LitFest 2017: Miho Kinnas on the art of haiku

Japanese poet Miho Kinnas on her book of poems Today, Fish Only

The Shanghai International Literary Festival returns to M on the Bund this month with 30-plus talks, discussions and workshops over 12 days. Every day this week we're introducing you to one of this year's featured authors.

Japanese poet Miho Kinnas is a writer, editor and translator, as well as teaching the art of haiku poetry. Her first book of poems, Today, Fish Only was published in early 2015.


Where can we read your work?

My book of poems, Today, Fish Only, will be available at the festival. Here in Shanghai, my book review of The Incarnations by Susan Barker appeared in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China. Also, another RAS China publication, The Classical Gardens of Shanghai by Shelly Bryant kindly included one of my poems.


And another of my poems appeared in a very interesting anthology called Quixotica Poems East of La Mancha. It was published in Hong Kong to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes.


How does a sense of place and home influence your writing?

Home is where I am. I cannot go home to any other home – nobody can, actually. A sense of place is, to me, to be here and now. Therefore, the present sense of being is everything I have. That’s enough for me and that is where I write from and what I write.


One of your projects is translating Japanese poetry; what inspired this project and how difficult is it to accurately translate literary work?

A lot of writers, especially those using multiple languages, have translation instincts. It is hard to explain, but whenever the writers read a piece of writing that resonates closely they feel tempted to place the piece in a different environment, a different language, to see whether it works there, too.


Translating poetry is a challenge. It requires deep reading. It is like free diving – I keep going down and down until I cannot go any deeper. I don’t know if word- to-word accuracy is the goal of translating poetry. I try to recreate the experience of reading the original piece as vividly as possible. Isn’t that what every writer does in her writing even if not between different languages? A writer is influenced by what she reads. She takes what she likes and tries to make it her own. Translating between languages, fundamentally, is the same thing.


What future projects do you have in the pipeline?

I am currently working with a young Japanese writer on an essay related to contemporary reading experiences in Japan. For the next few months, I will also be working as poetry editor for the fifth anthology of the Island Writers’ Network of Hilton Head, South Carolina. Of course, I am working on my next book of poems. I would love to see it emerge as a completed draft by this time next year.


What will be the theme of your talk during LitFest?

I will be giving a haiku workshop. I would like to project haiku as an essence of writing in general and not as an esoteric/exotic state of mind. It will be fun – we will look for haiku and expand a word into haiku, and morph haiku into something else! I attempted to use some of these methods when I wrote Today, Fish Only.


What would be an ultimate career dream of yours?

I am a happy poet when someone reads my poem, reads it again, likes it and reads one more time. I would like to keep writing. I want to stay excited about writing and keep experimenting with the written words for the rest of my life.


Miho Kinnas will give a haiku workshop on March 14th at 3pm. Find full details of the Shanghai International Literary Festival here.


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