Albert Saijo

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Albert Fairchild Saijo[1] (1926[2]—2011[1]) was an Asian-American poet and, along with Shig Murao, one of only two Asian Americans to be recognized as a part of the Beat Generation.[3] Saijo's first solo collection of poetry, Outspeaks: A Rhapsody was published in 1997 when he was 71 years old.[4] A second collection, Woodrat Flat, was published posthumously in 2015.[5]

Early life[edit]

Saijo (left) at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in 1943

Saijo was born in Los Angeles, California[1] in 1926.[2] In 1942, Saijo and his family were removed from their California home and imprisoned at Heart Mountain Relocation Center as part of the U.S. government's program of Japanese American internment.[6] He later joined the 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and served in Italy.[1]

The Backpacker[edit]

Saijo's The Backpacker (1972)[7] is a short book offering guidance on how backpackers can enter a spiritual psychedelic experience.[8] A new edition featuring an expanded section on food was published in 1977.[9] Reviewing The Backpacker in the hiking magazine Backpacker in 1973, Denise Van Lear wrote that "no other book so graciously portrays nature's lure as it relates to hikers. Saijo's eloquent prose will transform you."[10]

Trip Trap and relationship with the Beat Generation[edit]

Trip Trap (1972)[7] is a collection of haiku by Saijo, Jack Kerouac and Lew Welch.[11] The poems describe a road trip from California to New York[6] taken by the three men in 1959, and invoke Gary Snyder, who was then in Japan, as a kind of guiding spirit. Saijo and Welch first met Kerouac in California in November 1959, when Welch offered to drive Kerouac to Northport, New York in his Willys Jeepster, nicknamed "Willy". As they travelled, the trio composed spontaneous collaborative poems. On arriving in New York, they visited Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky's apartment, where they presented Ginsberg with a wooden cross stolen from a roadside memorial in Arizona. The three men then spent the night at Kerouac's mother's house in Northport, where Kerouac remained as Saijo and Welch returned west.[12][13]

Saijo and Kerouac became friends, bound by a shared wanderlust and appreciation of Zen Buddhism, cool jazz and alcohol.[6] Saijo later was a minor character in Kerouac's Big Sur, in which he takes the name "George Baso" and in Kerouac's depiction of the 1959 drive is described as "the little Japanese Zen master hepcat sitting crosslegged in the back of Dave's [Lew's] jeepster".[11] In a 2001 article in boundary 2 Rob Wilson argued that the character of Baso functions as a "link to Zen Buddhism and the Orient for Kerouac, who found the West Coast U.S.A. closer in expansive sentiment and lyrical existence to Asia than to Europe".[14] A photograph of Saijo, Kerouac and Welch composing a poem together in New York was featured in Fred McDarrah's book The Beat Scene.[15]


Saijo moved from Northern California to Volcano, Hawaii in the early 1990s. Six years later[6] he published Outspeaks: A Rhapsody (1997),[7] a lyrical memoir.[16] His poetry in Outspeaks is written entirely in capital letters and punctuated with dashes, resembling the work of the poets of the Beat Generation,[4] yet though his poems take a stream-of-consciousness form Saijo did not adhere to Kerouac's mode of spontaneous prose.[6] In his best-known poem, "EARTH SLANGUAGE WITH ENGLISH ON IT" he explains his style by expressing a wish for a "UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR", a "BIRTHRIGHT TONGUE" with "NO FORMAL-VERNACULAR OR DEMOTIC-HIERATIC OPPOSITION". With this "slanguage", he approaches topics including racism, the environment, technology and religion often from unexpected angles.[4] Outspeaks also includes Saijo's recollections of his road trip with Kerouac and Welch,[17] and is grounded in the 1960s: Saijo writes "I CONSIDER MYSELF A CHILD OF THE '60S—IT WAS WHEN I BECAME A REBORN HUMAN".[18]

In her review of Outspeaks in the alternative literary journal Tinfish, Juliana Spahr described Saijo as "a new [William] Blake".[7] Rob Wilson identified Outspeaks as one example of poetry from the area surrounding the Pacific Ocean bearing the markers of two types of postmodernism: "writerly experimentation and textual play ... as well as the concerns of belonging to and expressing a distinct, particularized and limited model of identity, affiliated voice, sentiments of nationhood, and (post)colonial heritage".[19] Wilson interprets Saijo's use of the plover as a signifier of "'ANIMAL CIVILITY,' living on edges and borders, embodying nomadic movement, improvisation, and risk, jazzy flights between solitary foraging and communal roosting: anarchic and poetic existence on a small budget."[20]


Saijo died in Volcano, Hawaii on June 2, 2011. He was survived by his wife Laura, his sister Hisayo, and four stepchildren.[1]

Woodrat Flat[edit]

In December 2014 Tinfish Press announced it would publish a collection of Saijo's work from the 1980s and 1990s entitled Woodrat Flat, to be edited and introduced by the poet and activist Jerry Martien.[21] In a review for Queen Mob's Teahouse Greg Bem described Woodrat Flat as "a firm but mindful book, one whole composed of many meditations ... a mature book, too, one that can justify its own worth, its own righteousness, and, adversely, its own meek way of cupping a spoonful of quiet here and there to be dripped over the illuminated absurd of the modern world."[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Albert Fairchild Saijo". Honolulu Advertiser. June 17, 2011. Retrieved July 10, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "[Japanese-American Internee Data File], 1942–1946". National Archives and Records Administration. 1988–89. Retrieved February 3, 2013. 
  3. ^ Gray, Timothy C. (Winter 1998). "Semiotic Shepherds: Gary Snyder, Frank O'Hara, and the Embodiment of an Urban Pastoral". Contemporary Literature (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press) 39 (4): 541. ISSN 0010-7484. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Leong 2002, p. 272.
  5. ^ a b Bem, Greg (January 13, 2015). "Hammer jacking goes the gods: A review of Saijo's Woodrat Flat". Queen Mob's Teahouse. Retrieved April 6, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Kam, Nadine (1997). "Running on rhapsody". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d Leong 2002, p. 273.
  8. ^ Kemsley, William, Jr. (1974). "Can backpacking be a mystical trip?". Backpacker (6): 43. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  9. ^ Krause, Joy (July 13, 1977). "Why Not Tuck a Cookbook in Your Backpack?". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 2. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  10. ^ Van Lear, Denise (Spring 1973). "Books". Backpacker (1): 8–9. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  11. ^ a b Park 2008, p. 103.
  12. ^ Maher, Paul Jr. (January 16, 2007). Kerouac: His Life and Work. Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publications. pp. 397–398. ISBN 158979690X. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  13. ^ Morgan, Bill (2006). I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg. New York: Viking Press. pp. 305–306. ISBN 0670037966. 
  14. ^ Wilson 2001, p. 135.
  15. ^ Charters, Ann (1978) [First published 1974]. Kerouac: A Biography. London: Pan Books. p. 301. ISBN 0330253905. 
  16. ^ Wilson, Rob (July 3, 2000). Reimagining the American Pacific: From South Pacific to Bamboo Ridge and Beyond. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. p. 191. ISBN 0822325233. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  17. ^ Park, Josephine (January 6, 2012). "Asian American Poetry". In Nelson, Cary. The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 407. ISBN 0195398777. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  18. ^ Park 2008, p. 104.
  19. ^ Wilson 2001, p. 124.
  20. ^ Wilson 2001, p. 134.
  21. ^ Schultz, Susan M. (December 9, 2014). "Announcing publication of WOODRAT FLAT, by Albert Saijo". Tinfish Editor's Blog. Retrieved April 6, 2015. 


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