Sub­texts

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - — Jen­nifer Levin

Per­sonal verses

Some peo­ple are easy to de­scribe on pa­per. The per­for­mance poet, ra­dio host, and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist Mary Oishi isn’t one of them. The bul­let-point ver­sion of her life story is filled with ten­sion and dra­matic pos­si­bil­i­ties — she is the les­bian daugh­ter of an Amer­i­can sol­dier and a Ja­panese war bride, raised in ru­ral Penn­syl­va­nia by her fa­ther’s fam­ily, a clan of Holy Roller white su­prem­a­cists — and the truth of her ex­is­tence de­mands a form that can be si­mul­ta­ne­ously lit­eral yet metaphor­i­cal, con­fronta­tional yet con­trolled, ex­pos­i­tory yet vis­ceral. In her new book, Spirit Birds

They Told Me, she uses the mal­leabil­ity of po­etry to ex­plore her ex­pe­ri­ences and out­look on the world. The po­etry’s sub­ject mat­ter is emo­tion­ally and po­lit­i­cally se­ri­ous, and the style is firmly per­for­mance­ori­ented and rooted in voice. Oishi reads from the book at 6 p.m. on Tues­day, March 29, at Col­lected Works Book­store, 202 Gal­is­teo St., 988-4226.

The book’s ti­tle stems from the name of Oishi’s mother — Chizu, or One Thou­sand Cranes — who lived through the fire­bomb­ing of Tokyo. Trauma (both her mother’s and her own) is a ma­jor theme of the book, as are re­cov­ery, per­sonal iden­tity, and the need for a shared hu­man­ity. “i am a poet to re­claim the rav­ages of war,” she writes in “i am a poet,” “to am­plify the hu­man heart­beat in the chest of the en­emy/ to re­mind the sol­dier that he once was a child who dis­solved into sobs / at the death of a dog.” She also writes about love, re­demp­tion, and mem­ory. My fa­vorite piece is the haiku at the end of the book’s first sec­tion:

for Hachiko i’m too cu­ri­ous i could not stand for years by the sta­tion wait­ing

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