From the Archives: the prison poetry of Minoru Yasui


The folder contains a number of typewritten poems that Yasui composed while imprisoned for nine months for breaking his curfew and refusing to relocate to an internment camp at the government's orders. While they don't necessarily demonstrate a knack for verse -- they're a little intense and emotionally overwrought, good qualities in a lawyer but not a poet -- they do bring the plight of Yasui and the Japanese-American people into stark relief.
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In one poem, called "Interminable Night," Yasui describes his prison experience over two pages. Sound plays heavily in these two stanzas, though the soundtrack is incomplete without hearing the echoes of Yasui's typewriter on the cell block:

There's desultory talk:
Speculations as to what the sentence will be,
Conjectures of how best to beat the rap,
lamentations loud in injured tones
Of being framed on a damn dirty deal,
According to talk, how innocent are we all;

There are intermittent sounds:
Sound of shoes dropping to the floor,
Sound of flaring tempers, a short vicious fight,
Obscene jokes, some indecent stories, big-winded braggery,
Ribald laughter, lurid profanities, loud bursts of argument,
All the mumble and grumble of imprisoned men.

And "Interminable Night" wraps up with this cheerful end:

Grim shadows on the wall,
Crazily distorted in the devilish light,
Remind in fiendish designs the ever confining bars,
Muffled footfalls of screws on their rounds,
A scampering cockroach pauses and leers down at me,
And moving freely about, slips thru the bars in awful mockery.
Night brings sleep to a hundred lost men,
Sleep--yes, but a troubled sleep that brings no peace,
And so passes the hours, the horrors of the night,
In this hopeless place of the condemned and the damned.

yasui poetry.jpg
From Minoru Yasui's "Interminable Night"

While much of Yasui's poetry is very heavy, it does have moments of levity and silliness, evidenced by his sign-offs, which alternate between "Jailbird Yasui" and "The Mad Mongolian."

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Auraria Library

1100 Lawrence St., Denver, CO

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