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In which direction is the ceremony held?

Jun-ichi Konuma
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

The inaugural ceremony for the president-elect of the United States of America will be held on January 20 this year. Since 1961, when J.F. Kennedy took office as president, a poem has often been recited at inaugural ceremonies. The poem is a message sent to the new president from the general public. Following this custom, I tried to compose a poem.

I do not know whether my poem speaks on behalf of many people and whether it is suitable for this opportunity, nor is it written with any particular person in mind.

Reflecting on myself and my surroundings, to contemplate, and to be in charge of my own writing… these should be kept in mind before focusing on the “who.” I want to shape my thoughts and use it as a personal guiding principle. This is why I wrote this poem.

In which direction is the ceremony held?

There is neither a prophecy nor an oracle. Listening and telling differences apart are what I rely on. As the voices mix and jumble, my ears adjust to catch muffled voices of discomfort and of the silent. Bending my knees, sitting down, tilting my head, listening, closely to what was whispered and what was not, sensing their quivering voices, sincerely.

I recall things that have become hackneyed yet are carelessly forgotten. In this past century or two, how many species of life have disappeared? How many of the very few words of those who spoke, crafted with refined skill and tuition, have become lost? What happened to the appreciation for our land, the water and stars, permitting us to live where we live now? Mistakes are being made repeatedly while looking askance at words, such as modesty, reserve, and discretion, as they become archaic and fossilized. Will a step by step trial-and-error, while slowly learning lessons by looking back on the past, make the term “legacy” sound less hallow?

In which direction is the ceremony held? At what speed of light, electrons, and sound will these words head there? From here, I write. From here, where each and everyone one of you are, there are myriad of distances, distances between people. Dreaming of a future, drawn upon countless tales, while coexisting with chemicals and electrical equipment, safe and sound for now.


Restrain unnecessary expectations, joy, and praise, grief and indignation.
We are both the witness and the concerned.
Feeling the gaze of those who are alive and had lived before us past behind our back.

Turning the page, trying recall words uttered in the land.

Eluding all verses and words, “that which you and I and all pursuing ever ever miss,” “The soul for it, and all the visible universe for it,/And heaven at last for it.”
Walt Whitman just pointed to “the little breathes of words.”
Emily Dickinson sang about a little bird, saying that “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” and that it “never stops” and “never asked a crumb of me” in the storm, “in the chilliest land,” and “on the strangest Sea.”
Are these words, this little bird, still alive? After more than hundred years, in the same expanse of land, the two are written using the same words, one loudly and the other softly.
These words and this little bird are perhaps things that have been felt and passed down since a long, long time ago and have unexpectedly manifested themselves. How significant is the history of these words and the little bird?
Are there dictionaries explaining it?

Writing it down because we forget and cannot memorize some things.
Some things are only recorded and are not referred to and are simply collected.
Some things between lines that are read in depth are sometimes not even imagined.
One might write, just to write it down, or because of the need to write, the body’s sensation, needing to write.
Perhaps, words can do this because
if this isn’t done, only empty shells would be left.

There are faces that are obsessed with and follow figures.
There are faces, expressions and looks, that are obsessed with figures and that drop out of the world of numbers.
They are obsessed with figures but forgetful. Swearwords and sneers flow out of their mouths.

Coming into view are the gaze of people
casted in an unknown town, the cringed skin of those who drew back when looked at dubiously, an umbrella that was offered, permeating nonchalant manners.
it becomes natural for friends and cats to have the time when and the place where they can close their eyes, slowly without restraints,
if such time and place can be dreamed of.

Poetry is a sojourn, a place to stop and think, circulating thoughts. Circulating. Poetry is about stopping while moving around where you stand. If a blank space, a period, a comma, or a new line is not an opportunity to wait and jump…
what is it?

Removing my headphones and let my eardrums beat to what reaches the ear.
The body is a musical instrument, playing a piece of music called life.
Each person’s sound and music vary, depending on the temperature humidity, and the instrument of their choice.
So I wait, thinking what will reach the ears and beat the eardrums, what will or will not resonate.

Jun-ichi Konuma
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Professor Jun-ichi Konuma was born in Tokyo in 1959. He writes critiques to analyze the relationships between sound, literature and film with a focus on music. Currently, he is a professor at the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences at Waseda University. He is also a poet and music and literary critic. His writings include Toru Takemitsu: Sounds, Words, and Imagery, Bacharach, Legrand, and Jobim: Gifts from Adorable Musicians, Minimal Music: Its Development and Thinking, The Fascinated Body: Colin McPhee, a Traveling Musician and His Age, Ears for Movies, A Reintroduction to Orchestras, and Listening Nature in Music. Collections of his poetry include Happiness and Cyd Charisse in Saigon. Books edited and written by him include An Anthology of Essays by Toru Takemitsu, An Anthology of Dialogues with Yuji Takahashi, An Anthology of Writings by John Cage, and A Collection of Minao Shibata’s Writings. He has appeared as a guest instructor in the NHK Educational TV program “‘Scholar’ Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Music School.”