Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Japan’s ‘Beat Poet’ Kazuko Shiraishi, Pioneer of Modern Performance Poetry, Dies at 93 

Kazuko Shiraishi speaks at a park in Tokyo, on Nov. 15, 1996. (Kyodo News via AP)
Kazuko Shiraishi speaks at a park in Tokyo, on Nov. 15, 1996. (Kyodo News via AP)
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Japan’s ‘Beat Poet’ Kazuko Shiraishi, Pioneer of Modern Performance Poetry, Dies at 93 

Kazuko Shiraishi speaks at a park in Tokyo, on Nov. 15, 1996. (Kyodo News via AP)
Kazuko Shiraishi speaks at a park in Tokyo, on Nov. 15, 1996. (Kyodo News via AP)

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.

Shiraishi's personality and poems, which were sometimes bizarre or erotic, defied Japan's historical rule-bound forms of literature like haiku and tanka, instead taking a modern, unexplored path.

Rexroth was instrumental in getting Shiraishi’s works translated into English, including collections such as “My Floating Mother, City” in 2009.

Over the years, her work has been widely translated into dozens of . She was also a translator of literature, including works by Ginsberg.

In 1973, Paul Engle invited her to spend a year as a guest writer at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, an experience that broadened her artistic scope and helped her gain her poetic voice.

“In the poems of Kazuko Shiraishi, East and West connect and unite fortuitously,” wrote German writer Gunter Kunert. “It refutes Kipling’s dictum that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. In Kazuko Shiraishi’s poems this meeting has already happened.”

A private funeral among family has been held while memorial service is being planned. She is survived by her husband Nobuhiko Hishinuma and a daughter.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : As Gaza War Rages, Palestinian Culture Stifled in Israel

A woman holds a key symbolizing the homes left by Palestinians in 1948, during a rally along the border east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 1, 2023 marking the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. (AFP)
A woman holds a key symbolizing the homes left by Palestinians in 1948, during a rally along the border east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 1, 2023 marking the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. (AFP)
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As Gaza War Rages, Palestinian Culture Stifled in Israel

A woman holds a key symbolizing the homes left by Palestinians in 1948, during a rally along the border east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 1, 2023 marking the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. (AFP)
A woman holds a key symbolizing the homes left by Palestinians in 1948, during a rally along the border east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 1, 2023 marking the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. (AFP)

Comedian Ayman Nahas said he has kept a "low profile" since October 7, fearing reprisals as an Arab artist in Israel while the country wages war in the Gaza Strip.

He is one of many Arab artists in Israel or annexed east Jerusalem who describe facing increasing hostility and harassment, and fearing looming funding cuts or arrests.

"You never know where your place is and that is not the right atmosphere to perform," said Nahas, who is also the artistic director at the Arabic-language Sard theater in Haifa, in Israel's north.

His theater depends on government subsidies "like 99 percent of cultural spaces" in Israel, he said, AFP reported.

But he fears the money could be cut, as happened in 2015 to Al-Midan, another theater in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa, after it put on a play inspired by the story of a prisoner jailed by Israel over an attack on troops.

One 25-year-old performer, who asked to use the pseudonym Elias to avoid a backlash, said he has put acting aside and became a swimming pool attendant because he was fed up with only getting stereotyped roles.

Other Arab actors say that since the war, they can no longer find work in Israel.

Elias has finally found a role in Berlin.

"I have had to go into exile to practice my art," he told AFP in a Tel Aviv cafe.

"I don't wear my 'Free Palestine' bracelet anymore and I take care about what I put on social media. I have friends who have been visited by the police."

Non-profit group Mossawa has documented an increase in human rights violations against Israel's Arab minority since October, including arrests, discrimination at work and harassment at schools, as well as curbs on the right to protest.

Singer Dalal Abu Amneh, who is also a neuroscientist, was detained for 48 hours for a social media post after Hamas's October 7 attack that said "the only victor is God".

Abu Amneh later said she had been harassed in her Jewish-majority hometown of Afula in northern Israel. Her lawyer said she had received hundreds of "death threats".

About 20 percent of Israel's 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian.

They say they are frequently the targets of discrimination by the Jewish majority, and those complaints have grown through more than nine months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Huda Imam, who promotes Palestinian cultural sites in Jerusalem, said that "a cultural silence has taken hold since October 7".

"There has been a shock, an inability to produce out of fear and respect" for the war's victims, she added.

"There was a Palestinian cultural life before the war, especially in east Jerusalem," Imam said, referring to the sector Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by most of the international community.

"Now people don't go out."

And it is primarily exiles "who give a voice to Palestine", said Imam, highlighting the rapper Saint Levant who played at the Coachella music festival in the United States in April, and the European-based singer and flute player Nai Barghouti.

Palestinians still express themselves through their "living heritage, like drinking coffee or dancing dabkeh," a traditional dance, said artist Hani Amra.

Some artists wondered about the relevance of their work now.

"You turn on the television and you see the war live. The reality is more powerful than any artistic work," Amer Khalil, the director of east Jerusalem's Al-Hakawati, also known as the Palestinian National Theater.

The theater, founded in 1984, "has been closed more than 200 times in 40 years" and is again in the crosshairs of Israeli authorities, said Khalil.

"Running a theatre is always difficult, but after October 7 things became even more complicated," he said, adding that Al-Hakawati was preparing a play about that day.

"It is a game, like censorship, it comes and goes."