Sunday, February 26, 2006

Haiku from the Internment Camps: Violet Kazue de Christoforo

Vilet Kazue de Christoforo is one of many Japanese-American poets who wrote haiku in Japanese while interned in camps during World War II. She was born Kazue Yamane in Hawaii, educated from 8-13 in Japan, and then went to high school in Fresno, California. During World War II, she and her husband, Shigeru Matsuda, and their three children were interned in Jerome, Arkansas, and then she and the children were interned at Tule Lake camp in California.

Starting in 1915 two Tokyo poets Ippekiro Nakatsuka and Kawahigashi Hekigodo had developed a modernist haiku called "kaiko." Japanese-Americans in California had formed haiku-writing clubs to write these moderist haiku in Japanese. De Christoforo is a historian of these pre-World War II haiku clubs: One of the haiku clubs was in Fresno while the other one was in Stockton. The modernist haiku were not restricted to the vocabulary of the seasons and the strict 5-7-5 syllables of traditional haiku. The haiku poets worked hard on their writing, putting it up to serious critcism in the clubs, and they also collected Japanese literature. De Cristoforo says that right before the internment the Japaense-American poets in Stockton and Fresno destroyed their collections of haiku and much Japanese literature--a tragedy for Japanese-American literature. Yet the internment these Japaense-American poets kept writing haiku in Japanese which they published in camp newspapers

De Christoforo's is the best known of the haiku poets of the Japanese-American internment camps. Her Poetic Reflections of the Tule Lake Internment Camp, 1944, was published after 1984. She also collected and translated the concentration campu haiku in her book There is Always Tomorrow: An Anthology of Japanese American Concentration Campu Kaiko Haiku (1996). Only 15 of Kristoro's haiku from the camps survived.

Christoforo's haiku don't follow the 5-7-5 pattern but do use naturalistic imagery. In this haiku:

"Like-minded people gather
new shoots sprout from the pine tree
early summer sky."'

she likens the people gathering. to "new shoots" from a pine trees, giving an image of hope during the desperate times.

In "Tenth Wedding Anniversary (July 3, 1944)

"Misty moon
as it was
on my wedding day"

the moon brings back poignant memories of her own wedding.

In this haiku

"Myriad insects
in the evening
my children are growing"

she matter of factly tells about endurance: the insects endure while her children grow up.

Cary Nelson's wonderful anthology Modern American Poetry has 29 more haiku from eighteen poets from the internment camps as well as a good, short introduction. The 29 haiku are incredibly moving. Like de Christoforo, the other haiku poets adapted the naturalistic vocabulary of the haiku to capture the sadness, courage, and stamina of those in the camps in amazing poems.


Deborah P Kolodji said...

Regarding: There is Always Tomorrow: An Anthology of Japanese American Concentration Campu Kaiko Haiku

Is this book in English? Is it available anywhere?


Dan Tanner said...

The Book There is always tomorrow: An Anthology of Japanese American Concentration Campu Haiku Is Available in English. Violet de Cristoforo is my Grandmother and I happen to be visiting her right now. She would be more than happy to Mail you a free copy of the book if you would like. If you are interested please feel free to email me at and I will make sure it gets sent out to you either while I am here or on my next one week a month visit. She will also be reading several of her Haiku's with Lawson Inada October 29th , 2006 at 7pm at Hartnell College Main Theater Performing Arts Building 156 Homestead Ave. Salinas Ca. Admission is Free. Take care,