The Concrete Poetry of Niikuni Seiichi:Between Poetry and Art

As part of the wave of modernism that swept over all fields of art in the 20th century, poets boldly began to analyze language structurally instead of merely concentrating on its semantic content. Among these writers, some began to approach their work with a special emphasis on its visual and phonetic aspects. In Japan, Niikuni Seiichi (1925−77) was the foremost figure in this movement, but fell into virtual oblivion after his death. Niikuni, who began conducting avant-garde experiments in poetry in his hometown of Sendai in the 1950s, arrived at a poetry that dealt with language in terms of both its visual and aural elements. After producing "seeing poems," in which kanji (Chinese characters) were scattered around the page to form graphic images, and "listening poems," consisting of hiragana, katakana, and numbers, Niikuni's work came to fruition following a move to Tokyo and the publication of his poetry collection "Zero on". In Tokyo, the poet discovered "concrete poetry," an international movement of poets who arranged various written elements into "constellation"-like forms. Not long after, Niikuni came up with the unique method of repeating kanji in a grid pattern in poems such as "Ame" (Rain), and received acclaim both in and outside of Japan. During his years in Tokyo, he formed alliances with foreign poets as the leading figure in Japanese concrete poetry, and published countless poems in the official journal of the ASA (Association for Study of Arts), a group which he also founded, and showed his work at exhibitions throughout the world. Though he was fond of using kanji that were related to the body, such as "lip" and "blood," and life and death, there was also another side to Niikuni. He had studied contemporary music and deserves to be recognized for his ingenuity in recording sound poetry prior to his involvement in this global poetry movement. In this exhibition, we reexamine the work of Niikuni Seiichi, a poet who not only evolved a Japanese version of concrete poetry but opened up a unique world that unexpected took root in the cultural climate of foreign countries. Based on a survey of extant documents, this event should provide an important opportunity to reconsider the interactive relationship between art, music, and poetry.