Kazuko Shiraishi (Vancouver, 1931) had her breakthrough in the 1950s as a female poet who was unconventional in all respects. After cutting short her studies at the prestigious Waseda University, she published her debut collection The City Where It Rains Eggs (Tamago no furu machi, 1951) at the age of 20. The work which also led to her breakthrough outside Japan in the 1970s shows influences of the American Beat poets, especially Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997), with whom she has also performed, and such jazz musicians as John Coltrane.
Her early childhood was spent in Vancouver, but when she was seven, she moved to Japan. This early period outside Japan has surely acquired a certain symbolic meaning: an enlightened period of freedom and love that always formed a contrast to Japan and that seemed to resonate in the avant-garde status of her poetry in the 1960s and 1970s.
From the outset, Shiraishi has the name of being an outsider, or, as she herself has put it, a “black sheep”. Her reputation as an author of especially erotic poetry, as put together in the translated collection Seasons of Sacred Lust from 1978, has for decades made people somewhat blind to her work during the past quarter century, in which – always associative, visual and rhythmical – she has not only begun to write increasingly long poems but often makes the suppression of all forms of life by human cruelty and culture, a theme of her involved poetry.
Recent work by her has been included in her collection My Floating Mother, City (Fuyû suru haha, toshi, 2003) the title poem of which will also be read at Poetry International 2009. This poem has also been inspired by the death of people close to her: especially her mother, but also Allen Ginsberg.
Kazuko Shiraishi was a guest to the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam in 2009. This text was written on that occasion.
Seasons of Sacred Lust (New Directions, 1978), Let Those Who Appear (New Directions, 2002), Die Jahreszeiten der Heiligen Lust (2004), My Floating Mother, City (New Directions, 2009)
Kazuko Shiraishi interviewed by Yasuhiro Yotsumoto, editor of the Japanese domain at the 2009 Poetry International Festival
Kazuko Shiraishi / Yasuhiro Yotsumoto