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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Poets in Prison

Historically, oppressive regimes imprisoning poets, artists, and intellectuals has not been unusual, but rather has tended to be the norms of such regimes. Given the rigidity of Japanese hierarchical systems and the deference given (even today) to such rigidity, I'm not surprised to hear that in the past Japanese poets have been imprisoned by reigning forces. However, I was surprised to learn that it happened as recently as 1940, and that in at least one case it was over the failure of experimental haikuist Saito Sanki to include a season word (kigo) in his haiku. I shouldn't have been surprised, wouldn't have been if I'd ever thought about it...the forms in Japanese poetry were as rigidly imposed as other forms in Japanese arts and lifestyle, and thus the breaking away from such poetic forms would certainly have been viewed by the militarist government as evidence of threatening westerning forces insidiously invading the minds of the people.

I learned about Saito's imprisonment and that of other Japanese writers during the war when researching for the Japanese poetic forms class I'm going to be teaching this spring. From the article "The Landscape of Identity: Poetry and the Modern in Japan" (first published in  Aufgabe issue #4 in 2004, edited by Sawako Nakayasu, and made available online at the website The New Modernism), comes the following :

"In 1940, Saito Sanki, an experimental haikuist, was imprisoned for the crime of writing haiku without any seasonal reference. Kitasono Katue was arrested in the same year and subjected to a grueling three-day interrogation by Japan’s infamous Thought Police. Virtually all of Japan’s Modernists were arrested, sent to the Manchurian front, or silenced. Nishiwaki Junzaburo, whose first book of poems was composed originally in English and then translated into Japanese, and who introduced the technique of Surrealist estrangement to Japan, found it wisest to retreat to his home town with his British wife, where he began research on the Japanese classics (a much safer pursuit during those times). The careers of many writers and artists were completely destroyed by the events of the war era. Not even the restoration of political freedom after the war could recover all of what was lost."

Read the entire article for a look at the modernist movement in Japan, and the role of women writers in propelling this movement.

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