| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Lawson Inada is third-generation Japanese American,
born and raised in Fresno, California. These autobiographical details are
highlighted in Inada’s volume of poetry Legends from Camp: Section 11 is titled
“Fresno” and consists of poems that pay tribute to this agricultural region of
California; Section I is titled “Camp,” referring to the author’s boyhood
experience of internment during World War II along with other Japanese
Americans. In his autobiographical recountings, Inada mentions going to the
University of Iowa to study writing, then moving to Oregon. He has taught at
Southern Oregon State College since 1966.
both historical and aesthetic reasons, Lawson Inada is a significant figure in
Asian American poetry and literature. He was one of the co-editors of the
landmark anthology, Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers, and has
participated in efforts to recover writing by earlier Japanese American authors
such as Toshio Mori and John Okada. Legend has it that at a time of emerging
Asian American consciousness but few visible Asian American writers, Frank Chin
and his friends happened upon the book cover of Down at the Santa Fe Depot
(1970), an anthology of Fresno-based poets. Struck by seeing an Asian face in
the group photo of the poets, they discovered and contacted fellow Asian
American writer Lawson Inada. Inada’s collection Before the War: Poems as They
Happened (1971) was one of the first Asian American single-author volumes of
poetry from a major New York publishing house.
poetry stands out in its consistent engagement with jazz. Before the War begins
with a whimsical portrait of a Japanese American figure playing “air bass”;
includes tributes to jazz musicians and singers such as Charlie Parker, Lester
Young, and Billie Holiday; and ends with poems written for Miles Davis and
Charles Mingus. Riffing on the term “bluesman,” Inada calls himself a
“campsman,” suggesting that his blues derive from Japanese American internment.
He describes his project as “blowing shakuhachi versaphone” and cites jazz as
the strongest influence on his writing. Leslie Marmon Silko calls Inada “a
poet-musician in the tradition of Walt Whitman and James A. Wright."
won the American Book Award in 1994 for Legends from Camp and was named Oregon
State Poet of the Year in 1991. He has received a number of poetry fellowships
from the National Endowment for the Arts and has performed his poetry in
concert with numerous musicians. His poetics of performance posits his art not
as an object that transcends time but as a process that shapes time. Calling
live performance his favorite form of “publishing,” Inada appropriates the
value that is ascribed to a finalized, written text for a mode that is oral and
poetics suggest that there is more than one way to tell a story, that many
stories are embedded within a given story or within what we know as history.
This multiple sense of time implicitly critiques the notion of a
standard time or history that is equivalent for all subjects. Poems such as
“Instructions to All Persons” and “Two Variations on a Theme by Thelonious
Monk” shape time and history as variable and layered. “On Being
Asian American” refers to an echo generated by the actualization of the racial
subject. We can see a poetics of the echo in the repetition enacted in this
poem as well as in the poems “Instructions” and “Two Variations.” This
repetition is what Henry Louis Gates, Jr., calls "repetition with a difference”:
a non-linear, non-teleological aesthetics of change.
In the Heath Anthology
Instructions to All Persons
Kicking the Habit
On Being Asian American
Two Variations on a Theme by Thelonius Monk As Inspired by Mal Waldron
Before the War
Legends from Camp
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Lawson Fusao Inada | Three Poems
Texts of Flying By The Seat, Eatin' With Sticks, and Somebody's Been Messing With My Money!.
Modern American Poetry
Criticism, historical/cultural context, and some primary texts (an essay and poems).