STUDY (& Other Poems on Art) by Yuko Otomo — review by Mark McCawley

STUDY (& Other Poems on Art)

by Yuko Otomo


review by Mark McCawley

STUDY by Yuko OtomoSTUDY (& Other Poems on Art)
by Yuko Otomo (Author)
Ugly Duckling Presse (15 Nov 2013)
ISBN-10: 193702718X
ISBN-13: 978-1937027186
$18.00 US pbk | $18.00 CAN pbk | £15.72 UK pbk
288 pages, 5″ x 8″, Poetry

“tight-roping on memory & myth
I am an acrobat
who never learns how to make a balance
this will be my first scream
if I ever fall
this will be my last scream
if I ever fly away”

~Yuko Otomo, “Cornell Box #1 Untitled (Hotel Des Voyageurs), p.71
Published by Ugly Duckling Presse — a nonprofit collective publishing new poetry, translations, performance texts, lost works and artist books and located in The Old American Can Factory (Gowanus, Brooklyn) — the poems in STUDY are the result of Otomo’s “double” identity as both visual artist and poet/writer. The book collects “happy mergings in the form of poems for & about art & artists.” (Otomo, p.14) Since moving to New York City in 1979, as Otomo states in the book’s preface: “I have been blessed by an abundance of “live” art viewing and friendships with artists the city has provided.” (Otomo, p.15) Subjects include Giotto, Michelangelo, Picasso, Kandinsky, Max Beckmann, Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly, Robert Frank, Ray Johnson, Bruce Nauman, James Castle, and Horace Pippin, along with lesser-known artist friends of Otomo including Hughes, Silv, O’Hara, and more.
Consisting of two parts — Part I: Poem Cycles, and Part II: Rolled Up & Unframed/ Miscellaneous Poems on Art — the majority of Otomo’s poems in STUDY were written in her adopted language, English, while some were composed in Japanese then later translated into English. As Otomo puts it: “Writing in an adopted language is like digesting things with a different DNA filter” (Otomo, p.15):

“…Japanese allows one to have a much less rigid, almost irrational liberty & abstraction, the strict sense of tense, particles & singularity/plurality that govern English is always a challenge…”

(Otomo, STUDY, p.15)

Indeed, it is Otomo’s “different DNA filter”, her unique qualities as an exophonic writer, which allow her particularly subjective ekphrastic poems to transcend the vapid, stale, and cliched sinkholes into which so many art-inspired poems fall. Otomo’s poems capture art as it is lived, not as it is studied: “you walk in/not just to stand in the room/but to see something.” (Otomo, “Parallelogram (1970)”, p.93)
In her poem, “Study 5: Space & Boundary”, Otomo not only transports you into the poem as viewer, yet in doing so, transcends both the physical and the ethereal:
There is no boundary
In Space
But there is
A boundary
In the space
You face
Four corners
Are not the end
But the beginning
Of something bigger
Even deeper
So stop facing
The space
Become it
~Yuko Otomo, “Study 5: Space & Boundary”, p.23
An autodidact, Otomo “did not go through/so-called “academic” institutions/to study art…/”an outsider-artist; a self-taught visionary;/intuitive; naive; art-brut & mad”. (Otomo, “Categorization”, p.230) For three decades, Otomo has combined an intriguing confluence of time, place, people, and poetry in her explorations in and out of New York City galleries, museums, friends’ studios — initially in limited edition chapbooks — then gathered as a unified document in STUDY. Absolutely necessary reading.

Copyright © Donald Martineaw-Vega, 2016

Copyright © Donald Martineaw-Vega, 2016

Japanese origin. A visual artist & a bilingual (Japanese & English) writer. She writes poetry, haiku, art criticism, travelogues & essays. She has read at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s, Tribes Gallery, Bowery Poetry Club, ABC No Rio, Brecht Forum, The Queens Museum, MoMA, PS1, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Issue Project Room, the Stone, CUNY Graduate Ctr., The Shed Space, Smack Melon, Storefront Art & Architecture, etc in NYC & in France, Germany & Japan. Her work has been published in various magazines & literary publications such as 6X6, Long Shot, Tribes Magazine, Downtown Anthology, The Unbearable Anthologies, Boog City, The Otter, etc. Her publications include “Small Poems” (Ugly Duckling Presse), “The Hand of the Poet” (UDP), “Garden: a selected Haiku” (Beehive Press, later reissued by Sisyphus Press), “PINK” (Sisyphus Press), “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of Museum” (Sisyphus Press, later reissued by Propaganda Press), etc. Her latest books are “STUDY & other poems on art” (UDP) & “Elements” (the Feral Press). Her poem “Con Amore” was nominated for 2015 Pushcart Prize. As for visual art, she did a wall drawing installation: Shuffled II (in Black, White & Red) for the 20th Vision Festival in the Judson Memorial Church, NYC, most recently. She regularly writes for a critical writing forum: Arteidolia (

Posted on by urbangraffito Posted in Books, Review

Comments are closed.