Issei and Other Poems, by Robert Terashima
Plan B Press
Robert Terashima’s Issei and other poems strikes an important chord at this time of collective amnesia that we find ourselves living in right now. When this manuscript arrived as “Fluff” I instantly recognized the power that was in this collection of poems especially in the overheated bombast of the 2016 election season. The manuscript came in during July 2016 and regardless who won the election, the subject of excluding or ‘rounding up’ citizens based on their religion left me flabbergasted when I thought about Japanese Internment and here in my hand is a manuscript about that very experience. Terashima beautifully tells the story of his own family living in a country that had passed an Oriental Exclusion proclamation of 1907 which denied the right of any Asian person from ever becoming citizens of the United States. The word they used to describe this generation was Issei.
Terashima’s family lived in Utah already or else they would have found themselves inside the barbed wire that “contained” the west coast Japanese population, even those people who only know this country as their home. And while parallels are undeniable, the language is heartbreakingly beautiful. Making the work that much more painful, given that now others suffer through the same discriminations today. Not yet with barbed wire, not yet.
It’s hard to separate the brilliance of these poems with the political moment they have arrived in, so don’t. It’s a bitter drink we need to sip, slowly.