Interview with Sho Sugita

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Sho  Sugita lives in Brooklyn, NY. He works as a medical manuscript translator and studies poetry at Brooklyn College. He was an invited musician/reader in 2012 for Les Souffleurs de Vers: deuxième edition in Grenoble, France to raise funds for the 3-11 Tohoku disaster. His creative work can be found in Washington Square and Endless Possibilities (Classical and New Music on WRSU). He is currently working on a translation manuscript of Hirato Renkichi and Kanbara Tai, two poets active during the Japanese Futurist Movement of the early 1920s.


Cathy Linh Che: I've heard that you are now attending Brooklyn College for your MFA program. How has your work changed during the course of the MFA? How has it remained the same?

Sho Sugita: I used to attempt at verse. I now think about how to rupture them.

CLC: Could you tell me a little about your life pre-MFA? What made you decide to apply and attend one?

SS: I graduated from the University of Chicago in 2008, which was obviously a bad time for finding jobs. This was especially true for the Midwest. I had an offer to pursue an MFA in music at Mills, but it didn’t make too much sense to go into debt at the time. I moved to Japan due to the dire prospects for seeking employment in the US and ended up becoming an orthopedic sales representative. I decided that I wanted to reapply for school when I entered my late-20s. There was a lot of downtime with the nature of my work, so I was writing a lot during my waiting hours at outpatient lounges. The pursuit of writing made more sense than music with my work-related constraints in Japan.

CLC: Kundiman has an ongoing Kavad project this year called Writing Race and Belonging: Would you mind spending some time discussing your relationship to writing, race, and belonging? Broad topic, I know, but we're interested in any gut reactions, memories, thoughts, or impressions you have when you think about those three ideas.

SS: To answer your question directly, I have a tendency to question the authority of how we canonize literature—especially in regards to race and belonging—that probably stems out of my interest in Frank Chin’s “Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake” as a teenager. I never liked the term “Classics” in literature and its implications of the Western cannon, but I’ve learned over the years that there is just as much to talk about “what we don’t talk about.” 

I’m currently interested in the study of Modernism. With that said, the term scholars tend to use a lot in the field is “transatlantic” to describe the transmission of fin de siècle as a spirit of the time. I want to provide examples that “transcontinental” might be a more accurate modifier to describe the era. Fortunately, the academic climate is moving in a similar direction. For example, I think this year’s interest around Chicago Review’s criticism of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics by Kent Johnson is a necessary discussion to have—that inclusion has improved over the years, but to question if it is enough.

The same could be said about attitudes in poetry circles and small presses. When I was an undergraduate, I remember Ed Roberson was kindly suggesting to me that I should try to find Asian-American writing communities, but little was visible to me back in 2007. Kundiman’s programming is a testament to the changes I’m seeing.

CLC: What are you currently working on?

I recently finished a translation manuscript of Hirato Renkichi Shishū, a posthumous selection of poems by a Japanese Futurist poet. I spent some time over the summer in Tokyo at the Museum of Modern Literature, and I realized that I could collect Modernist and Proletariat coterie journals from the 1910s-1920s to compile a “Collected Works of Hirato Renkichi.” I should be finished with that project in a month or so. Hopefully, some of the poems will be available for readers in the near future. One can find an excellent translation of Hirato Renkichi’s Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement by Miryam Sas in Cabinet Magazine (Issue 13).

SS: Do you have any poetry (or art or music) recommendations?

Poetry: O-Bon by Brandon Shimoda, Facts for Visitors by Srikanth Reddy, the recent Northwestern World Classics edition of Mayakovsky’s Selected Poems. I would also recommend John Solt’s translations of Kitasono Katue in Oceans Beyond Monotonous Space. I’ve read that there’s going to be a translation of Gozo Yoshimasu by Sayuri Okamoto with creative interventions by Forrest Gander, which is exciting to hear. Here’s an amazing reading of Yoshimasu’s “Ancient Observatory” from 1985:

Art: Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-ha, and Modernism in the Russian Far East and Japan 1918-1928

Music: Odori by radicalfashion (Hirohito Ihara), Perfect Lives by Robert Ashley, Obscure Tape Music of Japan 1: Aoi no Ue by Joji Yuasa, Tomomi Adachi’s sound poetry performances on PennSound. I’ve also heard from a professor in the MFA program that Jay-Z is great.