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Beyond Heart Mountain (book)

Creators: Lee Ann Roripaugh

Lee Ann Roripaugh's first collection of poetry, which was selected by writer Ishmael Reed as one of five manuscripts published in 1999 through the National Poetry Series competition. The central section of the book is an interconnected series of dramatic monologues written in the voices of various Japanese Americans incarcerated at the Heart Mountain camp.

Author's Background

The child of a Japanese immigrant mother and a father who was Poet Laureate of Wyoming from 1995-2002, Roripaugh was born in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1965. She received a B.M in piano performance, a M.M in music and an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University.

She is the author of four poetry collections and recipient of numerous awards: Randall Jarrell International Poetry Prize (1995), Western Literature Association's Frederick Manfred Award for Best Creative Writing (2001), Archibald Bush Foundation Individual Artist Fellowship (2003), Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose (2004), Prairie Schooner Strousse Award (2004).

She is a Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota. She also serves as editor-in-chief of "South Dakota Review. In 2015, she was appointed as Poet Laureate of South Dakota.


Roripaugh organizes the collection in three parts. Many of the poems in the first section focus on being an outsider: the poet's Japanese mother who marries an American soldier and maintains cultural practices—dancing in geta (elevated Japanese wooden sandals) and eating nori (dried seaweed)—that set her apart from her rural Wyoming neighbors, the poet as a girl taunted by classmates for her racial difference, atom bomb survivors visiting the U.S. for reconstructive surgeries.

The second section, "Heart Mountain, 1943," is a long poem consisting of inter-related interior monologues in the voices of the different camp prisoners. Each monologue bears the name of the speaker. The diverse array of perspectives in "Heart Mountain, 1943" include an Issei mother whose son serves with U.S. Military Intelligence ; a fisherman from Terminal Island who discovers an abandoned baby in a coal bin; a teenage Nisei writing to her boyfriend who the government transferred to the " Tule Lake Segregation Center " for answering the loyalty questions negatively; that same young man explaining his anger over the humiliation Japanese Americans experienced, crystallized in his mind by his father being forced to sell a prized black Packard sedan just before incarceration; and a Nisei nurse describing some of her patients—a mess hall worker whose face is badly burned in an accident, and an Issei man who arrives at the hospital with a fork stuck in one of his eyes, the result of an argument with another incarceree.

The details in "Heart Mountain, 1943" reveal the hardships of daily life in the camp (unrelenting dust, waiting in long mess hall and bathroom lines) and political divisions (exemplified by two brothers, one fighting in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the other sent to the Tule Lake camp because he answered "no" to the loyalty questions). Some of the poems address taboo topics, like premarital sex and violence.

The final section of collection features poems exploring Japanese myths, such as the spirit of an iris embodied as a woman, heavenly lovers separated by the Milky Way, and a ghostly woman who returns to her earthly love.

Authored by Stan Yogi , Writer, Oakland, California
Media Details
Author Lee Ann Roripaugh
Pages 70
Publication Date 1999


Tseng, Jennifer. Amerasia Journal 26.3 (Winter 2000): 210–15. ["The result is a stunning display of diversity inside what appears at first to be a relatively homogeneous group. Roripaugh exploits the form to its explosive potential by tracing and retracing the same story again and again, from more than one point of view, revealing the complexities of camp life and of life in general." (referring to the monologues that constitute "Heart Mountain, 1943")]

Kaufman, Ellen. Library Journal , July 1999, 96. ["fine first collection" and "easy to like."]

Publisher's Weekly , May 31, 1999, 88. ["Roripaugh manages to bring a history she never experienced through her own past, to her present. . . . The book's drive towards clarity and strength is often moving."]