FROM A THREE-CORNERED WORLD: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS presents a prospect and retrospect of James Masao Mitsui’s finely crafted and deeply felt poetic output over the past three decades.
The book’s title derives from a Japanese writer’s comment that artists inhabit a triangle left after eliminating the commonsensical corner of the ordinary four-square world. And aesthetics is a recurrent subject in Mitsui’s book. Art dashes logical expectation—when, for instance, a genteel landscape artist and a violent swordsman are the one samurai. Art demands hard work (a year to learn a note on a shakuhachi flute) and a collaboration of nature with inspiration (a gardener shakes down some leaves after sweeping his grounds).
The other major theme of Mitsui is the Japanese American experience, especially the experiences of immigration and relocation. The immigration experience is developed through Mitsui’s poems about his parents who immigrated in the early twentieth century, and these poems are vividly sculpted pieces capturing that generations strength, self-sacrifice, and capacity for hard work and enduring love. The poems about the relocation of some 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans during the 1940’s derive from the whole Mitsui family’s travails; they are movingly effective and wryly laconic criticisms of America’s mean-spirited, racist, and wrongful treatment of Japanese Americans in a moment of national hysteria.
Other poems of Mitsui celebrate love and life, grieve deaths and departures, record the discoveries in travel and the quirkiness of work. All this is accomplished with a supple cadenced verse and a lapidarian use of imagery that can summon up the breathlessness of a visceral response or the exhilaration of a luminous truth.
Sources for Further Study
International Examiner. XXIV, no. 8, May 6, 1997, p. S26.
Seattle Times. January 4, 1998, p. M2.