‘Cat Town’ By Sakutarō Hagiwara

In case I forgot to say it before, it is almost impossible to go wrong when you buy a book from the NYRB (New York Review of Books) imprint. I don’t think I’ve encountered a bad book published by them (and I’ve read at least a dozen from them). More than that, the books they publish are almost always enjoyable; you can read a book by an author you can be proud to be seen reading on the subway and enjoy it immensely.

Cat Town is a fine example of what they offer. A fun, interesting (often melancholy) collection by a modernist, Japanese poet from the first half of the twentieth century.

Note to cat lovers: it’s not really about cats, or at least not very much. Except for a prose poem at the end, dogs probably outnumber cats.

There are some lovely, erotic poems, as well. Erotic, I would say, but not sexy, if that makes sense. Hagiwara suffered, apparently, from mental illness, and you can tell. This isn’t to say that this is a example of outsider poetry. He was clearly steeped in poetic traditions (the introduction makes it clear that the translator isn’t wrong to translate the poems as being influenced by poets like Baudelaire and Eliot) and an excellent poet, who just happened to struggle with mental illness (rather than a crazy person who wrote poetry, if you can see the difference).

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