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“Tokio Takes Over, Where Paris Stopped”: Kitasono Katué’s VOU

When attention is paid to Japanese poetry in Anglo-American culture, it is overwhelmingly to what Hosea Hirata observes are considered “authentically ‘Japanese’ texts, such as haiku and waka.”[1] Modern Japanese poetry—and certainly modernist Japanese poetry—have long been relatively overlooked because of their perceived “inauthenticity” and the sense that Japanese responses to movements such as Imagism and surrealism were merely “a translation of Western texts” (Hirata, Poetics, 184). Modernist Japanese poetry was thus considered, both in Japan and abroad, as too derivative to be worth significant notice. Japan was not included, for instance, in the Surrealist Map of the World in 1929, despite the fruitful development of Japanese surrealism noted by John Solt and Miryam Sas.[2] Such a view of Japanese poetry underplays the degree to which it forged a distinctive modernism and overplays the degree to which such movements were “original” to begin with. Both Imagism and surrealism were themselves impacted by Japanese poetic forms. Drawing on Japanese-language sources, I examine how the correspondence between Imagism’s American founder, Ezra Pound, and the Japanese poet and editor of the modernist magazine VOU (1935–78), Kitasono Katué, from 1936 onwards encapsulates the further development of this two-way stream of influence between Japanese and Anglo-American poetry, culminating in the collaboration of several VOU poets with their Anglo-American counterparts in the “International Chainpoem” of 1940. The VOU poets’ interest in Imagism thus not only offers a further example of “the East discovering in the West what the West had found in the East,” as Eliot Weinberger remarks of Imagism and Chinese modernist poetry.[3] It also constitutes a further stage in the development of this interaction: namely, the West encountering, in turn, this Eastern discovery. I propose that the depth of this reciprocity between VOU and Western poetry is greater than previous studies have claimed. Rather than envisioning Japanese poetry as peripheral and passively imitating the models of a Western cultural centre, both Pound and the VOU poets came to reimagine it as a new “vortex” of modernist creativity and actively participating in the formation of an international modernism. Modernist magazines such as Kitasono’s VOU, Ronald Duncan’s Townsman, and Charles Henri Ford’s View played a key role in enabling this development.

The earliest complete Pound poem published in VOU after Kitasono first wrote to him on April 26, 1936, “Ts’ai Chi’h,” offers an important example of this bi-directionality.[4] VOU did not often publish translations at first. The magazine’s general modus operandi, especially before World War II, was to print the work of its members. The poem was first included in the Des Imagistes anthology in 1914 and reappeared in Lustra (1916, 1917) and Personae (1926). Kitasono’s version recalls the rhythm of traditional Japanese poetry, with each of the three lines consisting of units of five or seven Japanese morae:

            hanabira wa                izumi ni ochiru                        (5, 7)

            The petals                   fall in the fountain,

            orenjiiro no                 bara no hara                           (7, 5)

            the orange-coloured    rose leaves,

            sono ōkuru wa            ishi ni matsukeru                    (7, 7)

            Their ochre                 clings to the stone.[5]

The connection between “Ts’ai Chi’h” and traditional Japanese poetry is not coincidental. Pound composed the poem shortly after the publication of what he himself described as his “‘Metro’ hokku,” “In a Station of the Metro.”[6] The “hokku,” as Pound always called it, was an important model for Pound’s Imagist and Vorticist poetics. “Ts’ai Chi’h” appears to borrow a Chinese poet’s name for its title (Cao Zhi, spelled “Ts’ao Chih” in Herbert Giles’s A History of Chinese Literature), although it has no basis in Cao Zhi’s or any other Chinese poetry Pound had read by that time.[7] Like “In a Station of the Metro,” it combines a focus on visual detail with semantic ambiguity in just a few lines. This has led Earl Miner, David Ewick, and Shelley Pulak to argue that it was inspired by “hokku.”[8] Kitasono’s translation of “Ts’ai Chi’h” thus shows that poetic influences between Japan and the West at this time flowed in both directions.

Pound’s interest in “hokku” was shared by the VOU Club. The VOU magazine’s predecessor from 1932 to 1934, Madame Blanche, also edited by Kitasono, featured epigraphs at the start of each issue, including haiku by Kobayashi Issa and Nozawa Bonchō and a translation of the opening lines of Pound’s “Δώρια.”[9] Kitasono, together with fellow VOU members Andō Ichirō and Yasoshima Minoru, regularly contributed haiku and haiku essays to Yasoshima’s haiku magazine Furyūjin from 1935 to 1944. To better understand the reasons for the VOU group’s interest in haiku, it is necessary to examine the roots of Kitasono’s interest in Pound’s poetry. Solt claims that any Poundian influence on Kitasono was “superficial” and that the two poets’ styles were “polar opposites” (Solt, Shredding, 134). Further investigation of the contexts surrounding Kitasono’s contacting of Pound in 1936 and Pound’s reception in Japan at that time, however, reveals that Pound’s impact on Kitasono’s work was more profound than Solt suggests. Sangū Makoto’s 1921 article, “Haikuteki ni naritsutsu aru Eishi” (“The Haiku Turn in English Poetry”), had established the connection between Imagism and “hokku” in Japan. The poet Nishiwaki Junzaburō praised Imagism’s “emphasis” on poems “having to be short” and “using concrete words.”[10] In 1933, Kinoshita Tsunetarō, a student of Nishiwaki, translated the first booklength work of Pound into Japanese, Bungaku seishin no gensen (“The Origins of the Spirit of Literature”), a translation of Pound’s How to Read. Nishiwaki had been inspired by reading BLAST and included a series of Imagist-influenced poems, “Girisha jojōshi” (“Greek Lyrical Poems”), in his debut Japanese collection, Ambarvalia, that same year. Kitasono’s end-of-year review especially admired the “direct sensory concreteness” of the collection’s “Greek lyrical poems” section and suggested it would prove influential in Japan.[11] 

This influence soon became apparent in Kitasono’s own poetry, as it did in the work of poets across East Asia.[12] Until then, he had mostly experimented with Dada and surrealist techniques; from 1933, however, his work turns towards the brevity, classical allusions, and the focus on arrangements of visual detail found in Nishiwaki”s “Greek lyrical poems.” One of the most famous of the latter, Nishiwaki’s “Ame” (“Rain”), is a response to his reading of H.D.’s “Oread” in BLAST and depicts the “gentle goddesses” of the rain falling on a classical landscape of “bronze statues,” “fountains,” “temples, public baths, and theatres.”[13] Elsewhere in Ambarvalia, there are allusions to Bacchus, Dionysus, Ceres, and Apollo (Nishiwaki, Ambarvalia, 10, 14, 25–27). Kitasono collected his more lyrical, Nishiwaki-inspired poems in Natsu no tegami (“Summer Letters”) in 1937.[14] Some of the poems in this collection appeared in periodicals from June to December 1934. The poem most obviously indebted to Nishiwaki, though, did not appear until Natsu no tegami’s publication:


            Friends!     Apollo again comes here running from the offing,

            With his glittering harp of rain.

            The evening glow trembles in the shells.[15]

In keeping with the collection’s theme, “shower” (shūu) is a traditional kigo (“season word”) for summer in Japanese poetry. The poem’s three-line length recalls not only Pound’s many three-line poems in Des Imagistes, including “Ts’ai Chi’h” and “Alba,” but also Nishiwaki’s “Tenki” (“Weather”) in Ambarvalia. The Greek deities’ influence on the weather in “Ame” is replicated here, as is the emphasis on “direct sensory concreteness” without an explicit statement of the meaning of these visual details. Kitasono’s engagement with Imagism was thus deeper than Solt suggests.

It was this engagement, then, that led Kitasono to write to Pound in 1936. He might even have been further encouraged by Kinoshita, who wrote in 1933 that Pound “replies to anyone’s letters” and “does not ignore any questions.”[16] Indeed, Pound was not slow to respond to Kitasono, as Sanehide Kodama’s collection of their correspondence demonstrates. When Kitasono first sent sixteen VOU poems to Pound on 26 February 1937, the latter wrote back to say that he found them “splendid” and would try to get them published in Globe or Ronald Duncan’s Townsman.[17] Seven appeared in the latter publication in January 1938. Pound’s introduction to these poems is remarkable for its time in not considering Japan as a “primitive” civilization on the global periphery to be plundered for poetic subject-matter by the “modern” West. Instead, it is presented as the new, active center for the most “modern” writing, which other cultures should consider as the best models to imitate. When discussing transnational modernisms, then, care should be taken to avoid seeing non-Western modernisms as mere reflections of a Western “original” modernism. As Christopher Bush notes, Pound presents VOU not as derivative but as itself “setting the pace for modernisms to come.”[18] Pound writes:

It is a case of saying that for half a century after Papa Flaubert started writing, any man who wanted to write English prose had to start by reading French prose. And it may be that from now on any man who wants to write English poetry will have to start by reading Japanese. I mean modern Japanese, not merely studying Chinese ideogram, as I have been advocating for the past twenty years.[19]

Pound argued that civilization prospers through the “centralization” of culture into a “vortex” of activity.[20] Just as London and Paris had been such a “vortex” for Pound, now “Tokio takes over, where Paris stopped” (Pound, “VOU Club,” 4). VOU poets expressed similar views. In contrast with the title of a 1928 issue of L’Intransigeant, which suggested that Paris remained the “world centre of the arts,” Nakamura Minoru claimed in VOU’s second issue that “the Japanese are far more modern” than the French.[21]

As Bush observes, Pound’s praise for VOU parallels many of the Imagist and Vorticist tenets Pound had promoted since 1912 (Bush, “Triangle,” 83). Pound pays particular attention to the VOU poets’ sharp-sightedness: “The Japanese eye is like one of those new cameras that catch the bullet leaving the gun” (Pound, “VOU Club,” 4). To what extent this similarity is coincidental or the result of the VOU poets’ engagement with his poetry and poetics has not yet been sufficiently explored. In his “Notes” in Townsman, which include his conception of “ideoplasty,” Kitasono proposes:

            The formation of poetry takes such a course like below:

(a) Language (b) Imagery (c) Ideoplasty

(Kitasano, “Notes,” rpt. in Kodama, Ezra Pound, 202).

This resembles Pound’s statement in How to Read that “there are ‘three kinds of poetry,’” “MELOPOEIA,” “PHANOPOEIA,” and “LOGOPOEIA.”[22] Furthermore, Kitasono’s definition of “ideoplasty” recalls Pound’s explanation of the “ideogrammic method” in ABC of Reading (1934), which Kitasono told Pound he had read.[23] In the Japanese version of his “ideoplasty” essay in the November 1936 issue of VOU, an issue which also contained Ema Shōko’s translation of the ABC of Reading’s opening section, Kitasono notes that “the special characteristic binding the language of the foremost poets of today is the special quality of the Japanese language as ideogram” (Kitasono uses Pound’s term as a loanword, ideoguramu, rather than the Japanese hyōimoji or kai’imoji).[24] Just as the “ideogram” for “red,” in Pound’s view, results from the putting together of the “abbreviated pictures” of “ROSE,” “CHERRY,” “RUST,” and “FLAMINGO,” as Pound writes, “ideoplasty” is generated by “the collection, examination, and combination of imagery [sakuzō],” as in “a shell, a typewriter, and a lily” (Kitasono, “Iwayuru imijerii,” 3).[25] If Kitasono was drawn to this passage in ABC of Reading, though, it would have been to Pound’s English, which he had read; Ema’s translation resists Pound’s controversial understanding of Chinese characters through her omission of the entire paragraph containing Pound’s explanation of the “abbreviated pictures” (Pound, ABC of Reading, 22).[26] What Pound saw in the work of Kitasono and other VOU poets was partly a refracted image of his own earlier encounter with East Asian poetics.

On Pound’s recommendation, his publisher, James Laughlin, wrote to Kitasono to ask for poems by VOU members for New Directions in Prose and Poetry 1938, in which fourteen were included.[27] Laughlin’s introduction, whose translation by Kitasono appeared in the November 1938 issue of VOU, emphasizes how their work demonstrates that there is “live poetry in Japan,” not just the “classics.”[28] In line with Pound’s “ideogrammic method,” he erroneously imagines Japanese as a “picture language” with “a minimum of dead words” such as “articles” and “prepositions” (Laughlin, “Modern,” 171). Unlike Ema’s more assertive omission of Pound’s explanation of Chinese characters, Kitasono’s translation carefully reproduces Laughlin’s views without comment, either in the translation or anywhere else. Kitasono might have been reluctant to criticise them if he had felt that they helped generate interest in modern Japanese poetry in the West.[29] Indeed, Laughlin’s suggestion of a link between the VOU poets’ apparent poetics of the “ideogram” and “surrealism” soon led another Pound disciple, Charles Henri Ford, to contact VOU as well (Laughlin, “Modern,” 174).[30] In a letter published in VOU’s January 1939 issue, Ford told the VOU group that he had “come up with the Chain Poem” and explained how it would start with a line by Ford, then get sent to England, Japan, and California before returning to him for publication.[31] Contrary to Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, and David Trinidad’s claim in Saints of Hysteria, then, the “chainpoem” was Ford’s, not VOU’s, idea.[32] Ford was so enthusiastic about the VOU poets’ contributions, though, that he not only allowed two of them, Fuji Takeshi and Kitasono, to provide the first two lines of the “International Chainpoem” but also asked them for two all-VOU “chainpoems.”[33] All three appeared in New Directions in Prose and Poetry 1940.[34] The “International Chainpoem” encapsulates the active co-participation of VOU in modernist poetry at this time, representing a crucial turning point in the way Japanese poetry was perceived in the West.

This turning point involved a shift from the dismissal of modern Japanese poetry as unworthy of attention or, at best, merely derivative of Western models and situated on the global periphery towards a view of modern Japanese poetry as itself constituting a new global centre, or “vortex,” of cultural influence from which future poets from around the world could derive inspiration. This shift did not entirely eradicate the power imbalances between the modern Japanese poets and their English counterparts: the clearest indicator of this is that the language of Kitasono’s correspondence with Pound, Laughlin, and Ford always remained English. It was the VOU members who took upon themselves the burden of translating their own works into English and their Western counterparts’ poetry and essays into Japanese. World War II, however, interrupted the correspondence of this international modernist network. Pound’s letters continued to be published by Kitasono, while VOU poems, such as Kuroda Saburō’s “Afternoon 3,” appeared in English-language magazines, including Ford’s View, until Pearl Harbour, when communication between Pound, Ford, Laughlin, and the VOU poets was finally cut off until after the war.[35] Out of the rubble of a firebombed Tokyo, Kitasono revived VOU and his connections with Western poets such as Pound and Laughlin and made a significant contribution to the development of the concrete poetry movement in the 1950s. The view of modern Japanese poetry as merely imitating Western models rather than actively participating in the generation of an international literary modernism, though, is an inaccurate one that persists to this day; in this sense, Pound’s and VOU’s vision of Tokyo taking over where Paris stopped remains unrealized.



[1] Hosea Hirata, The Poetry and Poetics of Nishiwaki Junzaburo (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 184.

[2] “Le monde au temps des surrealistes,” Variété (June 1929), 27–28; John Solt, Shredding the Tapestry of Meaning: The Poetry and Poetics of Kitasono Katué, 1902–1978 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard East Asian Monographs, 1999); Miryam Sas, Fault Lines: Cultural Memory and Japanese Surrealism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).

[3] Eliot Weinberger, Works on Paper, 1980–1986 (New York, NY: New Directions, 1986), 73.

[4] Ezra Pound & Japan: Letters & Essays, ed. Sanehide Kodama (Redding Ridge, CT: Black Swan, 1987), 27. Some studies of Kitasono, both in English and in Japanese, give his literary name as “Katue” or “Katué” after first mention; others, such as his Japanese biographer and friend, the poet Fujitomi Yasuo, use “Kitasono.” I have followed Fujitomi’s practice in this article.

[5] Ezra Pound, “Ts’ai Chi’h,” trans. Kitasono, VOU, no. 11 (August 1936): 20. Rpt. in Toshi modanizumu shishi (“Urban Modernism Poetry Magazines”), general editor Wada Hirofumi (Tokyo: Yumani shobō, 2009-2014), 30 vols., vol. 14, VOU kurabu no jikken (“The Experiments of the VOU Club”), ed. Nishimura Masahiro (Tokyo: Yumani shobō, 2011), 283. Only the Japanese translation appears in VOU, though with the original title; I have added Pound’s original and the mora count for the purposes of illustration.

[6] Pound to Harriet Monroe, 30 March 1913, in The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, ed. D. D. Paige (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), 53; Pound, “In a Station of the Metro,” Poetry 2, no. 1 (April 1913): 12.

[7] Herbert Giles, A History of Chinese Literature (London: William Heinemann, 1901), 123–25. Rupert Arrowsmith argues that “Ts’ai Chi’h” is an “entirely constructed text” (Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African and Pacific Art and the London Avant-Garde [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], 152).

[8] Earl Miner, The Japanese Tradition in British and American Literature, 2nd ed. (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1976), 119; David Ewick, “7. Poems. In Des Imagistes. New York: Boni, 1914,” Japonisme, Orientalism, Modernism: A Bibliography of Japan in English-language Verse,; Shelley Pulak, “Image, Vortex, Radiant Node: Ezra Pound as Lens,” in Imagism: Essays on Its Initiation, Impact and Influence, ed. John Gery, Daniel Kempton, and H. R. Stoneback (New Orleans, LA: University of New Orleans Press, 2013), 63–75, 67.

[9] Madame Blanche, no. 6 (1933): n.p. Rpt. in Toshi modanizumu shishi, vol. 13, Arukuiyu kurabu no kōsō (“The Concepts of the Arcueil Club”), ed. Miyazaki Masumi (Tokyo: Yumani shobō, 2010), 141; Madame Blanche, no. 17 (August 1934): 1. Rpt. in Arukuiyu kurabu, 645; Madame Blanche, no. 16 (June 1934): 1. Rpt. in Arukuiyu kurabu, 587.

[10] Nishiwaki Junzaburō, “Igirisu nijū seiki bungaku no hattatsu” (“The Development of Twentieth-century English Literature”), Mita bungaku 3, no. 9 (1928): 89. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations in this article are my own.

[11] Kitasono Katué, “1933 no shi no kaikoteki hihan” (“A Retrospective Critique of 1933’s Poetry”), Bungei hanron 3, no. 12 (December 1933): 17–18.

[12] For the impact of Nishiwaki’s work and his interest in Western modernists on Taiwanese modernist poetry, see Helen Huang, “Le Moulin: A Forgotten Taiwanese Avant-garde Modernist Magazine,” Modernism/modernity Print+ 8, no. 2 (2023).

[13] Niikura Toshikazu, Shijintachi no seiki: Nishiwaki Junzaburō to Ezura Paundo (“The Poets’ Century: Nishiwaki Junzaburō and Ezra Pound”) (Tokyo: Misuzu shobō, 2003), 33; Nishiwaki Junzaburō, “Ame” (“Rain”), in Ambarvalia (Tokyo: Shiinokisha, 1933), 9.

[14] This was “my poetical works [sic] La Lettre d’été” which Kitasono sent Pound that year (Kitasono to Pound, 6 September 1937, in Kodama, Ezra Pound & Japan, 43).

[15] Kitasono, “Shūu” (“Shower”), in Natsu no tegami (“Summer Letters”) (Tokyo: Aoi shobō, 1937), n.p.; Kitasono, “Shower,” Townsman 2, no. 6 (April 1939): 11. I am grateful to Ruth Scobie and Annabel Williams for helping me access the latter source. Kodama notices the Imagist qualities in this poem, though not how it derived from Kitasono’s encounter with Nishiwaki’s Imagist-inspired poetry (Ezra Pound & Japan, 26).

[16] Kinoshita Tsunetarō, “Ezura Paundo” (“Ezra Pound”), Mita bungaku 8, no. 4 (April 1933): 113.

[17] Pound to Kitasono, 11 March 1937, in Kodama, Ezra Pound & Japan, 40.

[18] Christopher Bush, “‘I Am All for the Triangle’: The Geopolitical Aesthetic of Pound’s Japan,” in Ezra Pound in the Present: Essays on Pound’s Contemporaneity, ed. Paul Stasi and Josephine Park (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 75–106, 83.

[19] Pound, “VOU Club,” Townsman 1, no. 1 (1938): 4. Rpt. in Ezra Pound’s Poetry and Prose: Contributions to Periodicals, ed. Lea Bachler, A. Walton Litz, and James Longenbach, 10 vols., vol. 7 (New York: Garland, 1991), 296.

[20] Pound, “The Renaissance – II,” Poetry 5, no. 6 (1915): 286.

[21] Lori Cole, “‘Do we have an international culture?’: Questioning Transnational Periodical Studies,” Modernism/modernity Print+ 8, no. 2 (2023), [ADD LINK]; Nakamura Minoru, “Chomorungumo” (“Qomolangma”), VOU, no. 2 (September 1935): 4. Rpt. in VOU kurabu jikken, 34–37, 37.

[22] Pound, How to Read (1931; New York, NY: Haskell, 1971), 25; Pound, Bungaku seishin no gensen, trans. Kinoshita (Tokyo: Kinseidō, 1933), 25.

[23] Kitasono to Pound, 17 July 1936, in Kodama, Ezra Pound & Japan, 29.

[24] Kitasono, “Iwayuru imijerii to ideopurasuti ni kansuru kantan naru shiron” (“A Simple Essay on So-Called Imagery and Ideoplasty”), VOU, no. 14 (1936): 1. Rpt. in VOU kurabu no jikken, 392–94, 392; Pound, “ABC of Reading,” trans. Ema Shōko, VOU, no. 14 (1936): 34. Rpt. in VOU kurabu no jikken, 338–43, 341.

[25] Pound, ABC of Reading (New York: New Directions, 1934), 22.

[26] Ema omits the paragraph beginning “He puts” and ending “all of the cases” (Pound, “ABC of Reading,” 34).

[27] Kitasono to Pound, 16 March 1938, in Kodama, Ezra Pound & Japan, 57.

[28] James Laughlin, “Modern Japanese Poets,” in New Directions in Prose and Poetry 1938 (New York, NY: Kraus, 1967), 171–74, 171. I am grateful to Ryan Johnson for his assistance in accessing this work.

[29] James Laughlin, “Nihon no atarashii shijintachi” (“Modern Japanese Poets”), trans. Kitasono, VOU, no. 25 (1939): 15–16. Rpt. in Toshi modanizumu shishi, vol. 15, VOU kurabu no jūgonen sensō (“The VOU Club and the Fifteen-Year War”), ed. Sawa Masahiro (Tokyo: Yumani shobō, 2011), 202–3.

[30] Alexander Howard observes that “the chainpoem project echoes Pound’s [earlier] advice to Ford about the distribution of circular letters” (Charles Henri Ford: Between Modernism and Postmodernism [London: Bloomsbury, 2017], 27–28, 81).

[31] Charles Henri Ford to Kitasono, n.d., in VOU, no. 25 (1939): 35. Rpt. in VOU kurabu to jūgonen sensō, 222.

[32] Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton and David Trinidad, eds., Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry (Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull Press, 2007), i.

[33] Ford to Kitasono, n.d., in VOU, no. 26 (1939): 42. Rpt. in VOU kurabu to jūgonen sensō, 271.

[34] Fuji Takeshi, Kitasono et al., “International Chainpoem,” in New Directions in Prose and Poetry 1940 (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1940), 370; Kitasono, Nagao Hirao et al., “First All-VOU Chainpoem,” in New Directions 1940, 372–73; Kuroda Saburō, Kitasono et al., “Second All-VOU Chainpoem,” in New Directions 1940, 373–74.

[35] Kuroda, “Afternoon 3,” View 1, no. 6 (1941), n.p. I am grateful to Alexander Howard for his assistance in accessing this work.