The Wasp, a popular weekly satire magazine published in San Francisco during the 19th century, leapt at the chance in 1905 to make fun of Joaquin Miller's New Year's card.
The magazine, which featured biting political cartoons, was well-known for its anti-Asian attitude; because Miller's card honored his Japanese-born protege, it became a target.
The Oakland Tribune, which published anything concerning Oakland's most famous literary figure, picked up the Wasp's tirade Jan. 14, 1905.
"English verse as measured out by Yone Noguchi, a precocious little Japanese kitchen boy is certainly a curiosity, which is valid excuse for Joaquin Miller giving prominence to four halting lines of exotic 'poetry' on his picturesque New Year's cards.
"Noguchi is handsome and whilst engaged in washing dishes in the kitchen the boy lisped in pretty numbers. The poet of the Heights (Hights) one day caught the budding genius spinning out English verse by the yard. The veteran gave Noguchi a lift on to Pegasus and away he went with introduction to New York and London. We have not heard that publishers have snapped up Noguchi's screed."
The Wasp was wrong. Noguchi's "Seen and Unseen, or, Monologues of a Homeless Snail" had been published in 1897, and his popular "The American Diary of a Japanese Girl" came out in 1902.
Noguchi was the first Japanese author to publish English-language novels and books of poetry. Born near Nagoya, Japan, in 1875, he studied at Keio University in Tokyo and gained a passion for English literature. At 18 he came to the United States, where he worked at a newspaper run by Japanese exiles.
In 1894, Noguchi visited Miller and was so mesmerized by the aging poet that he stayed with him for four years, working for his room and board. He absorbed Miller's philosophy of life and met his literary friends.
With Miller, Noguchi said, he found his true vocation as a poet, and he considered Miller's Oakland Hills estate to be an ideal place to write his poems.
When "Homeless Snail" was republished in 1920, Noguchi wrote a new introduction.
"Since I left California in 1900 for New York and London I have seen many other cities more big and more prosperous, but my mind always returned to Miller Heights (Hights) where my poetry first began to grow amid the roses and carnations which Miller and I watered tenderly. ... He was my first friend in American life. ... He looked on me as his American son."
His love life was complicated. He had several relationships simultaneously with white American women. His son, Isamu, whose mother was Leonie Gilmore, became a famous American sculptor.
In 1904, Noguchi went back to Japan and taught English at his alma mater. He continued to write and travel the world. By 1930, his works had fallen into critical disfavor. He died of stomach cancer in 1947.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.