Books | POETRY MIGNETTE

Rexroth revolution comes home to Japan

by Taylor Mignon

Yokohama-based essayist and poet Morgan Gibson has been and continues to be one of the most prolific contributors to Japan’s English literary scene. Of his own work he had poems published in the 1970s in pioneering journals like One Mind and Kyoto Review and later, in the ’80s, in publications like Blue Jacket; his most recent poetry has appeared in Yomimono.

Gibson has contributed editorially to Edge: International Arts Interface; the Japan Environmental Monitor; and the Japan Poetry Review. Printed Matter published his column “Buddhas in Question” in the mid-’90s. He now writes the column “Philosophizing in the Void” for the Kyoto Journal.

Perhaps most notably, however, Gibson is an authority on the great poet and translator of Japanese poetry Kenneth Rexroth. Rexroth studies were enriched by Gibson’s scholarly bibliography, which was published in Electric Rexroth. Electric Rexroth editor Tetsuya Taguchi says Gibson “is a poet of snow,” as can be intuited in Gibson’s broadsheet of poems “Winter Pilgrim” and many of his other poems. His story “Is There a God in Your Heart?” was included in “The Broken Bridge,” an anthology of expatriate fiction from Japan. His essay collection “Among Buddhas in Japan” was published by White Pine Press.

In Kyoto Journal #45, Gibson will present an update of Rexroth sources online, including his own major scholarly work, “Revolutionary Rexroth: Poet of East-West Wisdom” ( www.thing.net/~grist /ld/rexroth/gibson.htm ). This online publication, posted by Karl Young’s Light and Dust, resuscitates this award-winning, out-of-print book from Archon; the expanded online edition contains some of Rexroth’s letters to Gibson from 1957 to 1979 and an updated bibliography. In these letters, we learn how Gibson came across Rexroth’s poetry and the fascination this discovery had for him, since Rexroth offered new insights and different approaches from the Robert Lowell style of poetry Gibson had been studying.

Gibson’s upcoming columns will use books in the Kenneth Rexroth East-West Collection of 13,000 volumes at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba as starting points for philosophical musings. The story of how Rexroth’s personal library made the journey to Chiba can also be found in “Revolutionary Rexroth.” The library is cataloged and may be of assistance to scholars, critics, poets, students and general readers.

Rexroth, the “anarcho-Buddhist poet,” was, among other things, one of the founders of the San Francisco Renaissance and the librarian and godfather of the Beats. Generations were turned on to Japanese poetry through his books “100 Poems from the Japanese” and “Women Poets of Japan.” Critic Sanehide Kodama called him “the American poet who best understood Japan.”

Rexroth came to Japan on reading tours more than a half dozen times and did much to facilitate dialogue. Many Japanese poets, such as Shuntaro Tanikawa, Takashi Arima, Keiko Matsui Gibson and Kazuko Shiraishi have written moving poems about Rexroth. Here, for example, is Shiraishi’s “Santa Barbara: Town for Newlyweds and Nearly Deads.”

Kenneth Rexroth said “No messages on any level” when a young nurse questioned him about life and death From the side of the highest brain mountain of Santa Barbara death gazes at marriage bubbles swiftly fading in the ocean’s skirt. (Translated by John Solt)

At a recent reading given at Temple University Japan, Gibson spiced his own poems with animated anecdotes, recalling Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg and Robert Bly. Here is a short poem titled “Rexroth”:

Rexroth crept out slow to speak as an ancient tortoise from whose calligraphic shell the Chinese told the future

Upcoming events

“Poetry at TUJ” this month features Canadian poet and fiction writer Hillel Wright who will read from and discuss his work. Wright is the author of two books of poems, “Single Dad” and “Welcome to the Below Tide Motel.” His novella “All Worldly Pursuits” is currently appearing serially in Canada in The New Orphic Review and will be published in book form in 2002. His work in Japan most recently appeared in the second issue of the new journal Cafe Independent.

“Poetry at TUJ,” 7 p.m. Oct. 20, in the library (4th floor) of Temple University Japan at 2-8-12 Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Admission free. A snack or beverage to share is appreciated. For directions, call (03) 5441-9800.

The reading and launching of “Blossoms in Time: Tanka Poems in English” (Suemori Books) by Neal Henry Lawrence will feature readings in Japanese translation by Nobuko Veronica Sato. “Blossoms in Time” is the fourth book of English tanka poetry by Father Lawrence and has a foreword by Hatsue Kawamura, editor of The Tanka Journal, with words about the poet by distinguished translator and author Edward Seidensticker.

Reading and launching of “Blossoms in Time: Tanka Poems in English,” 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at Tokyo American Club, 3F Main Building. 2-12-2 Azabudai, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Admission 2,500 yen, includes the book. For information call (03) 3583-8381, fax (03) 3583-2888.

The World Festival of Poets 2000 Tokyo will be an international event with representatives from about 30 countries. From Japan, Kazuko Shiraishi will make her presence felt, as will Naoshi Koriyama, Kazue Shinkawa, haikuist Koko Kato, and Tokyo-based poet Arthur Binard, who often pens his poetry in Japanese. One of the keynote lecturers is British poet Francis King.

In addition to poetry readings there will be song, music and dance. Kazuo and Yoshito Ohno, who never fail to inspire, will perform.