Poetry co-translation and an attentive cosmopolitanism: internationalising contemporary Japanese poetry


  • Cassandra Atherton Deakin University
  • Paul Hetherington University of Canberra
  • Rina Kikuchi Shiga University




Poetry co-translation, Japanese poetry, cross-cultural


The majority of Japanese poetry currently reaches a limited readership outside of Japan. As a result, many contemporary Japanese poets are searching for ways to have their poems translated into English and published in English-language journals. Achieving satisfactory translation results, however, is considerably more complicated than switching words from one language into another and scholarship on the subject of translating Japanese poetry is often vexed. This scholarship frequently traverses much of the same ground as the debate about Japanese prose translation where, depending on their approach, translators may be labelled ‘literalists’ or ‘libertines’. This paper argues that co-translating Japanese poetry may be as much about sharing ideas and ideologies as about lineation, cadence or word choice. Co-translating Japanese poetry has the power to build cross-cultural understandings and to explore and promote ways of understanding Japanese identity. We argue that while translation is often undertaken by the translators in their country of residence, the experience of genius loci and undertaking co-translation in situ may best accommodate such a cross-cultural synergy.

This paper draws on our collective experiences in a series of translation workshops at Meiji University. These were organised by Rina Kikuchi, a literary scholar and translator from Japan. Among other Australian poets and scholars, Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton were paired with Japanese poets for co-translation purposes. They co-translated Japanese poetry into English and had their own poems translated into Japanese with the assistance of Kikuchi who acted as the lynchpin for the workshops. The experience was celebrated in a series of poetry readings in Tokyo and Nara. Significantly, although neither Hetherington nor Atherton is fluent in Japanese, they found the process of co-translation to include what one may call an attentive cosmopolitanism, incorporating respect and understanding for different cultural assumptions and poetic ideas. 

Author Biographies

Cassandra Atherton, Deakin University

Cassandra Atherton is an award-winning scholar and prose poet. She was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard in 2016 and a Visiting Fellow at Sophia University, Tokyo in 2014. Her most recent books of prose poetry are Pre-Raphaelite (2018) and Leftovers (2020). She co-edited The Unfinished Bomb: Shadows and Reflections and received an Australia Council Grant to write book of prose poetry on the Hiroshima Maidens. She is co-author of Prose Poetry: An Introduction(Princeton UP, 2020).

Paul Hetherington, University of Canberra

Paul Hetherington is Professor of Writing in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra, head of the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) and one of the founding editors of the international online journal Axon: Creative Explorations. He founded the International Prose Poetry Group in 2014 and is an award-winning poet. With Ken Gardiner he has published translations from the Chinese poetry of Li Bai, Wang Wei, Tu Fu, Meng Hao-jan and Lu Lun.

Rina Kikuchi, Shiga University

Rina Kikuchi is a professor of literature at Shiga University, Japan, and an adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Canberra. She is currently working on a research project on Japanese women’s poetry of the Asia Pacific War. Her bilingual books of poetry translations are Poet to Poet: Contemporary Women Poets from Japan (2017, co-edited with Jen Crawford) and Pleasant Troubles (2018, co-edited with Harumi Kawaguchi).