Monday, December 03, 2007

Japanese Avant-Garde Visual Poetry: Kitasono Katue

The “plastic poetry” of Kitasono Katue, Japanese avant-garde poet, provides a convenient entry point for understanding the various strands and streams of influence that characterize experimental poetry in the twentieth century. Moreover, because of the nature of Kitasono’s invention strategies, which were essentially collaborative and which included responses and enormous feedback loops, the process as well as the final product can be considered to be an aspect of the art itself.

Kitasono Katue, pen name for Hashimoto Kenkichi (1902-1978), developed a style of visual poetics that was, in the early years of his poetic production, influenced by Futurism and Dadaism. Toward the end of Kitasono’s life, his work took a turn that anticipates the conversations or dialogues of collage encounters with viewers who have the power to incorporate, manipulate and comment upon in the social networks of the Internet. Kitasono’s process moved far beyond the notions that were current at the time of the Plastic Poetry (50s, 60s, early 70s and abstraction, “happenings” and performance art) to something that essentially deconstructs conceptual art, to reveal its often disorderly and uncomfortable aesthetic, perceptual, and material underpinnings.

Readers who have wished to understand the nature and provenance of the ideas and techniques of Japanese avant-garde poetry have found that there are few translations into English and even fewer analytical or biographical texts. The recent publication of a book of essays, interviews, and an overview of Kitasono’s work constitutes a valuable resource. Translated by John Solt, with an in-depth introduction by avant-garde and visual poetry publisher, poet, and critic, Karl Young, the book, oceans beyond monotonous space (highnoonmoon press, 2007), presents Kitasono’s work from the 1920s until his final Plastic Poems from the 1960s. In addition, the book provides backgrounds, contexts, interviews, and explanations of how to read and to appreciate the poems.

For example, Kitasono’s work, Black Fire (1951), which responds to the fire bombing of Tokyo (Young xxii) is created with carefully arranged typography which forces the reader’s eyes to move from right to left (Solt, 119) . The poem can be viewed on the Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry ( . Later work, Black Rain (1954), responds to the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Kitasono’s Plastic Poems, which embodies a process as well as an artifact, is explained in the book as well, and a significant portion of the text is dedicated to Kitasono’s Plastic Poems, which includes an essay on the subject by Kitasono (

For students of avant-garde poetry, oceans beyond monotonous space reflects important movements in art as well as literature. In an online course, it would be useful to visit examples of the movements, as well as to become familiar with some of the most influential or celebrated examples.

Italian Futurism: F. T. Marinetti’s famous Futurist Manifesto (1909) served as the model for many artists and writers eager to break from the aesthetic bonds of the 19th century. Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noises (1913) encouraged aleatory music and beyond. Giacomo Balla’s “The Futurist Universe” (1918) shed light on his own views and approach to painting.

Slovenian Expressionism: Srecko Kosovel (1904-1926), brilliant installations, images, poetry:

Russian Futurism:
Father of Russian Futurism (David Burliuk) ;
aleksandr blok ;
V. V Khlebnikov (with very cool audio files):

Dadaism: Kurt Schwitters is probably the most anthologized – Collage and poetry:

Kurt Schwitters "Merz"

Concrete Poetry: Ubuweb’s Concrete Poetry: A World View:

Visual Poetry: Kaldron: and
The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry

Fluxus: Fluxus Performance Workbook and Fluxus Heidelberg Center

Fluxus Film: The Desert of the Real (narration from Guy DeBord's Society of the Spectacle

Mail Art: One of many online galleries:

Contemporary Poetic Collage Collaborations: “Translating Translating Apollinaire” by bpNichol

After reviewing and contemplating the movements, trends, and contexts of Kitasono’s world, one can then return to the virtual gallery at Light and Dust Mobile Anthology and to the book itself.

The experience of plunging into the virtual gallery and world of Kitasono is deeply stimulating and satisfying. Not only does it encourage one to participate in a poetic collaboration, or a “plastic poetry” experiment online, it also allows one to reperceive and appreciate what one might have formerly overlooked or taken for granted.

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