Briefly Noted: Coming Home from Camp and Other Poems by Lonny Kaneko

by Muriel Nelson

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Every poem in Lonny Kaneko’s Coming Home from Camp and Other Poems rewards the reader with remarkable clarity and beauty while expressing a variation on Kaneko’s combination of stoicism and deep feeling.  For those unfamiliar with the concentration camps run by the United States during World War II, these poems witness to life in the Minidoka camp in Idaho and its lasting aftereffects.  Kaneko’s poems “rope / the quiet progress of [families’] lives / against the ache that gnaws deep.”  The child’s-eye views by this poet whose preschool years were spent in the camp are especially heart-breaking.

This collection doesn’t leave readers in that “barbed corral” where lightning “rips the Idaho sky as we struggle / through dust or snow or rain to pee,” or with the cry of “an ordinary man who feels his son’s / fear half a world away.”  Instead, among poems of poverty and prejudice after the war is a delightful whirling portrait of “Bad Knees Harry: Japanese Gardner” in his “flurry of motion / guaranteed to look like action / worth $2.50 an hour.”  There is a choreopoem, “Sukiyaki Mama,” for the Johanna Weikel Dance Company and a collaboration with painter Camille Patha, You Make My Silence Sing.  There are baseball poems, tributes and portraits that capture a variety of voices, meditations, love poems, quirky observations such as “The Pig and I,” and my favorite, the jazzy “Lee Siu Long: Little Dragon Lee.”

We all need these poems.  While others like to glorify our “just war” and forget our country’s misdeeds, Kaneko writes of their lasting effects along with resilience and humor.  

Muriel Nelson’s publications include Part Song, winner of the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize (Bear Star Press), and Most Wanted, winner of the ByLine Chapbook Award (ByLine Press).  Nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize, her poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Four Way Review, Front Porch Journal, Hunger Mountain, National Poetry Review, The New Republic, Northwest Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and Superstition Review, and on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily.  Italian Culture published her critical essay on Eugenio Montale.  She holds master's degrees from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and the University of Illinois School of Music, and lives near Seattle.