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Elizabeth Floyd, left, and Naoshi Koriyama at his home in a Tokyo suburb.
By Christine Hanson McKnight
e was a homesick Japanese youth struggling to earn a degree in
English at the New York State College for Teachers. She was an outgoing
American classmate who befriended him and taught him how to square dance
in Merlin Hathaway’s physical education class.
graduation from the College for Teachers in June of 1954, Naoshi Koriyama,
B.A.’54, returned to Japan, where he taught English and quietly achieved
international stature as a poet. Though he is practically unknown in
Japan, since he writes in English rather than his native Japan-ese,
several of his poems, most notably “Unfolding Bud” and “Jetliner,” are
found in some two dozen schoolbook anthologies in the U.S., Canada,
Australia and South Africa. No other living Japanese poet’s works are so
frequently reprinted in the English-speaking world.
Koriyama’s square dance partner from nearly 50 years ago was Joan
Labouseur, B.A.’54, M.A.’55, M.L.S.’70, who later married another
classmate, William Floyd, B.A.’54, M.A.’55, and became a school librarian.
Bill, meanwhile, earned his Ed.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of
Education and also went on to a career in education. They settled in
Guilderland, a suburb of Schenectady.
opposite sides of the globe, the Floyds and Koriyama have nurtured a
lifelong friendship — now enriched by a literary collaboration between
Koriyama and the Floyds’ daughter, Elizabeth, a book editor and freelance
writer who is fluent in Japanese and has lived in Tokyo since 1988. The
Floyds and Koriyama, now all retired, fondly remember their time together
at the College for Teachers, UAlbany’s predecessor
the same class with him, and he always seemed to me to be a shy, lonely
person, being so far away from home,” Joan Floyd said. “We got to talking
from time to time . . . He was very polite and very nice. He used to sit
in Hawley Library on the downtown campus, doing his French homework with a
French-English dictionary and a Japanese-English
remember Joan as being very friendly,” Koriyama told Elizabeth Floyd
recently. “Speaking frankly, some girls didn’t want to be my partner. This
was right after the war. But your mother taught me very kindly how to
Koriyama wrote about those experiences in Another Bridge over the Pacific, A Man from an Island and His American Wife, which chronicled his experiences in America after World War II. A native of the subtropical Amami Islands, between mainland Japan and Taiwan,
worked as a translator for U.S. military occupation forces in Okinawa,
then studied at the University of New Mexico for a year as an exchange
student. He completed his undergraduate studies at the College for
Teachers with the encouragement of Kenkichi Masai, another native of
Koriyama’s home island in Japan. Kenkichi and his “American wife,”
Margaret, owned a thriving florist business on Long Island.
Another Bridge over the Pacific, Koriyama pays homage to two of his
professors: Vivian Hopkins, who encouraged him to write poetry in English,
and sociologist Theodore Standing, who opened his family’s country home in
East Nassau to the Japanese youth on weekends. At the suggestion of
Hopkins, Koriyama submitted “Cave Man’s Moonrise,” the first poem he ever
wrote in English, to The Christian Science Monitor, which printed
it. He later wrote and dedicated a poem to Hopkins entitled “All the Poems
I Have Written I Owe You,” as well as a tribute to Standing called “Stoney
returning to Japan, he taught English and poetry at Toyo University in
Tokyo and continued to write poetry noted for its appeal to American
tastes. He has published at least six books of poetry and is the recipient
of several international prizes in poetry.
he is even more appreciated in the United States than in Japan — which is
not surprising, since his first love is writing poetry in English,” said
Elizabeth Floyd, who earned her B.A. from Binghamton University, then
studied literary translation and Japanese in graduate school at the
University of Iowa.
schoolbook anthology Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle,
she noted, Koriyama’s work appears alongside that of such noted poets as
Theodore Roethke, Donald Hall, E.E. Cummings, Dorothy Parker, Audre Lord
and Langston Hughes. “This is, of course, an extraordinary achievement for
someone who is writing in a language other than his native tongue,” she
said. “Only a handful of writers have been successful in adopted
languages, like Vladimir Nabokov, Czeslaw Milosz and Joseph
When Elizabeth Floyd moved to Japan 14 years ago to continue her language study, her parents encouraged her to renew their long-distance friendship with Koriyama. That led to Elizabeth and Naoshi’s recent collaboration on the English translation of a book by one of South Korea’s most famous poets, Chong Ki-Sheok. The book, Black Flower in the Sky: Poems of a Korean Bridegroom in Hiroshima, is a collection of powerful poems inspired by the passionate relationship between Chong and his wife, and his despondence following her death.
Click titles to view other poems by Naoshi Koriyama: