Tag Archives: larry matsuda

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Larry Matsuda


**********Japan pushes eight feet closer to America,
**********shortens the day by 1.6 micro-seconds
**********after the 9.0 earthquake.
Sendai is a garbage dump cut by a neat road.
Pervasive stench of fish rotting
amid rubble, an odor tinged
with a peculiar ripe edge swirls.
CNN cameras never show arms
protruding from piles.
Behind thin flashlight beams,
the faceless 50 march into their radioactive tombs.
What are they thinking as they slog
towards molecular disruption and wander
the slow road to hell,
these men who look like me.
In the local high school gym,
old Japanese men and women
who could be my bachan and jichan
are ashamed of their torn straw slippers.
Silently they line up for water
and a bowl of hot ramen.
How to bear the unbearable
with dignity is their karmic message.
I pour a guilty cup of creamed coffee
and escape the CNN suffering with flick of a switch.
Lingering images remind me of atomic Hiroshima,
my grandfather’s home, where a road cuts
through stacks of charred and twisted bodies
and an eighty year old man pushes a wooden cart.
With each step in this wasteland his straw slippers flap.
After the quake, I join the Artists for Japan fund raiser
at Seattle’s KOBO gallery,  volunteers bound
by unspoken agreements. We are children of the same mother
who instinctively know how to behave,
the essence of being Japanese.
Before the KOBO doors open,
Junko leads a Japanese cheer—
clap three times in unison,
repeat the ritual two more times,
then cheer loudly.
Crowds stream through
and wrap around our bodies.
We unite in collective actions.
I feel sad amid the rush.
A whirlpool, my mind turns—
in America I am Japanese,
in Japan I am gaijin, a foreigner.
I vow to return to Fukushima,
walk places my friends cherish back in 1995.
I kneel and pray for those missing forever,
strike the temple bell.
Near the Fuji apple orchard
and house I stayed in years ago,
I will recall the faceless 50,
then pinch incense between
my thumb and index finger,
raise the fragrance
to my forehead and release powder
into a smoldering bowl of ashes.
Under a white surgical mask,
I am no longer gaijin
I am Japanese.
Watashi wa Nihonjin desu.
My roots sink deep into Hiroshima radioactive soil.
I am the faceless one who returns to mourn.
(Note:  bachan is grandmother and ji-chan is grandfather.)
Q: Where is your favorite place to write?
A: I write in my office with the television playing. It keeps me company and I also watch it while writing.

Q: Do you remember the first poem you read that really blew your mind?

A: “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas was the poem that truly moved me especially when read out loud.
The poem is a villanelle–for many years my specialty was writing comic villanelles until I committed the sin of having animals talk in my poems.

Q: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you in the last 12 months?
A: I had the opportunity to talk with Holley Farmer in Seattle.  She danced with the late Merce Cunningham and spoke of movements that evoked memories of him.  It made me realize that dance and poetry are as John Lithgow (2007) defines poetry, “the captured moments that connect us through our senses and memory”.
My poems in A Cold Wind from Idaho explore memories and the psychological effects of the World War II incarceration of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans in 10 US concentration camps. In May of 2011, six of my poems will be interpreted in dance at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

Larry Matsuda was born in the Minidoka, Idaho War Relocation Center for Japanese during World War II. He is a career educator and lives in Seattle, Washington.  His first book of poetry entitled A Cold Wind from Idaho was published by Black Lawrence Press in July 2010.

(Photo by Tara Gimmer.)

Larry Matsuda Remembers the Seattle Nisei Veteran’s Memorial Wall Dedication

On September 5, Larry Matsuda read from his book A Cold Wind from Idaho at the dedication for the Nisei Veteran’s Memorial Wall in Seattle. Below are Larry’s memories from that day.

This was no ordinary memorial wall dedication in Seattle. Approximately 1200 people of all ages were in the audience, mostly Japanese Americans. The event organizers wanted the occasion to be a celebration so they asked me to be last.

The wall is 90 feet of black granite and 12 feet high with names of 2,800 Japanese American veterans and Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. My wife Karen and I have over 16 family names on the wall. My name is next to my father, mother, and brother. Karen’ s father won a Silver Star and Bronze Star for valor. His name resides next to his brother who was killed by snipers in France.

After former Washington State governor Lowry, Congressman McDermott, a taiko group, and Minidoka swing band, I read four poems from my book A Cold Wind from Idaho. The poems focus on the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and the men and women from the concentration camps who volunteered  to fight and die for freedom in Europe and the Pacific.

My poems are uncompromisingly direct and are like black and white photographs that deal with emotions most Japanese never reveal about the concentration camp experience. I read for all remembered in granite and all those connected to the wall. I read because it was time to break the silence about the injustice. Finally, I read as areminder to never let it happen again.

My voice cracked twice when I saw some in the audience weeping. After the reading, I pondered how poetry touches people’ s hearts and heals. Later one woman told me she never cried for Minidoka until that day. The event organizers anticipated these emotional reactions to my work, which is why I was the last presenter.

You can learn more about the event by following these links:

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/102268854.html?tab=video http://www.king5.com/news/local/Seattle-memorial-wall-honors-Japanese-American-soldiers-102267189.html http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012821164_wall06m.html

A Cold Wind from Idaho is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.

*Photos by Eugene Tagawa

National Poetry Month Wrap-Up

As April draws to a close, we’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Black Lawrence Press authors who participated in our National Poetry Month feature:

David Rigsbee, “Pilot House
Marcela Sulak, “Pomelo With Fallen Angel
Shelley Puhak, “War
T.J. Beitelman, “The Inciting Incident
Laura McCullough, “The Ellisionist
Jason Tandon, “Work
Abayomi Animashaun, “A New Religion
Carol Guess, “Kicks
Joe Wilkins, “A Roadside Diner in Iowa
Lisa Fay Coutley, “In the Carnival of Breathing
Matthew Gavin Frank, “After Il Sergente Serbo e Sua Moglie
Michele Battiste, “Nobody Leaves
Katharine Rauk, “How Many Weeks are in a Day and How Many Years in a Month?
Brent Goodman, “Another Prayer
Stefi Weisburd, “Behind My Ear is a Little Palace in Broad Daylight
Larry Matsuda, “Arc de Triomphe, 2003 Invasion of Iraq
Sandra Kolankiewicz, “Winter Sonata
Frank Matagrano, “Waiting with Alexandria for Her Mom
Hayden Saunier, “Beach
Kevin Pilkington, “Milk
Michael Hemmingson, “Sedona
Erica Wright, “Reservoir
Keith Taylor, “At the Living Creche
James Reidel, “Ave Maria afarensis
Helen Marie Casey, “Mary Dyer’s Courtship
Brad Ricca, “Workshop
Daniele Pantano, “The Oldest Hands in the World
Julia Cohen, “Panic at My Wilderness
Rachel Galvin, “In Cambium Lucida

And most importantly, thank you to everyone who read, shared, and commented on these poems — you’ve made this event a big success!

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Larry Matsuda

……………..for Karen

Two-tone Parisian sirens blare
across the Seine,
trumpet the American war in Iraq.

I emerge from the Metro.
Sunlight shining
on red Newsstand headlines,
Irak, C’est la Guerre.

I speak broken French,
chat in Japanese,
whisper in English,
an easy disguise
for one born in Minidoka.

One hundred motorcycles
circle the Right Bank,
relentless phalanx
holds Rue de Rivoli hostage.
Thunder hammers the pavement,
shakes the massive cleaning balls
that once rammed
down sewers combating Black Death,
rattling the bones of  six million
shelved like volumes
of a dusty human library
in the catacombs.

La Marseillaise, a patriotic call to arms,
stirs spirits from subterranean Paris,
like the Arc de Triomphe
surfacing in a sea of honking taxis.
Winged Victory with a gaping mouth,
furies atop her head, sword in hand,
exhorts volunteers to glory.

I am an American Odysseus
tempted by sirens—for a moment I resist
raising my fist against America, against war.  Then
remember Minidoka barbed wire and Idaho desert.
Cinch a red bandana around my forehead.

My short gray hair no longer
falls black to shoulders.
Spirits draw me into this Parisian riptide.
I am one of many boiling
and churning in a river
of humanity marching
the Right Bank chanting:

…………Paris contre la guerre.
…………Paris contre la guerre.

I stand for the old America,
home of the Japanese-American
442 purple heart battalion,
that wins fame as the wedge
that drives through Nazi lines .

I become an ex-patriot,
follow Richard Wright, James Baldwin,
and Langston Hughes.
Bathe under a golden waterfall
of liberty and fraternity
in the shadow of Notre Dame.
Luxuriate in Parisian canyons
near the Champs Elysee.
Shed my skin like an underwater
snake at the Moulin Rouge.
Watch the translucent membrane
flutter into the chanting crowd
to the sewers of Paris.

Without this inflexion of skin, my eyes
fall away from their sockets
as in the catacombs.

I wake like a dreamer
from slumber and see
the world through Monet and Degas.

I am a pond of deep blue,
a shimmering ballet dancer.
I am the Winged Victory with furies
shouting to my fellow marchers:

En  Amerique, Je suis Japonais.
En  Paris, Je suis Americain
contre la guerre.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I returned home from Paris after the US invasion of Iraq and looked at photos I took.  The first photo was a red newspaper headline by a Metro entrance which read: “Irak, C’est la Guerre”. The next was a  large sign in a public square, “Paris Contra la Guerre”.  In my mind, I began to hear the demonstrators chant as they marched down Rue de Rivoli, “Paris Contra La Guerre” and recalled the underground sewer tour, the sequined dancer with a boa constrictor at the Moulin Rouge, statue of the Winged Victory with furies atop her head and Monet’s blue ponds.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: I was inspired to grab a pen after reading Water the Moon by Fiona Sze-Lorrain — Marick Press Michigan. It is a magic carpet ride that gently circles the earth — touching down in strange and exotic places that exude romance and wonder.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: Last night Karen, my wife, and I shared a King Salmon dinner with Tess Gallagher (poet), Jay Rubin (translator for Haruki Murakami), his wife Raku (a writer and potter) and Jay’s son, Gen (a composer). After dinner Tess read a poem dedicated to Edith Piaf that appeared on-line in Cerise Press.Com. We sipped Jackson Triggs Ice wine and Rotta Black Monukka desert wine late into the evening telling stories while a recording of Edith Piaf played in the background.

Larry Matsuda is the author of A Cold Wind from Idaho, which will be available for purchase this spring on Black Lawrence Press.

(Photo Credit: Tara Gimmer)

Minidoka Fences

The Spring Issue of Cerise Press includes an essay by Black Lawrence Press poet Larry Matsuda about his family’s experiences living in the Minidoka, Idaho War Relocation Center during World War II. The article includes excerpts from A Cold Wind from Idaho, which will be published by Black Lawrence Press next month. You can read the article by following this link.

Larry Matsuda to Read at Washington State History Museum on Veterans Day

Black Lawrence poet Larry Matsuda will read from his book A Cold Wind from Idaho at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, Washington on Veterans Day, November 11. The reading begins at 2 o’clock and lasts until 4.


LARRY MATSUDA was born in the Minidoka, Idaho War Relocation Center during World War II. He and his family along with 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were held in one of ten concentration camps without a crime and without due process for approximately three years. Matsuda has a Ph.D. in education and was recently a visiting professor at Seattle University. He was a junior high language arts teacher and Seattle School District administrator and principal for twenty-seven years. He studied poetry under the late professor Nelson Bentley at the University of Washington and has participated in the Castilla Poetry Reading Series there. He has read his poetry at numerous events in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, including the famous Kobo at Higo’s venue in Seattle’s International District with his mentor, Tess Gallagher. His poems appear in the Poets Against the War website, The Raven Chronicles, and the International Examiner newspaper. In 2005 he and two colleagues co-edited the textbook Community and Difference: Teaching,Pluralism and Social Justice, Peter Lang Publishing, New York. The book won the 2006 National Association of Multicultural Education Phillip Chinn Book Award. He lives with his wife, Karen, and son, Matthew, in Seattle and is a consultant presently helping to re-design schools as better physical learning environments.