paper • 110 pages • 15.95
ISBN-13: 978-1-935536-33-8

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Topaz by Brian Komei Dempster is the winner of the 2014 15 Bytes Book Award in Poetry.


Brian Komei Dempster

Topaz, Brian Komei Dempster’s debut poetry collection, examines the experiences of a Japanese American family separated and incarcerated in American World War II prison camps. This volume delves into the lasting intergenerational impact of imprisonment and breaks a cultural legacy of silence. Through the fractured lenses of past and present, personal and collective, the speaker seeks to piece together the facets of his own identity and to shed light on a buried history.

From “Temple Bell Lesson:

“Son, I am weighted. / You are light. / Our ancestors imprisoned, / outcast / in sand, swinging / between scorching air / and the insult / of blizzards.”
About the Author

  • “In Brian Komei Dempster’s debut volume Topaz, named after the Japanese American internment camp where his maternal family was unjustly incarcerated during WW II, there are three overlapping worlds enfolded like petals of a vari-colored blossom… He writes from a sere piety, from eros burgeoning even under the shadow of a sorrowful history, from love of a wife and son, from his life as a caretaker in the temple of his heroic maternal grandfather, a Buddhist priest. In a voice thickened with stoical regret, from a body charged with sexuality and grief, Brian Komei Dempster writes a poetry like no other’s.” —Garrett Hongo
  • Topaz is a significant and moving addition to one of the oldest and most firmly rooted of literary genres—the quest…. Dempster brings to his quest both a gravitas of tone and an arsenal of poetic skills mastered through his long apprenticeship in the art of poetry.” —Richard Tillinghast
  • “…Several cherished relics fraught with family history (letters between grandparents during their enforced separation; a steamer trunk that serves literally as a crib for generations; a military jacket; a jade necklace) help to reify a connection that resonates in the imagination as palpably as their weight is felt against the flesh. This is a truly eye-opening debut by a promising poet.” —J. Allyn Rosser
  • "But my favorite poems are the eight that are quite sparse, poems like 'Topaz,' 'Sheer,' and 'Pearl.' These minimalistic poems linger, like those fragments of memory that all of us try so desperately to hold on to as time passes and events are drawn further back into the past. These are the poems that Dempster uses to pull the narrative of his own family together. And these are the poems that hold the collection together in a place that is solid and grounded, grounded in family and history, suffering and love." Read the full review.
  • "This is a book of astounding richness, one which deserves multiple re-readings. Like the gemstone of its title, it reveals new beauty with every new examination." Read the full review.
  • Topaz moves gracefully, almost seamlessly, between ruminations of his maternal family’s experiences in detention and his own questions about who he is and what implications his family’s history may have on his own.” Read the full review.
  • "Intimacy in the face of terror is one of the great gifts of language. Nothing is more intimate than home, the place where love lives, strains, and endures. Family and memory are durable, sustaining, despite the long hatchet of history. We know this, but poetry has a special way of reminding how important and necessary communication is. Language and memory are the twin roots connecting us to both people and place, and Dempster's collection is a sobering reminder of how fragile and powerful those roots are." Read the full review.