Larry Matsuda & Tess Gallagher

A poet returns to a childhood landmark

Larry Matsuda is a veteran of one of America’s most shameful episodes, born an “enemy alien” in his native land. Starting life in the Minidoka Relocation Center, an Idaho internment camp, is a trauma he was too young to remember but never able to forget; his poems keen with the heartbreak he learned by “osmosis” in his mother’s womb. An impassioned activist driven to speak out against the pseudo-patriotic xenophobia he sees being aimed at the Arab-American community, Matsuda has been mentored by author Tess Gallagher (Dear Ghosts and Distant Rain), who helped fashion a poet out of the already accomplished storyteller. His work offers one powerful example of how a victim of discrimination can redeem that ugly legacy with the beauty of verse; in his poem “War on Terror—Border Crossing,” he writes, “Wearing this yellow skin, I am unable / to walk freely in my own country. / But I learn border by border to leap safely in sudden movements / leaving no remnants snagged on the wire.” KOBO at Higo will host an evening of poetry by both writers. Higo, an International District landmark, has a fascinating story of its own, mirroring much of the endurance and misfortune that tested the Issei (Japanese émigrés) and Nisei (first-generation born Japanese-Americans) in the 20th century. Its previous incarnation as a family variety store, which Matsuda visited as a child, is showcased in vintage goods and paraphernalia from 75 years of Japanese-American culture that were unearthed in the back rooms. Photos on display of the Murakami family, who operated the store before and after WWII, lend to the spirituality of the setting.

Sat., Oct. 27, 6:30 p.m., 2007

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