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William I. Elliott & Shuntarō Tanikawa, A Taste of Tanikawa

Narrowed down from the vast range of historic arguments about the nature of poetry, it would make more sense to focus not on poets and poetry but on one individual’s—Shuntarō Tanikawa’s—body of poems. A—perhaps the—central finding will be that he writes in order to communicate with other people; and just as often with himself, for that matter; and although poems can be viewed as a way of talking to oneself, his main intention would seem to be to talk to himself and others. Asked often, 'Why do you write poetry?' His answer might well be, responding to the questioner, 'Well, why don’t you write poetry?'

Spanning over a half a century of collaboration and friendship, A Taste of Tanikawa is a testament to how, like friendship, great literature transcends culture and language to communicate straight to the heart of what it means to be human. William I. Elliott, with Kazuo Kawamura (1933-2015), has translated Shuntarō Tanikawa’s work since the 1960s, the three of them working hand-in-hand to bring into English the work of one of contemporary poetry’s most legendary figures. Combining reflections by Elliott with poems by Tanikawa in translations by Elliott, Kawamura and Katsumasa Nishihara, A Taste of Tanikawa distills a lifetime of poetry and friendship. This unique and warmhearted collection offers a meditation on the art of poetry and translation where poetry is first and foremost the communication of shared human experience.

Both born in 1931, Tanikawa and Elliott’s friendship and commitment to poetry are running as strong as ever. The work they’ve shared and the work ahead will no doubt continue to change world poetry for the better for years to come. A Taste of Tanikawa offers a gentle and profound testimony to the value of poetry, dedication to craft and the deep wellspring of friendship and human communication at the heart of literature.

Shuntarō Tanikawa ’s collections include Two Billion Light Years of Solitude (1952), With Silence My Companion (1968), Coca-Cola-Lessons (1980), Rather than Pure White (1995), Watashi (2007), The Art of Being Alone: Poems 1952-2009 (2011), Kokoro (2013) and Ordinary People (2020), all of which have helped to bring Japanese poetry into the contemporary world and to keep it there. But word-play and prose poems and renga, essays, and CDs with his composer son Kensaku, film scripts and even acting begin to suggest his wide range of achievement. At ninety he is still going strong.

At ninety years of age William I. Elliott has lived more than half of those years in Japan.  He teaches to make a living. He writes and translates poems to make his living, though less profitable, more meaningful. William I. Elliott has co-translated some seventy books of Japanese poems. His current co-translator, Katsumasa Nishihara, is also the translator of A Taste of Tanikawa. The poems in this book were the work of Elliott and his first co-translator, Kazuo Kawamura, now deceased.

Kazuo Kawamura (1933-2015) lived virtually life-long in celebration of the poetry of Percy Bysshe  Shelley. He gave critical attention to such other poets as Wordsworth, Yeats, Larkin, and Shuntarō Tanikawa. From 1947-2015 every day, literally, found him engaged in the translation of Tanikawa's poems. He spent the final seventeen years of his life as Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Kanto Gakuin University in Yokohama, Japan. He was co-translator with Elliott in the poems included in A Taste of Tanikawa.

Katsumasa Nishihara’s work includes The Field of Imagination (1998), Light Verse In America (2010) and with William I. Elliott, The Singing Heart (2001). He has also translated seven books of poems by Shuntarō Tanikawa.


First published in Japanese by Nanorokusha in 2021 as
A Taste of Tanikawa 谷川俊太郎の詩を味わう
Translated by Katsumasa Nishihara.

William I. Elliott & Tanikawa Shuntarō, A Taste of Tanikawa
Translations by William I. Elliott, Kazuo Kawamura and Katsumasa Nishihara.
2022. 125 mm x 176 mm. 80pp. Limited edition of 300 copies.
ISBN 978-1-925735-43-7
Release date: May 2022

Photo of Shuntarō Tanikawa & William I. Elliott: Yasuhiro Yotsumoto (2021).

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