Posted on September 02, 2018
Who is Iaki Kabe?
A. A previously unknown Japanese poet, who became an unlikely Internet phenomenon after being translated into Georgian
B. The Georgian poet Irakli Kakabadze
C. Some combination of the above
Words Without Border's introduction to Kabe/Kakabadze's Japanese-influenced Georgian poetry, now translated into English, summarizes its unusual back-story:
Irakli Kakabadze uploaded a number of short poems to various social media sites over the course of several years under the pseudonym Iaki Kabe, fooling many into believing they were the work of an unknown Japanese poet translated into Georgian. His poetry became so popular on the Internet that when they were published in book form, the book topped national bestseller lists.
Kabe/Kakabadze's visually striking, emotionally moving poems are influenced by the classical Japanese tanka or "short song" form, which calls for five brief lines and a central image with personal meaning for the poet:
It was May, loved
By my beloved,
But now from her young,
A peach tree is flowering in the Nagasaki cemetery . . .
Teachers might focus on this form, which, interestingly, was employed by many women poets in Japan. The American Academy of Poets provides a clear definition and links to both classical and modern examples of the tanka; after reading, students might write their own "short songs."
Or, teachers might use Kabe/Kakabadze's poetry to explore questions around cultural appropriation and representation, especially as it relates to ways in which the poetry was promoted: a poem appeared on a NipponLovers Tumblr thread; the book launch and television appearances featured women in kimono.
- What is a poet's responsibility to the cultures from which he borrows?
- Is it possible to draw a line between tribute and appropriation, between poetic inspiration and Orientalism?
(Watch on YouTube.)
- Are experiences like love and war universal across cultures? (See the poem beginning, "Soldiers marched")
- Must a poem be autobiographical to be considered authentic?
- Why might the author have given himself a Japanese name? (Students can try this choice out for themselves, using this tool.)
To explore these questions in greater depth, classrooms can draw upon the introduction to the collection of Japanese writing on this website, as well as some of the resources from the Context tab of "The Stone Guest" and the Playlist for the novel excerpt "A Dream in Polar Fog." For another work influenced by Japanese culture, students might read Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel's short story "Bonsai," also published in WWB.
Students might also be interested in two contrasting opinion pieces about cultural appropriation, both referencing Kendrick Lamar's ninja-heavy performance at the 2017 VMAs: Olivia Truffaut-Wong, writing in Bustle, and Bari Weiss, in the New York Times.Potential essay questions might include:
What image of Japan comes across in these poems? How do online images and handwritten drafts the author posted alongside the poems contribute to this image? How does this image compare to that in contemporary poems translated from Japanese, on WWB Campus WWB and elsewhere?
Why do you think these poems resonated with so many contemporary readers, most of whom who are not from Japan? (Students might look at a series of artworks inspired by the poems, posted on behance.com.)
To read a selection of poems from Kabe/Kakabadze, visit this month's issue of WWB.