Ishigaki Rin was born in Akasaka in downtown Tokyo in 1920. From 1934 to 1975 she worked as a bank clerk and thus first became known as the ‘bank clerk poet’. She was also an active trade unionist, holding a number of positions in the bank employees’ union. Her four major poetry collections were published between 1959 and 1984 and were awarded a number of literary prizes including the Mr H. Prize and the Tumura Toshiko Prize. In addition to poetry, Ishigaki has also written several volumes of essays.
A leading contemporary poet, Isaka Yohko, describes Ishigaki’s poetry as “contemptuous of arrogance and power” and as possessing a universal quality in her exploration of the quotidian crises of her domestic life. Isaka notes that she “weighs carefully every word and phrase”, that her poetry is read by those who “normally give poetry a wide berth” and I might add that Ishigaki is also unafraid to tackle the truly big themes as well. These themes relate to lives like her own, spent caring for her aged parents while still managing to hold down the same job for over forty years.
The themes of Ishigaki Rin’s poetry manage to balance the crises and complications of a life of work and domestic duties with more historical (the history of wartime and post-war Japan) and topical subjects. Yet, however much the theme impresses itself upon the reader’s mind, there is a dimension of her poetics that cannot be communicated transparently in translation. I am speaking of the simplicity and power of her diction. Ishigaki’s words ring out like the beating of a drum, sometimes the rhythm is gentle, almost comforting, but sometimes it breaks the silence like the cracking of whip. The words can be light or heavy but they are always spare and deliberate; Ishigaki never wastes words or the sound-patterns they impress on the ear. Her Japanese also often utilizes a sly, gentle humour that occasionally approaches irony. However, this element of her style is available in translation to the reader, and thus reinforces the strong personal presence that infuses her verse and which gives her writing an engaging intimacy.
The poems translated here are taken from all four books listed above, and represent a typical ‘slice’ of her oeuvre, although the translator’s tastes obviously played a role in the selection.
I would like to thank Yotsumoto Yasuhiro for his assistance and his advocacy of this project. Ishigaki Rin died in December 2004, and so was not able to see the results of this project but, in a truism that is never a cliché, her spirit fortunately lives on in her poetry.
Watashi no Mae ni aru Nabe to Okama to Moeru Hi to (In Front of Me the Pot and Ricepot and Burning Flames and), first published by Shosi Eureka, Japan, 1959, republished as Rin Ishigaki Collection I by Kashinsa, Tokyo, 1988, and republished again under the original title by Dowaya, Japan, 2000.
Hyôsatsu nado (Nameplates etc.) Shichosa, Tokyo, 1968, republished as Rin Ishigaki Collection 2 by Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1987, and under the original title by Dowaya, Japan, 2001.
Ryakureki (Brief CV) Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1979, republished as Rin Ishigaki Collection 3 by the same publisher in 1987, published for a third time under the original title by Dowaya, Japan, 2002.
Yasashii Kotoba (Soft Words) Kashinsha, Tokyo, 1984, republished as Rin Ishigaki Collection 4 by the same publisher in 1987, republished under the original title by Dowaya, 2002.
Rin Ishigaki Collected Poems, Shichosa, Tokyo, 1971.
Rin Ishigaki in the series “Modern Japanese Poets”, Chuo Koron, Japan, 1983.
Carrying the Sky, Dowaya, Japan, 1997.
Rin Ishigaki Collected Poems, Kadowkawa Haruki Office, Tokyo, 1998.
At a Corner of the Universe – Rin Ishigaki’s Poetry, Rironsha, Japan, 2004
Humor No Sakoku (Isolation of Humour), Hokuyosha, Tokyo, 1973, republished by Kodansha, Tokyo, 1981 and Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo, 1987.
Honoo Ni Teo Kazashite(Hands over the Fire), Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo, 1980, republished by Saitama Fukushikai, Japan, 1994.
Yoru No Taiko (Drums in the night), Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo, 1989.
Shino Nakano Fukkei (Scenes in Poems), Fujinnotomosha, Japan, 1992.
Books by Rin’s translator, Leith Morton
Modernism in Practice: An Introduction to Postwar Japanese Poetry, University of Hawaii Press, Hawaii, 2004. Contains some of Rin’s poems in English.
An Anthology of Contemporary Japanese Poetry, Garland Press, New York, 1993
The bibliographies included in both these books list virtually every English language scholarly work on modern Japanese poetry as well as most available translations of contemporary Japanese poetry.
Modern Japanese Poetry : One Hundred Years
This collection of Japanese poetry entitled Modern Japanese Poetry : One Hundred Years selected by Shuntaro Tanikawa and Makoto Ooka and introduced by Haider A. Khan contains some of Rin’s works in English.