THE JAPAN TIMES, Sunday, July 13, 2003, Tokyo, Japan
If at first glance this might sound like a new form of feminist poetry, think again. Alan Botsford Saitoh, who lives in Kamakura and teaches at Kanto Gakuin University, is a wizard with language and turns rhyme on its head.
Like the Dadaists his title borrows and departs from, Saitoh throws out convention to create a new art. But it's not just clever language, it's a revitalization of old forms. Picking up snippets of overused idiom, conversation, shopworn slogans and haggard phrasing, he breathes new life into words by the sheer brilliance of his constructions.
Words ricochet off one another, as Saitoh runs rings around most poets of his generation with this new manifesto, consciously or unconsciously embracing the feminine principle of receptivity and nonlinear thought. The poems speak for themselves, like this extract from the brilliant "Nothing."
-- Leza Lowitz
The first poem, daringly called "Nothing," opens combatively: "I have nothing to say for myself./ I believe in nothing..." It then continues for fifty-nine lines of verbal slapstick, handing the reader all the takes on "nothing" that constitute our routine responses to humdrum life. When all aspects of "nothing" seem to be explored, the last five lines take a turn that will astonish anyone whose mind is alert to the spiritual dimensions of the language of Being, whether that person's connection to it is Buddhist, Hindu or the mystical expressions of Christian, Judaic or Islamic traditions. There is even room for the purely secular impulse. Clearly to do this is a major achievement.
The arrangement of the twenty-eight poems offers a glimpse of the poet's experiences that formed mamaist language. In the second poem the reader meets "the poet after being called to his vocation." From there one follows along through various conditions and situations that the poet confronts as he lives his world and learns its language. The poem which, for this reader, contains the most hilarious confrontation of all, is the story of "U and I" who skate along on the absurdity of language as it bends, or is bent, to reveal the meaning of words in a reality not normally seen.
Two years ago, on the basis of these poems as published in journals, Botsford Saitoh, who lives in Kamakura and teaches at Kanto Gakuin University, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. This first book is, I believe, an important beginning for an important writer. The distinctive quality of voice and the content of his work possesses a moral tone that revels in the birth of words and meaning. One would do well to heed the first line of "Dadirdydebil": "Now reader, hold fast-you're in for a crude awakening!"
Perhaps this is what we need now, an Awakening that is fun. This is a most exciting book, humorous, revealing, and profoundly serious.
Last time I saw Alan was about twelve years ago at the group that now calls itself the Tokyo Writers Workshop. He read a poem called "Nothing" and I immediately wanted to publish it in the litmag I was doing at the time, Edge. Alan, who was nominated for a 2001 Pushcart Prize for poetry, calls the type of verse he writes not Dadaist, but mamaist. And now he's got a whole book of the stuff just out entitled, appropriately, mamaist: learning a new language. This is creative wordplay at its best, and there's a lot more beneath the surface than first appears. Sample lines from "Nothing": ﾒI have nothing to say for myself. / I believe in nothing. / That's why I always have nothing on my mind." Nihilism or Zen? Sartre or Suzuki? Or nothing?
-- Richard Evanoff
FROM THE MARROW #49, BoneWorld Publishing, January 2004, Russell, New York
-- John Berbrich
One of the characteristics I first noticed about the author's writing style was that he liked to use words in repetition. But this is done in a tasteful manner which made reading the poems enjoyable rather than palled. The repetition of words and the way they are placed within the sentences also seems to give the author a personal tone. The reader would not feel distanced from what is going on within the poem. Saitoh's first poem entitled "nothing" exemplifies the repetition of words by using "nothing" numerous times throughout the poem.
....In addition to using the word "nothing" in abundance, he astounds the reader by using it two times in the same sentence to express the broadness of the term. "Nothing" is a noun that results when "something," another noun, is taken away from a person. In reading this, the reader would first think that "nothing" is to be interpreted as a negative noun, but by the end of the poem, we see that the author's views have changed somehow, by "nothing." Sounds confusing right? The author's perspective changes at the very end. Depending on whether you interpret the last three lines in or out of context, the reader will find either a man who is content and fine gaining nothing, or a man who has lost everything and is left with nothing....
Another example of the repetition of words is in the poem "a mamaist story of U and I." In Saitoh's poem, we read about what is believed to be the author's feelings about a female. The author feels that this person has altered his life for the better. The word structure within the poem is not grammatically correct, and would sound better with names placed in the spaces that "U" and "I" occupy:
The author's grammar in this poem isn't correct but gives the poem a distinguished voice. It appears raw in grammar, but the emotions contained within go above grammar to the basic understanding of companionship. The evidence that proves this statement is true, is contained within the following lines:
The author specifically states that there is a language barrier between them, but still they manage to maintain a relationship despite these differences and difficulties.
Another characteristic that is found in Saitoh's writing style is the theme of international relations. The poem entitled "a mamaist citizenship" is a good example....
The last characteristic that the author uses as a writing tool is his use of made-up words. An example of this can be pulled from the title itself, "mamaist: learning a new language." The title itself prepares the reader for what lurks within the pages of Saitoh's book. It is confusion that reigns among the various poems' titles containing the word "mamaist," that drives the reader crazy because the reader must define the term "mamaist" for himself. What is a "mamaist," as defined by the author? Saitoh attempts to define what a mamaist is, by the random actions taking place within the poems. But these actions are ambiguous and random, so no clear-cut definition can be made by these titles alone. There are eighteen of his poems that seek to define "mamaist" by using them within their lines. But in using them in his titles, "mamaist" appears nothing more than an adjective. It has no clear definition, for how can you define a "mamaist," with titles like "a mamaist vehicle"? What type of vehicle is this, and how does a mamaist operate it?
The poem that gives the closest definition to understanding what a "mamaist" is comes from the poem "a mamaist's ten-most wanted". The list of terms, numbering ten, consist of made-up words that would make sense if the reader understands the suffixes of the words. Words like "cosmosis," "martyrealize," and "resourcerer" fill the list. These words all sound like they could possibly be forgotten words in a dictionary, but alas, they have no definitions. In looking at the word "cosmosis," one would think of everything in the universe being in harmony because it is all blended together. With the words being of no help, the term "mamaist" still leaves the reader dumbfounded by its lack of clarity, but mesmerized by the content presented.
I would recommend this book to those who wish to read poetry of a different sort. This poetry does not follow the usual pattern or style of poems, nor does its content...
Alan Botsford 氏は、ポスト-モダン詩人の立場から今日的な視点で過去の偉大な詩人の業績を再評価しつつ、新たな「格付け」（混沌に意味を与えるという詩人の特権）作業に果敢に挑み、丁寧に、そして微笑ましいほどに、これらの詩集をとおして、詩作しています。