Monday, November 3, 2014

All About the Love

If I really think about it, I have been writing love poems for the last fifteen years, but they all belong to my son, who has been the brightest experience of my life. But for the last twelve years I have pretended I don’t write love poems. I don't read love poems— I shun them. Heartbreak, Hollywood, and being forced to endure hundreds of horrendous love poems could do that to a person, right?

But about six months ago, I broke my boycott and started writing a series of love poems. —See prior blog entry for a bit more info on that...

This poem is the first in that series and it's for Aiko Yamashiro, who is one of the best and most generous people I have ever known. Aiko has reminded me that letting people into your heart is as joyous as it is terrifying— that love is supposed to be difficult and beautiful and fierce— that love is an act of faith leaping into the unexplainable space between— that in this day of cynicism and sound bytes, love is an act of revolution. 

Love One
for Aiko

Seven years four months and fifteen days ago 
we read love as a hopeless practice.
We defined affection
as horizontal alignment when we slept 
and memories of good sex. 
In our arms we cradled fear 
as a twin to love
and confused them with towers.

Today love wrings us dry. We
blink too often, but finally sit, a table between us.
Between four hands rests courage 
on a platter, an offering we cannot pass off
as jackass punking or chalk down to artless youth. 

Five years ago
we called love stupid.
We thought scaling the ragged peaks of mountains
in a hail storm
the smarter choice
as if thinner air and falling skies might 
make our grief weightless, but without gravity
our hearts became spherical as satellites,
peripheral to our bodies.
Inside us we shrank our wishbones to nothing,
jumped on heady winds and forgot
about landing. 

Three years ago
love was still stupid
still commitments to badlands, 
foolish dives into mirages  
or battles against uninhabitable masses.

Two years ago love
was a rose by any other name
and red for the first time.

almost happened
between our four fists 
on a platter when we stretched our heart globes
to elliptical shadows
--risked holding hands
with the wounded
and called them namesakes. 
Yes, we are large enough
for this table sitting among white beards 
who confuse faith with invasion
and sanctuary with anxious greed.

we put naive on a table
on a platter
between hands
placed closer to hope
than to fear.
We promised to be naive
to be sweet 
so we might hope
we could be better
we could do better
than we have done.

Today love wrings us dry
after almost drowning. 
In a mouth of water we drink salt
and dare to imagine the brackish 
without suffocation and homelands
without fear. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Writing Love

So I've been avoiding the blogosphere...prepping for area exams for my PhD has dominated my world for more than a year....or maybe I should say anxiety about taking these exams has dominated my world for four years.

Both statements would be accurate.

Now that I can see the light at the end of this tunnel, writing seems like less of a burden and once more an expression of joy, but I don't know what's gotten into me, because I'm writing love poetry, which is usually a genre I avoid in favor of anger poetry.

I've been reading the poetry of Sonia Sanchez as part of my preparation for an exam in 20th century poetry in English.....don't ask.  In her writing, I found love poetry--radical love poetry. And I fell in love. Sanchez wrote about the beauty of black men and black women. She wrote about the beauty of black women and black men and love. Radical. Beautiful. Love.

So I'm writing love poetry for moana nui, for kahakai, for 'aina, for beautiful radical people, for my family, from my friends, for another day living.

Please check out Love Seven which was written for Rajiv Mohabir and you will find it posted on his blog. And while you are there you should check out more of Rajiv's work, because he is an incredible poet and translator.

In the meantime, me ke aloha...

Friday, October 19, 2012

In Brief: 10/18/2012 - ʻAha Moʻolelo Hawaiʻi

 The ‘Aha Moʻolelo Hawaiʻi conference started today. The English Department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa played host to a series of lectures and panels that began at 8:30 this morning and took a breather at 4:30 this afternoon. Can I say, holy moly?

I apologize my eloquence has left me. And if you, dear reader, are mumbling disparaging remarks under your breath, ‘Aʻole! I’ve been stretching the grey matter into all sorts of uncomfortable positions for hours in response to the questions posed by the panels I was able to attend today, but it was well worth it.

Aaron Salā, Raukura Roa, and Keawe Lopes, the panelists for Mele Maoli, Mele Māori didn’t just talk about cultural relationships to music in Hawai’i and Aotearoa; the performed it into a boisterous treat.

Leilani Basham, Keao NeSmith, Renee Pualani Louis, and Marie Alohalani Brown were the speakers for the panel What is Moʻolelo?, which discussed the intricacies of moʻolelo from multiple directions that ranged from linguistic to formalistic to cartographic, and emphasized the fact that “direct” translation is not only impossible, but often undesirable.

Chadwick Allen discussed his newly published book, Trans-Indigenous Methodologies: Reading "Across", and encouraged the pursuit of indigenous collaborative conversations with the hopes that such an endeavor might open additional spaces for indigenous voices and methodologies in an academia that continues to marginalize non-western non-canonical work. Alohalani Brown and Nālani McDougall offered Kanaka Maoli interpretations of Professor Allen’s colloquia talk.

Blurry, yes, I know. iphone proved inadequate to the task.
It was a full day that was beautifully rounded out by performances of storytelling, theatre, and mele at the Halau o Haumea with “I Lohe ʻia ka Puana,” Hawaiian 684 Mele Analysis and Performance class with Kumu Keawe Lopes, Haili‘ōpua Baker's Hālau Hanakeaka Hawaiian Theater troupe, and Lopaka Kapanui.

This last portion of the evening was delivered predominantly in ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi, which really stretched my grey cells, because my comprehension is shaky at best, but what a joy to see nā haumana so comfortable and fluent with their performance expressions in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi!

In brief, this is why we do what we do.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Epistolary Blues

My parents are moving.

When I went to help them, I knew that house held most of our recent familial history, but I had forgotten how much of my own youth I abandoned there in shoe boxes and in plastic bags, pushed to the back of closets and shoved under furniture. Admittedly, I am not known for my fabulous sense of recall. But I had forgotten about all the letters, written to me by friends and family, who wanted to stay in touch, even when we were thousands of miles apart, and phone calls were too expensive.

There are hundreds of them. Small units of memory.

It’s funny to think about aspects of my own life as artifact, yet I could not help but view these papers, still nestled in their envelope homes, as remnants of a bygone era. My bygone era, when the sight of par avion thrilled me to my toenails. So romantic, no? And so sad...

We don’t write letters any more. Today, I dread checking the mail. My mailbox is nearly a mile away from my house, and usually, it’s limited to advertising junk and bills.

No letters.

I, unlike most of my students, can recall when email became the new thang. I think I remember some people predicting the loss of letter writing (and please forgive my faulty memory and my lack of motivation to do any research), but I’m pretty sure I remember other people saying that letter writing would remain and poliferate, but in an electronic form. I may have been one of those people.

Twenty years later, I think it’s safe to say that those who predicted the doom of the correspondent letter had the right of it. No one writes letters anymore. Unless they are form letters, business letters, political campaign letters, or advertisements that are pretending to be letters.


Yes, I’ll say it again. Lame. Which is funny, because I was never a fabulous letter writer, even when it was the done thing. Most of my long distance friends, I’m sure, will attest to this fact, but I miss the post box visits, and the hoping that something would be there waiting to be read. I miss the tearing of the envelope and the slow unravel of pages. I miss reading someone else’s hand and knowing them a bit better for that mess on the paper.

Letters brought me the sure and concrete knowledge that my father loved  and missed me when I was thousands of miles away. Many of the letters I saved were in his hand, and once I saw them, I remembered how they chronicled bits and pieces of his day, and how I straddled ten time zones towards home everytime I read them.

I also remember how I took them for granted.
Isn’t hindsight such an ass?

But now I have these relics, evidences of my youthful travels and the loved ones, who, in some measure, followed me wherever I went. The internet has made this even easier. I can keep up with my friends’ lives without exchanging a single word with them. Ever. Oh boy.

For this reason, email and internet social networking has lost its gleam for me. Yes, it is massively convenient. Yes, I can easily contact friends, who live twelve thousand miles away from me. Yes, my entire life has some sort of foothold within this morass of terabytes and codes. But in the long term I would save very little of it. I will not find these messages tucked away twenty years from now, because so much of this information has devolved into manufactured sound bites and conscious reality production. Watch us dance on our public newsfeed! Listen to me I have cool things to say! No. I mean it. I really do have cool things to say. But if you want to be real, you can backchannel, which is now a verb, because so much of our correspondence is now done in the electronic town square, so we need a new verb to describe an action for private interaction. Wow.

Back to the letters and why I was lousy at it: looking back, I realize I did not understand the performance of letter writing. Partially, because I had not yet been introduced to the idea of different writing for different occasions and/or different audiences (woo, shocker), but also because regular communication through snail mail was already on its way to becoming a rarified practice, so I didn’t really have many examples, and I love learning by example. I have thought a lot about this genre of performance, and I have since realized that the best letters might contain details of the outer life of the writer, but definitely chronicle the inner lives of the writer.

The best letters
are soundboard discussions
that ruthlessly tear apart
our self-narratives and gingerly
piece them back together.
The best letters ask questions
that expect answers,
maybe fifty years from now.
The best letters arrive
when we most need them.
The best letters ask
to be read out loud.
The best letters offer
brief suspensions
of electronic noise
and windows into silence.
The best letters
have yet to be written.
The best letters call us
into computerless minutes
ruled by ink and paper,
and don’t we all need a whopping dose of those?

So join me in a new dawn of snail mail mail and write me the best letter.

I promise.

I’ll write to you, if you write to me.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ruminations on Dystopia from Hawaiʻi

    Have you noticed the proliferation of futuristic post-apocalyptic dystopic narratives? Perhaps it’s just me, because I am a self-identified science fiction fan – not an expert by any stretch of any social construct, but a definite fan of the genre, so maybe the pervasiveness of this type of narrative is all in my imagination, but humor me, and please deliberate on the following list, which are in no particular order:  

   Zombieland, 28 Days Later, Afterworld, Resident Evil (x infinity), The Book of Eli, Captain Planet, V, Total Recall (original and remake), Twelve Monkeys, Knowing, Independence Day, Daybreakers, Alien Resurrection, Blade Runner, Terminator (x4), Signs, WALL-E, Firefly, Serenity, City of Ember, 2012, Children of Men, Sērā-fuku mokushiroku, I Am Legend, Jericho, War of the Worlds, Madmax (x3 with number 4 in production), AEon Flux, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Day After Tomorrow, Battlestar Galactica (original and remake), Dune (x franchise), The Matrix (x3), Le Temps du Loup, Judge Dredd (original and remake), Terra Nova The Hunger Games, Revolution, and Falling Skies.

    This list scratches the surface of productions from the last thirty years, because the only criteria most of these have in common is that they are reasonably well-known films or television shows. Authors, Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, and Stephen King seem particularly obsessed with this sub-genre, considering they’ve all written several novels that are set in dystopic worlds. E. M. Forester flirted with this topic with The Machine Stops. Almost a hundred years later, David Mitchell wrote Cloud Atlas and once again envisioned a world were technological supremacy fails to solve all problems and ultimately gives way to the natural world.

   End of the world, general states of global misery that exist beneath the thumb of a tyrannical super government, or fragmented police states surviving in conditions of environmental degradation are also settings frequently employed in graphic novels, manga, and anime. Consider Vampire Hunter D, Y: The Last Man, The Walking Dead, Jyu Oh-Sei, Darker than Black, Nausica of the Wind Valley, Cowboy Bebop, and Now and Then, Here and There names but a few.

   So why the fascination? Why the regular return to narratives that predict the end of our existence, or at the very least the end of the current existence we so decadently enjoy? I think some of this stems from fear, and the possibility that we are but a mere blink away from the end of all we hold dear and comforting. But let me get a bit more psychoanalytical and hypothesize that the attraction lies not in our world laid to waste, but in the possibility of surviving that destruction, the illustration of what that survival might look like, and whether it is truly worth considering.

   I know more than a few, on my island home, who hold fast to the belief that we would be one of the first to go in nuclear conflict, and that we should be grateful for this particular outcome, because we would not be around to muddle through in an unrecognizable and inhospitable environment.

   Most of the storylines, of the works already mentioned, do not describe total oblivion, but stay true to the speculation/hope that the human species does, in some way, go on. And this is comforting. Maybe. Consider this: would you want to survive in the un-survivable? Is continuation necessarily the ultimate goal? Biology holds the easy answer. The need to survive is inextricably bound to our genetic selves. But if survival holds such a powerful drive over our species, why is it that we are equally skilled at bringing ourselves to the edge of annihilation at increasingly regular intervals? When we look at our relationships with each other and our environments, questions and theories testing evolutionary assumptions, based on biological imperatives, become more complex and tangled. For example, which matters most, the continued existence of a single person, a few dozen people, a few thousand people, a hundred thousand people, a million people, or a billion people? Now, decide which people should survive. What if that single person is you?

  These fictional visions, and the conjectures they provoke, call us back to the philosophies of manifest destiny and infinite growth (code name globalization), and demand a reevaluation. How can any of these ideas work when we have already found the edge of the world and discovered the foreseeable end to our infinite resources?

  These questions seem particularly pertinent, if you live, as I do, in a geographically isolated place (2500 miles from the closest land mass) that is criminally reliant on external food sources. We import approximately 85% of our food, so at any given time, we are equipped with a 7 day food supply. In other words, if the shipping lines and air traffic were to stop tomorrow, our population of 1.3 million could survive for 7 days, yet our islands are home to some of the most fertile lands in the world. For more than a century, most of these lands have been dedicated to mono-crops, like sugarcane and pineapple, products that may have been profitable, but crippled our ability to build sustainable agricultural models. Most of these lands have yet to be used to feed the people living in Hawaiʻi. E komo mai, to the Zombie Apocalypse. Imagine 1.3 million people suddenly without food.

  These are the legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and economic expansion, which all seem to rely heavily on the idea that problems at home can be solved by going somewhere else, but what happens when there is nowhere else to go? This is the fundamental question that serves as the foundation for these post-apocalyptic dystopic literatures. What do we do when we have existed ourselves into a corner, and our failures have piled so high, we can no longer climb over them to find a new territory with more resources than what we have left behind? What do we do when there are so many of us disease is uncontrollable; food and fuel sources cannot keep up with the demand; financial machines and governments collapse beneath the weight of their over optimistic debt; once habitable environments are unable to support human populations; and we fight each other over the scraps that are left? Perhaps herein lies the answer to the question of why we return to these rather depressing storylines, because really, there’s nothing futuristic about them, and their settings are recognizable as today, or a tomorrow that is not distant, but sits just around the corner.

   But what does this have to do with poetry, orature, or literature? Much as I love dissecting the ends and outs of the work I call home, I must also acknowledge that limiting myself to these discussions is an irresponsible luxury. Yes, I do embrace art for art’s sake. Why the hell wouldn’t I? That is what I call fun, which is a necessary piece of the lifestyle equation, but as an artist, who also works as an educator, and gets the occasional opportunity to speak with communities beyond the realms of art and academia, should I not use my toolbox to engage the questions and answers that impact the place in which I live? In this post-apocalyptic, dystopic, zombieland frame, restricting my conversations to investigations of metaphor and process feels elitist, naïve, and even spoiled, so rather than considering only if we should eat the peach, shouldn’t we also be asking where it came from, how did it get here, and whether it should be here at all?

Monday, September 24, 2012

This is what we should talk to stage.

    This last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to attend a poetry performance by Amalia Bueno, Donovan Kūhiō Colleps, and Noʻu Revilla titled, “Interventions of Experience and Memory: When Poetry, Life, and Documents Collide”. This presentation was part of The Center for Biography Brown Bag Series, which has, apparently, been running for around 22 years at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (Bravo!). Together Noʻu, Donovan, and Amalia delivered a reading that challenged my idea of the typical structure of an academic poetry presentation, which is usually cerebral, often stimulating, but rarely emotive.

   The three poets began by standing in a line running parallel to the front row of the audience, and in turn announcing that they wanted..., which brought so many of my conflicting thoughts on poetry swirling to the surface.  How do we acknowledge that our poetic excursions often revolve around desire?

   Donovan wanted to know about the stories of his grandfather. He was particularly interested in those stories as they intersected with the file cabinet his grandfather left behind, which was full of documents that chronicled various aspect of a long and varied life.

   Amalia wanted to share some of the stories of women incarcerated in the prisons of Hawaiʻi, which was, of course, also linked to story of prisons in Hawaiʻi. Amalie gave us an effective mix of personal narratives and the statistics that may inform us of the broader picture, but often fail to give us the human face behind the numbers.

  Noʻu wanted to investigate the town of Kahuluhi on the island of Maui, where she grew up. She also wanted dig through the genealogies of the maternal line of her family. She did this through a combination of interrogating her childhood memories and researching documents related to the conception and creation of Kahului.

   Perhaps you’ve noticed the common link between these three readings? All three poets were students in Professor Susan Schultz’s class on documentary poetry, which challenged participants to find the poem in the everyday document. These documents could range from photographs, to blue prints, to certificates, to advertisements, to instruction manuals, which makes for interesting aesthetic possibilities, particularly as the presentation is related to the written word. How then, did they transition their compositions from the page to the stage?

   The translation of works written to be read into something performed is often taken for granted and/or ignored in the literary world. I can recall more than one occasion when I have gone to a book reading with every intention of buying the book, and then decided against it after the author read their work. Why? Usually, because the writer was so obviously under prepared and appeared to lack any sort of commitment or connection to the piece of writing they were so laboriously reading. If they’re not committed to their work, then why on earth should I be?

  Callous and unfeeling, am I? Maybe. Probably, but I’m not completely unsympathetic. Except for the rare souls among us, who are gifted with a tendency towards unabashed exhibitionism, most of us find it difficult to reveal ourselves in front of a room full of people, for understandable reasons.  The performer, inevitably, feels judged by the audience, which is usuually an accurate assessment, but it does not necessarily follow that these judgements run toward the negative.

   So if we are presenting our poetry to the attending masses, how should we overcome this obstacle? Perhaps flipping that emotional script could help sooth the worst of the jangled nerves. What if the performer stops worrying about what the audience thinks of them, and instead worries about what they think and want of/for the audience? What if the performer considers the welfare of the audience, irrespective of their designated relationship perimeters?

   Perhaps this turn in perception is a no-brainer for some areas of the performing community.  Been there, done that. However, I rarely hear this addressed in literary circles. My guess is that most writers do not consider themselves as performers, but if you ever have to get up in front of people to peddle your wares, you should be performing. After all, you are asking them to invest something of themselves in you. You owe them an intentional and practiced performance, so I ask these questions, in part because I think it is imperative that performers consider their positions, and take the welfare of their audiences into consideration whenever and whereever they perform, but also because the performers I witnessed this past Thursday embodied this approach.  When Donovan, Amalia, and Noʻu decided to perform their investigations, they gave a gift to their audience. In their turns, they confronted us with their considerations, their vulnerabilities, their indignations, their sorrows, and their dreams. Yes, they asked us to think, but they also invited us to feel.

  They added access points to their performances with powerpoint presentations, which defied the bullet point stereotype. No’u, Amalia, and Donovan integrated technology into their readings, but they did not allow it to become their readings, which is always a danger when you invite a projector into your lineup. Donovan used the layering images of his grandfather’s life through documents as a rhymic counterpoint to his poetic re-visioning of the instructions on how to use a nebulizer. Amalia gave us the statistical story as a visual backdrop to her recounting of stories from some of Hawaiʻi’s incarcerated women. Noʻu, whose pieces often flirted with abstraction, used powerpoint as a way to ground her poetry and concretize her imagery. These three writers wanted to give us an experience in memory through poetry and performance.

   When I go to a poetry reading, I want to be moved and inspired, and I’m happy to report that last Thursday that is exactly what happened.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ekphrastic in Your FACE

        I performed at the museum the other day. I yelled at people. Got all up in their faces. Made them really uncomfortable and then made myself really uncomfortable too.

       Several months ago, I was invited by Jaimie Gusman, founder of MIA and poet extraordinaire to participate in a group experiment of ekphrastic poetry at the newly christened Spalding House nee The Contemporary Art Museum.  Aaron Padilla, Curator of Education at the Honolulu Museum of Art, Spalding House, extended the invitation to Jaimie, with the request that MIA (for this performance this included Jaimie Gusman, Evan Nagel, Donovan Colleps, Tom Gammarion, Scott Abel, Noʻu Revilla, Serena Simmons, and me) produce poems that respond to the exhibited artwork and offer a dynamic and interactive presentation. These are dangerous words to be delivered into the hands of a poet.

       I felt this truth a hundred fold as I marched into a crowd of unsuspecting art lovers turned hijacked audience screaming about Goya and all his fantastic perversions. When people backed away from me, looking more than a little worried, my anxiety barometer soared.

       Oh no, I thought, I’m just terrifying them.

       And then I thought, but isn’t that exactly how we wanted them to react? When I write we, I mean Noʻu Revilla, Serena Simmons, and me. Months earlier, the three of us decided to collaborate on a spoken word griot and we were all drawn to the dark, anguished, and often-misogynistic illustrations of Goya that are part of A Thousand Words and Counting exhibit at Spalding House. The goal of our text, and subsequent performance of that text, was to capture some of the visceral and disturbing imagery found in the Goya exhibit. 

       I was functioning as the icebreaker for that griot, which meant I had to grab the attention of a potentially wandering audience, until Serena and Noʻu joined me, so I yelled in a performance space that resembled an echo chamber.

       I am not a stranger to yelling at people. My experiences as a slam poet have left me well equipped for such an endeavor, but I found there was a significant difference in the space of that performance when I, by necessity of choreography and the chance behaviors of people, had to advance in a fashion dripping with verbal violence on a group of unsuspecting spectators. Another significant difference: they could run away from me (a seated audience is far less mobile), and a few of them did, not hysterically, but with decided trepidation.

       Yes, because we were channeling an interpretation of Goya’s work, we wanted to spice our performance with discomfort, but could we have achieved our aims in another way? I found out later that our audience had actually enjoyed the confrontation, but what if we had walked among those museum-goers and whispered our poetry? What if we had kept our distance and adhered to audience expectations? What if we had walked up to them and just started speaking conversationally in a normal tone, at normal levels, about all the perversity we excavated from a few illustrated panels?

       These questions are not intended to condemn the method we chose. I know Noʻu, Serena, and I enjoyed ourselves, and I think we got as much pleasure from the process as we did from the performance. However, if we want to continue pushing at the boundaries of where and how we perform our poetries, we need to ask these questions. We need to create a long list of what, why, and how. We need to speculate on what will happen if I’m in your face and what will happen if I’m whispering to you lying on the floor.