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