Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Edith M. Shiffert papers
Collection number: MS 186
Shiffert, Edith M.
15 linear ft.
University of California, Santa Cruz. University Library.
Special Collections and Archives
Santa Cruz, California 95064
Abstract: Contains biographical material, diaries, correspondence, manuscripts and typescripts of published and unpublished poetry,
prose, and translations, notebooks, books and other printed material, photographs, art work, and video recordings documenting
Edith Shiffert's life and literary activity in United States and Japan.
Physical location: Stored offsite at NRLF: Advance notice is required for access to the papers.
Languages represented in the collection:
Collection open for research.
Property rights reside with the University of California. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and
their heirs. For permission to publish or to reproduce the material, please contact the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
Edith M. Shiffert papers. MS 186. Special Collections and Archives, University Library, University of
California, Santa Cruz.
Gift of Dennis Maloney, 1998.
Additional material donated by Edith Shiffert, 2002-2004.
The Time of Our Lives
The circuses we get
Are our own lives.
The fight for survival is
Our own tyranny and
Our own entertainment.
Edith M. Shiffert
These lines spring from Edith Marion Marcombe Shiffert, Canadian born poet and translator of Japanese haiku masters. Her books
are inspired by the natural and human worlds, and the aesthetic, philosophical and literary traditions of Japan. Many call
her a religious poet, but she rejects such labels by stating; "I have no religion. It's a religious feeling that holds me,
watching the birds or the sunshine moving on leaves. To me that's religion..."
She was born in Toronto, Canada, in January 19, 1916 to John Benjamin Marcombe and Annie M. Drew. The family immigrated to
United States when Edith was only three. Growing up in Rochester, New York and Detroit, Michigan, she frequently attended
concerts, art museums and libraries with her father. These activities sparked her interest in Greek philosophy, Shakespeare,
as well as Buddhism and Japanese culture. She was very responsive to poetry from early on, and as a teen began to write poems
about music and imagined landscapes.
In 1936 her family moved to Redondo Beach, California, where she worked as a secretary to Dr. Hans Nordevin von Koerber, the
head of Asian Studies Department at the University of Southern California. Encouraged by the von Kroebers, she spent many
hours in Dr. von Koerber's study reading translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry.
During these years, Shiffert also gave regular readings of her poetry on local radio stations, and saw her first poems published
in various newspapers and journals. In her early twenties she became known as the "young poet" in local writing circles.
In 1938, at the age of twenty three, Edith traveled to Hawaii, a visit which lasted until 1945. In 1940 she married Steven
Ricardo Shiffert, whom she had met in a writers' group in California, and became a U.S. citizen. Throughout the war years
she frequently assisted her husband in surveying the local mountains for the United States government. Together they explored
the island, its volcanoes and natural life. Later on some of these experiences were included in a published set of poems,
For a Return to Kona: Island Poems (1964).
While enjoying the simple life and natural beauty of the area, she furthered her studies in Chinese and Japanese culture by
attending lectures and performing arts events at the University of Hawaii, the Art Academy, and libraries.
Back on the main land the couple first lived for short periods in Alaska (1947-1949) and San Diego, California (1954-1956),
before finally settling in North Bend, Washington, where they built a two story log cabin on twenty five acres of wilderness
at the base of Mt. Si. Already in her forties, Edith attended the University of Washington, Seattle from 1956 to 1962, specializing
in Anthropology, Far Eastern Studies and Creative Writing. Her teachers included Theodore Roethke, Louise Bogan, and Leonie
While at school she published her first collection of poetry. In addition she was active in Seattle with the magazine
Poetry Northwest and gave regular poetry readings at the city library, University, public radio stations, and on TV. Her first book,
In Open Woods (1961) is based on her hiking and backpacking experiences in Alaska, Hawaii, and the Cascade Mountains.
Since 1963 she has lived in Kyoto, Japan. She was initially invited to teach English at Dashisha University. After five years
of residence, she accepted a position at Kyoto Seika University as a professor of English where she taught until her retirement
in 1983. She divorced Steven Shiffert in 1970, and married Minoru Sawano in 1981.
In Kyoto she has steadily published poetry and collaborated in multiple translations. Her first collection of poetry written
The Kyoto Years (1971), which contains poems influenced by Buddhism and her studies of Japanese literature. The same year she teamed up with
Yuki Sawa to publish
Anthology of Modern Japanese Poetry (1971) and
Haiku Master Buson(1978), which was the first book in English to feature writings of Buson. Some other translation work includes
When a Bird Rests & Other Tanka by Taeko Takaori both published in 1974.
Stimulated by exposure to Buson's writing, Shiffert put out her fourth set of poems
A Grasshopper, which was published as a chapbook by White Pine Press in 1976. This was followed by
The New and Selected Poems (White Pines Press, 1979),
A Way to Find Out (Raiju Press, 1979),
Kyoto Dwelling (C.E. Tuttle Co., 1987),
When at the Edge (White Pine Press, 1991), and
Forest House with Cat (Unio Corp, 1991). Two of her most recent works include
The Light Comes Slowly (Katsura Press, 1997), and the
Ninth Decade (Katsura Press, 1999), which feature illustrations of traditional ink paintings by Kohka Saito, a renowned artist of the
Today Edith Shiffert is one of several American poets currently living and writing in Kyoto.
Scope and Content of Collection
The collection consists of biographical files, correspondence, manuscripts, notebooks, printed material, photographs, art
work, video recordings covering the years 1916-2001. The material is accordingly arranged into eight series.
The writings document Shiffert's literary output from early youth to present time. There are both manuscripts and typescripts
of published and unpublished poems, prose and translation work. Manuscripts of published works includes
For A Return To Kona (1964),
Kyoto Dwelling (1987),
Forest House With Cat, (1991) and
The Ninth Decade (1999). Many of the unpublished sets of poems are a mixture of typescript, carbon, photocopied and printed pages. The original
order of these sets has been retained. None of the short stories or novella were published.
Of special interest is the outgoing correspondence to her parents documenting her experiences in Hawaii, Alaska and Kyoto
between 1938-1949, and 1962-1978.
Books and video recordings are cataloged separately.
The material is organized into eight series:
- Series 1. Biographical Files, 1916-2000;
Further subdivided into General, Activity, Teaching, Studies, and Diaries. Arranged chronologically within each subseries.
- Series 2. Correspondence, 1938-1992;
Further subdivided into Outgoing and Incoming letters. Arranged alphabetically by correspondent.
- Series 3. Writings, 1930-2000;
Further subdivided into Poetry (Published and unpublished), Prose (Novella, Short Stories, Essays), Translations (By and Of
Shiffert's works) and writings By Other Authors. Published works are arranged chronologically, others by title where available.
- Series 4. Notebooks, 1938-2001; Loosely arranged in chronological order.
- Series 5. Printed Material, 1923-2001;
Further subdivided into Books (By Edith and By Other Authors), Serials, Other Printed Material. Books are cataloged separately.
- Series 6. Photographs, 1919-1998;
Further subdivided into Portraits, Family, People, Pets, Documentary, Landscape, Architecture, and Computer printouts.
- Series 7. Art Work, undated
- Series 8. Videos, 1999-2001
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Shiffert, Edith Marcombe--Archives.
American poetry--20th century.
Japanese poetry--Translations into English.
Nature in literature.
Hawaii--Description and travel--Poetry.
Sawa, Yuki, 1945-
Saito, Kohka, 1930-
Rexroth, Kenneth, 1905-
White Pine Press.
Charles E. Tuttle Co.
Books and videos are cataloged separately. See online catalog for holdings.