WHAT IS POETRY BOXING?
Similar to boxing, poetry boxing is done in a ring. Two poetry boxers read their original poems in a battle to see who engages the audience the most, with judges deciding victory or defeat in this “word fight.” Mr. Katsunori Kusunoki started the Japan Reading Boxing Association in October 1997 and is the association’s president. The first title match began as a fight between two poetry boxers who took turns reading their poetry.
In July 1999, as an original project of the JRBA, tournament bouts (local matches) were started in Yamagata Prefecture, with members of the public able to take part. Since then it has spread and official tournaments have been held in 13 prefectures: Tokyo, Ibaraki, Hokkaido, Osaka, Okayama, Gunma, Toyama, Mie, Ehime, Miyagi, Fukuoka, and Chiba. Competitors fight hard for the chance to reach the All-Japan Tournament. On May 26, 2001 the All-Japan Tournament was held and the first All-Japan Lightweight Champion was born. (Tournament bouts are registered under the trademark “Poetry Boxing.”)
The boxers who have climbed into the ring thus far have expressed themselves using all sorts of genres, including tanka (a 31 syllable poem), haiku, senryu (a humorous and/or satirical poem), short stories, essays, fairy tales, manga (a Japanese cartoon), commentaries, music, drama, dance, images, and hip-hop. They’ve also put into the spoken word new things that don’t fit into any existing genres, such as picture diaries, picture books, and improvisation. In other words, the tournament bouts are a word fight with a very different twist. In the end, though, poetry is the most important thing, no matter what form of expression is being used.
On September 17, 2000 the first tag team match in the history of poetry boxing was held. Unlike a one-on-one bout, two boxers make a tag team to challenge another team in a battle of wits. Also, since 1997, group-on-group poetry boxing bouts have been held.
The novel “sport” of poetry boxing has given birth to a new form of literary culture that has never been seen before and has taken poetry recitation to a new level. It is hoped that poetry boxing will help people all over the world to communicate across borders and language barriers.
Katsunori Kusunoki, founder and president of the JRBA
Explaining the fine points of the rules to the arbiter
Poetry for all shapes and sizes!
Poster for one of its tournaments!