and We of Zipangu ( Arc Publications, 2007). His memoir Twelve Views from the Distance (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), translated by Jeffrey Angles, was shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award. Takahashi presently lives in the seaside city of Zushi, ten kilometers to the south of Yokohama.
Jeffrey Angles (b. 1971) is a poet, translator, and professor of Japanese literature at Western Michigan University . His collection of poetry Watashi no hizukehenkōsen (My International Date Line, 2016), which he wrote in Japanese, won the Yomiuri Prize for Literature. In addition, he has published dozens of English translations of Japan's most important modern authors and poets, earning numerous prizes for his translation work. He believes strongly in the role of translators as activists, and much of his career has focused on the translation into English of socially engaged, feminist, or queer writers.