Friday, December 6, 2013

Dear future self,

And then, as though this week wasn't heavy enough, I receive a box, sent from my mother in Florida, filled with years worth of rejection letters and packets of poems from various literary magazines. Moral of the story: dear present-self, please be more kind to your future-self and don't hoard so much paper. On a brighter note, I found a short poem I like very much from my MFA manuscript, called "So long to the storm," which comes at a very fragile time, when my mother prepares to sell the house I grew up in. It's a rare occasion when a poem becomes the fortune teller:

The drive after the wind
took my mother
was wildly green.

Each palm's tilt
exact like a cow,
but not family.

In the window's loss
an enormous highway
strung into beads.

The windshield is broke
and the houses are gone
and no one is singing.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Thoughts on Composition

A student of mine, in response to a homework assignment, writes the dictionary definition for composition: “the acts of creating written works.” When I give ENG100 students the kind of writing prompt that pushes students to discuss the meaning(s) of composition and their personal strengths and weaknesses, I always get a dictionary definition. Sigh. But it's not a terrible thought: composition is an act as well as a creation. Process and Product.

This student goes on to talk about the importance of creativity, like when he texts a girl he likes and needs a "creative hook." This is a cutsie anecdote that I'm sure is relatable to most of my students. What really strikes me is when he talks about growing up as a deaf person and how he always had practice a word tens times harder than anyone else. These words signify moments of struggle through practice and pronunciation. This is repetition. But, as Gertrude Stein reminds us, there is no such thing; each repeated word comes to us with a new meaning and intention. And through this student's words, I find a sentence to mediate on:"I am not a strong writer because English wasn’t my first language and I am profoundly deaf."At UHM, English (Standard) isn't many students' first language. As this student indicates, it's not that which makes this student "not a strong writer,"but instead it's his deafness.

Deafness, as defined by the IDEA, is “a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification.” But there are also other kinds of deafness that are cultural, colonial, philosophical, theological, political, and so on. Can first year writing [re]pair these kinds of deafnesses with linguistic deafness, through the process and creation of writing?

I am thinking here of my husband, who hears everything despite his eardrumless right ear. He writes beautifully, but even more importantly, long ago, found a process for translating the world into a product with writing. There is no real point to this post. I'm just thinking about language though loss and gain, impairment and repair, as learned and taught. I am also thinking about the stunning poetry, both written and not, that come the simple act of creating.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Next Big Thing - Donovan Kūhiō Colleps

Donovan Kūhiō Colleps answers these questions for "The Net Big Thing"!

1. What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Sun In My Mouth (from an e.e. cummings poem I really like, and also a Bjork song) or Funeral(s), we can’t decide.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

It came, and is still coming, from everywhere, Donovan. You know better than to ask that kind of question to yourself! But we guess, mainly, from personal experiences, real and imagined. Also from the fragmented narratives in As I Lay Dying (Faulkner) and Midnight’s Children (Rushdie); early 20th century cubism; Tobias Wolff’s short story “Bullet In The Brain;” the works of Albert Wendt; and the Kanaka Maoli concept of makawalu (multiple perspectives, lit., eight eyes).

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Not too sure, but we cling to the idea of that being a good thing. Some of it unfolds into verse, and then folds back into prose. We’d probably shelve it right where the fiction section ends and the poetry begins. After working in many bookstores, and never understanding the reasons why they categorize books the way they do, you’re the wrong person to ask yourself that question.

4. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Haven’t thought that much ahead, but since it’s set in Hawai’i, it would be cool to have everyday people playing the everyday characters in the book. Maybe a big casting call for residents of Hawai’i, only!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Told from five perspectives at a funeral service, Sun In My Mouth/Funeral(s) tells the story of the man in the coffin (he’s one of the five!) covered in floral arrangements, as his descendants cry, scream, laugh, and spit their way(s) toward defining who he was, and who they are (hopefully).

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Whichever small press would have me.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It started in 2007, I think, so…math!…6 years, but I never think my projects are really “done.” Hopefully I will with this one.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Probably any of those stories where time isn’t linear, or recognizable, until you realize which objects in the narrative(s) are triggering those shifts.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My family.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

A lineage of dogs, a shark god, a searching for the first breadfruit tree, and the typical “I love you/I hate you” family dynamic. All in one (narrative) day!

Mahalo nui loa to Jaimie Gusman for tagging me! It was fun, and surprisingly productive to talk to myself! Two amazing poets are next! 

Lyz Soto: Besides having one of the most infectious laughs around, Lyz is also one of the most amazing slam poets, ever. Her work, on and off the page, constantly changes the ways I see, and react to the world. Lyz is the Executive Director of Youth Speaks Hawaiʻi, a program of Hawaiʻi nonprofit Pacific Tongues. Her incredible chapbook, Eulogies, is available from Tinfish Press. She also makes an amazing brioche. I'm pretty sure she can do everything.

David Kealiʻi Mackenzie: I met one of Kealiʻi's slam poems before I ever met him in person. The poem was a performed love letter to the comic book character Wolverine, and it blew my mind. Keali'i is an activist, a poet, a scholar, and a librarian. But most of all, he is one of the most beautiful people I have the privilege of knowing!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing - No'u Revilla

Mahalo to the necessary and sharp-as-a-broken-bottle-in-a-bar-fight Jaimie Gusman for the invitation to do this “Next Big Thing.” I first met Jaimie in an undergraduate poetry course, taught by the wonderful Susan Schultz, and have consistently been jolted and fed by her writing.  Here’s my food for thought:
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing

What is your working title of your book?
The Aubrey.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
            I grew up with some of the most playful and exacting storytellers. As a young girl, it was natural to believe in creatures and gods and shape-shifters, in the land and ocean coming to life. I was taught to believe in women, most of all. So I’ve always gravitated to mermaid stories, always itching to write one of my own. One that was playful and exacting.
The Aubrey is a collection of poems about a young mermaid who leaves the ocean for a pool gig at a luxurious hotel in Maui. The collection takes a kinky, critical look at sex, myth, and tourism in Hawai‘i.

What genre does your book fall under?
            poetry – autobiography – travel – experimental bedtime stories

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Beyond the page, I’d prefer to see The Aubrey as an installation project: amplified poetry meets the Cells of Louise Bourgeois, maybe. Although for the hook-maker’s voice, Kathleen Turner would blow my mind.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A mermaid gets a gig at the best hotel in Maui, and people are flooding the pool deck to watch her flip her hair, flick her tail, and kiss pretty Pua with the pearly shells…until a hook-maker arrives and the mermaid vanishes – hold the chlorine, cabana boys, The Aubrey is dirty and awake.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
            I like the idea of smuggling Xeroxed copies of it into local high schools when they teach sex-ed. Or into Women’s Studies courses that spare one token week to indigenous women’s writing. Smuggling seems apropos. Yet to be published by a small, committed press would be amazing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
            Work in progress / Still swimming.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
            Leche, R. Zamora Linmark
            Dictee, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
            Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson 
            “The Dancers,” Sia Figiel
            “Sexual Frustration,” Sage Takehiro
            The Book of Jon, Eleni Sikelianos

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Living in a family of mythic women.
Being a fisherman’s daughter.
Experiencing “the best” hotels in Maui from behind the scenes.
Remembering how I aspired to Disney’s Mermaid when I was little, and needing now to redefine that reach entirely.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
            There’s a thumb-sucker, a hook-maker, and an enigmatic mother who can hold her breath forever. If you appreciate documentary poetry, I play with spa menus, pool signs, mayonnaise jars, and scripts for tour guides. Read The Aubrey poolside. But N O  P I S S I N G allowed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Next Big Thing Interview

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

Thank you, Kirsten Rue, for the invitation to “The Next Big Thing.” Kirsten and I received our MFAs together, and ever since, we have been the tightest of Facebook friends. Kirsten writes beautiful (poetic) prose and also blogs at A Blog Of One’s Own where you can catch all the details about her current project The Minister which sounds like a MUST READ. In the meantime, here’s my attempt at "An Interview Of One’s Own…" so to speak...

1. What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The Shekinah or the Shekinah & Other Spirits - titles are the hardest for me.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’m a huge fan of Alice Notley, and have been stewing over her book The Descent of Alette for years. Alette is this woman finds herself travelling the underground subway system of New York City to find “the tyrant,” who is, of course, the figure the old, dead, white guy that runs the poetry world. Alette is also a spirit-woman who transforms into her spirit animal, an owl, to defeat the tyrant. SPOILER ALERT: Alette wins; she takes down the tyrant with words, and when she emerges above ground, the city is empty. The world has to start over, so to speak, with Alette as its hero. Pretty ballsy. A woman world-starter. I love it.

The work is so lovely I had to hold my throat with two hands. Her attempt to write a “feminine epic” is what got me geared up to attempt my own, featuring the Shekinah (the hardly-spoken-of feminine divine presence of God), which literally is translated from Hebrew as “the dwelling” place. 

3. What genre does your book fall under?

I imagine you would find this book in the Poetry section. Next to other poetry books that fragmented lines, broken characters, and preternatural narratives.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Wow. Has any poet been asked that? Has an experimental book of poetry ever been made into a movie? I will have to look this up….but I suppose I would want Catherine Keener to play me because she is badass, “God” would be played by Samuel L. Jackson, and the Shekinah would be played by Betty White if only for my early-adulthood obsession with The Golden Girls.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Among a group of women who live to serve God, one woman calls upon the Shekinah to free them from their situation, however, when the Shekinah rises from her grave, what emerges is the ghastly figure of...[read to find out]. 

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My hope is that a really kick-ass small press will publish it. 

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m still drafting. My relationship with any project is an unfinished one. But with that said,  I’ve been working on this project for about a year and suspect it will be ready by summer 2013.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I guess I already mentioned The Descent of Alette and that’s the best comparison I can make. But I’m also influenced by and see a link to Michelle Robinson’s detective/mystery book of prose-ish poems, The Life of a Hunter, which I read many years ago. There is also Alice Ostriker’s amazing book of poems, The Volcano Sequence, which tackles feminism and religion.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Actually, living in Hawaiʻi has inspired me. I live on an island so rich in culture – even in the face of so many cultural losses—that’s it’s difficult to not think of your own cultural identification(s). In a very physical way, I am isolated, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on land and with stories that I have no genealogical ties to. However, the physicality of that experience had helped me explore the narratives that have formed me—for better or for worse.  I talk a bit about this in Jack London is Dead: Contemporary Euro-American Poetry in Hawaiʻi, which was just recently published by Tinfish Press. You can also find some of my Shekinah poems in that anthology or listen to me babble on HPR here.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

If you like work that pushes the edges of narrative, language, and genre or if you are a hipster, I think you’ll dig it. 

Thanks for reading this madness. And thank you Kirsten Rue of tagging me. Now it's my turn to tag some great writers that I know:

Donovan Kūhiō Colleps: Besides being a totally awesome human being, Donovan is an amazing poet and fiction writer. I worked with him while he was Editor-in-Chief at the Hawaii Review & found out that he has a great sense of humor, great taste in [reality] television, and is a stellar visual artist (is there anything he can't do?). His work is beautifully written, cutting close to the bones of family and language. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. You can see him perform his work here, but turn the volume up! (It's worth it.)    

No`u Revilla: Known around town for her sexy poetry, No`u's writing is deeply rooted in language play, femininity, and place. She is a fantastic performer, which makes her work undeniably magnetic. (It doesn't hurt that she is drop-dead-gorgeous, of course.) No`u is a PhD student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she fuses the critical with the creative. We're lucky to have her chapbook Say Throne published by Tinfish Press & I can't wait to hear what she's working on next!Read a review of her work here!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Prose Poem from ENG313 - Process Writing

Here is the result of using my students' lines through the course of the semester to create a prose poem. I'm going to miss my smarty-pants students!

Then You Die 

She said, “I confess that I've often used depression as expression.” For example, “I kept reviewing the memories of his touch.” For example, “I am sorry, but this has lingered on for too long.” For example, “Three of my bank accounts have been emptied, my savings no longer exist, and I’m $30,000 in debt.”

She searched through the glove compartment for the half-torn, outdated map. The trash bag she held was filled with all the toys and gadgets that were listed and wished for once. A storm hits and rains thoughts, emotions, letters, concepts.

 I fast-forward the camera that lives so lopsidedly in my brain, to the end of the party; her decisions then had a gravitational pull. I guess after we left, and the roof fell in right on top of him. It’s a relief to be alive, to take the chance and be known. Nothing broken but just a slight pain, until you're just holes and holes and holes.