Book Review: Rexroth Translations


Kenneth Rexroth had a complex life and career; just look at what he was doing as a teenager:

“Orphaned at fourteen, Rexroth moved to live with his aunt in Chicago, where he was expelled from high school. He began publishing in magazines at the age of fifteen [in 1920]. As a youth, he supported himself with odd jobs—as a soda jerk, clerk, wrestler, and reporter. He hitchhiked around the country, visited Europe, and backpacked in the wilderness, reading and frequenting literary salons and lecture halls, and teaching himself several languages.” (According to

This longer Poetry Foundation Bio is also excellent. In this article I just want to recommend three volumes of Japanese short verse which Rexroth translated, mostly letting samples speak for their excellence.

The volumes mostly consist of tanka, which is a five line form, made of alternating 5 and 7 syllable lines – like haiku, but with 2 extra lines. As someone said, simplicity is the greatest elegance, and these tanka transform the world in a handful of sounds.

The three volumes are: One Hundred Poems From The Japanese; One Hundred More Poems From The Japanese; and Love Poems From The Japanese. The volume of love poems can fit in a shirt pocket, but a fair amount of it’s material overlaps the other two volumes. The original 100 is the strongest collection, and I’ll rely only on it these Tanka Excerpts, with one marked exception.