Born in Tokyo, Hiroshi Kawasaki published countless numbers of poems, essays, stories, radio plays and documentaries over the half a century until his death in 2004. His poems are usually plain, unpretentious narratives, and echo his longing for nature, especially the sea, and for living in harmony with nature. His essays, on the other hand, explore the richness of the contemporary Japanese language and collect unique words in regional dialects, or colloquial (and often humorous) curses. His radio plays, which he started writing in his mid-twenties under the strong influence of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood, demonstrate both characteristics of his verses and prose.
In 1953, he co-founded a poetry magazine ‘Kai’ [oar or paddle] together with Noriko Ibaragi. Kai fast developed into one of the most influential poetry collectives, including such poets as Shuntaro Tanikawa and Makoto Ooka as its members. The magazine presented, as a new trend in post-war Japanese poetry, the kind of verse which was dubbed by Makoto Ooka “Carnival of Sensitivities”; it attracted a wide range of general audiences without losing its experimental edge. At the same time, Kai members launched a series of Ren-shi (linked poetry) collaborations, using the traditional Renga practice in contemporary free-style verse.
The earlier poems of Hiroshi Kawasaki showed his romantic longing to be one with nature and to live a pure and simple life – in an almost mythical or idyllic paradise – as the titles of the poems selected here such as ‘Morning’, ‘Life’, ‘Tree’, and ‘The Bird’ indicate.
I get out of the ocean.
On the beach I pick up a fish as large as myself and sling it across my shoulder.
I hoist its slimy weight into place.
Still alive, it sometimes twists and turns
and make me stagger.
A young girl with erected nipples comes towards me.
I put the fish down.
I remove the straw wrapping from around my penis.
Although one can still see his love for the sea and simple folk, his later poems deal with more prosaic aspects of our lives, sometimes taking on undertones at once melancholic and comic:
my old lady in her bed
too clearly for delirium,
That’s all –
She was about to wake up.
So I knew
straight away –
She is not
‘My Old Lady Said’ (entire poem)
Following his first collection of poetry, A Swan in 1955, his most notable publications include, The Way Trees Think (1964), Wedding Songs (1971), When I do not think of the Sea (1978), Food Cabin (1980), Catalogue of Cursing Words (1984), An Empty Tin of Biscuits (1986, winner of the prestigious Takami Jyun Award), Goisagi has Come (1992), Songs of Words Play (2000), and Clay Figures (2004).
All sixteen poems presented here have been newly translated into English for PIW, nine by Takako Lento and seven by William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura.
Hakucho (A Swan), Shoshi Yuriika, 1955
Ki no kangae kata (The Way Trees Think), Kokubunsha, 1964
Hiroshi Kawasaki’s Poems, Kokubunsha, 1968
Shukukonka (Wedding Songs), Yamanashi Silk Center, 1971
Umi o omowanai toki (When I do not think of the Sea), Shichosha, 1978
Tabemono goya (A Food Cabin), Shichosha, 1980
Mezameru Sunzen (Right Before Waking up), Shoshi Yamada, 1982
Akutai sairoku hikae (Catalogue of Cursing Words), Shichosha, 1984
Bisketto no akikan (An Empty Tan of Biscuits), Kashinsha, 1986
Goisagi ga kita (Goisagi has come), 1992
Kotoba Ashobi Uta (Songs of Words Play), 2000
Haniwa tachi (Clay Figures), Shichosha, 2004
Selected Poems of Hiroshi Kawasaki (Contemporary Japanese Poetry Series #33), Shichosha, 1970
Selected Poems of Hiroshi Kawasaki Vol. 2 (Contemporary Japanese Poetry Series #133), Shichosha, 1995
Poetry for children
Omoi tsubasa (Heavy Wings), Kayousha, 1981
Shikarareta kamisama (Gods Who were Scolded), Rironsha, 1981
Kodomo no shi – shishyu (an anthology of poems written by children), Kashinsha, 1985
Shashin no naka no otohchan (Dad in a Photograph), Rakuda Publishing, 2001
Ohisama no kakera (Pieces of the Sun – an anothlogy of poems written by children), Chuo Kohron Shinsha, 2003
Umi ga aru to iukoto wa (That there are seas means), Rironsha, 2005
Ningen pika pika (Men Shine – an anthology of poems written by children), Chuo Kohron Shinsha, 2005
Selected Radio Plays by Hiroshi Kawasaki, Kashinsha, 1988
Hohgen Saikoh (Local Dialects Revisited), Sohshisha, 1981
Hogen no ikizukai (Breathing Dialects), Sohshisha, 1999
Kanjiru nihongo (Feel the Japanese Language), Shichocha, 2002
Kagayaku nihongo no akutai (Beautiful Japanese Cursing Words), Shinchosha, 2003
Sakana no namae (Names of Fish), Isoppu sha, 2004
… These are just a few. Hiroshi Kawasaki also wrote texts for many picture books and translated foreign books for children such as Andersen’s fairy stories.