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BOOK REVIEW: This is How the Bone Sings by W. Todd Kaneko

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There is a ghost town in W. Todd Kaneko’s heart framed in razor wire and brick lined scars knitted through dirt, blood, and the whispers of lost family and stolen idealism. In This is How the Bone Sings, published by Black Lawrence Press, the poet soulfully serenades his readers with haunting images and expert craft.

Minidoka was, at first, a word I was unfamiliar with, but this gut wrenching collection makes every nuanced shadow of meaning and resonating impact clear. Minidoka is not only defined by Kaneko as an internment camp, a physical place where Japanese Americans were relocated during WW2; it is also a dampness that leaches into the foundations of family. It is a place that can barely be spoken of, yet must be passed down like a cursed heirloom. The poems are singularly focused, yet each poem is so refined that it develops new and varied facets of his family’s tragic relationship with the Idaho prairies. While Minidoka took place in the past, the speaker in these poems struggles with how to carry its weight into the future, specifically with his own son, which allows the larger concepts of the collection to turn both forward and backward. This is a book for readers ready to devour “a bushel of history”  and lovers of the tensions found within complex emotional experiences.

At various moments in this collection, the spirit of powerhouses in the literary world the likes of Langston Hughes, Alan Ginsburg and Jeanann Verlee come through in the poetic artistry. The collection is split into sections: Silence, Where the Ogres Lived, Hauntings and Where We Live Now featuring poems which together speak to the segment’s titular meaning. For instance, in “when we talk about camp”, which appears in the Silence portion of the book, he writes, “We don’t say anything, just hold it in/our mouths like dirty water.” This simile carries the corruption of Minidoka as well as the complications steeped in attempts to speak the unspeakable. Later, in “the ogre’s physique,” he seemingly transcribes the body of tragedy through metaphor. In “they say this is how the ghosts feel” (found within Hauntings), the speaker reflects, “In my dream, my son is learning to talk / but all he says is Minidoka. He is learning / to walk but he just walks in circles.” Here, Kaneko frames the fears for his son in a description possessed by historical trauma. Finally, in the poem that gives the book its name, he refers to the “scar / spangled sky” populated by “the moon’s careless gaze” overlooking the Idaho camp. This poem appears in the final section of the collection where the past, present and future come together in poems heavy with multiple meanings.

Kaneko toys with the form and function of language in ways that are as surprising and engrossing as they are poignant. History’s ghosts are excavated and navigated with a ferocity that is definitely worthy of a close read. 

Order your copy at Black Lawrence Press

This Is How the Bone Sings

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