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Kazue Shinkawa

Kazue Shinkawa

Kazue Shinkawa

(Japan, 1929)
Kazue Shinkawa was born in 1929 in Ibaragi Prefecture, Japan. Since her first book of poetry, The Sleeping Chair, came out in 1953, more than 30 books of her poetry have been published including many “selected poems” and two complete works. She has also published half a dozen books of poetry for children and compiled many anthologies. For the female poets in Japan, Kazue Shinkawa is an important mother figure, mainly thanks to her co-founding, together with Sachiko Yoshihara, the women’s poetry magazine La Mer, which existed for ten years from 1983 to 1993, helping launch the careers of many younger female poets. With her poems appearing in a variety of media ranging from weekly magazines to national newspapers, radio and TV programs, to serious literature reviews, and many of her printed poems being made into songs and performed by chorus groups all over the country, Kazue Shinkawa is one of the most popular and respected poets in Japan today.
Shinkawa started writing poems when she was fourteen years old. Some of her poems appeared in a national newspaper and surprised the postman in her village who had to deliver a large number of fan letters from readers. During the second world war, a famous poet and a French literature scholar, Yaso Saijoh, was evacuated from the air-raided Tokyo to her neighbouring town. The fifteen year-old Shinkawa took a chance and visited him with her notebooks of poetry, and soon started helping him by making fair copies of his voluminous thesis on Arthur Rimbaud. Through her mentor, the girl also learned about other French poets including Verlaine, Valery, and Supervielle, whose influence can be found in many of her poems with their surrealistic undertone:

I have memories of
buying a sheet of beautiful ocean.
In a market with a ceiling of blue sky
I happened to see a man selling oceans
who, like a carpet merchant, was spreading them out and rolling them up, spreading them out and rolling them up,

(‘A Sheet of Ocean’)

But Shinkawa is too versatile a poet to be categorized in one particular school. She commands a wide range of poetic styles and techniques, delivering her poems in many different voices: handsome lyrics, surrealist or metaphysical prose poems, odes (such as to fire, water, and earth), chanson-like verses, story-telling epics, earnest confessions, and so on. In this regard, Shinkawa belongs to those “chameleon poets”, as John Keats dubbed them, whose gift lies in their lack of self - or so-called negative capability. In one of her latest poems, ‘Lacking’, she compares herself to a discarded vessel without a lid which can countain anything from dead butterflies to expired contracts to a blue sky.

This does not mean, by any means, that Shinkawa is indifferent to her true self. On the contrary, she has always been trying to find her true self, while dutifully fulfilling her roles as a daughter, wife, and mother:

Don’t name me
daughter        wife.
Please do not keep me sitting
in the seat set up in the ponderous name of mother. I am a wind,
a wind that knows the apple tree
and where the fountain is.

(‘Don’t Bundle Me’)

Sometimes her search for her true self drives her to the place where the boundary between everyday reality and poetry is dangerously thin and blurred:

My movements began to show stagnation and my speech to lisp as days passed. This was because opening the window unthinkingly, pulling up the zipper on my back, or peeling an onion - between such extremely everyday acts - I began to hear often unidentifiable screams. Was it that in the opening the window, I’d also opened something stupendous?
(‘Everyday God’)

Yet Kazue Shinkawa has managed a delicate balancing act for more than half a century, giving birth to an abundance of poems, and helping younger generations to do the same, while never losing a grip on the mundane and practical aspects of life. Now, at the age of 79, Shinkawa seems truly at home with both her life and her poetry, as can be witnessed in the closing poem of her latest book Water with Memory (2007, winner of the Hanatsubaki Award):

I feel
I am in my true being
in my only self
a half tone off from the people around me
a half tone off from all in the cosmos
which I believed to be my hundred selves
to be my own thousand selves

(‘As I Sit on the Grass’)

Those who wish to read more of her poems in English, should look at poet and the traslator Hiroaki Sato’s 1999 work, Not A Metaphor, Poems of Kazue Shinkawa (see the bibliography for the details), from which many of the translations were reprinted for this issue of Poetry International Web — Japan.
© Yasuhiro Yotsumoto
Selected Bibliography:


Nemuri isu (The Sleeping Chair), Playad Publishing, Tokyo, 1953
Ehon “Eien”(The Picture Book “Eternity”), Chikyusha, Tokyo,1959
Hitotsu no natsu takusan no natsu (One Summer, Many Summers), Chikyusha, Tokyo, 1963
Roma no aki, sonota (The Autumn in Rome and other poems, the 5th Muroo Saisei Prize), Sichosha, Tokyo, 1965
Hiyudewa naku (Not a Metaphor), Chikyusha, Tokyo, 1968
Tsuru no akebi no nikki (The Journal of Tsuruno Akebi), Shigakusha, Tokyo, 1971
Nippon no shishu 20; Shinkawa Kazue Shishu (Selected Poems), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 1973
Tshuchi eno Ode 13 (13 Odes to the Soil), Sanrio, Tokyo, 1974
Gendaishi Bunko 64: Shinkawa Kazue Sishu (Selected Poems), Shichosha, Tokyo, 1975
Hi eno Ode 18 (18 Odes to Fire), Shiyosha, Tokyo, 1977
Yume no uchi soto (Inside and out of the Dreams), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1979
Mizu eno Ode 16 (16 Odes to Water), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1980
Nagisa nite (On the Beach), Chuhsekisha, Tokyo, 1982
Shinsen Gendaishi Bunko 122: Shin Shinkawa Kazue Shishu (Selected Poems), Shichosha, Tokyo, 1983
Hikiwari mugi shou (Oatmeal Fragments), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1986
Kashin Books 3: Shinkawa Kazue Shishu (Selected Poems), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1986
Shinkawa Kazue Collection Vol. 1 to 5, Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1988 - 1989
Hanebashi (The Drawbridge), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1990
Haru to onaidoshi (Same Age as the Spring), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1991
Shio no niwa kara (From the Garden of Tides, Poems exchanged with Shozo Kashima), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1993
Kesano hini (In the Daylight of this Morning), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1997
Hatahata to peiji ga mekure (While the Pages Flutter, Rekitei Prize), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1999
Ikiru riyuh (Reasons to Live, Selected Poems), Kashinsha, Tokyo, 2002
Sorekara hikari ga kita (And then the light came), Rironsha, Tokyo, 2004
Jintai shisho (Poems on Human Body), Reifu Shobo, Tokyo, 2005
Kioku suru mizu (Water with Memory, the 25th Hanatsubaki Prize), Shichosha, Tokyo, 2007

Poetry for children
Ashita no ringo (Tomorrow\'s Apple), Shinshokan, Tokyo, 1973
Nono matsuri (A Festival in the Field), Kyouiku Shuppan Center, Tokyo, 1978
Ya! Yanagi no ki (Hi, Willow Tree!), Kyouiku Shuppan Center, Tokyo, 1985
Issho kenmei (With All My Heart), Frehbel Kan, Tokyo, 1985
Hoshi no oshigoto (What Stars Do for Us), Dainippon Tosho, Tokyo, 1991
Itsumo dokokade (Somewhere in this World), Dainippon Tosho, Tokyo, 1999

Shi no rirekisho (My Poetic Resume), Shichosha, Tokyo, 2006

Shinkawa’s Poems in Translation
Not a Metaphor, translated into English by Hiroaki Sato, P.S., A Press, VT, USA, 1999
Kazue Shinkawa, poemas slectos, translated by Hiroaki Sato (English), Rafael Patino Goez (Spanish and French), Serie Hinos/po. 14, coleccion de poesia Prometeo
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Lira fonds
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère