Saturday, June 05, 2010

Tales about Heart Mountain -- and the "Octopus in the Freezer"

Photo shows the interpretive walk on the site of the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp between Cody and Powell. Photo taken by Lee Ann Roripaugh on her family's tour of the site yesterday before a presentation at the WWInc conference. (from Facebook)

Lee Ann and Bob Roripaugh presented a fantastic reading last night at the WWInc conference in Cody. They took turns reading poems from Lee Ann's book, Beyond Heart Mountain. Readings were accompanied by slides from the internment camp, provided by Dave Reetz of Heart Mountain Foundation. Very moving.

Lee Ann read the poetic monologues that were in women's voices. Bob, her father, read the men's voices.

Lee Ann is Bob's daughter. Bob is Wyoming Poet Laureate Emeritus and retired University of Wyoming professor. Lee Ann teaches in the creative writing program at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

Lee Ann talked about growing up in Laramie. Back then, the university town was very, very white -- still is. Life wasn't easy for a shy non-white kid. Her mother, Yoshiko, met Bob when he was serving with U.S. Army occupation forces in Japan.

Bob grew up in west Texas where WWII bomber crews trained at the air base outside town. Meanwhile, in Japan, Yoshiko was a school girl whose town was pounded regularly by those very bombers.

In Japan, they met and fell in love and married and moved to the U.S. Bob taught English and wrote about his experiences. Bob's story "Peach Boy" was published by the Atlantic Monthly in 1958. This led to enquiries by editors. According to Bob, one letter asked if he was working on a novel. "I told him I was, even though I was really working on a book of short stories."

This led to a published novel. It's also a useful tip for short story writers. If an editor or agent ever asks if you're working on a novel, say yes.

In Cody on June 4, 2010, Bob read about one of the internment camp's No-No Boy who refused to serve in the U.S. Army and was sent away from his family to another camp. He read about the Isei building a mini-internment camp for the horned toads he found around the camp.

Lee Ann read in the voice of the camp nurse. She read about a Nisei woman whose son interrogates Japanese prisoners of war. She read in the voice of a young girl who has to listen to the snores of the old lady on one side of her thin barrack's walls (they don't go all the way to the ceiling) and the couple on the other side who fight and then make strange noises like the hooting of owls.

Each of the writers then read samples of their own work. Bob read a part of "Peach Boy" and the poem "Yellow Willow," both based on his experience in Japan. Lee Ann read some poems about growing up in Laramie: "pearls," "Antelope Jerky" and "Octopus in the Freezer." I've heard Lee Ann read "Octopus" before. But it was good to hear again because it alternates between horrifying and hilarious. Lee Ann's mom had bought an octopus at a Denver market and it was stored in the freezer. Lee Ann heard bumps in the night and the clanging of a furnace and thought it was the octopus banging around in the freezer. Not sure which of Lee Ann's three books this is in, but buy them all and pay special attention to "Octopus." A new twist on childhood fears of a monster hiding under the bed.

Lee Ann, Bob, Max McCoy and two literary agents will be conducting workshops and presentations all day today. More info at


bigfrank said...

Didnt the great FDR throw these people in this camp for no reason? Man the government knows what it is doing....

Michael Shay said...

Major mistake by FDR. He made others. That doesn't mean that the gubment is always wrong. Just when the Repubs are in charge.