Go to: Selected Poems of Kitasono Katue or Glimpses of Avant Garde Japan


Introduction to
Oceans Beyond Monotonous Space
Selected Poems of Kitasono Katue

by Karl Young


When writers in the west list the major poets of the 20th Century, they usually do not include Kitasono Katue. They should. Perhaps they will in the future. Kitasono produced an incomparable opus in its own right and exerted a significant influence on the avant-garde arts of Japan and the Atlantic cultures. At a time when digital photography, the internet, and examination of referentiality exert more impact than any artistic movement, it seems clear that his influence and example relate as much to the living, active, and dynamic arts of the present moment as to the literature of the last century. The European Surrealists whose name he identified himself with paid little attention to him. Starting with Ezra Pound, however, Atlantic avant-gardists began to recognize his genius and borrowed ideas from the few works of his they saw. This appreciation will probably increase as more work becomes available in translation and as 20th Century Japanese poetry becomes better known throughout the world. Thanks primarily to the work of Hosea Hirata, Nishiwaki Janzaburo has a small but dedicated readership in the west. Shiraishi Kazuko has become well known in the English speaking literary world through the translations of Kenneth Rexroth and his associates. John Solt, who was one of those associates, may play a similar role for Kitasono. Solt's ground- breaking and exemplary study, Shredding the Tapestry of Meaning, is available from Harvard University Asia Center, and a Japanese translation will come forth in late 2007 from Shichosha. We hope our selection of Plastic Poems and Solt's translations of lexical poetry will help make way for fuller editions.

Although Kitasono was a devoted avant-gardist and internationalist, it is important to see him first in the context of Japanese literature. As an experimentalist, he avoided repeating forms he had previously explored. Each new book carried some ideas forward from previous groups of poems, but in each he tried to completely work out a new "pattern" or invented form. In middle age, these patterns drew largely on Japanese traditions rather than the avant-garde need to reject or destroy convention. Although Kitasono certainly did not plan it this way or see it in these terms, his opus as a whole bears resemblance to Renga and other traditional linked forms. These practices involve not only links between each unit but also shifts away from whatever has gone before. Modern practitioners of Renku say that the purpose of this technique is to include as wide a range of human experience as possible. Kitasono, the supreme avant- gardist, succeeded in exploring the widest range of forms possible through a life-long habit of shifting with each new step. However large a move he made in any given shift, and however much he may have picked up from Euro-American ideas, he did not fall into imitation of western art. Instead, he took part in the creation of a Japanese avant-garde, which may in the long run have its major impact on the literary and artistic globalism of the 21st Century.


Kitasono Katue, a pen name for Hashimoto Kenkichi, was born on Oct. 29, 1902. His hometown, Asama, lies a few miles from Ise, the major Shinto pilgrimage site, associated with the Ise Monogatori, an essential classic of Japanese poetry. His family was prosperous. Perhaps prophetically, his father enjoyed tinkering with gadgets, often with the aim of inventing something new. One of the gadgets was a camera. Kitasono seems to have been shy, and did not earn distinguished grades in school. He did, however, learn some basic English which he would use extensively later. His elder brother Heihachi became an accomplished sculptor though his life was painfully short. The creativity of the two brothers suggests a sympathetic and nurturing home environment. That Kitasono's parents would support him with a modest allowance for years after he left home suggests that they did not object to his artistic activities.

In 1919, Kitasono moved to Tokyo to attend college. This was a pivotal moment in Japanese history, and Kitasono seems to have arrived at just the right time for a future avant-gardist. Japan enjoyed strong economic growth in part by picking up Asian markets during World War I, and also by rapid industrialization, a disciplined and optimistic work force, and shrewd management. A recession in 1919, however, created a temporary crisis for the country. The great earthquake of Sept. 1, 1923 destroyed over half the buildings in Tokyo and killed more than 100,000. From a friend's reminiscence, we catch a glimpse of Kitasono printing a small-circulation magazine as the ground literally began to shake in Tokyo. The recession and the quake created upheavals in the country, but the destruction of much of the city gave it the opportunity to rebuild itself on almost futuristic lines, making its modernity competitive with the cities of Europe and America.

The literary and artistic scene of the metropolis at the time is difficult to summarize. There had been a small but significant literary avant-garde in the city since the teens. In the 1920s, news of movements in the arts in Europe reached Japan quickly though sporadically. Counterparts to European movements sprang up, and although the membership of any one may not have been large, the members could be intensely dedicated and those in positions of leadership could use their groups in rivalries with other coteries. European writers and artists at this time looked to traditional Japanese arts - particularly wood block prints and short verse forms - as points of departure for massive reformations in western art. Their Japanese counterparts, however, were not looking to European history for new ideas, but to the west's avant- gardes. Less than a handful of poets and painters in the North Atlantic cultures made an attempt to learn Japanese, though some created elaborate hallucinations as to the nature of Kanji. Some used small verse forms as a means of exulting epiphanies and eliminating traditional metrics. Not all Japanese affiliates of western trends fully understood European avant-gardes, but this is not surprising since many Europeans simply did bad imitations of each other themselves. Although some Japanese were not happy with what seemed the one-way nature of avant-garde transmission, they nonetheless actively debated torrents of in-coming ideas while learning more about the mistakes and successes of the west than the west was willing to learn from them. In this environment, Kitasono evolved quickly. The first four poems in this selection were written in less than two years and show how much at this early stage Kitasono could make new techniques his own and how quickly he could switch between patterns.

Dada morphing into Surrealism seemed to lead the arts in Europe at the time, and although Japanese artists were aware of many movements in the west, this is the one they watched most closely and evoked most often. As much as Japanese artists could learn from Surrealism, the association could prove deceptive. Several Japanese groups associated themselves with Surrealism because they were interested in the juxtaposition of incongruous ideas and images. One level of confusion comes from the way they used the modern European term to validate explorations of incongruous conjunction which they might have made anyway. There are plenty of precedents in Japanese art and culture which could have been updated. As time goes by, roles plated by indigenous Japanese ideas may appear more distinctly from those influenced by the west.

Any modern city is full of incongruities, but those that included the juxtaposition of east and west added another layer of strangeness. Construction excavation in any city cuts through incongruous chronological strata. How much more so would that be the case in Tokyo than in Paris? However much Japanese avant-gardists borrowed from North Atlantic models, we should bear in mind the interrelation between social and artistic change. If Japan had been going through a period of industrialization cut off from its associated artistic ideas, or had done so without foreign assistance, it would be foolish to assume that new literary practices would not have accompanied changes elsewhere in the culture. The speed of modernization in Japan probably intensified the need among some artists for radical change, while others sought solace from the press of events in traditional forms.

Japanese Surrealism characterized itself as much by what it left out of the European mode as what it included. A major factor comes from the Japanese poets disregard of the basis of Surrealist theory in Freudian psychoanalysis. Takiguchi Shuzo seems to be the only Japanese poet of the time to adhere to this line of European Surrealist thought. Despite claims of universality, classical psychoanalysis grew out of a particular phase of European culture which had little to do with other environments. Although this is an issue to debate in other venues, suffice it to say that even in the contemporary west, psychoanalysis is now generally seen as inadequate in treating people who suffer from mental illnesses. Japanese poets of the early 20th Century may have been ahead of their time in ignoring it. As European Surrealism progressed it took on an increasingly political cast, with many of its members joining the Communist Parties. Kitasono and other Japanese Surrealists rejected poetry becoming subsumed in politics. On perhaps the most profound level, the European Surrealists were more prejudiced than they knew. They may have exalted what they saw as "primitive" in African and other tribal cultures, but didn't know what to make of east Asia. Its level of sophistication was difficult to understand, and conceptions of intelligence and lack thereof were exaggerated to the point where the people of the east were seen as either demonically shrewd or hopelessly limited. Although poets and artists in the west could admire Japanese work and ideas, the culture as a whole did not fit into models of primitive or civilized which remained latent in Euro-American perceptions. Kitasono and some of his friends went around in androgynous costumes at a time when Breton was excommunicating anyone who showed any sign he could associate with effeminacy. Japan's Surrealists included a few women; France's virtually prohibited their participation as anything but erotic toys. European Surrealism, perhaps because of its theoretical base in psychoanalysis, seemed to include a profound streak of insecurity and the concomitant need to go beyond formal extremes to extremes of destructiveness. Thus Breton could begin with proposals for blowing up museums and go on to claim that the supreme act of Surrealist commitment would be to go out in a crowded street and shoot someone at random. Tzara could call for "A great negative work of destruction" that would destroy all but the strongest. Although a few Japanese poets could rant, they engaged in little of this kind of folly. The famous Surrealist map of the world does not include Japan at all. Later writers who did not ignore Japanese Surrealism altogether tended to dismiss it as inferior imitation. Surrealists in Latin America moved as far away from European Surrealism as their Japanese counterparts, but were not accused of ignorance or inept copying.

In 1924, the year Kitasono wrote the first poems in this selection, Nogawa Ryu launched the magazine Ge.Gjmgjgam.Prrr.Gjmgem. The title appeared on the front cover in Roman letters and on the back in katakana. An editorial note says that Nogawa was fascinated by the shapes of the letters, perhaps intimating that being taken with the look of alien writing systems went both ways across the Eurasian landmass. However it looks, the name suggests an appreciation of abstract sound poetry. Note the skillful repetition and inversion of similar and divergent phonemes. Hugo Ball's first abstract sound poem comes across as clumsy in comparison The late American master of abstract sound poetry, Jackson Mac Low, would have delighted in it, and been able to give it an enthusiastic articulation. By the time the second issue appeared, Kitasono had become its chief editor. It would be the first of a number of literary magazines Kitasono would edit and design, including the essential Madame Blanche, and finally, VOUł one of the longest lived avant- garde literary journals of the century.

The mid 1920s-early 1930s was a period when the illusion of one-way, west-to-east, flow of avant-garde ideas came to one of its most curious and ironic stages. Japanese poets created all the basic ideas Concrete Poetry would claim to invent 30 years later. Kitasono contributed his share to the schematic, mimetic, found, modular, fractured, conjoined (etc.) modes that would later appear in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Brazil. As we will see, Kitasono played a personal and emphatic game with the Concretists. Would they have worked differently if they had seen this early body of poetry, or would they simply have tried to cover it up, as they did when Kenneth Patchen reinvented similar modes half way between the Japanese of the 1920s and the Concretists?

One such poem, "Magic," from 1929 appears in this book. One of several modular blocks within the poem could have easily appeared in one of the Concrete anthologies of the 1960s and been hailed as a breakthrough. The first modular block consists of 70 iterations of the Kanji "umi" and the sign "no". "Umi" means simply "ocean." "No" () is more complex, and forms one of the links through many of Kitasono's shifting patterns. We can call it a weak and general possessive, a particle that could be translated "of" or as apostrophe s. Thus a translation could read "ocean of ocean of ocean of ocean ..." or "ocean's ocean's ocean's ocean's..." Going by sound, the reiterations of "umi no umi no umi no..." suggest the acoustics of rolling waves. The "no" sign looks like a cresting wave. This sweeping and simple round figure contrasts with the tight and angular Kanji. "No" lends complexity to this poem, and variations on its usage become the focal point of seemingly endless variations throughout Kitasono's opus.. Does the ocean keep on possessing or grabbing itself? Does it try to be all consuming? Is this a pattern of infinite regression of ownerships or attributes? Does the ocean become more complex and more insistent the more it curls in on itself, from the great breakers you can see from shore to the molecular level? How many different ways can you interpret it? Does the process of looking at the poem, or reciting it, or commenting on it strike you as relaxing or sinister or hypnotic or annoying? How much do your reactions change between one reading and another?

The poem includes a second similar block, divided by a Gertrude Stein-like lyric. Visually, the page layout avoids cloying symmetry by dividing the second block between one side of a leaf of the book and the next. Sonically, the two blocks and the line dividing them each has a different rhythm. The sounds of the first block suggest rolling waves, while the sound patterns of the second block have a sharp character suggesting the glint and glare of the sunlight on water the words describe. Both blocks suggest different forms a accretion or amplification. The main difference between Kitasono's poem and those of later Concrete is Kitasono's dislike of large, clunky looking type. Kitasono's early visual poetry also includes diagrammatic poems containing few words. Although he and his friends did not invent the idea of putting glosses at the bottom of pages so an international audience could read them, they drew upon the common currency of industrial and scientific schemata and alluded to the spread of modern objects and procedures. Plastic surgery, roses, and airplanes meet gracefully as the template drawings of blueprints flow in and out of the standardized shape of ancient Kanji characters rendered in metal type.

Kitasono's first book, White Album, published in 1929, included explorations of "no" as part of the energetic burst of early sketches of the types of poetry he would concentrate on throughout his life. Looking back at the book in 1961, he would write:

I have published as many as twenty books since then, but all the "patterns" of my poetry are in White Album. In that sense, White Album is an unfinished volume of many patterns gathered in a jumble. . . When I get in a slump, I always take out White Album, and like a hunter stalking prey, my eyes wander in the jungle of words where I discover a forgotten pattern, sweep away the dust, and extend it in a new way.

A measure of the personal success and Kitasono's youthful enthusiasm and inventiveness comes from the degree to which he used ideas initiated in White Album. Perhaps as important, the book includes more basic patterns than he had time to extend in practice. In the present edition, we have included poems such as "Tobacco of the Future" and "Doll, Pistol and Balloon" whose patterns Kitasono did not develop further. Most of the comments that follow analyze extensions of patterns found in the book. After White Album Kitasono kept a complete coincidence between pattern and book. He did not issue books of diverse poems at intervals when opportunities presented themselves, but used each book as a framework for a new pattern. We could thus see each book as a basic unit of composition. In the two books following White Album, we can see Kitasono clearly and purposefully moving into specific patterns and shifting away from others between one book and the next. In Young Colony (1932) the syntax is relatively straight-forward and the more prickly forms of experiment are absent. What remains strongest is a particular type of Surrealist imagery. Instead of using incongruous or contradictory statements that question perception or logic or leave the reader feeling disconcerted, the contrasts have a sweet and celebratory quality. Young Colony was one of Kitasono's most popular books. In it we can see him trying to create an avant-garde pattern that was not hieratic or exclusionist. The "colony" of the title has nothing to do with those which Japan was creating throughout Asia, but something like their opposite. The residents inhabit a dreamy world where free spirits meet without hindrance from practicalities or the aggressiveness of the world outside. The lyricism of Young Colony would reappear in other books, including a revised edition of the original. Many of the poems were set to music, and a few achieved something like the popularity of Kurt Schwitters's "An Anna Blume." Kitasono, however, initially turned his back on the book. He may have felt he pushed its sweetness a bit too far. Yet this may have been part of a dialectic between his lyric poems and the more stringent qualities of those poems which placed a heavier emphasis on formal experiment. Despite the qualities we seem almost required to call "lyrical," Kitasono strongly disliked the music to which the poems were set, even though the settings were quite diverse. Perhaps this touches most emphatically on Kitasono's dislike for reading his poems aloud. This was probably not a rejection of sound for image as a superficial response to his visual poetry might suggest. The great American explorer of sound, Lorine Niedecker, didn't like to read or hear her poems because nothing uttered could match the texture of sound she could hear with her inner ear. Kitasono seems to have shared a similar attitude. He gave two public readings early in his life and never read to an audience again.

The book's lyricism, however, played an interesting practical role for Kitasono. His future wife later claimed that she was "swept off [her] feet" by the book and that it made a significant contribution to their courtship. The next book, Conical Poems, (1933) moves back into an experimentalism more focused and stringent than that of White Album. Here the poems are written as prose, emphasizing the play of incongruous ideas and images against the dry tone of the text. The literary methodology revamps cues from Cubist technique, and the tone subsumes that of the relatively cold and impersonal approach of scientific inquiry. As in many instances, Kitasono worked contrasts into the fiber of his poems. In this book, the dull and blunt tone of the prose contrasts with lavish turns of imagery which swing between the vocabulasries of science and romanticism. The excessive repetition of clever phrases in the book could be seen as a fault, and they do come across as annoying. Yet it's not out of the question to see these repetitions as allusions to the interchangeable parts of industrial production and the anti-mechanical nature of unusual image combinations. For this book, we have Kitasono's comments on the poems, and find that however much he elucidates his work, he has also moved slyly on to another pattern.

The mid 1930s saw important changes and advantages for Kitasono. In 1935, Madame Blanche magazine morphed into VOU, and the group that formed around him proved stable in number of participants and supportive of Kitasono and those who stayed with it. The magazine would go through a change and a period of suspended publication but ultimately survived the Pacific War. It would then act as a bridge with other countries, provide a vehicle for Kitasono and those he mentored (an increasingly important role for him as he matured), a place to publish on a regular basis, and prove one of the most important avant-garde poetry magazines of the 20th Century. During this period, following the death of his parents, Kitasono lost his stipend and went through a number of jobs before finding steady employment as librarian and publication manager for a dental college, a job that would keep him designing and editing publications for a milieu outside the arts. In 1934, he wrote "Opera Poetica" in English as a tribute to Paul Eluard. In some respects, this poem suggests a polite farewell to European Surrealism as he looks for a new group of patterns. These he finds in a return to Japanese tradition. His next succession of shifts move from a reintegrated form of Imagism to a set of traditional haiku. The first in this set, Kon, takes its name from a mythological creature, and may draw on memories of childhood and family spent in more stable and less hurried circumstances than those of the economic recession of Japan following the global tidal waves unleashed by the stock market crash in the United States. Although the moves toward tradition probably had many motives and functions, they may have included the need to move away from European Surrealism - and they seem to have given him a chance to regroup his personal resources for a return to avant-garde forms later. In 1936, Kitasono wrote a letter to Ezra Pound, primarily seeking a blurb from a distinguished Euro- American and some advice on Imagism from one of its founders. The results of this correspondence proved useful to him in a number of ways he could not have expected when he committed his letter to the mail. Perhaps the most surprising and heartening result was that unlike the Surrealists, Pound was eager to correspond with him, and the eccentric American actually listened attentively to what he had to say, despite the fact that the two often did not understand each other. If Kitasono was looking for Imagist ideas to help him keep a modernist edge on his poems in traditional patterns, he was making one of several feedback loops. The basic ideas (and misconceptions) which became embodied in Imagism originated in attempts to understand the traditional poetry of East Asia. Kitasono and Pound not only gave each other moral support at difficult times in their lives, but each arranged for publication of the other's poems and essays in their respective milieux. The roles they played in each others' lives and work cannot be stressed too much. The correspondence could at times be strained or comic. Amid Pound's rants about currency and Kitasono's speculation on his theory of "ideoplasty," an idea which may have been encouraged by Imagism, Pound sent a school paper written by his 12 year old daughter. Kitasono translated the paper and arranged for its publication in Fujin Gaho, a Japanese magazine for proper teenage girls. This dispelled difficulties brewing between them and brings some relief into the darkening world events moving in on the two poets.

In addition to Kitasono's voluntary move to traditional poetry, as the decade wore on he found himself under increased surveillance as the government placed ever greater restrictions on what western "contaminants" poets could include in their work. On the eve of war, Kitasono was interrogated by the Thought Police, and wrote several jingoistic poems in the following years. He also edited a nationalistic anthology and converted several issues of VOU into something more politically acceptable. The nationalist poems, which Kitasono tried to play down or disclaim after the war, consist, at best, of camouflage, or, at worse, the results of being sucked into war fever. There's no reason to see them as fitting the same criteria for serious consideration as those of the rest of his opus, including the poems which rely on Japanese traditions. How does a poet who writes verse such as Kitasono's cope with mass hysteria and Thought Police? Although he wrote a poem in homage to Paul Eluard before the war, he would not have had the stuff of which resistance fighters are made, even if there had been a significant resistance for him to join. As Kobayashi Yoshio, one of Kitasono's friends during the fire bombing of Tokyo, said of him, "That man truly understands fear." Some Japanese critics find serious fault with Kitasono for writing nationalistic poetry, and discussion of culpability may continue as part of Japan's internal dialogue and self-analysis. As an American, I am not qualified to take part in that discussion. It may be significant to note when looking at Kitasono's patterns, that he wrote the crisp and untainted aphorisms of Cactus Island when the Thought Police were circling around Japanese poets, as well as a few poems such as "Transparent Object," which do nothing to support the war, but suggest modest internal resistance. Kitasono also kept a low-key coterie going among members of the VOU group, even publishing some work that would not be completely acceptable to the authorities. More important, in looking at Kitasono's approach to art in general, this highlights an essential and basic characteristic of his work that may contribute to the inability of some readers to understand him. He was not a proselytizer or evangelist of any sort. His poems do not give moral instruction or promote a philosophical or religious or political position. They do make some indirect claims for the importance of experimentation and invention, but they do not apply this to anything more than the nature of experience. Kitasono is a singularly non-coercive poet, not even pushing polemics regarding art for art's sake. Given his refusal to advance social, political, religious, personal, or ideological points of view, the reader should not look for "content" that can be summarized or paraphrased: significance in Kitasono lies elsewhere.

From the poems in White Album on, the avant-garde works to a greater or lesser extent explore shifting or dysfunctional referentiality and a blurring or complete disassociation of subject and object. The poems employing the graph "no" stress this most emphatically, at times suggesting webs that recoil on themselves or run into dead ends or leave their function in a state of thorough ambiguity. In one reading, a series of "no" connections may lead to what seems an infinite regression. In another, they may seem to rearrange patterns of force in linear sequences or work through shifting configurations of association. At times, Kitasono's disruption of logical progression can move from classic Surrealism into something more strange. The first four lines of the following stanza from "Monotonous Solid" fit the classic model:

hot glass bottle
extraordinarily visible burst

The next four lines, however, introduce extra levels of difficulty and ambiguity while amplifying the concept of an explosion illuminating a field of containment. The water may belong to the star, and both may feed dahlias. Dahlias are brightly colored and their petals radiate out in burst patterns. Kitasono may have had other associations in mind when he wrote the poem. Dahlias were first cultivated by Europeans (and from them, passed on to Asia) during the conquest of Mexico - and Kitasono's poem was written while Japan was under American occupation. Without looking further into dahlias (and it seems unlikely that Kitasono had anything more elaborate in mind), you could see the pattern of relation going in different directions. The star, for instance, could be considered a reflection of the dahlia and an entity under its influence, perhaps using rain as an intercessor. However you read the stanza, the first half requires a different type of reading than the second. The second, no matter how you parse it, requires a constant reversion to the previous word with every new line you read. The first four lines continue the standard practice of moving forward in logical sequence. The second group asks for a reading which suggests circles rather than straight lines in its progression. Although Kitasono probably did not have this in mind, the pattern of reading might be better charted by the circular shape of the no graph than by a straight, horizontal line. The basic interpretation of the first four lines is difficult to argue with. Any reading of the next four remains forever tentative and inconclusive, even if patterns of association hold the stanza together and produce a cohesive poetic effect. No matter how far Kitasono moved away from logic or certainty in his later poems, and how adamantly he might write poems which defy authoritative readings, the sense of satisfaction produced by poets as rational as Lucretius or as mystical as Blake, remains in Kitasono's most disconnected patterns.

Pound and the Imagists had broken away from the traditional poetic line by sacrificing meter for moments of perception. Yet Imagism retained the concept of the line as a unit associated with music. Various forms of collage, Surrealist and otherwise, had altered linear presentation by disrupting the connective tissue of grammar, but not necessarily the didactic and authoritarian nature of linear thought.. By creating dysfunctions in the no graph and other grammatical elements, Kitasono had expanded the possibilities of offering significance without a logical framework. From White Album on, Kitasono had written poems whose "lines" consisted of no more than a graph or two. One of his reasons for doing this throughout his career was his use of negative page space and, at times, the tight, staccato rhythms that resulted. In his mature poems, the pages of isolated characters cease being poems made of short lines and move closer to poems made of floating, discontinuos graphs in which the concept of the poetic line disappears along with linear authority.

Kitasono died at the time when questioning the authority of linear referentiality started becoming important to small groups of Post Modernists in the west. In a decade, related concerns would themselves become dogmas and articles of faith in some western literary groups. Yet even poets of the late 20th Century who launched crusades against the tyranny of the referent seldom went so far into rejection of its authority.


The traumas of the war worked their way into Kitasono's poetry during the era of U.S. occupation. Even his best work of the later 1940s suggests uncertainty as to where to find the next pattern. His first major book after the war was Black Fire. Arguably, Kitasono's most important book was White Album. The whiteness of the book from the 1920s suggested lightness, cleanliness, other-worldliness, and, as much as anything, a fresh sheet on which to write. Kitasono titled one of his magazines Harkushi, "blank paper." The title of its next manifestation, Madame Blanche, may also refer to a white page instead of a woman's name. His designs stressed open space with discreet fields of type. It seems that Kitasono venerated surfaces which invited writing and those which made what had been written stand out. Black fire implies a text which consumes the page leaving no room to write further. An album can be opened or closed; in post-war Tokyo, bombed open and collapsed shut buildings were norms. The title suggests smoldering rubble, fires that burn through nights and days under rains full of ashes. It may include remembrance of shelters, where people waited below the fire storms of saturation bombing, desperately hoping they would be neither burned or suffocated. Although Kitasono was not about to engage in any kind of polemic, the book includes an undercurrent of suppressed rage of a destroyed country under foreign occupation.

From an artistic point of view, Tokyo itself had moved from the Surrealism of the City of the Future to the paradigm of dreams of destruction, reminiscent of various cultures' descriptions of hell. Perhaps as a final extension of the title, the black fire of smoldering Japanese cities could turn old albums into fragile ash, white or black. It seems important to read back from this point in understanding Surrealism and Kitasono. Even after the nihilistic strains of Dada had morphed into the more moderate fields of Surrealism, its advocates still delighted in images of destruction, and its practitioners engaged in exhortations to blow things up. The Eurasia of 1945 was one in which the world had outdone the Surrealist's wildest fantasies of blowing up museums and other symbols of stability and continuity. "A great negative work of destruction" had indeed come to pass. Kitasono had rejected the strains of violence in North Atlantic Surrealism along with their base in classic psychoanalysis, yet Japan had endured the worst destructiveness of Euro-American dreams of catastrophe. The tone and texture of Black Fire make the ebullient optimism of White Album all the more apparent; the mid century book may take some of the patterns of the book of the 20s, but the book of starting over used them to chart a dark world in which the poet tried to retrieve some of what had been lost by reusing patterns a young man had created in a time of hope. If Kitasono was a man who understood fear, he may also have been ideally suited to explore a new type of non- coercive significance in a shattered world, occupied by an alien army. The book marked the extreme of Kitasono's disjunctive imagery and syntax. The sense of violence in discontinuity and underlying rage find no object or target. "In a Lost City," written in the immediate aftermath of war, finds continuity with laments the world over. Black Fire takes a much more sophisticated approach and creates a unique post-war poem. Here the rage is not directed at the conquering enemy, nor the Empire at home; Kitasono does not blame anyone nor does he increase his nation's defeat by speaking in the language of the victim, the penitent, or the conquered. The violence and rage are simply there. If this book marks the extreme of Kitasono's lack of coercion, it seems appropriate tha tit should be a response to war, even though Kitasono himself was almost certainly not thinking in such terms when he wrote it. The tone of the book does not suggest, even by indirection, a plea for sympathy or pity. It may not be too much to say that the acknowledgment of the moment and the feeling out of its jagged edges make a type of catharsis possible. But even that may move too close to coercive force and external justification. As the era recedes, however, and historians reveal no heroes on either side, but only greater villainy, this book could become the definitive poetic response to the Pacific War.

The design of Black Fire marks a new move into the realm of visual poetry. The book is roughly square, with the type running in a thin strip along the top of each page. It's general direction of reading is right to left, with some configurations strung vertically along its band. Titles in the book are in red; the text in black. The book's title is a place where Kitasono engages in direct description. The text presents a state of uncertainty and frustration without sentimentality or self-pity. Despite the metaphors of obliteration, Black Fire is a book of starting over. It uses patterns from White Album, and it might not be stretching the point too far to catch a sense of dfefiance or detournement in the optimistic sources. Picking up and extending the patterns of the era of optimism, particularly those patterns which seem impractical and perhaps naive, in terms of Kitasono's lack of political awareness and his country's failures, could be read as much in terms of gritty optimism as passive despair.


Black Fire appeared in 1951. By that time, despite the darkness of life in Japan, the world's relation to Kitasono had begun to change in positive ways he could not have expected. Despite his confinement in a mental hospital and the scrutiny of his mail by the staff, Ezra Pound continued to encourage his network of writers and artists in the West to seek Kitasono out. Ironically, poets in the West had reached a stage of sophistication that allowed them to at least grasp the basics of what Kitasono was doing, even from a few samples in translation. A companion volume to Black Fire appeared in English three years later under the title Black Rain. This title moved from the fire bombing of Tokyo to the use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rain in these cities was something to which everyone was exposed. It fell, meaninglessly, bearing the soot of burned people and buildings with it. As fanciful as a white album might have been, black rain literally fell after the blasts of atomic bombs. At Pound's suggestion, Robert Creeley issued the book through his Divers Press, to the adulation of such poets as Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, and James Laughlin. Creeley would later say in an interview that this book and Charles Olson's Mayan Letters were "the books I remember most vividly." In writing the book in English, with considerable assistance from his wife, it is interesting to note how much they had their audience in mind. They seem to have put considerable effort into making the audience more comfortable with formal difficulties in the patterns of Kitasono's Japanese poems of the period.

By the time this edition came out, Kitasono had changed pattern once more - and either changed tone or recapitulated the sequence of pattern change: Venus's Seashell, published in 1955, reprises some of the tone of Young Colony. Some readers may see the lyricism of this book as a transition from whistling in the dark to some of the lyricism of an earlier period. It may not be stretching the point too far to suggest some ironic intent in the book, as well as a desire to return to a more pleasant world. After its publication, Kitasono paid no further attention to Young Colony for many years. As what seems a preparation for Venus's Seashell, Kitasono published a reworking of his early book of unabashed lyricism. Even if this was, as seems likely, a planed preparation, he inserted some other patterns between the two volumes.

In White Album Kitasono made extensive use of color references. His reiteration of color evocations in the early work began a process of associating colors with changing images and states of mind. The obsessive and combinatory forms gave a particularly insistent and tangible edge to his type of Surrealism, even when the color was such an anti-color as "transparent" or "black" or "white." In his books after Black Fire a strong but limited range of color took on an even greater significance. In some instances, litanies of color images acquired an almost hypnotic quality, suggesting that you could enter a separate reality simply by fixating on colors, that an alternative world could be reached with color alone, and without the need to juxtapose unusual nouns or incongruous verbs or strange images. It seems a bit uncanny to see this growth of color usage through his later opus in relation to Rimbaud's fantasy of color mysticism arising from vowels. It definitely owes a debt to the work of Joseph Albers, whom Kitasono admired, though, as usual, it is important to see how much Kitasono transformed and transposed the root ideas he picked up. I haven't been able to find out whether Kitasono was familiar with the work of Ad Reinhardt, but it is interesting to contemplate what kind of correspondence they might have had, and to imagine Kitasono translating Reinhardt's profound and laconic notes into Japanese. A poem in this pattern, "Monotonous Space," became Kitasono's best known piece outside Japan. It was translated into a number of languages. This poem may initially seem simple, but check out how many ways it asks questions of the reader. When a white square is inside a white square, how do you tell the two apart? By texture, perhaps - or perhaps the areas dissolve into each other, losing their identity and individuality. The infinite regression of the "no" graph may suggest that they are squares appearing in the center of each other, but since nothing is stated about their size or placement, they leave almost endless possibilities open to the reader. Given the nature of questioning the poem implies as to the shapes and colors, the reader may question which shapes or colors "own" which, and even what the words are doing. This last becomes particularly important. Is this a passive voice suggesting that you imagine what it describes, or is it in the imperative form, telling you to construct the image specified? This poem took a number of the different types of ambiguity and exploration from Kitasono's older patterns and simplified them, simultaneously making them more graphic and more emphatic.

In the mid 1950s, an odd coalition of poets and artists, often enough starting from different positions, formed what they called Concrete Poetry. An indication of the complexity, confusion, and confluence of the basic strains of the movement can be seen in the fact that the name "Concrete" was independently and almost simultaneously coined in Sweden and Brazil. Many European members were part of the Fluxus movement, which placed a heavy emphasis on unscripted performances and intuitive responses to changing situations. Some Concretists were affiliated with or part of the Noigandres group in Brazil. This group was interested in two things: creating an international artistic environment that included Brazil as an essential component, and in working out forms of poetry and art that relied on rigid, crisp geometric expression which theoretically could be read by anyone with only the gloss of a word or two. Although Fluxus and Noigandres had widely divergent mindsets, the minimalist layout and rigid typography looked similar enough to merge. Both favored clarity of line and maximum condensation of word and image. This at times included contests to see who could compose a poem not just with the fewest number of words, but the fewest number of marks. The name for the Noigandres group came from a line in a poem by Ezra Pound, and once again we find his letters of reference and ability to make contacts between people essential to Kitasono. Pound had believed that Kanji were all little pictures and had built parts of his literary theory on this notion. The Noigandrens wanted to find a way of making words written in the Roman alphabet do something similar. They did not want to make complex pictures, but to simplify images as much as possible.

Pound's letters, pre-war publications, and his theories of ideogram and image lead them to Japan and to Kitasono. When asked for a poem, he gave them "Monotonous Space," which became a cornerstone of their movement. With Black Rain and Pound's connections, Kitasono was becoming less a marginal figure outside the map of European art, but an essential and generative, if not broadly recognized, presence. Even though little of his work had been published outside Japan, a few key poets and artists had some idea of what he was doing and were adapting ideas he had originated. Exactly what Kitasono thought of the Noigandrens is hard to say. He could easily see that they were reinventing, and claiming as new, artistic forms he and his colleagues in Tokyo had thoroughly worked out three decades earlier. He may not have been interested in what he saw as repeating patterns he had already exhausted. He may have noticed that the Noigandrens were profoundly enmeshed in a strongly nationalistic military dictatorship and wanted to steer clear of anything that reminded him of Japanese fascism. He may have wanted to avoid having to explain to them that their notions of the "ideogram" were utter nonsense. He may have wanted to create an art form of his own instead of merely being the incidental Tokyo bureau chief (who shouldn't quit his day-job) for someone else's movement. Whatever the case, after his contribution of "Monotonous space," he sent them no more poetry that resembled what they were doing. Although this almost certainly involved some form of stepping aside, he opened the door for other Japanese poets who wished to take part in the movement. Niikuni Seiichi became one of the three or four most highly respected of the global movement, and the Japanese Concrete magazines, Shi Shi, and Asa, became two of its most important publications; Shi Shi, was also one of the most long-lived.

Although Concrete was the first truly international movement not dependent on a single language, it had its down side. Some minimalist work was profoundly moving and something that could stay with a reader for a lifetime, but most consisted of trivial and infantile gimmicks. The movement enjoyed a brief period of popularity, but readers came to see its exultation of trivia as no more than a fad and by the early 1970s overwhelmingly and emphatically rejected it. This took the work of masters such as Niikuni and Gomringer out of consideration along with the avalanche of pointless reiterations of less than a dozen superficial tricks. Most important, however, was the way it discredited virtually all writers in the U.S. working in the intermedium between poetry and visual art. Some of these, such as the French Lettrists had formed a web of connections of their own and continued to exert influence in parts of the world where Concrete had not enjoyed a period of absolute dominance. For most people working in this intermedia area - and the number was great, much larger than the number of Concretists - this meant that every route to publication became adamantly closed to them. If they showed their work to anyone outside their own circles, the response they'd get was "I won't look at that: I've already seen Concrete Poetry." Even Kenneth Rexroth, who was in some ways sympathetic to the movement, wrote of visual poems, "once you've seen one, you've seen them all," stating precisely the nature of response to any kind of interaction between word and image on the part of the overwhelming majority of readers. For decades, no other movement in art or literature was as violently and emphatically excluded from consideration by anyone outside its own ranks. People working in the area of greater visual poetry - which was usually not rigid, or minimal, or simple, or trivial - found the only way to get their work around was via the Mail Art network. Mail Art began as a coalition between Fluxists looking for ways to spontaneously and intuitively form large-scale networks of fellow workers and people who felt the need to avoid or subvert all types of censorship. Originally, it simply involved sending art through the mail, but soon became a means for coordinating public exhibitions of art, usually accompanied by performance. Japan remained less affected by the collapse of Concrete than the U.S. Its Concretists continued their work unfazed. Some of the major figures of the Mail Art movement were also Japanese. And, in part through Kitasono, Mail Art pioneered a new form of visual poetry. A Mail Art map of the world would give Japan as much attention, detail, and respect as any other place.

Kitasono may have seen something like the failure of Concrete coming. Whenever he was asked to contribute something to a western publication, he sent no Concretes, only what he called Plastic Poems. (See, for instance, his contributions to The Chicago Review Anthology of Concretism, Eugene Wildman, ed, Chicago, 1969.) In the mid 1960s, when Concrete was nearing its maximum popularity, he declared the movement dead. Some critics have seen this as a miscalculation on his part. It was not. Although it had yet to produce the anthologies that codified it, it is clear now, as it was to Kitasono then, that the movement had exhausted the patterns that the Japanese poets had invented in the 1920s, and backed itself into a small, dogmatic corner.

Although Kitasono produced several new poems which had affinities with his Concretes of the 1920s, he was careful not to publish them outside Japan. In the essential dynamic of his opus, he had shifted pattern once again. Kitasono had been designing books and magazines for years. He presumably had paid close attention to the poetic possibilities of the photography of his friend Yamamoto Kansuke. Certainly he was aware of the need for a poetry that was not confined to a single language - particularly one like Japanese that the rest of the world could either ignore or confuse with picture writing. Instead of imagining systems of pictorial glyphs, he could write with pictures. The traditional definition of poetry boiled down to "metered language," with the emphasis on metered, not language. Once meter had been dispensed with, words could be too. In fact, abstract sounds had been part of poetry at least since the days if Aristophanes. A picture poem was just as far from convention as a prose poem. In destroying the need for meter, Imagism had used East Asian forms such as Haiku to transfer the essence of poetry to an epiphany or moment of wonder. Surely a photo could do that as well as a short poem. In the east and west it seems, in retrospect, a bit silly to expect poets to discuss "the image" in poetry as something that appeared only in the reader's mind: it seems inevitable that some poets who had written about images in the abstract would move into the making of real images. Perhaps most important, Kitasono had developed multiple means of breaking out of the linear nature of traditional poetry and, indeed, straining at the boundaries of linearity in language itself. Making poems out of photographs completely broke away from linear progression into spatial composition, in which sequence freed itself from a single necessary order of successions. Plastic poetry may thus have ended the necessity of the line in poetry altogether.

In his initial statement on Plastic Poetry, Kitasono said that it was time for poets to put down their pens and brushes and make the leap to photography as a means of writing. The Lettrists and other visual poets around the world had used photographs before, and torn up printed text and photographs had been integral to such movements as Cubism, but the photographic practice Kitasono advocated turned these usages inside out by making the photograph the dominant technology of poetry. This resembles the way he turned subject and object inside out in his "no" poems. Bits of photos were no longer subsumed by canvas or other frames; the world became subsumed by photographs. In many of his Plastic Poems, Kitasono began by crumpling up paper and making other assemblages, arranging them, and, as his final step, photographing them. A strong sub-text in his Plastic Poetry comes from the way the photograph captures a moment in time. We don't know how long the crumpled up paper stayed in the position caught by the photo. It may have been unfolding even as he clicked the shutter. Whatever the case, the bread and wire and styrofoam and other objects in his Plastic Poems did not stay as they were in the photos for more than a few moments, and they cannot be reassembled precisely as they were. This combines Japanese conceptions of transience with the questioning of stability in classic Surrealism. Some of the magic of photography comes from its silence. These moments caught on film do not capture the sounds around them at the moment of exposure. When the poem becomes a photograph, it takes this quality into it in a way that does not happen with words written or printed on paper. If poetry has been traditionally an art of sound, Kitasono had developed the perfect means of making a poem out of non-sound or anti-sound. Perhaps this could be considered as one of Kitasono's many variations on the negative space in East Asian painting transposed to speech and other acoustics. Donald Davie titled a book on Ezra Pound, "The Poet as Sculptor." Kitasono literally sculpted his poems before photographing them. Like the work of the Fluxists, Kitasono's poems relied on "happenings" which had already taken place and left only a ghostly and unexplained image behind.

As VOU magazine progressed, it became as much a forum for the presentation of Plastic poems as it was for texts, musical scores, and other printed matter. Coated stock regularly appeared in the middle of issues for halftone printing with maximum contrast. Each member of the group developed his or her own style, and one of the strong points of the group was its diversity. Yamamoto Kansuke should be considered a co-founder of plastic poetry, even though some critics see him as a photographer instead of a poet. The rigidity of this distinction doesn't seem to have meant much to either him or Kitasono. His lyrical montages and experiments with focus and exposure produced some of the most delicate and polished works of the group. Hibino Fumiko moved farthest into abstraction, often with a geometric compositional base, but including components suggesting interactions between micro-organisms and the building blocks of inorganic matter. Her work may be the most important bridge between the esthetics of Plastic and Concrete on one hand, and visual poetry and multiplt strains of Modernist painting on the other. It is important to note that although the organizations Kitasono worked with since the 1920s had included women, one of the best of the Plastic Poets, Hibino, was female. Kiyohara Etsushi started with simple geometric abstraction. Some of his poems moved far away from this orderly base. These suggest odd or unpleasant tactile sensations or disordered fabrics of partially formed signifiers. Okazaki Katsuhiko took a dry, sarcastic, gritty, and sometimes jaundiced view of the world, though his sense of texture and volume gave his intense eroticism immediacy. Shimizu Toshihiko worked primarily with pop images, stressing the two dimensions of printed material. Takahashi Shohachiro worked as often as not in Concrete as Plastic, using Plastic idioms primarily for installations and pieces that required considerable depth of field. Tsuji Setsuko (another woman among the most prominent members) worked with bas reliefs, focusing on corrugated and otherwise textured paper, wood grains, and images that made use of emphatically flat surfaces in other contexts. The movement of individual members into their own niches resembled the shifts in patterns in Kitasono's work throughout his life.


Kitasono died on June 6, 1978. He continued commercial design work, which formed a mutual feedback loop with his Plastic Poetry, on his death bed. His friends published a memorial volume, disbanded the group and ceased publishing VOU.

As with his lexical poetry, Kitasono's Plastic Poems often lacked closure. Comparing the Plastic Poetry of the VOU group to Concrete, one of the most striking features is that Concrete snaps shut almost as soon as it opens. What's there at first glance, though it may allow for multiple interpretations, is all that will ever be there. At it's best, it is highly polished and witty, but lacks depth. It seems finished, and leaves the reader with a sense of completion. A Plastic Poem tends to seem to be just beginning. Often there is something crude about it, and it may seem unsatisfying to people more familiar with Concrete. In part this is because Concrete looked back at a closed world, while Plastic Poetry was ahead of its time in ways that might not be apparent to anyone until at least the mid 1990s, and now insists itself ever more aggressively.

By the mid 1980s, visual poetry was at its nadir in the U.S. in terms of exclusion from publication. However, practitioners had never stopped trying to fight their way out of the ghetto into which they had been pushed. Many were encouraged by the fact that there were parts of the world such as France, Yugoslavia, and Japan where the art still had some print currency, and many of them had subscriptions to Shi Shi and Le Lettrisme, as well as Kaldron, the only U.S. magazine that regularly and consistently published all forms of visual poetry. By this time, a new generation was coming on the scene that was blissfully unaware of a world before the Concrete shattering and assumed, like the Concretists themselves, that they were starting largely from scratch, but using material from television and other media, which the Concretists had ignored. Although they "reinvented the wheel" over and over again, they did not have the bitterness of their elders to hold them back. The Mail Art network, originally formed in large part to subvert any kind of censorship, particularly that of authoritarian regimes, had grown to the point where fairly large shows could be mounted around the world and members could hold congresses in various cities. The Network's efforts at freeing dissidents such as Clemente Padin and Jorge Caraballo from prison suggested that Visual Poets weren't just sitting in corners moping. With the end of the Cold War, Mail Artists started putting the energy they had previously used to subvert censorship into getting their work printed outside their own distribution systems.

While this was going on slowly, a new and completely unexpected element entered the picture. At the time of Kitasono's death, the nascent internet was still the province of the military and a few scientists. A decade later, it seemed a good way for a few people to pass plain text back and forth and to store and retrieve documents via not particularly user-friendly processes such as ftp and gopher. By the end of the century, the majority of poets in the west had internet access and other parts of the world were quickly catching up to or overtaking them. To make it possible for a work force to essentially retrain itself every few years, computers relied ever more on icons instead of text. The World Wide Web quickly became heavily dependent on graphics. Some artists and poets began using the web as the basis of independent art forms almost as soon as they gained access to it. Now, in 2007, we find ourselves in a world Kitasono essentially charted before he could have known anything about it, but following his life-long practice of being ahead of his time. Even books without a trace of an image in them depend on electronic media for distribution and sale, and even if the books don't include pictures, the sales process depends on them at virtually every step of the way - even in such seemingly ungraphic areas as warehousing and inventory. Aside from the enormous importance of web publishing, which does more to keep poetry available at present than any other medium, sales and author pages depend on graphics.

The advent of digital cameras has brought about a revolution unparalleled in the history of photography; and, perhaps, of any image-making process. Given the fact that digital cameras require virtually no expense after purchase, and the way this allows people to take as many pictures as they want without having to restrain themselves for financial reasons, means that the number of non-artists who experiment with photography has spread like no other form of graphic experiment before it. Cellular phones now have the capacity to send photos taken with the phones themselves, and even simple cell phones often include still photos of each person who rings as a means of identifying in-coming calls. Partly as a result of digital photography and the internet, visual poetry has moved from the most denigrated of literary genres to the fastest growing. How long and under what terms it may find acceptance by non-practitioners is difficult to say, but even if it goes through a collapse such as Concrete, it will be nearly impossible to keep the art completely hidden as it was twenty years ago. There are now dozens of magazines which publish visual poetry, both on paper and on the web. These often contain poetry reminiscent of Concrete, but virtually none are restricted to that idiom. Among the many means that contribute to contemporary visual poetry, photography is one of the most prominent. Perhaps ironically, works in Concrete idiom come across better in company of other modes than they did in the days of Concrete dominance.

Where all this is going, no one can say. Some will continue to fear it. Some will embrace it without reservation. Whatever the case, it is clear that at this point word and image can no longer be kept completely separate and that their futures will continue to become more tightly linked. Despite the prophesies of some technocrats, it seems unlikely that that images will displace texts. The two will probably benefit from the association. Although direct descendants of Kitasono's Plastic Poetry may never become a major global mode, its basic principles are now part of world culture and will continue to grow.

An odd and humorous irony comes from the unfortunate nature of literary terms in the 20th Century. For many people the word "plastic" has unpleasant connotations. Yet for better or worse, the computers of the world Kitasono foresaw are framed in plastic. At the same time, it's difficult for veteran internet users not to smile at the similarity between the graph and the @ symbol essential to email addresses.

This is most certainly a time for Kitasono to gain a larger audience. As one of the pioneers of the union of photography and poetry, and of international networks, he would deserve respect even if the quality of his work was inferior. Early practitioners of arts tend to be some of the best to use them, and Kitasono's Plastics definitely act as first levels of major practice. This should reflect back on his lexical poetry. At the same time, the world is getting ever smaller and more interconnected. Kitasono's Plastics may not embody a universal language. But the more they aid in the process of bringing the world together through new art forms and new forms of communication the more we, as citizens of the world, have to work with in the process of humane globalization.

Notes on the Introduction,
and on the Organization of this Book


Initially planned as a small sampler, this book has grown over a period of three years. Interuptions puncuated this period of time, but I think they did me, John Solt, the book, and I hope the reader a favor. We couldn't resist making additions as we progressed. Pauses gave us extra time to think about what we were doing and ways to improve our efforts. The editing process involved not only intensive reading but also extended conversation. With John's running comments, I probably have had a better opportunity to read Kitasono than anyone else whose knowledge of Japanese is limited. My limitations kept me focused on and aware of the needs of non-specialist readers, and we hope this helps to present Kitasono as a poet whose relevance global.

In the Introduction, most of the biographical material which appears before "Monotonous Space" comes from John Solt's Shredding the Tapestry of Meaning. and from our conversations. After that, significant amounts of biography come from long involvement with related art forms. The Introduction presents my interpretations, which often differ significantly from John's. The nature of Kitasono's poetry is such that it encourages multiple readings and the need to see the work from different angles. If you find Kitasono, or Japanese poetry, culture, or history interesting, John's book is a must-read: it is the best study of a Japanese poet from any era I've found. His Yamamoto Kansuke: Conveyor of the Impossible (Toky(Tokyo Station Gallery, 2001) provides a brief introduction to one of Kitasono's closest colleagues, along with a larger selection of photos and Plastic Poems. This is a must-see as well as a must-read. Miryam Sas's Fault Lines: Cultural Memory and Japanese Surrealism (Stanford U. Press, 1999) presents an approach to Kitasono divergent from mine and Solt's, though acknowledging John's contribution to her work.

As our book grew, it incorporated Solt's previous selection of translations published as Glass Beret. (Morgan Press, 1995). Although Glass Beret won the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission prize for the translation of modern Japanese literature, it was otherwise ill-fated. The publisher, Ed Burton, died shortly after its publication and few copies circulated. Edited by John, Glass Beret stresses the pleasures of individual poems outside the context of other poetry.An accomplished poet, you can see hints of John's abilities in the collage he makes of Kitasono's poems in Glass Beret. My approach has been more polemical. In addition to Kitasono's abilities as one of the major poets of the era, I see him, and indeed, the avant-gardes of 20th Century Japan, as examples of alternatives, predecessors, and omissions in standard views of 20th Century literature. I hope the new century will be less bound by the limited views of the last. It may take another century to assess the enormous contributions of East Asia to the poetry of the West, Indeed, without Chinese and Japanese models, it's difficult to imagine 20th Century North Atlantic poetry taking anything like the course it did. Much of the influence of East Asia on the West came from the art and poetry of previous eras. Kitasono extended the possibilities of Surrealism, and proved to be ahead of his North Atlantic colleagues in breaking away from linear form and logic, in exploration of realigned referentiality, and in several modes of visual poetry. Unlike Zen, woodblock prints, Haiku, and other seminal arts and ideas of the past, Kitasono exerted a direct and immediate influence on one Western movement, even as he distanced himself from it. It would not surprise me if a map of 21st Century Euro-American poetry showed that the Pacific had displaced the Atlantic as the dynamic center of the literary world. Whether looking back at the past century or forward to the one we have entered, I hope Litasono and his contemporaries demonstrate the loss that comes from underestimating seemingly unfamiliar people on the imagined periphery of one culture. We hope the book becomes simultaneously satisfying to those who simply want to read magnificent poetry, and to those who want to add to the resources of curent poetry and the poetry of the future. The book thus attempts to be equally useful to scholars and poets, general readers and those seeking a wider view of artistic possibilities.

Since the essence of Kitasono is moving from one form or "pattern" to another, and each of his books is essentially the working out of a new pattern, it seems important to note divisions between published works. This includes poems and essays published in magazines and anthologies as well as those gathered into books. Complete books are indicated by titles in large, bold-italic type without quotation marks. The English translations of book titles appear in all caps; the Japanese titles follow in parentheses, with only the first letter capitalized, as they would be styled for publication in Japan. Individual poems which appeared in magazines or anthologies are set off by quotation marks. Poems published in Kitasono's books appear in small bold caps. Titles of notes and the Kitasono interview appear in large bold type. This manner of pattern division should be enough to distinguish between publications without becoming obtrusive.

The book includes self-commentary from Kitasono in different modes and at different times in his life. We hope these present Kitasono's thinking from different angles and thus display a fuller view of him. It seemed natural to put the most informal of these comments at the end, and to give Kitasono the chance to conclude this book with the conversations so important to him as a man and poet. The book includes Haruyama Yukio's comments on White Album which may give the reader a sense of the scene in Tokyo in the 1920s, as well as comment on Kitasono himself. We present other notes of our own by placing them as close as possible to the appropriate position in the text rather than as foot or end notes, except in the interview.

Kitasono titled few of his Plastic poems. Sometimes he assigned them numbers, but even these become confusing because Kitasono was not consistent, and some writers have referred to page numbers of different editions. We present the Plastics without title or reference to other editions. Aside from the Plastics, Kitasono's visual poems appear in three different manners. The passages from "Magic" appear in halftone. The diagramatics appear without indication of page edges but include the Japanese titles to give a sense of how Kitasono created balance in open space without obsessing on symmetry, even when using symmetrical images. The pages from Black Fire include lines indicating the borders of the page. In addition to demonstrating reading orders in this poem, the reproduction of the type demonstrates Kitasono's use of negative space. Each of the three presentations emphasizes a different aspect of Kitasono's approach to the page, and we hope the three together give the reader as good a sense of the look and feel of Kitasono's books.

Variations in transliteration of Japanese names provide endless problems without making pronunciation clearer. Thus, bibliographers, search engine users, and general readers beware, Kitasono is occasionally rendered Kitazono, and Katue appears as Katsue and Katué.

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