The doubly marginalized poet: (re)assessing the poetry of Sagawa Chika 左川ちか (1911-1936)

My presentation discusses the importance of (re)assessing the poetry of Sagawa Chika (1911-1936), who has been largely and wrongly neglected by both literary and feminist critics in Japan.

Japanese women's poetry has been more widely studied since the late 1980s, but the critical focus has been almost always on post-WWII women poets, and pre-war women poets have been almost completely ignored. My research challenges the assumption that the kōgo-jiyū-shi (口語自由詩/free-style colloquial poetry), the new poetic form of the Taisho and early Showa eras (1920s and 30s), which is now called simply shi (詩/poetry), was all developed by "male" poets before the war.

Sagawa was a pioneer woman poet, who, in the male-dominated literary society of the time, boldly challenged artistic possibilities of kōgo-jiyū-shi. At a time of dynamic poetic development, under the influence of modernism, surrealism and Dadaism, which inspired Japanese poets in the 1920s and 30s, she created not only experimental but artistically successful poetry both in terms of thematic content and style. Although a number of contemporary poets, including Hagiwara Sakutaro (1886-1942), Kitazono Katue (1902-1978), and Momota Sōji (1893-1955), mourned the loss of prominent poetic talent when she died of cancer at the age of 24, academic discourse failed to take up her work.

In my presentation, I will explore some of the reasons why Sagawa has been ignored in academia despite her poetic quality. Through a detailed analysis of some poems, I will demonstrate something of freshness and contemporariness of her poetry, which I hope to justify her inclusion in Japanese literary history and canon. 

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