From a Three-Cornered World (Magill Book Reviews)
FROM A THREE-CORNERED WORLD: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS presents a prospect and retrospect of James Masao Mitsui’s finely crafted and deeply felt poetic output over the past three decades.
The book’s title derives from a Japanese writer’s comment that artists inhabit a triangle left after eliminating the commonsensical corner of the ordinary four-square world. And aesthetics is a recurrent subject in Mitsui’s book. Art dashes logical expectation—when, for instance, a genteel landscape artist and a violent swordsman are the one samurai. Art demands hard work (a year to learn a note on a shakuhachi flute) and a collaboration of nature with inspiration (a gardener shakes down some leaves after sweeping his grounds).
The other major theme of Mitsui is the Japanese American experience, especially the experiences of immigration and relocation. The immigration experience is developed through Mitsui’s poems about his parents who immigrated in the early twentieth century, and these poems are vividly sculpted pieces capturing that generations strength, self-sacrifice, and capacity for hard work and enduring love. The poems about the relocation of some 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans during the 1940’s derive from the whole Mitsui family’s travails; they are movingly effective and wryly laconic criticisms of America’s mean-spirited, racist, and wrongful treatment of Japanese Americans in a moment of national hysteria.
(The entire section is 291 words.)
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From a Three-Cornered World (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Over three decades and in as many volumes of poetry, James Masao Mitsui has been steadily publishing his finely crafted poems of deeply honest thought and feeling. From a Three-Cornered World brings together some three dozen of Mitsui’s formerly published poems with twenty-five new ones to present a richly varied and fitting retrospect and prospect on Mitsui’s oeuvre and accomplishment.
The title of Mitsui’s book derives from a comment by Natsume Soseki that “an artist is a person who lives in the triangle which remains after the angle which we may call common sense has been removed from this four-cornered world.” It comes as no surprise, then, that a goodly number of Mitsui’s poems are insightful meditations on artworks and artists, objects and individuals eluding the logic of a foursquare world. Thus art (and humanity, eventually) contains the illogical tension of a brush painter’s finesse with a swordsman’s brute force in the poem “Samurai”:
The same hand
that pauses in the autumn sky
to paint wind
whispering through bamboo,
joins the other hand
on the embroidered hilt of a naked blade
& cuts a man in half
at the thighs,
leaving behind a pair of bloody wheels:
skin, flesh, bone & marrow.
Art can, therefore, be the product of a mental patient of whom Mitsui says, “the man who...
(The entire section is 2025 words.)