A collected series of intertwined poetic essays written by acclaimed Japanese poet Hiromi Ito—part nature writing, part travelogue, part existential philosophy.
Written between April 2012 and November 2013, Tree Spirits Grass Spirits adopts a non-linear narrative flow that mimics the growth of plants, and can be read as a companion piece to Ito’s beloved poem "Wild Grass on the Riverbank". Rather than the vertiginously violent poetics of the latter, Tree Spirits Grass Spirits serves as what we might call a phyto-autobiography: a recounting of one’s life through the logic of flora. Ito’s graciously potent and philosophical prose examines immigration, language, gender, care work, and death, all through her close (indeed, at times obsessive) attention to plant life.
Hiromi Ito is an award-winning Japanese poet. She is well-known for her unconventional style and engagement with issues of gender and immigration, as well as for her deep attention to plant life. Much of Ito’s writing since the 1990s has explored her time living in Southern California in the United States. Her 1998 novella House Plant was nominated for the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for Literature. Ito translated House Plant into English with the help of her late husband Harold Cohen, and it was published in U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal in 2007. Two books of her poetry have also been translated into English: Wild Grass on the Riverbank and Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Hiromi Itō (both translated by Jeffrey Angles and published by Action Books).
Jon L Pitt is an educator, translator, and musician. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and teaches Japanese environmental humanities at the University of California, Irvine. His current book project is titled Becoming Botanical: Rethinking the Human through Plant Life in Modern Japan.
"Finding the humanity in the plant world, these evocative essays will take root in readers’ minds.”―Publishers Weekly
“Ito’s vivid descriptions of the physicality of the natural world carry over to her reflections on what it means to be a human moving through the environment… Jon Pitt’s translation gracefully conveys Ito’s engaged yet casual tone while allowing space for the rhythm and mouthfeel of each sentence, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that every paragraph in this book is a joy to read.” —Kathryn Hemmann, Contemporary Japanese Literature
“Tree Spirits, Grass Spirits enchanted me. Ito’s prose, in Pit’s translation, is vivid, precise, and wholly sensory. This is nature writing at its most evocative, and is vitally engaged with the world.” —Jessica Lee
"Ito’s vivid descriptions of the physicality of the natural world carry over to her reflections on what it means to be a human moving through the environment… Jon Pitt’s translation gracefully conveys Ito’s engaged yet casual tone while allowing space for the rhythm and mouthfeel of each sentence, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that every paragraph in this book is a joy to read." —Kathryn Hemmann
"These ambient poems about the flora of the California desert and Kumamoto, Japan are philosophical meditations on the peculiarity of human storytelling and naming practices… Ito’s poems suggest that the ways we humans look at plants contain information about how we produce both selves and others as well as narratives about death and transformation."―Angela Hume
"Hiromi Ito’s Tree Spirits Grass Spirits, beautifully translated by Jon L Pitt, is my new favorite book. Maybe my old favorite too. Because I feel like I have, all along, been dreaming about it: a travelogue into the intimate relationship—and the sympathetic oblivion—between the changeless yet always changing world of plants, the always changing yet changeless mind of a poet, and the nature of their disappearance into each other’s spirits." ―Brandon Shimoda
"…Ito’s insightful prose addresses the connective space between the human and the more-than-human world. In her delicate style, full of wonder and memory, Ito’s botanical world becomes meaningfully entangled with preciousness and resiliency that may offer a clue to the common fate of all life on earth." —Obi Kaufmann