Japan’s ‘beat poet’ Kazuko Shiraishi, pioneer of modern performance poetry, dies at 93

TOKYO: Kazuko Shiraishi, a leading name in modern Japanese “beat” poetry, known for her dramatic readings, at times with jazz music, has died. She was 93.

Shiraishi, whom American poet and translator Kenneth Rexroth dubbed “the Allen Ginsberg of Japan,” died of heart failure on June 14, Shichosha, a Tokyo publisher of her works, said Wednesday.

Shiraishi shot to fame when she was just 20, freshly graduated from Waseda University in Tokyo, with her “Tamago no Furu Machi,” translated as “The Town that Rains Eggs” — a surrealist portrayal of Japan’s wartime destruction.

With her trademark long black hair and theatrical delivery, she defied historical stereotypes of the silent, non-assertive Japanese woman.

“I have never been anything like pink,” Shiraishi wrote in her poem.

It ends: “The road / where the child became a girl / and finally heads for dawn / is broken.”

Shiraishi counted Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and John Coltrane among her influences. She was a pioneer in performance poetry, featured at poetry festivals around the world. She read her works with the music of jazz greats like Sam Rivers and Buster Williams, and even a free-verse homage to the spirit of Coltrane.

Born in Vancouver, Canada, she moved back to Japan as a child. While a teen, she joined an avant-garde poetry group.

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