(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The poems in Camp Notes and Other Poems originated in the experience of a concentration camp. Mitsuye Yamada and her family were interned with other Japanese Americans from the West Coast during World War II. Yamada spent April, 1942, through September, 1943, at the internment camp near Minidoka, Idaho. Inmates could have few possessions; Yamada brought a tablet of paper on which she recorded her reflections on life in the camp. To the poems from this period she later added others concerning the time preceding and the time following the camp experience.

At the beginning of the book are poems about ancestors and parents: great-grandmother’s box of treasured souvenirs, a young bride in a new and precarious environment, a folktale related by a sophisticated father. Following the poems about internment are poems related to the poet’s later life. These poems frequently have themes that are a feature of the center section about the internment: justice, equity, and generosity. These themes are continuing threads in these poems, which occasionally have a feminist perspective.

The middle, or “Camp Notes,” section contains the angriest poems. With irony, the speaker in the poems expresses and conquers the rage, humiliation, and despair of unjust captivity. A photographer’s instruction to “smile” as internees are collected at staging points, the bus ride to the camps, a guard tower seen through the eyes of a child, makeshift...

(The entire section is 456 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Schweik, Susan. “A Needle with Mama’s Voice: Mitsuye Yamada’s Camp Notes and the American Canon of War Poetry.” In Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation, edited by Helen M. Cooper, Susan Merrill Squier, and Adrienne Auslander Munich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Yamada, Mitsuye. “A MELUS Interview: Mitsuye Yamada.” Interview by Helen Jaskoski. MELUS 15, no. 1 (1988): 97-108.