By Anu Sahota
Japanese-Canadian artist Roy Kenzie Kiyooka was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1926, raised in Calgary and spent much of his career in Vancouver, where he took up a teaching position at the Vancouver School of Art in 1960. Kiyooka's work comprised abstract painting, poetry, sculpture, filmmaking, sound arts and photography. Though he would teach for brief periods across the country, Kiyooka would always return to Vancouver. There he established associations with countless artists and writers (such as Al Neil and bill bissett ), beginning with his involvement in spoken word 'happenings' in the 1960s. Kiyooka proclaimed himself a member of the artist tribe and continually experimented with new and old media - making him a pioneer of multi-disciplinary art practices in Canada. In the 1980s, Kiyooka, along with fellow poets Roy Miki and Joy Kogawa, became involved with the Japanese Redress movement. In 1978, he was awarded the Order of Canada. He passed away in 1994.
His writing includes the poetry collections Nevertheless These Eyes (1967), StoneDGloves (1970), transcanadaletters (1975), The Fontainebleau Dream Machine (1977) and The Pear Tree Pomes (1987). Like Takao Tanabe and David Suzuki, Kiyooka was a nisei, or second-generation Japanese-Canadian. The collection Kyoto Airs (1964) was written during his first visit to Japan in 1963. In many of these poems Kiyooka, who had been declared an Enemy Alien during he Second World War, wrote of his estrangement from the country that many in 1940s Canada would have preferred he be expatriated to:
I am among
them a tongue-
-from The Street
In February 2007, Vancouver New Music announced that it would be a commissioning a set of performance pieces and conceptual sound compositions inspired by Kiyooka. The first of these will premiere in February 2008. In July 1967, Kiyooka joined several poets, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje among them, for a reading at Toronto's Parliament Street Library. Entitled Here and Now: New Poets with New Poems, the reading was filmed for the program Extensions. The host is Phyllis Webb, poet, broadcaster and co-creator of CBC Radio's Ideas. Much thanks to the Kiyooka Estate for permission to use this footage.