Newburgh Poet Laureate Hide Oshiro dead at 101
No haiku today;
Hide Oshiro is dead.
Even flowers weep.
There’ll be no more daily haiku flowering inNewburgh; Hide Oshiro is dead.
In the mid- 1920s, Tokyo High School student Oshiro was deeply moved by a haiku — a Japanese form of poetry containing three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. In the poem, 17th-century poet Matsuo Basho described coming across the subtle beauty of a wildflower during a walk in the mountains.
“I wanted to make this kind of haiku just once in my life,” 101-year-old Oshiro told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
“Nothing else; just one haiku.”
Hide (pronounced “HEE-day”) Oshiro, the 101-year-old poet laureate of Newburgh, died late Sunday morning at Elant Nursing Home in Fishkill. He had written one haiku every morning of his life since he was a teenager. In addition to the haiku, he also produced drawings, paintings, calligraphy, sketches and scrolls. In November, he donated his life’s work, totaling several volumes of poetry and about 750 other pieces of art, to Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.
In February, the college held an opening reception for the exhibit, at which Oshiro, frail but cheerful, regaled attendees with stories of his life and his wishes for young artists and writers.
In presenting the work to the college on Nov. 3, “He said that the product is only important in how it uncovers for the viewer the process,” Goddard President Barbara Vacarr told Kyodo News, Japan’s largest news agency. “Most artists focus on the product of their work. What Hide talked about was the process, or development, of the work.”
Born in 1910 in what was then the U.S. territory of Hawaii to Japanese parents who had come to work in the pineapple plantations, Oshiro was sent to Japan at the age of 3 to live with his grandparents and receive a Japanese education. Oshiro learned etching, woodcuts, sculpture and brushwork in high school and at Sophia University.
In Japan he was exposed to Shinto, Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity. His knowledge of such varied religions and philosophies profoundly influenced the convergence of East and West in his creative process.
He returned to Hawai in the 1930s, to teach Japanese at a school on Oahu. He recently recalled the Sunday morning in December 1941 when a group of students came running to him saying, “Japan attacked Hawaii!”
At first, he told Kyodo News, he did not believe it, but soon realized that the bombs falling and fires erupting on the school fields were real.
“I couldn’t think about anything, only darkness and doom,” he said, adding that the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor,” with all of its Hollywood “imagination,” did not come close to the horror of the actual event.
Along with other Americans of Japanese descent at that time, Oshiro spent several months in an internment camp. Despite that, he joined the U.S. army and worked for six years as an army translator and Japanese language instructor. He then left to pursue art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. Eventually he settled in New York City, studied at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and set up his own studio in Greenwich Village.
In New York, Oshiro met his French wife, Catherine Bullier; they married in 1969 and settled inNewburgh. He has said he was attracted to the small upstate city because of its vital arts community. While Oshiro never exhibited his art, his wife collected his work all along the way.
Asked to comment about his work, Oshiro was quoted in the Kyodo News as replying, “Our minds can conceive any form, from a galaxy to an atom, from the blue sky to a minnow.”
“It really strikes me how much of the process was preserved,” Goddard Library Assistant Dustin Byerly told Kyodo News. “I think we owe that to his wife — her handwriting is on everything.”
Oshiro’s lifelong dream has been that his work be housed in an educational institution so that future generations of students could learn from it. Carol Curri of Newburgh, an artist and Goddard College graduate, organized the donation to her alma mater.
“It’s not art, it’s just an expression of yourself,” he told the Kyodo News Agency at the event inVermont. “The mind is fantastic; it doesn’t want to be oppressed. Let it be free.”
In Newburgh, Oshiro continued to write a haiku every morning until very recently, when ill health hobbled him. He inspired others, such as the members of the Hudson River Poets, who meet one Thursday evening a month at the Newburgh Free Library, a few blocks from Oshiro’s Grand Street apartment. He was a longtime member of the HRP, reading his own work at the meetings and enjoying the work and company of other poets.
“All who had the honor of knowing him will miss his wisdom and sense of humor,” said Lou O’Neill, a fellow member of the HRP.
Oshiro celebrated his last birthday on December 30 at home, surrounded by friends and fellow artists.
He leaves behind his wife of 43 years, Catherine Bullier Oshiro; his son, Sachiya Oshiro; daughters Akiko Kato and Noriko Honda; seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren; a nephew, Shinichi Matsumura; and two great-nieces, Gabrielle Oshiro and Yoko Matsumura.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to your favorite charity.
Services, to be held at the Hudson Valley Christian Church,100 Grand St., are being planned. A pot-luck memorial celebration of Hide’s life and work will be held at the Falcon, 1348 Rte 9W in Malborough, at a time to be announced.