Tokyo is one of those towns that has room for everything—even literature, even in english. A good many writers from Britain, Canada, the U.S. and other english-speaking countries live and work in the city and they form, as expats often do, a close-knit school. Faces in the Crowds, a new anthology from Printed Matter Press, gives us a glimpse of the school and its main exponents: the poets who read at What the Dickens British pub, the Tokyo Writers’ Group, the English teachers at the Temple University, and miscellaneous other writers who live in Tokyo or its environs. Editor Hillel Wright says he chose the title Faces in the Crowds because “whenever I think of Tokyo, I think of crowds.” There are certainly some memorable faces in this crowd, but the real triumph of the book is the sum of its parts, its multi-faceted portrait of the Tokyo writers themselves: young, irreverent, and sardonic, living on the shifting borders where East meets West.
Some highlights ... In “Franks Floating World”, Richard Russell describes Bangkok, with its crowds, girls, and power outages. Whistling Shade contributor Jesse Glass has several poems, one of them a beautiful piece about a 1942 photo that caught a suicide falling in mid air from a building in Buffalo. Kevin Dobbs’ poem “To Sacrifice a Bavarian Roadster” thumbs its nose at Western civilization, while Japanese society is ridiculed in David Cozy’s story “Statues of Liberty”. Barbara Summerhawk’s tale “The Calendar” is perhaps the most Japanese in style, using the image of a horse racing calendar and caged bird to represent the two divergent life-styles of the main characters. Some of the best pieces in the anthology are actually non-fiction, such as Tony Skevington’s “Letter from Japan”, about Japanese funeral practices, and Hirohisa Tajima’s “Untitled Personal Essay”. In the essay Tajima describes how his father had been training as a kamikaze pilot near the end of World War II; he lived only because the Hiroshima bomb stopped the war. “Owing to this, I was given my life. Thinking about the war, I often have a mixed, complex and somewhat paradoxical feeling.” Somewhat paradoxical—now that’s what I call understatement!
Faces in the Crowds boasts very few, if any, well known writers, and for some this will doubtless be the highlight of their writing career. Yet the anthology as a whole is more satisfying than a Norton or Oxford collection. It’s not just a survey of bright stars taken from various places and times, but a natural constellation of writers. Or, to change metaphors, Faces in the Crowds is like a wild, friendly block party—it ain’t a black tie bash at the governor’s mansion, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun.
- Joel Van Valin