Japan scholar to address Zen, art of mumbo jumbo in haiku

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KALAMAZOO--Haiku is often venerated as an age-old traditional form of poetry.

But a Japan scholar will present an alternate view of the simple, yet elegant poetic form when he speaks at Western Michigan University.

Dr. Adam L. Kern, director of the Center for Visual Cultures and associate professor of Japanese literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 12, in the University Center for the Humanities, Room 2500 of Knauss Hall. His talk, titled, "Zen and the Art of Mumbo Jumbo in Haiku," is free and open to the public.

Drawing upon his research and translations for the forthcoming "The Penguin Book of Haiku," Kern takes issue with the notion of haiku as a kind of age-old traditional Japanese "Zen" poetry about nature, instead arguing that it is really a shockingly new "invented tradition" under the sway of the late nineteenth-century movement in Japan to modernize and Westernize. He will also explain how the Hello Kitty pop culture icon has become affiliated with short Japanese poems.

After spending more than a year as a high school exchange student in Omiya City in Saitama, Japan, Kern earned a bachelor in East Asian studies from the University of Minnesota in 1987, a master's in regional studies--East Asia from Harvard in 1989 and a doctoral degree in East Asian languages and civilizations, also from Harvard, in 1997.

Kern's main intellectual interests in Japan revolve around its popular culture, visual culture, dramatic arts and comic literature. His book, "Manga from the Floating World: Comic-book Culture and the Kibyōshi of Edo Japan," was published in 2006 by the Harvard University Asia Center. He recently completed the forthcoming collection of translated haiku from Penguin.

Kern's visit is sponsored by the WMU Soga Japan Center, the departments of Foreign Languages and Comparative Religion and the Haenicke Institute for Global Education.

For more information, contact Dr. Jeffrey Angles, associate professor of foreign languages, at (269) 387-3044 or jeffrey.angles@wmich.edu.