The journal’s origins can be traced back forty-four years to the founding of the Kanto Poetry Center in 1968 by Professor Emeritus William I. Elliott, when he proposed “a four-fold center” to be housed at Kanto Gakuin University–the first of its kind and scope in Japan, to include a library of contemporary poetry, a poetry journal, regular poetry readings in the university, and an annual poetry conference. The Center, modeled after American counterparts, was originally directed by Kanto Gakuin’s Prof. Naoyuki Yagyu and his colleagues, Kazuo Kawamura and William I. Elliott, and has over the years worked, in Elliott’s words, “to promote the health of poetry both as an art and a discipline within university structures.” The Center operated under the aegis of Kanto Gakuin University and was carried on by the cooperation and funding of successive university presidents, from 1968 to 2012, with funds administered by Kanto Gakuin University’s Center of Humanities.
The Center held regularly scheduled poetry readings with scores of readers, including Shuntaro Tanikawa, Naoko Kudo, Masayo Koike, Arthur Binard, and Kisako Ryo. It also successfully launched the bilingual print journal Poetry Kanto, and continued holding its annual week-long conference every summer in mid-July or early August until 2004, when the founding editors retired. Over the years, the Center’s annual conference, or Summer Seminar, attracted some of the top names in contemporary American and Japanese poetry, featuring (among the non-Japanese poet-readers-lecturers and seminar teachers) James Kirkup, Gary Snyder, Harry Guest, William Stafford, Denise Levertov, W.S. Merwin, Seamus Heaney, Les Murray and Jon Silkin. As Elliott wrote at the time: “The importance of this program to Japan and to Kanto Gakuin is indisputable,” as the summer conference offering intensive, day-long seminars and lecture-workshops on the subjects of the oral art, craft and history of poetry was the only one of its kind in Japan, beginning in 1968 and then from 1983 to 2004.
Poetry Kanto was first published in 1968 to present to the participants of the Kanto Poetry Summer Seminar. The second issue appeared in 1970, after which a dozen-year hiatus followed. The journal resumed publication again in 1984 and has been in continuous publication ever since, with Elliott and Tanikawa during its first two decades at the English and Japanese editorial helms, respectively. During this time, its reputation was firmly established in Japan and abroad as a first-rate literary journal.
As of 2005, issue number 21, the “baton” was passed to co-editors Alan Botsford and Nishihara Katsumasa with an advisory board consisting of Tanikawa, Kawamura and Elliott, but in 2011, issue number 27, Botsford became sole editor, as concomitantly the advisory board retired.