Tokyo Life Trends & Culture - February 20th, 2005
tokyoweekender_Joe Zanghi and Alleen Fedullo

Have you got a creative talent lurking within? Ian Priestley visits Spoken Word to meet Tokyo’s poetic types.

A VIDEO broadcast from the Pink Rhinoceros Party, an unaccompanied solo from a Russian singer, a Japanese Bob Dylan, and a range of poetry recitals from some of Tokyo’s leading bards — it’s all in the mix at Spoken Word, a monthly event at the What The Dickens pub in Ebisu.

Although Spoken Word has been going for a few years, a recent tie up with Tokyo publishing company Printed Matter Press and the launch of a new website featuring some of the live performances has brought the event out of hiding.

It seems to have brought in the crowds, too — leading Joe Zanghi of Printed Matter Press to talk of the event in terms of “happenings.” Not bad for a sleepy Sunday afternoon at a British pub in Tokyo, where spoken word performances are usually restricted to the groans of hangovers.

Spoken Word is an open mic event, which means that anyone is welcome to put their name down and have a go. Surprisingly — given the nature of the event — the quality of the performances and the material is impressive. The afternoon attracts published as well as unpublished writers, including first time performers.

Ex-Spoken Word MC and storyteller Michael Bishop sums up why he feels spoken event performances are growing in popularity, not only in Tokyo but worldwide. “As communication is becoming increasingly processed and packaged, live performance is growing as a reaction against that. People want to feel the raw, unprocessed energy of someone performing live. It’s very powerful,” he says.

The events are recorded and some of the performances can be relived on the Printed Matter Press website. The site has become something of a rallying point for Tokyo based writers, with a group of regular bloggers posting new poems, prose and photographs. Visitors to the site can comment on the works and also add their opinions to discussion forums. There is also a community blog site enabling visitors to post their own work.

Although the website has only been running since September 2004, Printed Matter Press has existed in Tokyo for a number of years, in a variety of guises. It has published a range of books by Tokyo based writers, including the short stories of Tokyo legend Donald Ritchie, Views from the Chuo Line. Recently published titles include Night Moves by the late, great Tokyo poet Edgar Henry; Green tea to Go, by Leza Lowitz, as well as an anthology of writers from Tokyo-based poetry recitals, Voices in the Crowds.

Ian Priestley met with Joe Zanghi and Aileen Fedullo of Printed Matter Press to talk about the website and the spoken word events.

WEEKENDER: How many visitors do you get to the site?
In November, we celebrated 100,000 clicks. We are proud of this, given that we have no advertising and the spread of this site is all word of mouth. We are averaging over 150 people visiting per day. The number has been steadily growing since our start in September.

Why was the site started?
There is a talented group of artists and writers in Tokyo that need a venue. The PMP site serves as a forum for them to have their works read and to form a kind of community site to go to.

With the PMP site we really want to build community. Not only for foreigners in Japan but for people throughout the world to know what we are doing here.

We are separated but through community we feel less remote, we believe in building community.  We hope people will read and get some kind of connection.

Also we are trying to circumvent the distant and dismal distribution channels for literary works. There are many talented writers who remain unheard and unread because they have no shelf space, or are lost among the piles of other unknown names.

You have live recordings from the Spoken Word events on the website. Tell me more.
PMP is more than just a website, we are live, and hearing the poem in the writer’s voice gives a whole new layer of understanding. You are there in the moment with the poem. A great part of the energy of the site comes from the open mic performances at What the Dickens. We hope to turn that day into a monthly literary event. It’s so varied and entertaining. There are all kinds of performances.

Anything else in the pipeline?
Yes. Many projects. Aileen is working on a book of poetry, Chris Blasdel’s The Single Tone comes out this year as does Leza Lowitz’s book, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, and we have three other works in progress.

We are also going to build up the website. We want people to not only read, but also comment. We want to get more active discussion groups going.

We feel we have a unique offering on the internet. We are putting our hearts into making it into a strong community. A place you not only want to visit but one that engages your heart and mind.

Blogging is a word bandied around a lot these days. What can it offer people?
It’s interactive, something to say versus nothing to say. We encourage people to comment as well as read. We tell them about events and encourage them to come and join us in performances. It’s becoming a community through the sharing of ideas.

Info: www.printedmatterpress.com. The Spoken Word is on the 1st Sunday of every month, from 4-7pm, at What the Dickens, Room 6 Building 4th Floor, 1-13-3 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya ku.