song of the mutant super boars

mutant super boars / new syndicate of the no go zone / smarter than charlotte / demagogues of their own brutal animal farm

Interview with Poet Lee Ann Roripaugh

South Dakota Poet Laureate

  1. What inspired you to write your poem “song of the mutant super boars?”

As part of my research into tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, the book project for which I wrote “song of the mutant super boars,” I subscribed to daily news alerts about the Fukushima disaster. When articles began appearing in various news venues about severe problems in Fukushima’s nuclear exclusion zone (the “no go zone”) being caused by contaminated wild boars running wild, I immediately knew I would be writing a radioactive boar poem. Apparently, the boars were taking over farmlands, abandoned businesses, homes, and were also quite aggressive, in addition to being toxically radioactive from foraging on contaminated food in the no go zone. It seemed that exterminating the boars also posed a significant problem in that disposing of their radioactive carcasses posed huge safety risks. All of the possible solutions were significantly expensive, as well as legistically unfeasible in terms of handling the large number of boars. It was one of those instances where truth is stranger than fiction, a strange melding of absurdity and horror, and I knew it would resonate with so many of the underlying themes of the project: the ongoing environmental legacies of nuclear disasters; radioactivity and superpowers; the plunder of capitalist greed, etc.

  1. What was the process of writing this poem? Was it a ‘gift poem’ or did you have to go through several rounds of revision, etc.?

This was a poem that “marinated” for quite awhile, seasoned and tenderized by a lot of research, but once I actually felt ready to begin drafting (a lot of the challenge having to do, I think, with finding the right omniscient narrative voice/tone for the poem), it fell into place pretty easily, and mostly required small polishings, as opposed to large-scale revisions.

  1. Why did you decide to submit this poem to Motionpoems? What was the most exciting prospect about seeing your poem told in this medium? Were there any trepidations about handing over creative control to a filmmaker you didn’t know?

This poem was one of several from the tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 project that I felt might translate particularly well into the Motionpoems medium. For me, the most exciting prospect, I think, was the idea of seeing a poem of mine translated into a visual, big-screen format. Poetry is so often an intimate genre, I feel—oftentimes both written in and read in solitude. To see a poem manifest on a large screen, to be able to watch it in a room filled with other people? So exciting! As far as trepidations, I think that art, in general, involves risk and vulnerability, and that, by extension, any sort of collaborative art likewise involves risk and vulnerability, in addition to trust. And so I didn’t have any trepidations, no, but mostly intense curiosity.

  1. How did the final Motionpoem differ from your expectations of what it’d be like? In what ways, if any, did it surprise you? How, for you, is the poem as film different from the poem as poem? 

First of all, it didn’t occur to me that the final Motionpoem might be an animation, but given the comic book tropes I was drawing on throughout tsunami vs. the fukushim 50 (which weren’t necessarily evident in “song of the mutant super boars”), this seemed like a serendipitously perfect choice! One of the subtexts of the poem was also the spread of radioactive super boars as a metaphor for the destructive spread of political greed, corruption, and criminality—culminating most obviously, of course, in our current administration. I was both surprised and delighted that the Motionpoem picked up and ran with this particular thread. Given that the poem was part of a larger book project—a single tile in a mosaic, if you will—I loved how the the Motionpoem, for me, transformed “song of the mutant super boars” into a solo piece that existed so completely on its own, even without the larger context of the book.

  1. What are you working on next?

Following the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima disaster, a man named Itaru Sasaki placed a phone booth with a disconnected rotary-dial phone on a hilltop garden overlooking Otsuchi, Japan. Sasaki originally used the phone to speak to his cousin, who died in the tsunami—processing his grief by communicating to his lost family member “on the wind.” Since that time, over 10,000 people who lost loved ones in the tsunami have come from all along the Tohoku coast—essentially making pilgrimages to speak to their dead, on the kaze no denwa, the “wind phone.” Sometimes they share their daily news, or express their regrets. Sometimes they call to say please come back, to beg for a response, to implore the dead to look out for one another, or to simply say that they are lonely. In the most heartbreaking phone calls made on the kaze no denwa, the callers apologize for not having been able to save their dead.

I was so moved by this story, that I’ve been thinking about what it might mean to write kaze no denwa poems to things that are irrevocably lost and/or disappearing—poems to things lost through trauma, poems to my dead, poems to my mother whose mind is coming unraveled through dementia, poems for species that are extinct or facing extinction, poems for a dying planet. And so I’ve been working on kaze no denwa—phone poems “on the wind.”