Cat Town cover
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Publication date:
November 11, 2014
NYRB Poets
Available as E-Book, International Literature

Sakutarō Hagiwara remains a singular figure in modern Japanese poetry. His experimentation with traditional forms led to his becoming the most significant pioneer of free-style verse in Japan. Hagiwara’s first book of poetry, Howling at the Moon, astonished readers and was an immediate success—two poems were deleted on order of the Ministry of the Interior for “disturbing social customs.” Hagiwara blends everyday colloquialisms with literary language to remarkable and unsettling effect. Through meditations on mundane images of nature like dogs, bamboo, grass, turtles, eggs, seedlings, frogs, and clams, his poetry palpably conveyed the “modern malaise.” Hagiwara expanded on “an invalid’s” perception of the world in his second book of poems, The Blue Cat. Both of his major published books are included here in full, along with a substantial selection of poems and prose poems from his other collections and a complete translation of Cat Town, a prose-poem roman. These works wholly transformed the poetic landscape in Japan for all future generations. Award-winning translator Hiroaki Sato, called by Gary Snyder “the finest translator of contemporary Japanese poetry into American English,” has also written an insightful introduction to this edition.


Sakutarō Hagiwara is the ultimate modern Japanese poet. He first perfected the use of the colloquial language as a medium for modern poetic expression. Using that language, he reveals a sensibility that can be tough, neurotic, ironic, touching, and profound, sometimes all in the same poem. Always rhythmic and occasionally obscure, poem after poem can represent a scintillating verbal and spiritual adventure, particularly in the lucid and elegant translations created by Hiroaki Sato.
—J. Thomas Rimer

To translate writing that is strange in the original into writing that is strange in translation, but equally compelling and not alien—that takes a master. With the great Sakutarō Hagiwara, so dear to the Japanese that he is mostly referred to by his first name, Sakutarō, the master translator is Hiroaki Sato. Hagiwara is not just the most influential poet of his generation, the only one who shattered conventional forms, the one who argued that reason can take us only so far. His body of radically expressive work, continuously addressed by literary magazines since his transformative book, Howling at the Moon, inspires the most innovative Japanese poets writing today. Hagiwara is the big cheese all right, and Sato has the gifts necessary to render his incomparably sharp taste.
—Forrest Gander