Poet forging links from East to West

The longest running English poetry journal in Japan, Poetry Nippon, was founded in the fall of 1967. Edited by Sapporo-based poet and translator Yorifumi Yaguchi, it has helped forge links between Japanese, British and American poetry for over 30 years.

Yorifumi Yaguchi and William Stafford at Stafford’s house in 1972

Publication was suspended following the death of founder Onsey Nakagawa in 1997, but it bounced back in December 2000, again with Yaguchi at the helm. Yaguchi wrote in that issue: “We hope Poetry Nippon will become once more the place for poets and poetry lovers to actively publish their works as in the past. May our magazine thrive through the 21st century!”

In the preface to “Poetry Nippon: Anthology 1967-1999” (Hokuseido Press), Yaguchi describes how British poet James Kirkup was willing to help with Poetry Nippon’s project from overseas. Then in 1968, Naoshi Koriyama, Japan Times bilingual columnist Toshimi Horiuchi and Edith Shiffert, among others, joined the group.

Yaguchi has been friends with many prominent American poets. He studied at Goshen College, a Mennonite college near Elkhart, Ind., where he met the pacifist poet Kenneth Rexroth.

Years later, the pair met at a conference sponsored by Chikyu poetry magazine in Tokyo. Rexroth, who felt a deep attachment to the poetry of Basho, asked Yaguchi to take him to visit Chusonji Temple in the town of Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, where Basho had composed his famous poem on the downfall of the Fujiwara family. Before they could set off, however, Rexroth became seriously ill and returned to California, where he died soon afterward.

Yaguchi had established a correspondence-based friendship with another well-known poet (and conscientious objector) from the U.S., William Stafford. Stafford was invited to the Kanto Poetry Center in the summer of 1984 and then visited Sapporo to stay with Yaguchi. There, inspired by the forest behind Yaguchi’s house, he wrote “The Bush From Mongolia.”

Yaguchi wrote a book of poems and prose in English based on his experience growing up near American army bases. “A Forlorn Dog” was sent to both Stafford and Denise Levertov, the British poet often associated with the Black Mountain poets. The volume includes two antiwar poems, “Army of Justice” and “The Just War.” From the latter:

You, who once were missionaries to us, now attack us, because your country is at war with ours. You bomb our cities, towns and villages Where you once spread the good news and built our churches. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” you once taught us. so, we too attack you, Because our government bids us to. We bombard you for our country as you bombard us for your country, Both in the name of our God. Hallelujah!

After Stafford’s death in 1993, Yaguchi and Robert Bly, a leading spokesman for antiwar groups during the Vietnam War, wrote the linked poem “Listening to a Storyteller: In Memoriam William Stafford.”

In the current issue of Poetry Nippon, Stephen Toskar’s “Black Water,” an unsentimental and humorous depiction of death in the family, is especially recommended. So too is the tanka of Neal Lawrence, who also happens to write antiwar poems.

Poetry Nippon is published by The Poetry Society of Japan, 4-4-5 Maikodai, Tarumi-ku, Kobe-shi, 655-0046. One issue costs 350 yen.

Longtime Kyushu resident and poet Jesse Glass has recently moved to the Kanto area. A critic once noted of him: “The need for a mythic base had led Glass through all sorts of arcane lore, ranging from Biblical figures to the spirits of Swedenborg, the political philosophers of the French Revolution, the founders of Surrealism, where he picks up vampires, banshees and the Marquis de Sade along the way . . .”

Glass’ work has appeared in “In Our Own Words Vol. 2,” and “The Peace Anthology,” and German publisher Ahadada has published a tetrology of his chapbooks (for reviews see ). Glass is also a member of the Japanese journal of poetry and essays Seien (Blue Flame).

It can be difficult for expat poets to get a foothold in a foreign market, but Glass has managed to disseminate his work through the Internet (see, for example, his castigation of humanity, “Monkey Mother,” at and the exotic “Alchemical Lion” at ).

May 11-13 sees Glass at Europe’s first Poli-Poetry Festival of the century, in Maastricht. The festival will include lectures, workshops and performances. Glass will conduct a poetry workshop titled “More Wows: Carve Your Own Poem From a Block of Text.”

This is the last Poetry Mignette. It’s been an honor to join the likes of Ezra Pound and Junzaburo Nishiwaki as one of the poets who have written for The Japan Times. Thanks to all who have contributed in any way.

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