:: Article

Red Leaves: Kirk Marshall

By David Hoenigman.


3:AM: Please tell us about Red Leaves / 紅葉.

Kirk Marshall: Red Leaves / 紅葉 proceeds as a creative channel through which I might facilitate a dialogue about the virtues of experimental or unconventional writing – prose and poetry which consciously and vocally circumnavigates the pro forma of most Australian cultural magazines. Red Leaves / 紅葉 is basically a representation of my personal dissidence with the country’s lack of opportunities for stylistically deconstructivist fiction and poetics, because its development prevails in parallel to the development of my own publishing history. Every time a short story – either of mine or a friend of mine – is meted out an unreasonable rejection due to its challenging content or voice, Red Leaves / 紅葉 works to encourage writers of similar pursuits to submit their material our way! We’re aware this writing exists because increasingly frequently it emerges within the context or limitations of a small press journal, or an international magazine, or weblogs and .pdf-document magazines. This is literature that excites the effluvium out of our eyeballs! Japan suffers, correspondingly, from the same literary elitism as Australia: the academics and commercially-synchronous writing communities in contemporary Japan exercise a monopoly on what is regarded as popular, viable literary publishing, and it’s only because of this that an underground movement of innovative raconteurs has surfaced, within the last few decades, into a seat of power amidst Japanese publishers and critics.

This may constitute an unsurprising assessment of the two nations’ militant approaches towards a robust book culture, but what both Australia and Japan evidently forget is the younger generations’ authority to determine what the new-century population should be reading. In contradistinction to this, the Australian and Japanese literary contingencies ask that we respect invalid forms of expression: if only 1,000 people are reading your publication, and that’s remained unaltered since the magazine’s genesis, then what you’re claiming is that a readership is an obstruction to certain traditions of writing rather than organic to it. Instead of catering to the greater demographic – even as Red Leaves / 紅葉 does so in an experimental way – these publications are content to advocate for a greater fidelity to outmoded methods of expression.

What I realised is that the most effective scheme to attract a broader readership was to appeal to overseas markets or models which are successful: people who read what I write tend to either be inhibited less by the unadventurous corporatisation of their immediate publishing circles, or be living overseas. If Australia and Japan both oppose transgressive writing, then let’s at least double my audience by tailoring a journal to the fringe communities of both societies to enhance the magazine’s capacity for success! This is where the bi-lingual focus became imperative to my concept for the journal: If I’m proposing an internationally inclined showcase of unusual writing, there needs to be a direct discourse between Australia and Japan.


3:AM: Are all of the contributors either Australian or Japanese?

KM: The ratio goes something like this: half of the contributors are Australian (some of whom are of Japanese ethnicity or origin), and the other half of creative content comprises primarily of Japanese writers, and then writers from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. From what I understand firsthand, especially in regularly corresponding with my co-editor, Yasuhiro, Japanese writers tend towards being an incurably taciturn breed – which means they’re basically either professionally wary of editorial solicitations and creative collaborations due to the insularity of the contemporary Japanese writing scene, or they’re motivated by factors external to the artistic enterprise itself. That observation might exude the stench of a mass generalisation, but the point I mean to make is that to cut to the heart of a Japanese writer requires an immediate transparency. With an independent annual like Red Leaves / 紅葉, I’m propelled into the position where I must approach Japanese writers and furnish a succinct case for the journal, whilst making it clear that monetary compensation – AUD$50 per submission – is small, and that our issue turnover time is long. You can understand that this can equate to a bit of a hard sell – particularly since we’re a new publication relying upon the auspice of local arts organisations, advertising revenue and my own bank balance to accommodate printing and distribution! The other logistical difficulty with this task should actually be summarily apparent: I’m an emerging writer, myself. My first short-story collection is being published in 2010, and I’ve generated a painfully vague, scarce Australian “readership” with my 2007 graphic novelette. This has afforded me a seat of uncommon scepticism among some Japanese writers I’ve contacted, but then others – such as Haruki Murakami, who professed a sincere over-involvement with his latest novel, 1Q84, when corresponded with – have responded with profound enthusiasm and curiosity. It all depends upon the individual, and their particular understanding of the project. Obviously, I hope to include more Japanese writers with each successive anthology, but I’m also obligated to cultivate the thing’s appeal for readers of Western prose. When I see a good magazine on the shelves or in the wire carousel, it contains writing by good writers: some of these might even be famous, rich, lauded or a cult of themselves. I want Red Leaves / 紅葉 to proceed the same way, bristling with work by the establishment and the emergentsia (my thanks to Melbourne’s own Aden Rolfe for this phrase). If subsequent issues showcase more of an international “brand”, that’s only dependent upon the quality of submissions. That remains the keystone of a good magazine.

3:AM: Please tell us about your relationship with your Japanese co-editor.

KM: After living in Tokyo and occupying my evenings exchanging heated intellectual debate about the significance of porno monster films with my screenwriter friend – Red Leaves / 紅葉 co-editor Yasuhiro Horiuchi – I alluded to a creative endeavour which would ensure I could read Yasuhiro’s work and he mine without the bitter acknowledgment that we both possessed marginal appreciation for the nuances of foreign languages (to this day, understanding one another remains somewhere in the extra-linguistic territory of pantomime and trial-by-enthusiasm). Ours had always simulated a re-envisioning of Forest Whitaker’s and the ice-cream vendor’s friendship in Ghost Dog (1999), which meant that the veracity of a journal like Red Leaves / 紅葉 seemed practically arousing, because there’s nothing more detonative or exhilarating than knowing that language can solve the most frustrating, lingering inconveniences that problematises your life.

My friendship with Yasuhiro strengthened as a consequence (interstice?) of my brief employ as a Visa-Sponsored English-language teacher in Tokyo, Japan, 2007, though I’d met him first in 2006 during a money-blundered trawl throughout the neon capital and exchanged one of the best conversations of my life discussing the sociological differences between our two nations (we hazarded that people were generally lazier in Australia and therefore in wont of money; people were in wont of leisure in Japan and pursued it by attaining money.) The second time we met, after introducing him to my partner, Liberty Browne – the graphic designer of my 2007 Aurealis Award-nominated graphic novelette, A Solution to Economic Depression in Little Tokyo, 1953 – Yasuhiro noted that the other incalculable discrepancy between Australia and Japan was that the English language affords writers greater opportunity, because Japanese literature is exclusively decipherable to, and therefore most commonly read by, Japanese readers alone. I could discern his point, for it wasn’t an obscure one: but there was an accompanying complexity potentially troubling to me that I struggled to overcome, and that was that Australia possessed no current forum of exploration into contemporary Japanese literature! I could personally submit a story to any of the predominantly Western-anchored English-language expatriate cultural broadsheets in Tokyo, but where in Brisbane (as an example) could Yasuhiro seek to locate a placement for his work in this cross-cultural apparatus of communicative exchange? Why did their culture, a bastion for rich and revered literature, fail to galvanise interest in the lives of the living, educated, Australian reader and cultural appreciator? And it’s the basis of this inquiry which consolidated my commitment to establishing Red Leaves / 紅葉. The answer isn’t that we cumulatively disregarded or diminished the impact of specifically Japanese forms of creativity in our lives – it’s just that we collectively assumed that we were being exposed to the best of it already.

One of the remarkably keen and incisive results of my since having acquired a post-graduate research degree in Professional Writing, is that you’re compelled to critically problematise and reassess the logocentric preconceptions disseminated as the standard “grand narrative” amidst Western society: we, as consumers, don’t actively engage in seeking what isn’t apparent to the common macrocosm, because it impinges on the herd mentality, and frustrates established systems of governance. Which is an incontrovertibly prayerful and anaesthetising way in which to conclude that if it ain’t given to us directly, if a particular artefact, philosophical pursuit or artwork isn’t endowed to the greater community, if it’s neither popular nor populist, then we interpolate and devalue the undertaking in question because it, generally, inhibits a collective access. It’s the pandemic paradox of conventional logic: new things should instantly stimulate us (!), but we’ve developed sufficient specialist interests, each respective individual contributing to the polyphonous mass, that we now mentally object to a new work of literature, say, if it doesn’t first bear a signification, a mark of significance. Of course, this is all – I must clarify – contingent upon my particular worldview: as an extension of this subjective surmising of the modern state of cultural capital, I can only deter either intellectual disincentive or theoretical opposition by incurring the scatological powers that prevail and by hefting the Conch of Obscenity by stating: If any of this true, we’re in fucking trouble. So as an editor, and through Red Leaves / 紅葉, I seek to revise the accumulated societal critical torpor in the most profoundly minor way. I actively seek out new writing beyond the framework of the mainstream, to furnish Australians with Japanese literature beyond that of the fiction of Haruki Murakami.

I’ve referred to this at length prior in an interview this year with publisher Graham Nunn, Chair of the Queensland Poetry Festival and celebrated Australian wordsmith himself, but we all assume that because Murakami, Kenzaburō Ōe, Kazuo Ishigo, Banana Yoshimoto and Mitsyo Kakuta are the so-called decorated darlings of contemporary Japanese publishing, we don’t possess the independent excitement to seek a possible literary alternative: but this supposition doesn’t hold, because the Western world convulses in anticipation at the opportunity to lavish any new undiscovered writer – be it Marisha Pessl or Reif Larsen, Jonathan Safran Foer or Steve Toltz – as much monetary encouragement (contract advances) and media coverage as the Powers That Be allow, in the anticipation that their presumed future careers justify it. See, if all that the consensus Japanese reading public understood and dignified of contemporary Western writing were the works of our equivalent to the Murakami / Ōe / Ishigo / Yoshimoto / Kakuta faction – be that Phillip Roth and Don DeLillo and Bret Easton Ellis and Martin Amis and Lorrie Moore, or whoever the fuck – then our intercultural creative discourse would be swiftly offensive and limited to them: in this way, it makes no functional sense to perpetuate this cultural myopia in assuming the same of Japan.

Certainly, where Japanese writing has significantly transubstantiated and migrated literary form is in the commercial explosion of quality manga and oekaki being produced in disturbing and unerring quantities each successive year, and a previous interviewee of 3:AM, the half-Japanese, half-American creative journalist and biographer, Roland Kelts, elaborated on how this was typified by the exceedingly progressive evolution of animated cinema found in works like Akira (1988) and the masterful Studio Ghibli canon. What I can recontextualise from Kelts’ observations, as best I know how, is that it’s in the heartland of animation, cinema, and transgressive narrative forms that the contemporary indie arts scene exists: unique writing of an unprepossessed stripe is now emerging from musicians, filmmakers, multimedia savants and performers, and talents like Ko Machida, Masaya Nakahara, Mieko Kawakami, Risa Wataya and Hitomi Kanehara are erupting centre-stage, equipped to experiment and subvert wordplay in capacities it’s never before experienced. This blows my fucking cerebellum with paroxysmic delight, and that’s why Red Leaves / 紅葉 exists! To showcase the philologic fluidity of literature, and to demonstrate that there’s important writerly progress being championed both sides of the Eastern and Western cultural divide.

Recently my friend, the tremendous Jeremy Balius – founding editor of independent publishing endeavour Black Rider Press, and progenitor behind the English-language / German bi-lingual online literary project, Shelf 8 // Regal 8 – contributed original verse-poetry to a succession of promotional bookmarks for Red Leaves / 紅葉 that both I and Liberty distributed to ’zine-sporting enthusiasts at the 2009 National Young Writers’ Festival, in Newcastle, and the exemplary Osaka-based poet Keiji Minato did the same. These were marketing materials which worked to explain how the journal’s bi-lingual approach to translation was effected: on one side was showcased the English-language text, and on the opposing was a professional translation of the same creative contribution transcribed into Japanese kanji. In the near future, there will be strategic Red Leaves / 紅葉 forays into full-colour art and sound, but for now (2009) we’re sufficiently satisfied wit the furious forum of the page.

3:AM: And I assume the originally Japanese texts will be translated into English, right?

KM: Right on. This might sound like all I do is occupy my time referencing indie postmodernist literature – you’re half right – but on a mechanical level, the journal actually works a bit like Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions, in that the magazine is intended to be read (by English-language readers) from left to right in a linear progression, whilst for Japanese readers it’s laterally, from right to left. If you’re of specifically Western nationality, you start out at the front cover, and you continue through until you hit the concordance of contributors’ bios. If you’re Japanese, you read from the back-cover, until the same. The bios, here, function like a folio of photographs in the middle of the journal, displaying headshots of all those responsible for contributing. It wouldn’t make sense to engineer all this without providing readers the English-language translations of Japanese contributions, but the electricity’s in the way that both versions of a particular text complement one another to stimulate a dialogue between them. The words don’t change in the translation process, so much as they are slightly rearranged to manufacture sharper meaning. For me, the greatest pleasure from the entire process comes from translating work entirely in kanji to English, because I’ve no idea what I’ve received until Yasuhiro and the translators provide illumination.

3:AM: How often do you plan to release an issue?

KM: Once a year, always around December, following the term of Japanese fall. Make sure you refer to the respective website profiles in mid-2010 for forthcoming submission dates!

3:AM: So who’s contributed to the first issue?

KM: We’ve got kinetic new work by Toby Litt, Nathaniel Rich, Nicholas Hogg, Travis Jeppesen, Kenji Siratori, Iris Yamashita and Hirofumi Sugimoto all anthologised in issue #001. We’ll be releasing it soon – around late December – not too far beyond the seasonal parameters of Japanese fall, but I want to reassure everyone that this is a magazine precisely like the influential international English-Arabic envisioning, Meena: A Bi-Lingual Journal of Arts & Letters – whose most recent issue secured an international, bi-lingual contribution from author-editor Dave Eggers – because it demands editorial passion. Red Leaves / 紅葉 won’t just be for Australians or Japanese readers. It’s for people with eyes!
But remember to blink, because these words can cut.


Kirk Marshall is the Brisbane-born(e), Melbourne-based author of A Solution to Economic Depression in Little Tokyo, 1953, a 2007 Aurealis Award-nominated full-colour illustrated graphic novelette. His debut short-story collection, “Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories”, will be published by Black Rider Press in 2010. Please contact Red Leaves / 紅葉 for editorial inquiries or to join the mailing list at: kirk.marshall@wilderness.org.au or redleaves.koyo@gmail.com.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, October 27th, 2009.