In BEST EVIDENCE, poet Mark S. Osaki doesn’t hold back. His words are filled with war and rage, but also reveal the softer side of humanity. In the opening poem “My Father Holding Squash,” we see a father in a photograph holding a squash, described as an “eminently bearable fruit,” as if he is saying “Look at this, you poetry-writing / jackass. Not everything I raise is useless!” Osaki’s poems are proof that writing poetry is not useless; BEST EVIDENCE is a literary fruit, ripe and “eminently bearable,” the blossoming of a poet’s labor.
Some of Osaki’s strongest poems grapple with identity and the paradox of being Asian-American. In “Family Reunion” the speaker is at war: “Throw him out first, / one look and the gooks / will think we’re friendly.” Some might cringe from the pejorative, but Osaki is unflinchingly honest in his descriptions. Another poem that stands out is “Chinese Camp, California,” a short but profound piece reflecting on discrimination: “history the pen / big enough to enclose all of us — / yellow by yellow.”
The collection’s greatest flaw is a lack of cohesion. In spite of being broken into four sections, the divisions don’t do much to group the poems under a defining theme. “Dying Arts” is perhaps the only section that truly unites its poems, which deal with various aspects of war and its aftermath. While all of the poems stand strongly on their own, some feel haphazardly thrown into the collection to pad its pages. Shifting styles add to the unbalance. BEST EVIDENCE veers from the metaphor-laded “The Fish Heads” (Still pretending distance makes / anything remote, I look back / and see their turned eyes following / lips pulled down as if by hooks), to the more prosaic “Photograph” (She is wearing a paisley dress; the zipper undone, / it hangs loosely around her shoulders, / and her face is turned toward something / beyond the photo’s border.”) a few poems later.
Still, BEST EVIDENCE is a sparkling collection of lyrical and deftly-written poems. Its wide range means that there is something sure to appeal to the poetry lover in any reader. Osaki handles complicated family dynamics with the same dexterity as he approaches war and sex, masterfully describing the world in the way that only someone who has truly lived can.
BEST EVIDENCE is filled to the brim with nuanced poems that reflect the complexity of the human experience.
~Christine-Marie Liwag Dixon for IndieReader