Robin D. Gill

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Robin Dallas Gill, born in 1951 at Miami Beach, Florida, USA, and brought up on the island of Key Biscayne in the Florida Keys, is a bilingual author in Japanese and English. He wrote extensively on stereotypes of Japanese identity[1] before moving on to publishing his research on, and translations of Japanese poetry, especially the genres of haiku and senryū. He is considered a 'maverick' writer within the field of Western studies on Edo-period poetry.[2] He writes haiku in Japanese under the haigō (haikai pen-name) Keigu (敬愚:'Yours foolishly', an homophonous pun on 敬具:'Yours truly').[3][4] Since 2013, he has been engaged in writing in Japanese for a Japanese audience, hoping to help, via introductions to the comic traditions of Japanese poetry, to shake Japan out of its 'cultural doldrums'.[5] Much of his output has, according to Gill's own testimony, been done while a pauper for much of his life.[6]


On completing High School, Gill spent a year in Mexico City in 1968 learning etching and Spanish, before proceeding to Georgetown University to study International Politics at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He graduated in 1976, and spent the following two academic years doing graduate work in Honolulu at the Department of Far Eastern Languages, University of Hawaii. He worked at the Japan Translation Center from 1978 to 1980. He then was employed as Acquisitions Editor, identifying English nonfiction books fusing science and the humanities for publication in Japanese,[7] translation checker and foreign secretary for the Tokyo publishing firm Kōsakusha. From 1990, he simultaneously worked for a new publishing house, editions Papyrus. He returned to the United States in 1998, and after an interlude of several months in the following year researching, among other things, Luís Fróis at the British Library,[8] he returned to the United States and set up his own publishing company to produce a long sequence of books that endeavour to travel over, in thematic sequences, the highways and byways of Japanese poetry.[9]


Gill's work focuses on kigo or seasonal keyword thematics in traditional Japanese poetry, ranging widely over haiku, senryū, waka and kyōka (狂歌:crazy poems), concentrating in each successive book on sub-themes, with the poems arranged in thematic chains. Characteristically, he provides the original Japanese text, with romanized transliteration, a word-for-word literal gloss, and then multiple versions (what he calls by his portmanteau neologism, paraverse , though the method was used by Hiroaki Sato.[10] that enable the reader to see the variety of potential readings to be elicited from an otherwise ostensibly simple, straightforward set of verses, accompanied by notes.[11][12] Gill's richness of competing English versions of the one original has been seen as a distinct advance on earlier renderings of Japanese poetry, while his digressive style, often original but somewhat diffuse, can distract and, Kern argues, make too much demands on the reader's time.[13]

Gill's work has been neglected by area scholarly journals and Japanology in particular, perhaps, as Adam Kern, Professor of Japanese Literature and Visual Culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests, because the author flaunts his unconventional approach,and appears to present his translations and commentaries in a style that suggests he is an ' entertainer or agent provocateur or playful self-promoter.[14] Kern's view is, that despite several idiosyncrasies of personal style and formatting that render his approach trying to readers, Gill's works

may . . be preferable, even with all their quirks,to the preponderance of academic translations of Edo-period comic poetry.[15]

Rise Ye, Sea Slugs![edit]

He first came to the attention, through listserve blogs, of scholars of Japanese poetry with his Book Rise Ye, Sea Slugs! 1000 Holothurian Haiku, (2003), a comprehensive collection (running to 480 pages, accompanied by a set of translations of Japanese poems thematically dedicated to the sea-cucumber, namako.[16] Gill's competence in this arcane area was called on, and acknowledged, by the University of Guam's Alexander Kerr, a marine biologist, working on a philology of the Holothurians from antiquity to Linnaeus.[17] Thomas Rohlich, now Emeritus Professor of Japanese Language and Literature at Smith College, hailed it as

'a treasure, and belongs on the bookshelves and in the hands of Japanese literary scholars, haiku and nature enthusiasts.'[18]

Likewise, William J. Higginson wrote that

'these poems come to life as no other haiku translated from Japanese have ever come to life before. . .This single-topic tome may be our best English-language window yet into the labyrinth of Japanese haikai culture.'[19]

Gill followed this up with an equally detailed delving into the extensive poetic haiku sub-culture built over centuries treating the theme of the Japanese fly (hae).[20]


In 2009 Gill self-published Octopussy, Dry Kidney & Blue Spots: Dirty Themes from 18-19c Japanese Poems. This work consists of Gill's compilation, explorative translations and commentaries on Edo-period genre of comical haiku, known as senryū, with a particular focus on, the "filthy" poems in that genre, overlapping with known senryū, as bareku (破礼句:'lewd verse': literally “etiquette-violating verse,”).[21]This genre, amply collected in a 4-volume Edo period work called Suetsumuhana (Safflowers,1776-1801)[22] has often been ignored by scholarship, informed by a certain distaste and prudishness about the crudity of lower-class comic wit. Gill is one of the two people, the other is the ex-academic John Solt, who have challenged the negative, dismissive view associated with the passing references to the genre in the works of Reginald Horace Blyth, Donald Keene, Makoto Ueda and Faubion Bowers. Kern, after cautiously noting that Gill's presentations of his material might give casual editors the impression that the author is parodying the Nabokovian Charles Kimbote or even William Chester Minor, acclaims this and a sister book on the topic as 'a significant contribution to Edo studies', '(b)ombilating with verve,' and 'stand(ing) out from the huggermugger of scholarly discourse on similar topics, which more often than not disappoints as eminent but dull,'[23] and sums up his achievement in breaking the bowdlerized approach to the subject by concluding that:

it is in breaking the wrongheaded if entrenched pattern of dismissive lip service to randy verse—that is, of barely acknowledging bareku in order to try to repress it—that gill’s Octopussy is to be singled out for especial praise.'[24]

List of works[edit]


  1. ^ Sugimoto & Mouer 1989, p. 2.
  2. ^ Kern 2009, p. 22
  3. ^ Rohlich 2005, p. 372.
  4. ^ Kern 2009, p. 24:'Or, more literally, “Your respectful fool” and “Your respectful tool,” respectively.
  5. ^ Wilson & Gill 2013
  6. ^ Kern 2009, p. 35.
  7. ^ Higginson 2004.
  8. ^ Topsy-Turvy 1585 : a translation and explication of Luis Frois S.J.'s Tratado:611 ways Europeans and Japanese were contrary, Paraverse Press, Florida 2004
  9. ^
  10. ^ Kern 2009, pp. 23,30:'his method of translating poems into parallel verses'.'offering several versions of the same verse can,he maintains, help readers to better triangulate the play of meanings in the original.'
  11. ^ Rohlich 2005, p. 372.
  12. ^ Higginson 2004.
  13. ^ Kern 2009, p. 35.
  14. ^ Kern 2009, p. 23.
  15. ^ Kern 2009, p. 36.
  16. ^ Rohlich 2005, p. 378.
  17. ^ Kerr 2013
  18. ^ Rohlich & 2005 p.372.
  19. ^ Higginson 2004.
  20. ^ Fly-ku! to swat or not to swat , Paraverse Press, Florida 2004, ISBN 978-0-9742618-4-3
  21. ^ Kern 2009, p. 28:'strictly speaking, bareku can refer to any kind of lewd verse, not just senryū.' The term is, as Kern notes, slightly anachronistic, since it was a classificatory term devised by Okada Hajime (1905-1979). The Edo terms varied from aiku(愛句 :love verse) and renku(恋句 :“coupled verse”) to iroku(色句:erotic verse).Kern p.30.
  22. ^ Kern 2009, p. 30. Strictly speaking this work's title is 誹風末摘花 (The Haikai-Style Safflower Princess (Haifū suetsumuhana).
  23. ^ Kern 2009, pp. 23-24,29.
  24. ^ Kern 2009, p. 29.