Masayo Koike
(Japan, 1959)   
Masayo Koike

Masayo Koike is a poet who treasures words. From an early age she was attracted to the notion of ‘poetry’; for Koike poetry expressed something of the ideal of art itself. From her childhood she experimented with various art forms, especially music and painting, in addition to writing. But by the time she was in her twenties she began to focus on poetry, the power of the word.

Masayo Koike was born in Tokyo in 1959 and graduated from the International Relations Department of Tsuda Juku College in Tokyo. Her first published book of verse was Mizu no Machi kara Arukidashite (I Began to Walk from the Water Town) which was released by a major publisher of poetry in 1988. Her second volume of poetry was Seikasai (Fruit and Vegetable Festival) published in 1991. Her third volume of poetry Eien ni Konai Basu (The Bus that Never Comes), published in 1997 and was awarded the 15th Gendaishi Hanatsubaki Prize (Modern Poetry Camellia Prize). Her following book of verse Mottomo Kannohtekina Heya (The Most Sensuous Room) was published in 2000 and awarded the 30th Takami Jun Literary Prize. Then followed two more books of verse, Yoakemae Juppun (Ten Minutes before Dawn) and Ame Otoko, Yama Otoko, Mame o Hiku Otoko (Rain Men, Mountain Men and Men Who Mill Coffee Beans) both published in 2001. In 2003 Masayo’s first selected poems appeared.

In addition to verse Koike is a translator of children’s stories and also an essayist. Her collection of essays Okujoh e no Yuhwaku (An Invitation to the Rooftop), which was published in 2001, was awarded the Kohdansha Essay Prize. Most recently, in 2004 Koike’s first collection of short stories Kankoh Seikatsu (Life Exposed by Light) was published.

Koike is also active as a book reviewer in newspapers and magazines and on radio and television. She has written a regular column on poetry in the Nihon Keizai Shinbun (Japan Economic Newspaper) from 2004. Her range of interest extends to art and design, with one of the magazines that she edits regularly featuring her own drawings.

Koike’s verse is quiet rather than angry, her poetry covers a wide range of subjects but if there is a thread that links her manifold choice of themes, then it is the relationship between everyday life and the self. In many of Koike’s poems we catch a glimpse of a calm, at times almost naïve intelligence, registering the events of the world – the commonplace world of everyday life – on the senses of the perceiving self. Some poems clearly relate to the poet’s personal experience but other poems are quiet meditations upon the nature of observed reality, whether the reality of urban life or simply the reality of the curious and slightly whimsical movement of the observing eye.

Koike’s language is subtle, attuned to the natural rhythms of speech. Her diction does not leap off the page like a tiger but waits quietly, slowly imposing itself upon the ear of the reader. There is no doubt that the poet has an acute ear for the insistent rhythm of speech and narrative. It is a controlled art, a compressed art, an art that slowly unfolds but one that is precise and exacting, yet at the same time gentle, even if the subject exposed by the language is occasionally disturbing. To translate these poems into English has required creation of a voice that is no less compact, no less powerful in its slow deliberate rhythms than Koike’s own Japanese voice. In common with most contemporary Japanese poets, Koike’s verse works as much on the ear as the eye, and the English renderings try to reproduce this characteristic as far as such a thing is possible.

Excerpts from “Introduction” by Leith Morton to ‘Masayo Koike: Selected Poems’, published by Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2006

© Leith Morton


Mizu no Machi kara Arukidashite (I Began to Walk from the Water Town), Shichosha, Tokyo, 1988
Seikasai (Fruit and Vegetable Festival), Shichosha, Tokyo, 1991
Eien ni Konai Basu (The Bus that Never Comes), Shichosha, Tokyo, 1997
Mottomo Kannohtekina Heya (The Most Sensuous Room), Shoshi Yamada, Tokyo, 1999
Yoakemae Juppun (Ten Minutes before the Dawn), Shichosha, Tokyo, 2001
Ame Otoko, Yama Otoko, Mame o Hiku Otoko (Rain Men, Mountain Men and Men Who Mill Coffee Beans), Shinchosha, Tokyo, 2001
Koike Masayo Sishuh (Selected Poems of Masayo Koike), Shichosha, Tokyo, 2003
Taishi: Shi to Seikatsu (Poetry in Dialogue: Poetry vs. Living), co-authored with Yasuhiro Yotsumoto, Shichosha, Tokyo, 2005
Chijoh o Wataru Koe (Voices Crossing the Earth), Shoshi Yamada, Tokyo, 2006
Masayo Koike: Selected Poems, English Translation by Leith Morton, Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2006


Kankoh Seikatsu (Life Exposed by Light), Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo, 2004
Louga, Kodansha, Tokyo, 2005


Okujoh e no Yuhwaku (An Invitation to the Rooftop), Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo, 2001
Kokuun no shita de Tamago o Atatameru (Warming Eggs under Dark Clouds), Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo, 2005
Ido no Soko ni Ochita Hoshi (The Star that Fell to the Bottom of a Well), Misuzu Shobo, Tokyo, 2006


Yuki ga Furihajimetara (When It Starts to Snow) by Phillis Gershator, Kodansha, Tokyo, 2001
Dohshitano (Tobber) by Charlotte Dematons, Akaneshobo, Tokyo, 2003
Ookina Kikansha Chiisana Kikansha (The Train to Timbuctoo) by Margaret Wise Brown and Art Seiden, Kodansha, Tokyo, 2003
Soreike Shohbohsha (The Great Big Fire Engine Book)  by Tibor Gergely, Kodansha, Tokyo, 2004
Manmaru Otsukisama o Oikakete (Kitten’s First Full Moon) by Kevin Henkes , Fukuinnkan Shoten, Tokyo, 2005
Mori no Musume Maria Chapdelaine by Maria Chapedelaine, based on the novel by Louis Hemon), Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo, 2005
Dohbutsutachi no Ohkestora (Animal Orchestra)  by Tibor Gergely, Kodansha, Tokyo, 2005


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