Books | POETRY MIGNETTE

Japanese poets write the book of love

by Taylor Mignon

Stroker, a publisher of chapbooks, is the distributor and copublisher of “2000 Japanese Poems for the Year 2000,” a voluminous collection of chapbooks, 15 in all, translated by Howard S. Levy.

Love is the focus. The introductory volume is the essay titled “The Psychology of Love as Depicted by Ancient Love Poets,” with a preface and drawing by Irving Stettner, and sumi-e paintings by Akira Yamauchi. For students of poetry it supplies material (as Arthur Waley said in regard to another Levy book) for “future general workers in both anthropology and sexual psychology.”

The rest of the set comprises classic poetry, including Izumi Shikibu and Saigyo, and senryu humorous verse; and “Korean Love Poems” (translated from classical Chinese). All volumes are bilingual, often with Japanese calligraphy, aiding the student of Japanese literature, and many are explicated by Levy’s fine essays discussing the themes of the poets.

Stroker also is the name of the journal published since 1974 with its editor, Irving Stettner, based now in Japan. “The Stroker Anthology (1974-1994)” includes such luminaries as Henry Miller, Paul Bowles, Lawrence Durrell, Ted Berrigan, Charles Bukowski and David Gascoyne.

Stroker 58 includes Howard S. Levy’s essay and translations, “Waka Poems by Little-Known Whores of the Tokugawa Period.”

The most recent issue, Stroker 67, includes elegant drawings by Hirohisa Kubo, the essays “Samadhi All the Time: Henry Miller and Buddhism,” by David Stephen Calonne, “In Quest of Tania of ‘Tropic of Cancer’ ” by Yasunori Honda, and Levy’s “Yosa Buson as a Haikuist.” In addition to a tanka by Sone no Yoshitada presented bilingually, there are two essays and letters by Kenny du Main and Henry Miller.

Also, Irving Stettner, whose poetry, watercolors and drawings were praised by Henry Miller among others, is having an exhibition at the Henry Miller Museum of Art in Omachi, Nagano.

For a catalog, write to Stroker, 4-2-6 Chiyoda, Honjo City, Saitama 367-0054.

Irving Stettner’s exhibition May 26-June 20 at the Henry Miller Museum, telephone (0261) 23-5002, admission 800 yen.

The origin of the term “poet laureate” comes from a myth of Apollo, the god of music and poetry. When Apollo tried to take Daphne, she turned into a laurel tree. Apollo then made the laurel the prize for poets and champions.

The tradition of the court poet and professional entertainer is probably the precursor to the modern poet laureate. Robert Graves points out in the indispensable “White Goddess” that the “English poet-laureateship was not instituted until the reign of Charles I . . . It does not carry with it any authority over national poetic practice or any obligation to preserve the decencies of poetry, and is awarded, without contest, by the First Lord of the Treasury, not by any learned society. Nevertheless many English poets have written with exquisite technical skill . . .”

Andrew Motion has now joined this fine company, among such major poets laureate as Dryden, Wordsworth and Tennyson. The opportunity to learn whether Motion receives his fee in wine, as Ben Johnson requested, or cash, will present itself during his series of readings and talks in Japan this month.

In Tokyo, he will be reading with esteemed poet Makoto Ooka at 6-8 p.m. May 24 at the British Council Information Centre, in a dialogue on “Japanese and British Poetry and Poets Since 1945,” interpreted by Masahiko Abe. Eight poems have been chosen from his poetry collection “Selected Poems 1976-1997,” and translated into Japanese for presentation at this event. In addition, two poems written after his appointment as poet laureate have also been translated into Japanese: “A Perfect World” and “Cost of Life.”

“What Is a Poet Laureate?” A keynote lecture of the English Literary Society of Japan, 2-3:30 p.m. May 21 at Rikkyo University, Tucker Hall.

“Poet Laureate Reads and Talks About His Work,” May 23, 1-2:30 p.m. at Kyoto Women’s University, Umamachi Sogo Campus. For more information, or to reserve a seat for the reading May 24, fax the British Council at (03) 3235-8040. For a complete list of Motion’s upcoming appearances refer to the Web page at www.uknow.or.jp

“According to Lilies,” Roger Finch’s first volume of poetry (published by Carcanet), was reviewed favorably by Ian Sansom in the London Times Literary Supplement: “Finch’s great technical accomplishment is to convince the reader that this hobgoblin of forms can act as a purification of the accentual dialect of the Germanic tribe.”

Though Finch began writing poetry when he was 13, and continued writing on and off after that, he published nothing until 1979, two years after he moved to Japan. His incentive to submit poetry for publication came through his academic duties and experimentation through poets whose work he had studied. His educational background includes studies in music theory, Turkish poetry, historical linguistics and the study of Buddhist texts, to mention a few.

Once he had published several hundred individual poems in various literary journals, he began looking for a publisher for a whole collection. The chapbook “What Is Written in the Wind” appeared in 1984 from Sparrow Press; then came “According to Lilies” in 1992.

In Japan, the two most recent Printed Matter issues printed his matter. Upcoming this fall is another collection, “Fox in the Morning,” from Leviathan Press in England.

Roger Finch will read at Temple University’s “Poet’s Corner” in Tokyo 6-8 p.m., June 9. Free, but kindly bring wine or cheese. For more information, call or fax John Gribble at (03) 3395-8185.