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Kees, Weldon  

Dana Gioia

A singular figure in the mid-20th century American arts, Kees did significant work in poetry, fiction, painting, film, and criticism. Although neglected in the years following his death, he is now recognized as one of the most influential poets of his generation. Focusing mainly on poetry and fiction, the article outlines the author’s development from the minimalism of his early naturalist fiction to the cosmopolitan innovation of his later poetry. Full of formal originality, musical brilliance, and technical skill, Kees’s poetry is most distinctive for its dark and apocalyptic vision. The poet’s restless and varied career had its heyday in 1940s New York and came to its tragic end in 1950s San Francisco, culminating in the poet’s mysterious disappearance and presumed suicide.

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The Reception of Beat Writers in Japan  

Hidetoshi Tomiyama

The Beat writers, especially Jack Kerouac (1922–1969), William Burroughs (1914–1997), Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997), and Gary Snyder (1930–), have been well known in Japan. Though Snyder’s differences from the other three, such as his West Coast background and a reformist and edifying stance, are obvious, here we choose not to be fussy about the application of a name, and simply follow his inclusion as in Ann Charter’s The Penguin Book of the Beats (1992). The Beat writers have been eagerly translated and read in Japan, though they are not a common focus of academic literary study. They exerted influence on writers and artists, in particular in terms of a rebellious attitude toward the conformist society and formalized artistic conventions prevailing in Japan. One conspicuous aspect of their impact is that it is part of the influx of American popular, mainly youth, culture since the 1950s, involving jazz, folk, and rock music, as well as numerous films depicting antiheroes on the road. Some Japanese poets, most notably Shiraishi Kazuko (1931–) and Yoshimasu Gōzō (1939–) were directly inspired by the Beats, and others unwittingly formed parallel developments. Assessing their specific achievements requires considering the historical context of modern Japanese poetry. The Beats, in turn, were attracted by Eastern cultures and religions, especially Buddhism; Snyder through his stay in Japan for the practice and study of Zen Buddhism had direct contact with Japanese poets, academics, and activists. Generally speaking, Japanese today, though they usually have some inkling of what Zen is, are not necessarily aware of the Buddhist heritage informing their basic worldview. Still, literary manifestations of what Alan Watts termed “Beat Zen,” in particular Kerouac’s, are not dissimilar to the religious attitude of many Japanese toward the world, which tends to seek to intuit a sense of enlightenment or salvation here and now, beyond humanly delimited distinctions and preconceptions.