Keiko Imaoka


a wrenching in my chest -
the white peony
pulled from the garden

  Michael Dylan Welch

out of sight
a lark sings
above the desert  

                - marius

Her poetry was the highlight of the Shiki list for me.

   the desert sky
   in a drop of dew
           Jim Mullins


surf, sand or shell,
who can say which shines most
in moonlight?

           Debra Woolard Bender

at the heron pool
where we said goodbye 
a shining waterfall
spills its constant music
through jasmine fragrance

            Ferris Gilli


 How sad. I knew Keiko only via Internet. I met Keiko when I (re)joined shiki haiku list for the second time. She had offered me her friendship within days, we were true friends, and and for years we were corresponding quite a bit. Then she left  shiki, I moved in the real world a lot, and we  lost contact. But from the early time and later  too, I always considered her a Great haiku & tanka  Master, I was mentioning her more than once in  recent years, also on a Polish poetic group  (pl.hum.poezja).
 In the past I have written two poems about Keiko. Here is one of them:
         Keiko's haiku
         about an Indian town--
         slow spring now warm
                       Wlodzimierz Holsztynski -  1997


we shared taro's taste
books each other hadn't read
warmth after sunset



I met Keiko on the Shiki list, where, in December of '95, she translated several of my (minimalist) English 'ku into Japanese.  It was a delight to see how naturally the 3/3/2 syllable English 'ku became proper 5/7/5 syllable Japanese 'ku.  For example ("morning dog walk, 12/7/95"):
          before dawn / snow begins / unseen
          yoake-mae mienai yuki-no furi-someru

We corresponded often and talked on the phone for hours.  This was not a meeting of like minds, for we disagreed about many things.  But it was often a treat for me to come to see Keiko's way of looking at things.  I also had the pleasure of seeing (on slides) many of her art works (paintings and ceramic), but never of meeting her in person.
I have been having some trouble reconciling myself to the way in which Keiko left us.  Then, in reminiscing, I recalled Keiko complaining about how her walks in the Arizona desert would frequently be interrupted by automobile drivers stopping to ask if she was all right, and offering her a ride.  Their assumption seemed to be that everyone should be in a car, and that if she was on foot, something must be wrong.  Which led to the advice which I wanted to give to those drivers, and which I can now (almost) take:
          let her walk
          let her go
          drive on

-Jim Pekar, in Maryland USA



My name is Lorena Moore.  I am an artist and metalsmith in Tucson, AZ.  I am just writing to let you know that I appreciate your memorial page for Keiko Imaoka - my husband found it last night after searching on Keiko's name.  Without your page we would not have known of her death, since I lost touch with her two years ago.  It is very sad but not too surprising.
I met Keiko at the Tucson Museum of Art fair in 1993.  Her booth, full of brightly painted tiles depicting desert plants and creatures, was set up next to my table of gourd rattles and copper jewelry.  We traded some art and quickly became friends.  Besides art, we shared a love of nature and a disinterest in having children.  I have good memories of visits to her house in the Avra Valley to look at art, pick vegetables from her garden, walk in the desert, and enjoy her Japanese-Southwest cooking.
My husband and I left Tucson in 1994 and did not move back until 2000, although I returned every year for the gem show in February and met Keiko for brief visits or desert hikes.  Occasionally we wrote to each other, though this appeared to become very difficult for her.  I was aware of her struggle with depression but lost touch with her in 2000 - a letter I sent to an address in Albuquerque was returned.
Keiko was five years older than me.  I write poetry occasionally (though not haiku), and have published a few pieces here and there, most recently a poem in the November 2001 issue of Borderlands.  It's on my art website:
This poem on my cactus website is probably as good a memorial as any:

Thank you for putting up the memorial page - it is a fine tribute.


Most of us met Keiko through the online Shiki List out of Matsuyama University as we shared haiku, renga and tanka together. It was here she wrote her article on Form in English Haiku which is still published on numerous haiku web sites. Everyone was astounded at her natural ability to write haiku - perhaps because she was born in Osaka, Japan. She was married to Rick, an engineer, and they lived in Tucson, Arizona where she had a huge garden that was an absolute marvel. Her living room contained no furniture - only her art work on the floor and walls. In 1997, she and Rick divorced and Keiko moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she wanted to get her Master's in ceramics. She had several shows and her work is still seen online at Gallery of Contemporary and Indigenous Artist in Tucson, Arizona.

In 1999, at the close of the Haiku Meeting in Espanola, New Mexico I heard a gentle voice calling, "Jane. Jane." I turned around an there was this tiny, tiny girl-like woman - only a wisp of a person dressed completely in black, who seemed as if she could disappear in a second of desert wind. As I walked toward her she called out, "I am Keiko" as she waved with her whole being. I was so glad to see after all we had shared so we started to talk with our words tumbling over each other, but I soon felt she was under a great sadness. I asked her truthfully about her situation and she put her sleeve-covered hand over her mouth, such a typical Japanese moment of grief movement that it just tore my heart out. I put my arms around her and we cried together. We slipped outdoors from the adobe church and stood where the sunset shone on us and we wept and held each other. Others in the group were waiting to go to dinner and I tried to get her to join us, but she refused so we just stood there holding each other as the day grew dark. Somehow I felt that when we finally parted it was forever.

On April 5th, 2002 her body was found in her apartment in Albuquerque. She had left a letter for her parents in Japan and a note to an old neighbor from Tucson begging forgiveness for taking her life. Her body was cremated and some of the ashes were sent to her parents. Eight persons took the rest of the ashes out into the desert - the place they knew she loved.

Jane Reichhold
Keiko Imaoka

March 19, 1996

opening the door
the clay on your hands
awakens my past 

flame long dormant
firing the kiln 

a glow on your face
as you speak the old words
kneading, wedging 

centering in my palms
cardinal's call 

gibbous moon
mouth of crooked pot
the same size 

into the darkness
voices disappear 


time warps, leaps
then stops -- two hearts

out the dried lumps
dust hides us in its shape 

in the temmoku glaze
days gone by 

earliest vessels are formed
mud pressed into a basket 

textures shifting
as the sun rises
her wrinkled face 

crackle-glaze a success
the rough spot hidden 

beneath the burial mound
haniwa dolls 

saved in a place of honor
one from the T'ang dynasty 

butterfly's dream
caught in mid-air
the monarch vessel 

wing patterns in the coils
thumbprints seal earth to earth 

with cow pies and twigs
desert night 

incandescent with stars
sparks fill the raku cup 


such openness
strongly supported
just like her 

delicate fingers
shaping a porcelain bowl 

what a hunk!
the broad shoulders and muscles
of my teacher 

sweat from the brows
joining the slabs 

rigid lines
incised with a tool
ah cool breeze 

cycling home at midnight
lampshadow moonshadow 

reflecting light
shiny pages of the new book
new ideas 

images toss, turn
then burst forth in a dream 

rainy day
the underglaze runs
into a surprise 

quartz inversion splits
a platter in two 

sand in my teeth
plates in the beach picnic basket
also nitty-gritty 

details come alive
bubbles in the Shino 


orange moon
rising over the canyon
tile mural 

warm again at high noon
by the treeless north wall 

leather-hard sculptures
sweat under cover 

growing smaller every day
the crazy idea of the big pot 

arms full of roses
he bursts
into my studio 


You can also see some of her clay work at the University of Arizona.

Found on the Shiki List Tue, 18 Jun 1996

lips parted 
drawing in 
the moist air


Thanks to Michael Dylan Welch who researched past issue of Woodnotes to add these.

frosty morning
your name turning
into a mist

    [Woodnotes #28, Spring 1996]

love poem
a tiny moth
crosses my t

    [Woodnotes #28, Spring 1996]

searing heat
in the shrinking puddle

    [Woodnotes #29, Summer 1996]

summer sunset
swerving the car
for a tarantula

    [Woodnotes #29, Summer 1996]

red maple leaves
          fall from a letter
                    from my sister

    [Woodnotes #30, Autumn 1996]

              love lost
pulling crabgrass
          in the fading light

    [Woodnotes #30, Autumn 1996]

This last poem (above) won the Woodnotes Award, chosen by Larry Kimmel, as the best poem in issue #30. In the light of her divorce, and the predictable losing of love before that, it seems telling.

Also, in Woodnotes #28, Keiko wrote a few paragraphs about how she first encountered haiku for the "Beginner's Mind" column. 

Beginner's Mind: Keiko Imaoko -- Tucson, Arizona

I cannot be sure when I first became aware of haiku and tanka in my childhood in Japan. They seemed to have existed for a long time in the perimeter of my awareness, undifferentiated from proverbs, mottoes, aphorisms, and song lyrics that were phrased in similar forms. Sometime during my grade school years, Ogura Hyakunin-Isshu (Ogura Collection of One Hundred Tanka, edited by Teika Fujiwara around 1235) became known to me as a New Year's card game, in which players compete to capture shimonoku cards (100 cards on each of which the last half of a verse is printed, spread out on the floor in front of the players) that finish the verses being read aloud. At abacus school, where we played this game at every new year's party, my prowess in the game improved dramatically when I was in the sixth grade, after I had memorized all the poems with my tenth-grade sister who was required to do so in her archaic grammar course in school. I had learned to recall each poem by the first few syllables, which enabled me to locate the last parts of the verses quickly.

Although I knew the words to each verse precisely, I had very little idea as to their content at the time. The vocabulary and grammar used in the tanka are so far removed from the modern Japanese language that many of the poems cannot be comprehended without specialized knowledge. In senior high school, we discussed, analyzed, and translated the poems into plain Japanese, just as we did in an English grammar course. Likewise, we labored begrudgingly to translate small portions of *The Tale of Genji* and the first paragraphs of Basho's haibun, Narrow Road to the Far North, through the course.

For most of us high school kids and other lay readers, haiku and tanka were poems to be appreciated only by reading the accompanying translations and interpretations. These traditional verses seemed boring, irrelevant, and hopelessly old-fashioned to the kids of my generation who were immersed, however unconsciously, in Western culture. They were simply not the genres I could imagine myself writing in at the time. (Contemporary Japanese tankaists use a combination of the modern vocabulary and archaic grammar. In recent years, the emergence of Machi Tawara and other young tanka poets who write about common concerns of youths has done much to promote tanka among the younger generation. Similarly, the popularity of haiku among young women has surged within the past year with the rise of a young poet named Madoka Mayuzumi to celebrity status. Nevertheless, the vast majority of people who practice haiku and tanka are the elderly.)

Many years later in 1992 and a world away, I happened to pick up a library copy of Cor van den Heuvel's The Haiku Anthology, and was immediately captivated by the brief, unassuming poems that were supposed to be "haiku"--I did wonder what about the poems made them haiku, knowing that the English language lacked the syllable-based rhythm that is the core of Japanese haiku. There was no specialized vocabulary, no archaic grammar to contend with in English haiku; just simple and plain language that even grade-school kids could understand. I started to write English haiku about my desert surroundings and wildlife, and to translate them into Japanese. Since then, I have also come to appreciate traditional as well as modern Japanese haiku and tanka. One of my first published haiku was about the celestial entity I had never seen while living in Japan.

    the Milky Way falling
    I think of
    starless Osaka nights *

         --Haiku Southwest, July/October 1993

*This is the haiku printed in Haiku World by William J. Higginson, page 187.

Super K-mart

Super K-mart
he walks away
towards underwear

             blue light special
             a crowd staring
             at the gold chains

women's flannel shirts
10 sizes
too large

             toddlers' jackets
             than the toddlers

braids bobbing
on the little head
of a black child

             I look away
             and my shopping cart

into weary ears
a gentle lilt
of Spanish

             standing in the aisle
             to be found
             by him

thanksgiving weekend
lost and found
in the crowd

             parking lot
             the old couple still
             looking for their car

Keiko Imaoka


And from The Centerfold:
Keiko Imaoka is a clay artist, organic gardener, and haiku & tanka poet. Born in Osaka, Japan, she is now residing in Tucson, Arizona. Her ethereal chain of haiku, entitled "Surf," was read on stage at The Centerfold on March 29th. Reading "Surf"is like taking a brief vacation. Bon voyage.



Keiko Imaoka

I.                   brown pelicans cruise
                                         back and forth
                         above the beach condos

                Madeira Beach, FL
                    bobbing in the waves
           with inlaws and seaweed

  by a salty breeze 
      night surf

                flashlights dancing
                              a crab chased
                       for family fun

                                       surf sunrise
                                            a woman walks by
                                         with a walkman

                         from which shore
                    yellow polystyrene
                        with barnacles

  pelican's neck
                stretches out
                             to pierce the ocean

                                  seafoam trembling
                               all along the beach
                                            dead pufferfish

                                  in blue glass jars
                           baby sharks for sale
                                I cradle one to my breast



          reclaim the beach

II. night lights shimmer
on Boca Ciega bay
fins rise and fall

fishermen at the dock
only the herons
catching something

crabs swim
past fishing lines

frozen in midstep
a great blue heron
defecates on the dock

night surf
lit by condo lights
a sea turtle

a little red flag
where a sea turtle
laid her eggs

surf sunrise
we cast the shells a beached
back to the sea coconut he
would not let
me take

from my carry-on
the stench
of a horseshoe crab shell

only the memory
of the sand
between my toes

You can see more of Keiko's renga links with others from the Shiki List at Riding White Roads


From haiku in low places 

waxing moon
Keiko Imaoka


      autumn equinox
      of the clay slabs
      soundlessly I dance
      a torso emerges
      yet abstract
      gently I caress
      her pregnant belly
      bone dry
      against my palm
      the rounded cheek
      of a baby head
      the gas kiln loaded
      with a mask
      a vessel
      two legs
      two torsos
      three heads
      I shut the kiln door
      the hourglass
      of a black widow
      on the concrete porch
      something small
      hops toward me
      pointing a flashlight
      at the thumb-sized creature
      I peer into its eye
      the glistening throat
      of a spadefoot toad
      by the moonlight
      grape vines
      in a cool breeze
      and not listening
      to the crickets' chorus
      suddenly a bird

      breaks into song
      then another
      waxing moon
      I howl
      with the coyotes

the sculpture finished
beyond its beauty the artist
not satisfied
and though we said so much
your leaving left it unspoken

- Jane Reichhold