S P R I N G 2 0 0 2/V O L U M E1 1,N U M B E R3
Elizabeth Floyd, left, and Naoshi Koriyama at his home in a Tokyo suburb.
By Christine Hanson McKnight
was a homesick Japanese youth struggling to earn a degree in English
at the New York State College for Teachers. She was an outgoing American
classmate who befriended him and taught him how to square dance in Merlin
Hathaways physical education class.
graduation from the College for Teachers in June of 1954, Naoshi Koriyama,
B.A.54, returned to Japan, where he taught English and quietly
achieved international stature as a poet. Though he is practically unknown
in Japan, since he writes in English rather than his native Japan-ese,
several of his poems, most notably Unfolding Bud and Jetliner,
are found in some two dozen schoolbook anthologies in the U.S., Canada,
Australia and South Africa. No other living Japanese poets works
are so frequently reprinted in the English-speaking world.
square dance partner from nearly 50 years ago was Joan Labouseur, B.A.54,
M.A.55, M.L.S.70, who later married another classmate, William
Floyd, B.A.54, M.A.55, and became a school librarian. Bill,
meanwhile, earned his Ed.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education
and also went on to a career in education. They settled in Guilderland,
a suburb of Schenectady.
opposite sides of the globe, the Floyds and Koriyama have nurtured a
lifelong friendship now enriched by a literary collaboration
between Koriyama and the Floyds daughter, Elizabeth, a book editor
and freelance writer who is fluent in Japanese and has lived in Tokyo
since 1988. The Floyds and Koriyama, now all retired, fondly remember
their time together at the College for Teachers, UAlbanys predecessor
had the same class with him, and he always seemed to me to be a shy,
lonely person, being so far away from home, Joan Floyd said. We
got to talking from time to time . . . He was very polite and very nice.
He used to sit in Hawley Library on the downtown campus, doing his French
homework with a French-English dictionary and a Japanese-English dictionary.
remember Joan as being very friendly, Koriyama told Elizabeth
Floyd recently. Speaking frankly, some girls didnt want
to be my partner. This was right after the war. But your mother taught
me very kindly how to square dance.
Koriyama wrote about those experiences in Another Bridge over the Pacific, A Man from an Island and His American Wife, which chronicled his experiences in America after World War II. A native of the subtropical Amami Islands, between mainland Japan and Taiwan,
worked as a translator for U.S. military occupation forces in Okinawa,
then studied at the University of New Mexico for a year as an exchange
student. He completed his undergraduate studies at the College for Teachers
with the encouragement of Kenkichi Masai, another native of Koriyamas
home island in Japan. Kenkichi and his American wife, Margaret,
owned a thriving florist business on Long Island.
Another Bridge over the Pacific, Koriyama pays homage to two
of his professors: Vivian Hopkins, who encouraged him to write poetry
in English, and sociologist Theodore Standing, who opened his familys
country home in East Nassau to the Japanese youth on weekends. At the
suggestion of Hopkins, Koriyama submitted Cave Mans Moonrise,
the first poem he ever wrote in English, to The Christian Science
Monitor, which printed it. He later wrote and dedicated a poem to
Hopkins entitled All the Poems I Have Written I Owe You,
as well as a tribute to Standing called Stoney Fields.
returning to Japan, he taught English and poetry at Toyo University
in Tokyo and continued to write poetry noted for its appeal to American
tastes. He has published at least six books of poetry and is the recipient
of several international prizes in poetry.
he is even more appreciated in the United States than in Japan
which is not surprising, since his first love is writing poetry in English,
said Elizabeth Floyd, who earned her B.A. from Binghamton University,
then studied literary translation and Japanese in graduate school at
the University of Iowa.
the schoolbook anthology Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle,
she noted, Koriyamas work appears alongside that of such noted
poets as Theodore Roethke, Donald Hall, E.E. Cummings, Dorothy Parker,
Audre Lord and Langston Hughes. This is, of course, an extraordinary
achievement for someone who is writing in a language other than his
native tongue, she said. Only a handful of writers have
been successful in adopted languages, like Vladimir Nabokov, Czeslaw
Milosz and Joseph Conrad.
When Elizabeth Floyd moved to Japan 14 years ago to continue her language study, her parents encouraged her to renew their long-distance friendship with Koriyama. That led to Elizabeth and Naoshis recent collaboration on the English translation of a book by one of South Koreas most famous poets, Chong Ki-Sheok. The book, Black Flower in the Sky: Poems of a Korean Bridegroom in Hiroshima, is a collection of powerful poems inspired by the passionate relationship between Chong and his wife, and his despondence following her death.
Click titles to view other poems by Naoshi Koriyama: