A Cold Wind From Idahoby Lawrence Matsuda
Poetry. Asian & Asian American Studies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, resulting in a cataclysmic series of events affecting all persons of Japanese ancestry then residing on the West Coast of the United States. So calamitous were these actions that a noted scholar asserted that this action constitutes "the
Poetry. Asian & Asian American Studies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, resulting in a cataclysmic series of events affecting all persons of Japanese ancestry then residing on the West Coast of the United States. So calamitous were these actions that a noted scholar asserted that this action constitutes "the defining event in the history of Japanese Americans." What does this have to do with a book of poetry titled A COLD WIND FROM IDAHO? Those Americans familiar with the Pacific Northwest Japanese American World War II experience will understand the imagery wrought by the title as being both evocative and apt. The metaphor of freezing winter winds chilling the body and then entering the soul of those affected conveys fittingly how the Japanese Issei and Japanese American Nisei encountered, braved, and then survived the cold iciness of Idaho's winters while they were huddled in a primitive American barbed wire concentration camp.
- Black Lawrence Press
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"Fall down seven times, get up eight." I remember going to see Lawrence Matsuda read from his book of poems at the famous Elliot Bay Book Company three years ago. He was great. His poems were great. I bought the book and had him sign it. Took it home. Read a few poems. Felt my heart hurting. A lot. Put the book down. At that time in my life, I couldn't read these poems. Now, three years later, I'm in a better place. I picked the book up again. Read all of the poems, all in order. And I'm so glad I did. Matsuda is an incredibly talented poet. His poems are spare, lyrical, rich. Sophisticated yet very accessible. He says so much in just a few, well chosen words; so much in just a few, concisely executed lines. It's hard to choose but some of favorites include "Too Young to Remember," "The Noble Thing," "Therapy," "We Are Defined by Rice," "For All the Government Took," "Private First Class Harry," "Survivor," and the one that my subject line is taken from: "Daruma Maker." Matsuda's poems address the absolute travesty and inhumane event of the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans by the U.S. government in 1942 and its earth-shattering effect on himself, his family, and so many other families across the United States. These poems should be read in both high school English and History classes across the nation. There's so much from American history that we don't know, so much we don't understand. These poems give the reader not just an entrance into how devastating war is on the individual, but on an entire culture of people. I know many of Matsuda's poems will haunt me, and also comfort me, for a very long time.
Lawrence Matsuda is a poet of the first rank. Not only does he have the well-practiced ability to communicate emotion in succinct, carefully phrased poems, he also understands his responsibility to the betterment of mankind that ordeals such as he was born into will not happen again. This is a book of poems about a humiliating aspect of our past as a country - the incarceration/internment of Japanese in relocation centers across the country during World War II. Completely against the concepts of freedom under which this country was created, the military found it imperative that anyone of Japanese extraction be sequestered lest they be spies or agents of destruction. These camps were isolated from society, maintained in the most bleak of conditions, treated a group of citizens as prisoners without the courtesy of trial. The fact that this happened has been a submerged quasi-secret, fearing comparison of the similar sequestering of Jews in Europe at the same time. But some courageous people have spoken out about this tainted period of our history and Lawrence Matsuda is one. Matsuda was born in Minidoka, Idaho while his mother was incarcerated. He lived through the experience and subsequently has written poetry about memories and shared stories form that time. the poems contained in this book are not only elegantly written, but they also carry a punch that is harp to escape form the reader's eyes. He writes of the degradation and humiliation of the people once released, of the hangings and other forms of suicide many resorted to in the shadow of the memory of the interment. ' ...Depression took Mom away/ like invisible armed guards. She was/ a stranger - a stick-like figure with arms/ and legs poking out of a white smock,/ pacing the sidewalk next/ to the Western State Hospital turn-around. Dada never talked about it, none of it./ I never heard him say the word Minidoka.../Gaman, "endure the unbearable with dignity.' And years later when Lawrence returned to the site that had been Minidoka he finds only whispers of sorrowful memories: 'For all that th government took form me,/ I took a rock and left a crystal in its place.' ENOLA GAY AND THE BIG BOMB Leaded glass fractures sunlight, burst into seven tinctured bands. A son should not precede his father into night. Prismatic faces explode and invite vibrations that transmute a Handel Overture. Leaded glass fractures sunlight. Retina's lining magnetizes energy, rods excite holographic images replicated in miniature. A son should not precede his father into night. Heat, flash, radiation brightness crystallizes two eyes in rapture. Leaded glass fractures sunlight. An atom bomb explodes: molecules ignite - physical bodies sundered beyond cure. Leaded glass fractures sunlight. A son should not precede his father into night. If after reading the opening sections of this book the reader is able to continue, then Matsuda hits us with the parallel situations that are happening now - the preemptive Iraq War, 9/11 and the treatment and internment of Muslims in Guantanamo, border crossings - and we are reminded to open our eyes so that what has been transgressive in our past should not happen again. Lawrence Matsuda is a powerful poet, an erudite philosopher, an a concerned member of the human race. This is one of the more powerful books of poetry we are likely to read. And read it we all should.