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This report is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

Cantos at Kantô Harry Guest
In 1968, the American poet William I. Elliott, then as now teaching at Kantô Gakuin University near Yokohama, founded their Poetry Centre. The university gave his project enthusiastic support and the first session took place over three days in July 1968, with James Kirkup, Gary Snyder, Tanikawa Shuntarô and myself in attendance. Japanese dons, young poets, students foreign and Japanese, all sorts of people interested in poetry came to the seminars and readings. There were discussions about the difficulty in understanding a poem heard for the first time - a problem especially present in Japanese which abounds in homonyms, though also there in English: 'the Seine' in a poem of mine about Baudelaire was once heard as 'the sane' and I recall listening to a broadcast of some Lorca poems in translation when the phrase 'custard mountains' showed me deceptively soft hills lit by a surrealist yellow until, alas, realization grouped them in a somewhat more banal fashion as 'clustered mountains'.

The Centre has been intimately connected with the work of Tanikawa, who is probably Japan's best known contemporary poet. Elliott himself and Kawamura Kazuo have rendered three collections of Tanikawa's into vibrant, believable English: With Silence My Companion, At Midnight In The Kitchen I Just Wanted To Talk To You and, most recently, Coca-Cola Lessons. In this last collection the poet asks us to accompany an 'extraordinary mind on an ordinary day' ('Suppose, say, that that expression which people call a smile came over your face and you ...


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