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James Kirkup

James Kirkup

April 23, 1918 - May 10, 2009

James Falkender Kirkup was born in South Shields, Tyne and Ware, England, to a modest family. During World War II, he was a conscientious objector. He was the first Gregory Poetry Fellow at Leeds University and had a long, prolific, and varied career in literature which carried him far beyond the shores of haiku. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and was known widely as translator, writer, and teacher -- as well as a talented and occasionally controversial poet. In 1958, he became Professor of English at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, teaching in Japan on and off for almost 30 years; as Professor of English Literature at the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies during most of that time. He served haiku long and well, reigning as the first President of the British Haiku Society, though most haiku poets knew him as the longtime advisor to Kako Kato and her bilingual journal . He published more than 40 volumes of poetry, prose, critical studies, biography and autobiography, anecdotal memoir, plays, and more, including many very well-received translations. Though he was equivocal about the merits of English-language haiku, he affected the haiku paths of thousands of writers in that genre. It is not too much to say that he was haiku’s most distinguished man of letters. The critic Philip Hobsbaum called him "one of the genuine masters of verse in the middle to later 20th century". He spent the last years of his life in Andorra, where he died at the age of 91.

Awards and Other Honors: [incomplete list] James Kirkup was the United Kingdom’s first poet-in-residence at an academic institution (Leeds University,1950) and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1962). Other awards include, but are not limited to: the Atlantic Award for Literature from the Rockefeller Foundation (1950); the Japan P.E.N. Club Prize for Poetry (1965); the Scott-Moncrieff Prize for Translation (1993) and the Japan Festival Foundation Award, for which he invited by the Emperor and Empress to the Imperial New Year Poetry Reading at the Palace in Tokyo 1997). Second Prize, Mainichi Daily News Haiku Contest (1997). He was also the Honorary President of Switch Drama Company youth theatre.

Books Published: [incomplete list] The Drowned Sailor (1947); The Submerged Village and Other Poems (Oxford University Press, 1951); A Correct Compassion (1952); The Only Child (1957); Sorrows, Passions and Alarms (1959); These Horned Islands: a Journal of Japan (1962); Filipinescas: Travels through the Philippine Islands (1968); Only Child (1970); Insect Summer (1971); The Magic Drum (1973); Modern Japanese Poetry (translator, 1979); I, Of All People (1988); A Poet Could Not But Be Gay (1991); Gaijin on the Ginza (1991); Me All Over : Memoirs of a Misfit (1994); Queens Have Died Young and Fair : A Tale of the Immediate Future (1994); Formulas for Chaos (Hub Editions, 1994); Measures of Time: Collected Longer Poems (1997); Tanka Tales (1997); Pikadon (1997); The Descent into the Cave, and Other Poems (2003); A Spring Journey, and Other Poems of 1952 : 1953 (2003); No More Hiroshimas (2004). Kirkup also had several virtual books published on the internet by Brindin Press.

Selected Work
 
In atomic rain
Buddha goes on smiling at
the last butterfly
 
The old sow eating
her piglets with a crunching sound—
barnyard butterflies
 
 
 
Springtime suddenly
comes like a travelling fair
to the bombed village
 
In the village pond
fading stars are shaken by
a first falling leaf
 
 
 
Sitting on nothing
an astronaut repairing
damaged galaxies
 
walking in dead leaves—
sending the sparrows flying
further down the path
 
 
 
Haiku should be just
small stones dropping down a well—
with a remote splash
 
I turned round to see
if my shadow was still there:
it, too, had turned round
 
 
 
Space age balconies
of modem apartment blocks—
kimono airing
 
the blood of my shadow poured up the steps
 
 

Credits: "In atomic rain" - Haiku International Anthology (edited by Zoe Savina, Ekdotheis: Athens, 2002); "Springtime suddenly" - (Spring 2002); "Sitting on nothing" - (Autumn/Winter 1998); "Haiku should be just" - Frogpond XVIII:1 (1995); "Space age balconies" - Haiku International Anthology (edited by Zoe Savina, Ekdotheis: Athens, 2002); "The old sow eating" - Modern Haiku 27:1 (1996); "In the village pond" - Frogpond XVIII:1 (1995); "walking in dead leaves" - Seeds from a Birch Tree (Clark Strand, Hyperion Books: New York, 1998); “I turned round to see" - Blithe Spirit 7:4; "the blood" - Frogpond IV:3 (1981). All selections also appear in the last butterfly: a posthumous collection of the haiku of James Kirkup (Red Moon Press postscripts series volume 12, 2009).

Sources Biography: Various online tributes; the last butterfly: a posthumous collection of the haiku of James Kirkup (Red Moon Press postscripts series volume 12, 2009).

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