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June 30th, June 30th by Richard Brautigan

April 4, 2014

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Richard Brautigan, in the introduction to this book of poetry, recounts the story of his Uncle Edward, who was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He took some shrapnel to the head, courtesy of a Japanese bomb. Not long after, Edward, injured but still wanting to serve his country, fell off a scaffolding at a military base in Alaska and broke his neck fatally.

Brautigan contemplates this, and the fact that, when he was a boy playing soldier, it was the Japanese who were his enemy. Always. “I personally killed 253,892 enemy soldiers,” he recounts. But he later moved to San Francisco, where he met Japanese people, came into closer contact with their culture, and had many friends who were into Buddhism. When he became a successful author, his books were translated into Japanese and sold well there. “Then I knew that someday I had to go to Japan. That part of my life was ahead of me in Japan.”

This book is a collection of poems he wrote between May 13 and June 30, 1976, during his first trip to Japan. He admits: “The quality of them is uneven but I have printed them all anyway because they are a diary expressing my feelings and emotions in Japan and the quality of life is often uneven.”

The poems are uneven, as promised. And they confirm the unevenness of his trip. Sometimes he is amazed by the beauty, culture, or weirdness of Tokyo. At other times he feels alien, lonely and depressed. But it also may be his most personal collection. Big thoughts mix with small moments. “I just spent fifteen seconds/ staring at a Japanese fly:/ my first.” We experience this strange land through the eyes of a strange man, someone who undoubtedly stood out like the tall, white, awkward and odd man that he was.

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I love this photo of Brautigan and his 10-year-old daughter, Ianthe, crossing the street in North Beach, San Francisco in 1970 (photo by Vernon Merritt III). For a time, I had this set as my computer desktop. Once, before a client presentation, we were talking about the photo. One of my clients said he’d been at a party with Brautigan in the ’70s and had been excited for the opportunity to meet the man who’d recently published Trout Fishing In America. When he saw Brautigan though, the poet was wearing not a stitch of clothing. My client said he couldn’t work up the nerve to introduce himself to the naked Brautigan.

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