My first full-length book, "Where I Was Born", will be available from Willow Books. If you would like to own a copy, please pre-order. The discount code for the store is BORN (you will save about $2). Thank you very much for supporting my poetry and art.
Dara Elerath, MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts
What does it mean when death is so present in the landscape of life that one’s mind moves swiftly from the passing of a great-grandparent to the smell of the neighbor’s grilled food and thoughts of hunger? What does it mean when loss is so integral to life that one pauses to think of a lover or licks tangerine juice from one’s fingertips while comforting an ailing family member? Fujimoto’s book engages these questions as she takes us through a landscape of continual loss. The loss of one culture for another, the loss of sanity and health brought on by illness and war, and the loss of illusions and passions that come when the outer facts of life do not join up with inner longings. In her delicate and unassuming style, Fujimoto records the small, daily moments of family life, wherein so much pain is born out of so much love. Her playful, emotionally keen and contemplative book “Where I Was Born” is one to be read and held close to the heart.
Linda Dove, Author of This Too, O Dear Deer, and In Defense of Objects
Naoko Fujimoto’s sensuous poems in Where I Was Born speak to the “Death of little things,” the griefs that accumulate inside families, across ordinary days, in the course of living regular lives. Thus the title points not only to a place, but to a condition, one in which the speaker must learn to accommodate loss—of birth country, of parents and grandparents, of unborn children, of time and opportunities, of dreams, of body parts, of voices, of names, of maps, and of the trail of breadcrumbs that might lead us out of the woods. In these brillliant and often-clipped lines, the world is unreal and unreliable: “There is / an extra season of endless fields. / The postcard fell from the refrigerator.” The poet invites questions, searching for some sort of definite knowledge: “Did someone jump? . . . . Will I go to war? . . . . Can you sleep with Grandfather’s bones? . . . . Wanna die? . . . . ‘Keep digging for what?’ . . . . What did you expect?” Yet this speaker does not give up on the world, even when the answers are distant and hard to see: “I squinted my eyes / as a satellite would look for new life.” This is a beautiful and necessary book.
Angela Narciso Torres, author of Blood Orange
“I squinted my eyes as a satellite would look for new life,” says the speaker in Where I Was Born, Naoko Fujimoto’s disarmingly honest first full-length poetry collection. Indeed, the poet leaves no stone unturned. In this sumptuous sensory feast, Fujimoto trains one observant eye on family—examining losses and loves that resonate with each of us, even as they remain uniquely her own—while keeping another watchful eye on history’s long shadow across generations. Hiroshima, the marble from a Ramune soda bottle, and a grandmother’s Japanese calligraphy collide with Lake Michigan, Dove soap, and a couple’s first apartment in Lawrenceville, Illinois—alchemizing a global poetry that is as riveting, musical, and iridescent as “the silver sheen of snails after June rain.”
Cover Art by Minami Kobayashi
I had a graphic poetry workshop at Woodbury University where students brought poems in text and then transformed them into graphic poems. David B. Newell wrote an article about my visit and project. Please visit: MORIA.
I am so happy to make an announcement that my graphic poetry exhibition is opened today at 2101 Arlington Heights Rd (sponsored by the Northwest Cultural Council). This place is close to Chicago O’Hara Airport, so if you have a chance to be around Chicago, please stop by.
In addition, I am beyond of thrilled that my audio project is available through my website.
Graphic Poetry Audio Project is an online exhibition, which is a collaboration with my graphic poems and recordings by modern leading writers, poets, and artists. Contributors are Alessandra Simmons, Angela Narciso Torres, Brenna Lemieux, Crystal Simone, Faisal Mohyuddin, Fred and Pearl Sasaki, Gabrielle Bates, Heather Buchanan, Jacob Saenz, Jeffrey Levine, John McCarthy, and Kelcey Parker Ervick.
When I listened to their audio, my soul is so energetically shook and I became very emotional. I am just thankful that they believed in my works and spent time for recordings. If you have time, please visit the website and enjoy listening to their beautiful voices.
I am currently working on my online audio project, which will be released on January 19, 2019 along with my graphic poetry exhibition at the Arlington Green Executive Centre (supported by the Northwest Cultural Council).
Graphic poems are enjoyable themselves; however, it may be more interesting when the audience has accesses to more sensory input. So, I asked ten established poets who I respect and love their artistic styles to record my original poems.
Gabrielle Bates responded first (she recently published her poem in the New Yorker) and read “Dividing” for me. When I heard her recording, I was chilled—about ten years ago, I just started writing poems in my second language and many people (including myself) did not know that it was an achievable idea. But now, a leading poet like Gabrielle is supporting my project. I literally rolled on the floor like a happy cat. (though my cat scoffed at my technique)
I will post all ten poets and writers shortly. I am so excited to share the recordings and graphic poems through my website. I am just thankful that I have a chance to pave a poetic path with them.
This year was another amazing year! I am so thankful that so many people have been supporting me and my projects.
This Spring, my third chapbook, “Mother Said, I Want Your Pain”, was published by Backbone Press. I believe that this is one of my strongest collections. While I like all my chapbooks, I think I have a better understanding of my strengths than before, like crafting/composing words, tempo of the works, theme, and most importantly, my writing becomes freer as I let go of my fear of writing in correct American-English grammar. I am not saying that grammar is not important, but my grammar-first mindset has slightly changed. I am still learning and want to progress my poetic skills; thought, I may start finding my own entrance to writing in my own language.
Backbone Press just lunched their broadsides brand. My poem, “Dividing”, was selected and created into a broadside by them. There are four custom broadsides, original poems by Nikki Giovanni, Malcolm Friend, Kassidi Jones, and me. I personally like “Sleep Cycle” by Kassidi.
Also, my full-length manuscript, “Where I Was Born”, was accepted by Willow Books. I recently selected my cover-art, which is painted by Minami Kobayashi. She is a Japanese artist who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Tokyo University of the Arts.
I met Minami through her exhibition in Chicago and I am so happy to get to know her. The cover-art is painted with water colors. I adore the yellow flowers because my name in Kanji means a yellow flower. Though, I think that her most significant color is green. Her somewhat transparent, light pure green hues seems to cleanse my mind. She is going to have her exhibition on January 13, 2019 at Goldfinch Project Chicago.
In the Kenyon Review, “Low Orbit” will be published next year. I have been writing in a space/universe theme after I had an infestation of ants from the Los Angeles Book Fair. (I tended our RHINO Poetry booth and their table cloths somehow became the ants’ new home.) So, I started studying ants, mainly how to get rid of them, and ended up writing the space theme. “Spaceflight Sonata Vol.1 and 2” will be in the Seattle Review. These poems are fourteen pages total, and I am so happy that the editors appreciated my compositions. Please enjoy reading my poems in their upcoming issues.
I also had a lecture for the Northwest Cultural Council. The organization invites poets for their monthly workshops. This is open to the public, and Lois Baer Barr will be leading it in December.
Finally, I am going to have a new graphic poetry exhibition next year. I am so thankful that this is my fourth exhibition. My previous exhibitions were at Woman Made Gallery (Chicago), Kafein (Evanston), and LangLab (South Bend). I would like to share my dream, which is to show my graphic poems through an online audio system. I am working on it right now, so wish me luck and please visit my show next year!
January 19 - April 6
Graphic Poetry Exhibition
Northwest Community Healthcare Medical Center
2101 Arlington Heights Rd.
Laura Madeline Wiseman, thank you very much for this wonderful interview opportunity! I was HAPPY to share my thoughts about chapbooks. In my interview, I mentioned RHINO Poetry & Review, Educe Press, Glass Lyre Press, Backbone Press, Tupero Press, and Indiana University South Bend. And I respectfully talked about you, Igor Zelenov, Crystal Simone Smith, Jeffrey Levine, Linda Dove, Faisal Mohyuddin, Nina Li Coomes, and Kirsten Miles. Photo credit: Gail Goepfert. Snapshot: Olivia Todd. Please read the interview!
RHINO Reviews Issue No. 2 is live! Check out spectacular new reviews of Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Khadijah Queen, Mary Jo Bang, Chris Santiago, Linda Dove, Joan Colby, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and The Gulistan as reviewed by Luisa A. Igloria, Chloe Martinez, Allan Johnston, David O'Connor, Naoko Fujimoto, Robbi Nester, and Anthony Madrid. Follow this LINK.
How do I choose materials for graphic poems?
It is important to know why, or have a reason for choosing a material. Art and poetry should have creative freedom (art should be an explosion of creativity); however, I believe that they should be meaningful and explainable. And it should support its own theme and project. The smoothness or roughness of a particular fabric may change they way you present certain emotions with it. The same with everything from paint type, brush tips, pencils, plastics, photos, pictures, and anything else you use in the creation process.
If you would like to find out more about graphic poetry, please visit my website.
What is stories behind of this graphic poetry?
Gerhard Richter (1932 – current) is a German artist, and he studies new meanings and relationships between photographs and paintings. He paints a portrait with oil paintings as if he uses an Instagram smudge filter. He has various technics such as overpainted photographs (he paints oil over a snapshot photo). When I saw his art, I felt the similar esthetic of interpretations between traditional poetry and graphic poetry. And I wanted to adapt his technique into “I Eat Pig Ears in Cebu”.
“I Eat Pig Ears in Cebu” is a based on my experience in Cebu, the Philippines when I volunteer worked for an elementary school where some of Leprosy descendent attended. As if Richter used a squeegee to scrape the paint to create blurring particular parts of his work, I used peeler objects to scrape a social problem, which the young girl who grown up in the village still had a strong stereotype discrimination against Leprosy. Because of this discrimination, the village has been isolated from better education and quality of life.
These colorful strips represent “an imaginary rainbow” that the girl made with random plastic pieces/trash in the poem, and she may know that it may be very difficult to get out from her community. The childhood-memory-like, stick-figure drawing camouflages; perhaps, blurs this harsh reality.
These strips are majorly made of four papers, (Angela Narciso Torres’ book cover, her original idea of a cover art by her son, my handmade birthday card to Angela, and origami papers). I used these papers because Angela is originally from the Philippines and we often talk about Filipino history and culture. Her book, “Blood Orange”, is full of ordinary Filipino family life. I made a large piece of the stick-figure drawing and dedicated half of it to the graphic poem, and the other half to a birthday card for her. I had one of my best birthdays when I stayed in the village. The Filipino people were so kind to me, so I tied this memory to the graphic poem and the birthday card to Angela.
Please visit my homepage for more information of graphic poetry.
My newest poetry chapbook was released! Please order your copy from Backbone Press.
Janine Joseph , Judge of the 2018 contest
Of the collection, Janine Joseph writes:“I do not know/ if I am even right to be a mother at a right time,” discloses the speaker in the opening poem of Mother Said, “I Want Your Pain.” Evocative and startling in their unflinching clarity of image, these poems are inheritors of the aftermath of nuclear fallout and chemical warfare. They are tuned to the movement of transgenerational traumas. Grandmothers who “hid in a ditch with three horses” while B-29s shot bullets overhead, leave relatives who later ask of our bequeathed earth, “Is the land poisoned or not poisoned?” Here is a striking collection with a deft voice, poised even as it turns on or transcends an observation or emotion: “Grandfather watches TV on the highest volume,/ the howling-wind.”
Faisal Mohyuddin, author of The Displaced Children of Displaced Children
"What remains, in the aftermath of the horrors humans wreak upon other humans? According to Naoko Fujimoto’s brave, ambitious poems: so many kinds of heartache and grief and so many questions that elude answers, and also the ghosts of dead grandparents and unborn children haunting quiet afternoons spent among fields of wildflowers or along lonely lake beaches. Yet these poems remind the reader—especially the one who reads with heart wide, wide open—that pain, when shared with others, can root us deeper in our collective humanity, can guide us all toward compassion, empathy, perhaps even healing. “It chokes us without a sign, or smell—,” the poet writes, “as if a radioactive current swallowed, / hurting slowly inside / to ripen our bodies.” I so deeply admire the mother who says, “I want your pain,” so deeply admire, too, this poet who has found the words to both capture this pain and to transcend it with such hopefulness and beauty."
Silvia Bonila, author of An Animal Startled by the Mechanisms of Life
"In Naoko Fujimoto’s “Mother Said, I Want Your Pain”, there are rooms without doors nor windows. Time becomes ecstatic and intimate. The reader walks into these rooms allured by the un-adorned but skillful language, the spectral beauty of the imagery and the haunting narrative of emptiness. Voluntary exile and loss are found in passages like the kitchen was dyed empty green like a milk glass. Fujimoto’s heightened sensitivity and connection to nature enhances the physical times in the speaker’s personal history, as in / because there is no answer/ beetles roll/ ants dismantle/ unwrapped pacifiers/ ghost teeth bite my nipples."
Silver Seasons of Heartache - Poetry Chapbook - Published by Glass Lyre Press
This original manuscript was the finalist of the 2016 Sunken Garden Chapbook Poetry Award by Tupelo Press.
Matthew Thorburn, author of Dear Almost
In Silver Seasons of Heartache, Naoko Fujimoto walks a tightrope of language, making her way word by word across the chasm where hope can fall prey to heartbreak, the maybes and might-bes of life transformed into what simply (and complicatedly) is. She is a poet of heart and humor, of insight and image. In carefully crafted yet conversational lines, Fujimoto describes the complications of our modern lives, where “enough is never enough,” but where you also might still be lucky enough to stop and savor the moment when your “breath is quiet— / waiting to catch the last lightning bug.”
Nancy Botkin, author of Parts That Were Once Whole
Silver Seasons of Heartache is full of compelling poems that engage the senses as they navigate physical and emotional spaces: the kitchen, the family, the homeland, and the edges of this mysterious and precarious life. In “A Big Bowl of Beef Stew” she writes, “Past midnight, from the deepest forest, / a deer walked on weathered leaves.” These are lovely poems, and Fujimoto’s talent is the deep image.
I just realized that this art does not have a title...
My graphic poetry exhibition, "Star Fragment", at Kafein will close at the end of March. Thank you very much for supporting my event. I feel like opening night was so long ago!
After the exhibition, I am going to sell this nameless, favorite pastel drawing of mine. I designed this art for my first manuscript, "Radio Tower". It became a finalist for Kundiman's poetry competition. I was hoping to use it for cover art someday; however, that day never came.
Through the years, I learned a lot of things about creating manuscripts. "Radio Tower" was not published as a full-length collection, but the experience guided me to make "Where I Was Born", "Mother Said, I Want Your Pain", and "Glyph:Graphic Poetry=Trans. Sensory". I definitely would not have made it this far without "Radio Tower". So I think that I should finally give this art a title.
If you view this art closely, you will see a lot of elements like a radio tower, bridge, upside-down tree, spatula..., my favorite things to draw. The art itself is larger than my other pieces (23 x 33 inches), showcasing so many details to this story.
I think that this art signifies a limbo of sorts for my publishing dreams. I would like to name the art, "First Attempt".
Graphic Poetry Exhibition Star Fragment will close by the end of March. Thank you to people who came and those still planning to come.
Address: 1621 Chicago Ave. Evanston, IL. 60091
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 7:00AM-12:00AM, Sundays: 8:00AM-12:00AM
Art Currently for Sale!
Home, No Home - Poetry Chapbook - Published by Educe Press
The winner of the first annual Oro Fino Chapbook Competition
People happily live.... That is ideal; however, unwanted events happen-earthquakes, tsunamis, cancer, brain surgery, unfilled love, or not making monthly rent. Naoko Fujimoto, a Japanese poet, adapted these scenes into first-person narratives, in which ordinary people face these broken moments.
Diane Raptosh, Judge of the 2015 contest
"It is gritty and raw, earthy and spare, crafted superbly."
Serena Agusto-Cox, writer at Savvy Verse & Wit
"Naoko Fujimoto has deep silences that activate the reader’s mind, which turns each moment over and over to make sense of the devastation. From the deadly tsunami in Fukushima to more subtle moments of broken lives, Fujimoto takes on a first-person narrative in these literary poems to draw readers into that sadness, that loss, that emptiness, the silence to render grief alive."
Ryan Sanford Smith, MFA from the University of Notre Dame
"This is an immaculately crafted, emotionally devastating collection. There's so much elegant silence in these poems,but the carry a great deal of genuine heartbreak. The language is deft, the images are forceful and haunting. I cannot recommend this chapbook strongly enough."
Amazon Book Reviews
"A beautiful, small collection of poetry that cuts to the heart and head. Crisp style. Sharp language. Some of these poems sat with me for days" and "This is a stunning collection of poetry. Read the first poem "Seventeen Blue".
Trans. has two meanings - Translate & Transport
Naoko Fujimoto translates her poems (that are written in English on flat paper) into words and images to create a contemporary picture scroll. The picture scroll in Japanese is Emaki (eh-MA-kee) and the style has been popular since the 7-16th centuries in Japan. It is still a widely recognized art style in Japan and the rest of the world. Emaki is akin to a current graphic novel / poetry / comic. One of the most famous Emaki is the Tale of Genji, which is a fictional (perhaps gossip) story about a handsome son of the emperor.
The graphic poetry project is also meant for the viewer to transport their senses from the flat paper and bridge the gap between words and images that will connect with their physical counterparts. Like a historical Emaki, there are side stories hidden behind some of the main graphic narratives— be they comedic or serious— for audiences to interpret. All of the details (choice of words, origami paper, or styles) have a specific meaning to contribute to the whole.
Conception of graphic poetryIn June, 2016, Naoko Fujimoto decided to take a year off to be a full-time poet and artist. People around her asked why she was leaving a stable job, and if she was going to be a starving artist. She wanted to find out how far she can succeed as a poet and artist. After all, if she gets lost, she can just come back to what worked before.
During the year, she had opportunities to not only read books, but also explore and live with classic and contemporary works, such as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Tokugawa Museum, and Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. There, she revisited her idea of how she could create an effective melding of poetry and art; perhaps, words and images.
The following, entitled "The Duck's Smile", was her first attempt. She wrote an original poem for a project named, "Killing Sally McHill", which was a protest against common violence hidden around the house, school, office, and society. "The Duck's Smile" was specifically written about a hierarchy in a small community between the narrator and Sally. Her first graphic poem adapted a written poem into a graphic narrative. The poem started from the top left corner and progressed to the bottom right. It took a simple black and white art approach, but did not quite embody how she wanted it to be represented.
Graphic poetry is the melding of word and imageNaoko Fujimoto researched art works of inclusions of “word” and “image” such as László Moholy-Nagy, Hiroshige Utagawa, William Blake, Francisco Goya, and many other writers and artists. Then when she observed works by a German painter and sculptor, Anselm Kiefer, she understood that poetry must have explosions of creativity. Coincidentally, she had the chance to attend a workshop with Robin Coste Lewis, who critiqued the poems to be tight in structure, but reminded to forget about grammar and rules from time to time to experiment freely.
So she chose to adapt a traditional Japanese Emaki style (an illustrated narrative art). The original poem was carefully scattered specific phrases or implied images were selected, with the rest being ignored (like the poetry erasure technique). She traveled to find paper and objects, such as supermarket advertisements, birthday gift wrapping, postcards, origami, magazines, and other materials rich in color and texture. She wrote about relatable life conflicts, so using common objects in turn grounded her graphic poetry.
A closer look at the graphic poem "Radio Tower"
Run up to the hill,
I repeat it from the radio tower.
The tsunami slithers over the seaweed garden.
A child is held in its mother’s arms.
They are almost at the hill.
When the microphone slips from my hand,
clay seals my mouth. I hear
Wagner’s aria in my skull.
Clovers grow. Their dewdrops
glitter under the stardust. Promise me
home like bubbles in the sea,
like a sea gull,
like everyone else.
Compared to the original poem, words and phrases were selected with an erasure technique, some to be represented by visuals and others to be written out. The choice of words and images for the graphic poem is meant to engage the audience's senses. Viewers may draw emotions from triggered memories, and use them to stimulate further thinking of what those details mean.
All the details and choices of the composition, even the materials used, are carefully selected. For example, in "Radio Tower", the blue bubbles graphically portray the chaotic nature of a tsunami surrounding a woman. Some words are upside down like trembling waves. Empty buildings stand tall, but desiccated, on the Earth.
On the top right, there are people running away— some are underneath blue origami paper— these people were made from supermarket advertisements. They all ate healthy, used better products, or budgeted well for their family for when a crisis (or death) comes, yet some were consumed by the waves regardless. In the middle left is an upside-down Saint Mary, as even God-like figures cannot save them all. (Mary’s picture came from St. Paul’s Church in Antwerp, Belgium. This church supported the Kobe earthquake survivors in 1995.)
In graphic poetry, visual images can express narrative aspects beyond words. Clovers grow. Their dewdrops, she became like a plant, with roots growing into the universe, and her arms leaving the earth behind without her microphone. She is an invisible tree stretching and searching for her home.
Graphic Poetry = Trans. Sensory
Watch and listen to graphic poem, "Radio Tower"Enjoy watching her interview at Poetry Today with City of Highland Park PEG Access TV's Jennifer Dotson. She spoke about poetry, graphic poetry, RHINO, Tupelo Press, "Home, No Home," and herself (and her dress designed and made by her mother).
Homonym is a Berlin based online journal. The editor in chef, Carolina Moura, gave me a wonderful opportunity to promote my graphic poem with an .mp3 recording. Please enjoy viewing "The Pay Phone" and listing to its original poem. In the journal, I explain my process of graphic poetry as well.
Visit Homonym Journal Issue 2 (HERE)
One patient called her daughter every evening from a hospice’s pay phone and said, “I want to live. Talk to you tomorrow.” I could not ignore the image of a patient standing by a pay phone every day to share how much she wanted to live and spend the future with her loved ones. However, the patient’s voice did not go through easily after her many treatments, mirroring her family and friends’ fatigue over time.
My three graphic poems are in the Issue #2 Fall 2017.
Would you like to see more graphic poems?
My five graphic poems are in the new issue of Tupelo Quarterly.
Thank you very much for supporting my graphic poetry project!