It’s always exciting to discover people in Toronto who are actively engaging in and passionate about fostering communities for emerging creatives. When Takatsu welcomed my request for an interview, I couldn’t wait to learn more about his diverse array of creative work, as well as Inspiritus Press, a young small press which aims to grow a collaborative community through interdisciplinary arts. My interest also came with the fact that I’ve been oblivious to the world of literature as an art history student and an illustrator, but through my participation in Project 40 where I’ve had opportunities to meet and engage with writers and poets, I’ve grown a greater curiosity for that world. Along with the incredible initiatives started by the small team at Inspiritus Press, an interview with its founder, as well as a poet and novelist seemed very appropriate. And as a musician himself, it was perfect to ask who his “favourite” Asian.Canadian musician is. Read about Takatsu‘s creative journey and philosophy, and his chosen creator below! -Mirae
Can you tell us a brief background about how you got into writing?
I think a lot of writers may confess how they started writing at a young age – I don’t think I’m any different in that regard. Final Fantasy and Lord of the Rings fan-fiction in Grade 6 or so, I did it all! But I did notice that my early fan-fiction was concerned with emotional and psychological dynamics between characters and their experiences rather than the action.
Fast forward a little to 2008, I pioneered the English version of the serialized cell phone novel, an online movement originating from Japan of short sparse chapters featuring line breaks and white space, similar to poetry, which merges down-to-earth young adult stories and haiku-esque Zen-like meditations. I found out about them through TV series that were adaptations of Japanese cell phone novels, and realized there weren’t any original English cell phone novels. I was caught by the power and raw emotional impact of such minimalist language, delicate artistry and simplicity of its poetics. I love to inspire others, so to that end, and for the sake of imitation, I surrendered to an impulse to start one for fun called Secondhand Memories, which was published as a 550-page book. It’s a very cringe-worthy tear-jerker now that I look back at it, holding true to the essence of Japanese teenage TV drama (haha).
My work and philosophies have evolved since then, but to keep the story short, it kickstarted a movement of thousands of readers and writers as its own writing form, and onward, establishing my ongoing career, not just as a writer, but as a community coordinator.
You engage in various different artistic medium, such as visual arts, photography, graphic design, and music – did you start from writing, and then ventured into these other art forms, or have they always been part of your creative process?
I’ve always been a visual artist since I was a child. I was also in the Arts York program at Unionville High School, and continued to study web and graphic design for a short time afterwards. Being a designer is supposed to be my official “profession”.
Music came in when I picked up the guitar at my church, and played in worship bands. There have been countless musicians who have inspired me deeply, many of them sang about pursuing dreams and striving through trials, and so that’s what I ended up doing. I began to write songs and sing in high school as well. Listening to music may have given me a lift towards more metaphysical interests as it resonates so indescribably deeply, emotionally, spiritually.
It’s hard to describe how all the mediums work together for me. For example, when I listen to music, I see images or film in my mind of my own making. When I look at art, I see poems and literature and philosophy. These creative forces are natural, harmonious, intertwined and firmly embedded in my writing. My descriptive writing will be strong with impressionistic visuals and my phrasings with a sensitivity to acoustics and rhythm.
I don’t think any form of art can stand alone nowadays. Books need covers and designs, musicians need websites, each project needs marketing and social media graphics. We’ve even returned to the time of silent movies with auto-play videos on newsfeeds. I definitely make an effort to incorporate the forms together. My collection Of Forests and Clocks and Dreams is a mosaic of artwork, typography design, poetry, short stories, essay. Secondhand Memories sparked some merchandise for fans that I put together, such as phone cases, t-shirts, pillows and more. I believe text is the root form as it captures thought – consciousness and concept – and then it can take on life in different mediums.
In terms of your writing, you’ve worked with many genres from sci-fi to a travel memoir – is there a particular theme you’re trying to express throughout all of your books? What are questions or themes you’re interested in exploring in your creative work?
My writing or art forms seem to keep evolving and I never stay with one for long! Even now in retrospect, my most successful project, a literary magical realism dystopian novel, Espresso Love, is something I have grown away from. My writing became more abstract since then, such as in poetry and experimental interdisciplinary literature. But perhaps my drive to create is to inspire others.
My most recent themes express the idea that there is much more than the physical world around us and speaks against human constructs and frameworks. If we consider the ancient Greek philosophers; visionary writers like Rumi, Rimbaud or Kerouac; the rise and fall of political systems and civilizations; higher-dimensional aliens and secret space programs; or religions and spiritual beliefs…whatever the topic, to me, they all suggest that physical reality is but the tip of the iceberg, and humanity has been trying to express the same ideas through different forms – and often, these forms are what causes conflicts.
My concerns are often with soul, consciousness, subconscious/unconscious psychology, dreamscape, and in general, metaphysics, what transcends three-dimensional reality. This central thesis perpetuates into discussions of discrimination, racialization, politics and so on; I try to write against human and physical constructs. This prevails in all my work – the dystopian Kafka-esque criticism of capitalism in Espresso Love, the dreams of a comatose character in Secondhand Memories, or the frustrated inability to express the ineffable with language in my latest work. My work usually is quite conscious in some ways, and actively seek to provoke thought. I don’t have the answers but I’m asking readers to look beyond the surface and see the possibilities.
Besides being a creator yourself, you’re also very active in supporting fellow creators, particularly in the local publishing scene. Could you tell us about Inspiritus Press? What do you like about being part of a small publishing community?
Inspiritus Press is a small press in Toronto run by a team of students and a wider extended network and community of interdisciplinary artists, much like Project 40.
Our publishing program is interested in the metaphysics, in whatever form possible, but currently, primarily, poetry. We place these ideas within the interactions of mediums: where books become art pieces and take on textures, and photography converse with literature. We aim to coordinate projects that break down silos between disciplines or groups.
We also have an active effort to publish diverse voices and emerging writers. Though we hold to high quality production standards, we operate quite hands-on, grassroots, and guerrilla style. We bring our writers to do open mics and we will never fail to go out to show support for local publishers, events and writers, building lasting friendships. Being community oriented, we organize many innovative events such as the inaugural Crossroads Literary Festival last January as a response for the need for student writers to learn about the Canadian industry. The event brought in booksellers and guests such as Word on the Street, Wattpad, Writers’ Union of Canada, Brick Literary Journal, BookThug and others to York University for an audience of over 70 people.
Forgive me for saying this, but we’ve come into the local publishing scene (at least more actively) about six months ago without a clue as to what we’re supposed to be doing, but apparently we’ve stirred the waters, though we only have one official debut out (the Apparatus anthology)! I’ve heard from poets we admire that they were talking about us in Montreal or Ottawa. We pride ourselves in being young and inexperienced, but also go-getters, always shaking hands, meeting people, and being fans first and foremost.
Sometimes we take on way too much! I think being a small press with a dedication to collaborative community, leadership and networking, allows us freedom to navigate responsively, and room and flexibility (and fun) in our possibilities and resources. But ultimately, we, as the publishers and our contributors, are always united in our core philosophies to look at what’s beyond physical dimensions and encourage others to do the same.
With all these incredible work you do, what drives you to create and actively participate in the local community?
I think it comes from the same drive to inspire others and provoke thought. But I’ve also benefited so much from the warmth and support of communities, whether online or in person. I’ve received thousands of comments from readers discussing themes and concepts, or notes and messages about the impact of my writing. It has been a tremendously rewarding experience. More recently in the Toronto publishing scene, I’ve come across the most brilliant poets, the best conversations, and such an encouraging culture. Though we (Inspirtus Press) stand out, being fresh, young, and ethnically diverse, we’ve received such welcoming embraces. I have been inspired countless times and I’d like to build a platform and momentum, to lift up others who need it. Giving has always been the center of my endeavours, and in return, the community supports us. Our book launch back in February, for example, was a full house packed right out the door and beyond what anyone had expected. Ideas constantly come up, but making it happen depends on our effort to give back and empower others. This cycle will continue to drive community.
What can we look forward to, in your creative career, in the next few months?
I’ve just finished a poetry collection so I’ll be submitting to local publishers. It’s a reflection on my past travels to Japan as a musician, but from the perspective of the writer I am now, paralleling concerns of our technologically and electromagnetically charged capitalist society, juxtaposed against the mystical and spiritually-imbued natural cosmos. Crossing fingers for this manuscript. Anstruther Press is publishing a selection of these poems as a chapbook called Kawatare forthcoming in the fall, which is very exciting. They’re amazing people, do fantastic work and have published some of the best emerging and established poets in Canada, so I’m incredibly honoured and surprised. I don’t think I ever saw myself as a poet. I dabbled in poetry here and there, but never thought it was good enough to be published. Now with a bunch of poems which revisit my musician days, I am secretly considering writing songs again. It’s been quite a few years since then. In other news, I’m also continuing to speak at schools, workshops and events on topics such as digital literature, Canadian publishing, and design. I was a guest lecturer at the University of Waterloo the past week or two.
As for Inspiritus Press: on April 29 for National Poetry Month, with support from Lexical, the League of Canadian Poets, PEN Canada and other organizations, we are organizing an epic street poetry tour called Bring the Noise, where many Toronto poets will join us in pop up readings all over the city in popular locations, areas of high traffic, public transit, malls, and making stops to support a few indie book shops. All donations during our “busking” will go to PEN Canada, in the spirit of protecting freedom of expression.
We are also currently on a Call for Submissions for our fall/winter publishing season, which will be a series of chapbooks. We’re delighted to have had the opportunity to publish some poets we highly respect.
Other than that, we have to sit down, work on those grants and funding, and figure out the less creative responsibilities that come with running an organization. I’m still hoping for a vacation and have a chance to slow down, and maybe write new things, but that would likely never happen!
Lastly, what does your identity mean to you?
The amalgam of influences and identities is important for my creative endeavours which inspires the way I think, in hybrid innovative strategies, in the harmony of mediums and beyond. I am proudly East Asian, but multiculturally not aligning with one particular group. I have friends or roots in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines and more, and consider them deeply part of my cultural influences. My experiences have always been global, stemming from virtual networks and online platforms, and I integrate social media culture naturally into my lifestyle. Some of my best friends are from my travels in Japan who I met through online music fan communities – who would’ve thought! My travels and missions work overseas have opened my eyes to so many different worlds, and each experience becomes a part of me.
Of course, being born and raised in Canada, and working immersively in a multicultural city, while also being an influencer in a primarily Caucasian industry, it’s a very interesting creative space. Sometimes I do feel some cultural barriers, but for the most part, standing out has opened opportunities. I don’t think TCK (Third Culture Kid) works for me. I think I may be Fourth Culture or Fifth Culture by now.
In terms of faith, though I’m Christian, I also greatly resonate with concepts found in Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and others, as philosophies and understandings of the natural and spiritual world. There are countless other streams of thoughts and beliefs that I respect, that integrate harmoniously into one another as a part of the human collective consciousness and a bigger cosmic vision as I’ve mentioned before. I believe the multiplicity discussed so far has informed my philosophical stances.
Because my work constantly evolves, I try not to label or align myself with a particular group or category. This unique homogeneous palimpsest of ideas and influences – as a writer, musician, artist, thinker, entrepreneur, and my constant journey of growth – is an important part of my identity and process towards ideas that my work ascribes to. I’m happy just being myself and I think perhaps we really don’t need so many labels.
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