Getting the words out
Local poet and DJ cuts through the fat and gets to the point
If I look back
into her mouth of breath
I see that it carried
tiny fibers of her heart
though many times
could’ve of just run dry …
—verse from “Obachan,” by Tazuo Yamaguchi
The first thing that interested me in Tazuo Yamaguchi was a poem he read about his grandmother—he was loud, fiery and completely absorbed. It was impressive. It was as if he was channeling his grandmother’s influence and reliving that emotion for the audience. Yamaguchi’s experience and confidence allow him to go full color with his material. There is no hesitation or filter.
It’s much the same when Yamaguchi (who used to go by Aaron, but took the name Tazuo in honor of his grandmother) interviews a local musician or poet on his local radio show. He cuts through context and structure and intuits where he needs to go, allowing his guests to drop down into what they want to say.
Yamaguchi has managed to apply his talent and his experience into something he loves. He currently works as a DJ at KZFR and is also the founder of a local youth poetry team.
“These kids are just bringing their visions forward into words,” said Yamaguchi, referring to the Chico Speaks Out poetry group, a collaborative poetry team he created a decade ago and still leads to this day. The Chico-based group earned third place at this year’s international competition in San Francisco.
The group, made up of local poets 15 and over, performs regularly at local coffee houses. Yamaguchi said they soon plan to tour high schools and colleges with sponsored bio-diesel transportation.
And like the kids he works with, Yamaguchi has had to wrestle with the confines of what is considered acceptable communication.
“It’s funny, I think a lot of the problems between parents and kids have to do with the parents being uncomfortable with the vivid pictures their children drum up,” he said. “They are reacted to on face level and not embraced as a human voice.”
Yamaguchi works to help people trust their own voices by using his own as an example. And slam poetry is an arena where he can bring his vivid imagination across the divide of standard talk and into the root of what is being said.
“When I was 12 I got sick, real sick. It was then that I started engaging in writing out long emotional, chaotic imagery—you know poems,” said Yamaguchi, letting out a full belly laugh. “I went to, like, six different high schools, followed rock bands around the whole country, but I got tired of the misinterpretations in my neighborhood.”
Yamaguchi hosts the “Chico Butter” radio show on KZFR as DJ X, something he’s done for the past nine years, interviewing North Valley musicians and poets.
Those who frequent local coffeehouses for music and poetry gigs have probably noticed Yamaguchi staring at his laptop while scouting out local talent for his radio show—long black hair, bright bandanna with a matching shirt and a well-placed hat atop his head. And even though Yamaguchi is nearing 40, his calm demeanor and relaxed state will mystify any stranger’s guess at his age.
And he’s been a fixture in Chico for years—having moved here in 1989 where he studied psychology and communications at Chico State University after a counselor in junior college told him to “pick a field that contains your struggle, and go at it.”
Yamaguchi is still going at it. The emphasis has just evolved into the heart of the matter, full-on poetry.