from The English Letters of Araki Yasusada

by Tosa Motokiyu

The following selection is from Also, with My Throat, I Shall Swallow Ten Thousand Swords: The English Letters of Araki Yasusada, by Tosa Motokiyu, edited by Kent Johnson and Javier Alvarez, forthcoming from Combo Books of Providence, RI, later in 2005. The first two introductory pieces (the “Preface” and “Introduction”) are the book’s prefatory materials, and the following letter is one of twenty published in the book.




In the poetry world, it is by now generally known that Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada is a fiction created by its “primary translator” Tosa Motokiyu, the pseudonym of a writer who requested, before his passing in 1996, that his legal identity never be revealed. The following pieces are taken from a group of thirty youthful letters by Yasusada, all except seven of them to an American pen-pal (or “pal-pen”, as Yasusada puts it) named “Richard.” A short time before his death, Motokiyu indicated to us that these letters, along with other materials comprising Yasusada’s juvenilia, were to be excluded from Doubled Flowering and only published after the collection’s appearance. All of the letters save one are in Motokiyu’s holograph and most are in a state of “editorial disrepair,” with marginal notes and numerous and often-contradictory bracketings and arrowings to indicate shiftings of sentences and longer passages—much akin, interestingly enough, to Motokiyu’s introductory description of the original condition of the letters within Yasusada’s notebooks. Thus, we have worked with care to make sure these epistolary imaginings, to use Moto’s phrase, are finally presented in reasonably accurate form.

Here then, with Motokiyu’s faux introductory note and footnotes—for he originally intended the letters to appear as Yasusada’s, “edited” by himself and his invented collaborators, Ojiu Norinaga and Okura Kyojin—are twenty of the entries assembled by us.*  If Doubled Flowering is, as a critic from Japan has fancifully put it, a kind of ceremonial gown enshrouding an absent Author, perhaps these letters may be taken as a kind of painted fan, snapped open now, and held up, coquettishly, to his invisible face.

—Kent Johnson and Javier Alvarez


* Six of the texts to Richard proved too muddled, due to their overwritten, palimpsestic state, to be edited with any degree of confidence. Four of the letters addressed to correspondents other than Richard (two Japanese and two Russian) contain material that makes them inappropriate, in our opinion, for publication at this time.

[Nota bene: All italicized notes in brackets are by us, including editorial indications inside Motokiyu’s original footnotes. Unitalicized notes, including bracketed editorial indications inside Yasusada’s letters, are Motokiyu’s. KJ, JA]




      THE FOLLOWING twenty-four* [see our note A below. KJ, JA]
      extraordinary drafts of letters by Yasusada, most of them to a mysterious
      “Richard” constitute perhaps the most interesting writing from Yasusada’s
      pre-war period. The letters are vertiginous in the multifaceted readings
      they make available: On the one hand (because there are
      no letters from him inserted in the notebooks as is the case
      with a variety of other correspondents), [see our note B below. KJ, JA]
      it is not possible to know if “Richard” is an actual person to whom
      fair copies of these drafts were sent
      1, or whether he is
      Yasusada’s invention—a foil of permission, so to speak, to
      justify the writing of letters to oneself. On the other
      hand, the strictly textual status [sic] of these pieces (in
      state of editorial disrepair as they are, with arrows and
      interjections everywhere) is a true enigma: Although
      Yasusada began studies in Western Literature at Hiroshima
      University in 1925,* [see our note C below. KJ, JA] we have no
      knowledge of his English skills at the time of composition
      (nor do we have evidence that he was taking the English classes
      which, as he suggests in a letter dated January 13, are the
      “assignment-source” of these letters). Thus, the fault-line here
      between the innocencies [sic] and ungrammaticalities of his
      evidently protoEnglish on the one side, and his bizarre and
      biting lyricism on the other, is thrillingly indeterminate and
      shimmering. Nevertheless, it is clear that in these letters
      (or epistolary imaginings—whatever they may be)
      transgressions of grammar assume, purposely or not, the
      function of a certain seduction: a “skin” pulled back, to use
      Yasusada’s phrasing, showing the “rising sun” of an
      eroticized and culturally-doubled libertinage. Thus, these
      pieces, written in Yasusada’s 18
      th and 19th year, show him
      deploying, very early on, the idiosyncratic conceptual
      feints and shadowings that mark his work following the
                           Tosa Motokiyu, Ojiu Norinaga, Okura Kyojin


 1) Indeed, if Richard is real, one can only begin to guess at his bewildered reaction to his pen-pal’s mailings—a state of confusion that Yasusada clearly, and progressively, toys with, until losing his patience with “Dick” altogether in the last quarter of the correspondence. [see our note D below. KJ, JA]

A*[It appears Motokiyu wrote six more letter drafts after writing the Introduction; of the Introduction, three versions are present in holograph looseleaf in one of his notebooks. What we present here is an edited composite of its three drafts.

B*[The phrasing is unclear. Motokiyu means to say that there are numerous copies of letters in the notebooks from other correspondents of Yasusada.]

C* [However, as Marjorie Perloff has pointed out in her essay, “In Search of the Authentic Other: The Poetry of Araki Yasusada,” Hiroshima University was not founded until 1949. KJ, JA]

D* In fact, “the last quarter of the correspondence” (with a few exceptions, such as the gentle sarcasm in the letters of September 30, November 17, and December 10) does not really reveal such a marked loss of patience with Richard. Two of the letters we were unable to satisfactorily edit also suggest such a tone, but not so much to justify Motokiyu’s categorical description. KJ, JA]






    Dear Richard:

    I am much ashamed. I have done something to be bad. I would like to sit in the dusty dust. Now I am afraid I am your pal-pen no more. Maybe I am Mrs. Death Boy of Japan.

    I am sorry I smiled at women. Yes, I love holy ones, like Sumo Girl and Geisha Bob. I will never be so hidden again. Pray for me now, Mr. Bowles.1 Respect little Yasusada again!

    My friends are most fewsome. I count them opon [sic] my fingers. Look, seven left on yellow hands…

    I am irksome2 to see you—because you come so scaresome, my bed is a grave.

    Oops, good night, God will forgive me—Will you please to try?

    I am sincere,


1. We are not sure why Yasusada enters this name. Is it a reference to Samuel Bowles, one of Emily Dickinson’s correspondents? As we indicated in Doubled Flowering, Yasusada’s manuscripts contain numerous drafts of translations from Dickinson’s poetry, so perhaps this is the case.

2. No doubt Yasusada means the word in the sense of “impatient.”


*[Motokiyu is hiding here. In fact, this letter is a fairly close paraphrase of one written by Samuel Bowles to Emily Dickinson—the well-known “Parody Letter”—where Bowles, it has been speculated by certain scholars, was aiming to provoke Dickinson into a self-reflexive regard of the acute artifice of her language—that is, that she regard the constructions of its false “coynesses” and “innocencies” (not to mention its overabundance of dashes and modifying interjections, such as one finds, incidentally, in this very long and laborious sentence) as the ideological effects of 19th century New England patriarchal culture refracted through the mind of a woman of education and privilege attempting to woo a man of status and power. Dickinson’s famous and enigmatic reply is the single line:

“Oh Samuel—my Psalmanazar—we are both covered in a dark powder and something huge and metallic passes overhead!”