Monday, September 28, 2015

I Know (Je sais) - Ito Naga (Sixteen Rivers Press)

Today's book of poetry:
I Know  (Je sais).  Ito Naga.  A bilingual edition translated by Lynne Knight.  Sixteen Rivers Press.  San Francisco, California.  2013.

31.  I know that, unlike human beings, trees don't
       heal their wounds. They grow around them,
       leaving holes here and there.

31.  Je sais que, contrairement aux etres humains,
       les arbres ne guerissent pas de leurs plaies. Ils
       les contournent et vivent ainsi avec des trous
       ici et la.


(Today's book of poetry apologizes profusely for being unable to use the proper accents when reproducing French text.  I can only offer up that I am old and a moron.)

Originally published in France in 2006 under the title Je sais (Cheyne editeur), Ito Naga's I Know has lost none of its vitality in the ensuing decade.  Je sais is currently in its seventh edition in France but it is new to us.

I Know is made up of 469 short aphorisms, no titles, numbered, each one sentence long.  We could call them truisms.  An aphorism can be defined as "a concise statement of a scientific principal, typically by an ancient classical author."  As it turns out Naga is a scientist, an acclaimed astrophysicist, Ito Naga is a nom de plume.

Nom de plume or not any cat who ruminates about Yukio Mishima, Antonin Artaud and Marco Polo has my curious attention.

210.  I know that if I were a mailman, I wouldn't be
         able to stop myself from reading postcards.

210.  Je sais que si j'etais facteur, je ne pourrais
         m'empecher de lire les cartes postales.


Naga's fierce noggin' never stops.  He is constantly interested in what is at the edge of the frame, the figure in the shadow that gives the entire thing meaning.

Ito Naga makes a point of tipping his hat to Joe Brainard's I Remember, he even draws a hopeful comparison.  Now this should make my dear friend Stuart Ross flip - Ron Padgett wrote a memoir about his childhood friend Brainard called Joe.  I Know is full of much of the same hopeful naivete that Brainard is known for but never at the loss of real life, real experience, understanding.

241.  "I know that for thirty-five years, my hands
         have been working but my brain's been at a
         standstill," someone leaning on the counter said.

241.  "Je sais que, depuis 35 ans, mes mains travaillent
         mais mon cerveau est en panne!" dit-il accoude
         au comptoir.


I Know is an inventory of the everyday from the perspective of a generous mind that misses nothing. The world from sun-up to sun-down and all night long, Naga is on the job deconstructing and explaining all these things we know and need to be true.  He has a generous heart.

468.  I know that, urged to confess that he had lied,
         Marco Polo answered that he hadn't told even
         half of what he'd seen on his journeys.

468.  Je sais que presse d'avouer qu'il avait menti,
         Marco Polo a repondu qu'il n'avait pas raconte
         la moitie de ce qu'il avait vu cours de ses


And like Marco Polo on his death bed with plenty of tales yet to tell - I am certain that I Know only scratches the surface of Naga's deep well.

Today's book of poetry has always had a soft spot for "list" poems and this is assuredly one of the best.  Joe Brainard would like this book.  I'm pretty sure Ron Padgett would like it.  I'm hoping Stuart Ross will like it.

469 missives, Naga's humour and smarts are endless.

I Know was translated by the poet Lynne Knight, Today's book of poetry will be looking at her excellent book of poetry, Again (Sixteen Rivers Press), in the near future.


Ito Naga is the nom de plume of a prominent French astrophysicist living in Paris. He is the author of three books, all published in France by Cheyne ├ęditeur: NGC 224 (2013); Iro mo ka mo, la couleur et le parfum (2010), now in its third printing; and Je sais (2006), now in its seventh printing. He also contributes regularly to the Italian journal Sud.



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