Shiraishi Dies – Poetry News June 24th

We begin the week here on My Poetic Side with a look at the poet Kazuko Shiraishi who has died at the age of 93.

Kazuko Shiraishi, the Japanese “Beat Poet” has Died Aged 93

Known for her dramatic poetry readings, often set to Jazz music, Kazuko Shiraishi, the leading name in Japanese “beat” poetry has died at the age of 93.

Dubbed “the Allen Ginsberg of Japan” by Kenneth Rexroth, an American poet and translator, Shiraishi died of heart failure on 14th June. Her death was announced by a publisher in Tokyo.

Shiraishi first came to the public eye when she was just 20, she graduated from the Waseda University which is located in Tokyo. Her first work  “Tamago no Furu Machi,” which translates as “The Town that Rains Eggs” offered a surreal portrayal of the wartime destruction in Japan.

She was known for her defiance against the typical portrayal of the non-assertive, silent Japanese woman, with her long black hair and her theatrical delivery She once wrote in her poetry “I have never been anything like pink.”

Amongst her influences Shiraishi counted Salvador Dali, Joan Miro and John Coltrane. She featured at poetry festivals all over the world and was a pioneer of the art of performance poetry. Her poems were often read to jazz music written by the great like Buster Williams and Sam Rivers, she even created a free verse as a homage to Coltrane.

Although she was born in Canada, she move to Japan as a child and joined an avant-garde poetry group when she was a teenager. Both her poems and her personality were often considered bizarre and at times erotic, and in defiance of the historical rule bound forms of literature found in Japan. Setting aside the likes of tanka and haiku she took a more modern, and unexplored path.

Through Rexroth’s intervention many of her works were translated into English including “Seasons of Sacred Lust” in 1978 and “My Floating Mother, City” in 2009. Over the course of her lengthy career her work was translated into a number of languages and Shiraishi herself also translated a number of pieces of literature including works by Ginsberg.

In 1973 she was invited to the University of Iowa to spend a year as a quest writer by Paul Engle. Her year working on the International Writing Program was an experience that helped her to gain her voice as a poet and also broaden her scope as an artist.

The German writer, Gunter Kunert once wrote of her


It has been confirmed that a private funeral will be held for the poet with just her family present. A memorial service is being planned for a later date. Kazuko Shiraishi is survived by her husband  and a daughter.

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