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Edith Shiffert

Edith Shiffert

January 9, 1916 - March 1, 2017

Edith Marion Marcombe Shiffert was born in Toronto and moved to the United States when she was a young child where she lived in Rochester, New York; Detroit, Michigan; and Redondo Beach, California. She began writing and publishing poetry in her teens. She moved to Hawaii (from 1938 until 1945), then to Alaska, California, and Washington State. From 1956 to 1962, she studied at the University of Washington, specializing in Anthropology, Far Eastern Studies and Creative Writing. One of her teachers there was Theodore Roethke. She found her permanent home in 1963 when she moved to Japan. She taught English at colleges and universities in Kyoto and was very highly regarded for her work and her writing. In addition to publishing her own poetry, she collaborated in several translations of Japanese poetry, including Haiku Master Buson (1978), which was the first book in English to feature writings of Buson. She wrote free verse and experimented with many other forms of poetry, including haiku (although she preferred the term "short verse"). She was 101 at her death.

Awards and Other Honors:

[a partial list] Haiku Society of America’s Merit Book Award (1998) [for The Light Comes Slowly (Katsura Press, 1997)]; work included in William J. Higginson's Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1996).

Books Published:

In Open Woods (The Swallow Pressbooks, 1961); For a Return to Kona: Island Poems (The Swallow Pressbooks, 1964); The Kyoto Years (Kyoto Seika College Press, 1971); A Grasshopper (White Pine Press, 1976); Haiku Master Buson [Translations](Heian International, 1978); The New and Selected Poems (White Pines Press, 1979); A Way to Find Out (Raiju Press, 1979); Anthology of Modern Japanese Poetry [Edith Shiffert (Editor) and Yuki Sawa (Editor)] (Tuttle Publishing, 1979); Clear water: haiku = Kiyoi mizu : haiku, with Minoru Sawano [self-published as a gift to friends and family] (1983); Kyoto-Dwelling: A Year of Brief Poems (C.E. Tuttle Co., 1987); Kyoto Dwelling: A Year of Brief Poems (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1989); Touching the Point (White Pine Press, 1990); When on the Edge (White Pine Press, 1991 and 1995); Forest House with Cat: A New Collection of Brief Poems (Unio Corporation, 1991); New and Selected Poems of Edith Shiffert (White Pine Press, 1995); The Light Comes Slowly [with Ink paintings by Kohka Saito] (Katsura Press, 1997); In the Ninth Decade (Katsura Press, 1999); Pathways (White Pine Press, 2005); Haiku Master Buson (Companions for the Journey} [Edith Shiffert (Translation) and Yuki Sawa (Translation)] (White Pine Press, 2007); Kyoto: The Forest Within the Gate [with John Einarsen (Photographs), Marc Peter Keane (Contributor), and Diane Durston (Contributor)] (White Pine Press, 2014).

Selected Work
 
The cat nips my ear
and I tell him we are not
such good friends as that
 
Because I cannot
use stepping stones or bridge,
I take the long path.
 
 
 
Caught in river weeds
cherry petals stop drifting,
their journey ended.
 
In the far north, lakes
shone with light for entire nights.
The trumpeting swans.
 
 
 
A big old cockroach
walks across the kitchen floor
   Spring became summer.
 
With the autumn leaves
a butterfly too is blown
across our pathway.
 
 
 
Shinnyodo’s far bell
while the wind blows back and forth
the orange lilies.
 
While going to sleep
remembering all the years.
The moonlight is cold.
 
 
 
Flower patterned rock
with red dragonflies resting.
Once a sea was here.
 
In the ninth decade
how old the stones underfoot
how fresh the grasses.
 
 

Credits:

"The cat nips my ear" - The Light Comes Slowly [with Ink paintings by Kohka Saito] (Katsura Press, 1997); "Caught in river weeds" - Forest House with Cat: A New Collection of Brief Poems (Unio Corporation, 1991); Woodnotes 19 [review] (winter 1993); "A big old cockroach" - Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac by William J. Higginson (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1996); Shinnyodo’s far bell" - Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac by William J. Higginson (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1996); "Flower patterned rock" - Forest House with Cat: A New Collection of Brief Poems (Unio Corporation, 1991); "Shaping Words" blog by Jim Wilson [review] (December 10, 2012); "Because I cannot" - The Light Comes Slowly [with Ink paintings by Kohka Saito] (Katsura Press, 1997);Frogpond 20:3 [review] (December 1997); "In the far north, lakes" - The Light Comes Slowly [with Ink paintings by Kohka Saito] (Katsura Press, 1997); Frogpond 21:1 [review] (1998); "With the autumn leaves" - The Light Comes Slowly [with Ink paintings by Kohka Saito] (Katsura Press, 1997); Frogpond 20:3 [review] (December 1997); "While going to sleep" - Forest House with Cat: A New Collection of Brief Poems (Unio Corporation, 1991); Shaping Words blog by Jim Wilson [review] (December 10, 2012); "In the ninth decade" - In the Ninth Decade (Katsura Press, 1999); Japan Times [review "Reflective poems from well-lived lives" by David Burleigh] (April 18, 2000).

Additional Reading:

Writers in Kyoto ; The New York Times ; University of California Library Archives; article and tribute by Jane Wieman in Simply Haiku 7:1 (Spring 2009).

Sources Biography:

Various online sources (see "Additional Reading" above).

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