Bilingual Concerns: Poetry Kanto

Bilingual Concerns: Poetry Kanto

Poetry Kanto is an English and Japanese bilingual poetry journal (print and webpage) that features translations of classic Japanese poets, modern and contemporary Japanese poetry in English translation, and also English poetry from around the world. It aims to bridge the literary gap between cultures, and was founded in 1968. Helpful reviews of the magazine include:
Poetry Across Continets by Stepanie Harper. The Review Review 2010.,0

Pages: A Review of Poetry Kanto 2010. The Compulsive Reader, 2010.

Review by Sima Rabinowitz. New Pages, 2010.

As might be expected, many of the poems by western poets pick up east Asian echoes: they’re impressionist, modest and reflective, acutely aware of extra dimensions to life, often expressing them in minute observation of rather disembodied sensory experience. Many are also ‘written small’, i.e. avoid the larger issues or commonplaces of social life, or move abruptly from discrete observation to philosophical profundities in the manner of haiku, etc. – intriguing but difficult for the western reader to grasp with long immersion in the Japanese literary tradition. Japanese poets writing in English do, however, deal with contentious subjects, incorporating social and political comment into their work, if largely from a Japanese perspective.

Because the poems are often short, it’s also difficult to quote without exceeding fair copy expectations, but I’ll try to give a flavour of contributions in English. I confess to finding much of work simply wrapping up ‘ beautiful or profound conceptions’ in contemporary idiom, but readers may respond differently.

If It’s Only Breath is by Florence Weinberger, a New Yorker with a unusually wide employment history, who has published four collections of poetry. The poem is here:

It starts in the manner of Zen by posing a question;

Think about the air you set in motion.

Which is the developed from:

If it’s only breath.

To what breath does to the listener, the world of knowledge, and how we must receive that knowledge, the elements of timing and composure, ending with:

You may begin to understand composure.
You will enjoy the mastery.

Simply expressed, the poem succeedsl within the limits it’s set itself. The second poem illustrates larger issues: it’s Catfish in the Woods by Yoko Danno and can be read at

Yoko Danno, who lives in Kobe and writes poetry solely in English, is the author of several poetry books and chapbooks. A note explains that, in Japanese folklore, a giant catfish living underground causes earthquakes, and that indeed is the subject of the poem:

the mischievous catfish
plays dirty tricks
belching out muddy billows
over homes, rice paddies
boats, cars, nuclear plants
guzzling them all alive.

It ends with a note on the radioactive threat.  Peggy Aylsworth is a semi-retired psychotherapist from California who has appeared in leading literary journals and was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize. Her poem, In Unexpected Places, can be read at: . It opens with:

To consider the question
of generosity you might
begin with the laundress
who revealed God
to the monk in his virgin bed.

And develops this oriental approach through western or Christian imagery:

Given half a chance the flower
on my table, a fragrant star-gazer,
will offer heights more humble
than the heavens, but
widen the air I breathe.

to end with:

Forgiveness will pour the wine
when all else fails.

Jane Hirshfield is a celebrated poet who has taught at Berkeley and elsewhere, presenting her work in universities, literary centers, and festivals throughout the United States and abroad. Her poem, In Praise of Coldness, can be read at: As though illustrating the detachment it recommends, the poem begins with quotations:

“If you want to move your reader,”
Chekhov wrote, “you must write more coldly.”
Herakleitos recommended, “A dry soul is best.”

And adds examples of dessication from the visual and literary arts. But that is a diversion from the main message, of course, which is how we bear witness to the:

Scent of the knowable journey.

advocating indeed that middle way of Horace:

In sorrow, pretend to be fearless. In happiness, tremble.


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