Naoko Fujimoto: Reprise

Naoko’s graphic poems kept appearing in my facebook newsfeed and I got curious about what was happening over there in her world since our last interview (which took place four years ago…has it really been that long?!). Here is an up-to-date interview with graphic poet Naoko Fujimoto. You can find more of her work on her blog and instagram account: @graphic.poetry.trans.sensory.

What do you write? 

I am currently translating my poems into graphic poems. My project is called Graphic Poetry = Trans. Sensory. My entire collection will be published by Tupelo Press in the near future under the title “Glyph: Graphic Poetry = Trans. Sensory”. I am currently finishing up some of my works. My progress can be seen in my Homepage, Blog, or Instagram.

Recently, I published five graphic poems in Tupelo Quarterly Issue 13. 

Can you share a little about your project process?

“Trans.” has two meanings, which are Translate and Transport. I translate my poems into words and images to create a contemporary picture scroll. The picture scroll in Japanese is Emaki (eh-MA-kee), and the art has been a popular and well-known style since the 6th century. Emaki is a collaboration of words and art and it is akin to a current graphic novel / poetry / comic.

With the visual experience, I also want my readers 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.

Here is “Dividing” from Tupelo Quarterly Issue 13. The original poem’s title was “As of Late”, which was originally published in Hotel Amerika (Columbia College Chicago). The poem is a fictional piece about current nuclear situations tied up with my grandfather’s experience in Hiroshima and emotions by a soon-to-be mother.

22 Dividing


On October 9th, 2009, President Barack Obama made a speech at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony. I adapted parts of his speech into my first stanza. Modern people and their descendants still have concerns about the elimination of nuclear weapons, even though they know and learn about atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and watch documentaries about nuclear disasters. Even with his speech’s peaceful optimism, I felt chilled and deeply concerned about our future children.

The following summer was the last summer that I spent with my grandfather. He was usually very quiet due to his health issues. However, one summer day, he suddenly told me his experience helping a pregnant woman near Hiroshima when he served in the navy.





    Some of the work confronting us

    will not be completed during my presidency…


I told you during the speech,

I am five days late.


    Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons,

    may not be completed in my lifetime…


I can no longer remember that I wanted to bear a child.



My grandfather met a pregnant woman, summer 1945.


She held an empty bottle and a little red kimono  

    and she sat down by a grey wall.


He gave her water


    and kept walking to the hill near Hiroshima

    and then bullets rained


    and the atomic bomb…



He found the woman again

with a shred of the red cloth.


Her bowels

    and placenta were spread


under the wall; in the ditch.


He did not find her unborn child but he smelled it.



After rain and rain, the moon

threw down a little blue light.


    How beautiful the spring of 1946 was;


dandelions and clovers covered the wall

    and nobody could remember


there were the two corpses underneath it.  



While I am listening to the speech,


millions of cells are dividing

in bubbles of amniotic fluid;


a little heart pumps in my womb.


    And you ask,

“Do we give it a Japanese or American name?”


I don’t know…

but I will stroke its forehead every night


humming an old lullaby.


In this graphic poem, “Dividing”, I added personal memories with my grandfather. The base paper (Washi-paper) is from Takayama, where I used to spend a lot of time with my family in the summer. It is a beautiful hot-spring town, you should visit! Readers can also see colors –  almost like pika-boo in a way – represented as dividing cells. They are made from mine and my grandfather’s favorite Japanese snacks and candy wrappers.


Who are the writers you return to for inspiration?

Right now, I really like Anselm Kiefer who is a German painter and sculptor. I like visiting his pieces. My hometown, Nagoya, owns one of his pieces too. If I have the chance to meet him, I would like to thank him for inspiring much of my graphic poetry.

I love reading Robin Coste Lewis’ “Voyage of the Sable Venus”. She personally handed her book to me and critiqued my poems to be tight in structure, but reminded me to forget about grammar and rules from time to time to experiment freely. After I had a workshop with her, I could not stop crying – like I finally found a way to keep moving forward.


So tell us more about being what you do for a living now. 

I am just started working with Catherine-Esther Cowie, a well-fed artist movement. There are currently many talented artists, writers, and poets who are struggling to make a living. Therefore, with her marketing and my sales experiences, we would like to support them to be more financially independent. I would love to share more details. Stay tuned!

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