An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Columbia University Press
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ISBN 0 231 11656 X
$27.50 [17]

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The author first discovered Kodojin in 1985 on finding one of his paintings in a shop that specialised in works of the literati. This book is the result of his painstaking and throrough search to find out all about the life and work of Kodojin, whose name means Old Taoist

Kodojin was a master not only of painting but also of calligraphy, kanshi (Chinese poetry) and haiku:

   A last firefly  it seems to have a purpose
   as late at night it glimmers behind my study curtain
   Bamboo dew  the heart of autumn drips,
   a moment when the breeze-touched lamp is almost extinguished.

Born 1865 in Shingu near Honshu's famed Nachi Waterfall, he wrote his first haiku at the age of four or five:

     Tsurube kara          From the bucket
   yo ni tobidetaru      jumping into the world 
     i no kawazu           frog in the well

However, he became increasingly more interested in kanshi, moving to Osaka to continue his studies. Later he became a pupil of haiku master, Masaoka Shiki. Eventually he returned home. Addiss gives us all the facts of his life, but not as a dry chronology of events. The story is told through the poems and the paintings which he describes and interprets in a remarkably compassionate fashion.

After his funeral in 1944, friends searched for his work:

They soon realized that Kodojin had spent his final months going through all his works, selecting those he wished to preserve, and destroying the rest. Whether this was from modesty or the wish to be remembered only for a small part of his work is not known. But it is certainly possible that Kodojin was greatly discouraged about the fate of literati art in the modern world of war and destruction, and therefore may have felt that more than a minimal collection of his writings would be superfluous.

Addiss's account takes up only the first third of this book. There follows a selection of almost a hundred haiku and half a dozen waka. My favourites include:

      Waga men ni         Dripping happily
    koborete ureshi     on my face 
      kiku no tsuyu       chyrsanthemum dew

   Ame botsubotsu      Spring drizzle
 shiro ato no haru   at the castle ruins 
   hito mare ni        not many people

      		At Shirahama
	the cool pine breeze
		flutters the sleeves
	of a young girl returning
	from bathing in the sea

Jonathan Chaves next puts the Chinese poetry into its contemporary context in an article KODOJIN AND THE T'AO CH'IEN TRADITION IN KANSHI POETRY.

The style is traced forward from the 4th to the 20th century and the article concludes:

Thus Kodojin, by example and through explicit statements, shows how a vibrantly reinvigorated tradition can continue to provide the foundation for creativity and wise living in the modern era.

Eight color plates show us some of the magnificent exquisteness of Kodojin's art.

We are then treated to a selection of some 200 of Kodojin's Chinese Poetry, translated by Chaves.

J. Thomas Rimer contributes an essay A NOTE ON KODOJIN AND THE ART AND LITERATURE OF HIS PERIOD, which I suspect is aimed more at academics than the general reader.

Addiss's EPILOGUE to the book does him a dis-service. He bemoans the fact that Kodojin's work is little known outside the world of connoisseurs, collectors and scholars and wonders if this means that it ultimately fails. Were it not for this book, that might be the case. Addiss should be proud and pleased that he has revealed this work, introducung it to a wider world and preserving it for future admirers. All credit is due to him.

reviewer: Gerald England.