ALLEN BRAMHALL Reviews
Jack London is Dead: Contemporary Euro-American Poetry of Hawai'i (And Some Stories) edited by Susan M. Schultz
(TinFish, Hawai’I, 2013)
Here's an anthology likely will induce a wait a sec response from many people. I mean many as in the half-scad within the sadly closed circuit of the poetry world. Schultz here collects work from people with Euro-American ancestry who live or perhaps have lived on the islands. Schultz, a Hawai'i resident since 1990, has for twenty years, as editor of TinFish, published work by native Hawai'ians. Do you wonder why she here publishes writers seemingly of the fat old tradition?
It's complicated, and I will leave the thorough explanation to Schultz' thoughtful introduction, but I will say that Otherness sits central to her thesis. Schultz includes a poem by a Euro-American, written in the voice of an elder Hawai'ian. This elder throws out a trout that she catches because it is a haole fish. Not proper Hawai'ian food. That trout is a mark of Otherness for the Euro-American.
Those of the Euro-American tradition—Schultz uses the term—are a distinct minority on the islands. History, of course, paints a harsh picture of colonial malfeasance (that's the polite word for it). The bitter remnants of colonialism don't wash off easily.
So, see, there's a sense that Euro-Americans cannot properly write about Hawai'i, the land, the traditions, the mythic (you saw the invisible scare quotes I set around properly). Like I hadn't ought to write about Cuchulain, what with English DNA in my blood at the supposed controls. And yet.
The concept of race is one of the foremost stupid shorthands that we clutch so determinedly. Culture, however, reads thrillingly on our everything. The difference between races is minor, biologically speaking, but the cultural grasp at descriptive adjectives has created the Trumpian wall of self-satisfied exclusion. Ef that and let's move on.
But there is something real and bearing here. You know, we are all isolatos. You may be pure Hawai'ian, and yet a stutterer, or obese, or painfully shy, or any other stunting from normal. That sort of thing. Suddenly you can think that poetry sits on the page, not comeuppance.
At which point, I remark the book. It has poems.
Poems gather words or other energy units into concentrations of greater energy that could be useful. That's how we roll. Wiggly stuff gets in the way of that concentration of greater energy. Now, I write this as an invitation to find out for yourself. Blah blah blah culture, it concentrates prejudice. Don't get stuck!
I should, mench that with Potes and Poets Press, I helped initially publish Schultz's Memory Cards & Adoption Papers, some of which she includes in this anthology. I didn't write the goddam beautiful thing, I saw the light. The manuscript really jumped from the pages. And isn't that the point? Schultz's TinFish has published a number of works of national renown. The work is not exotica, however foreign or different the provenance of the work may seem to be.
Reading the authors in this anthology, no one style manifests itself. Scott Abels seems to mine search engines. Short, random-sounding phrases that seem to have met each other for the first time arise in his poems. This is “New City”, part of a series:
is said to leave.
has a ban
The people drove
they didn't help.
eight fifty four
has a fungus.
a natural crotch.
We see a sense of Otherness here, looking around at normative strangeness. Much that I read in this anthology has notes of that. Part of the landscape, but somehow stepped aside. Suffice to say that different voices speak in this anthology, and different ways.
So what is culture? Why is culture? Where can we meet?
We only have seventeen authors here, hardly a quorum, so we cannot assume tendencies or schools. Each author received space at the end of their section to make a statement. In a way, these statements secure the anthology's importance. The statements make evident that all are writers and they all reside in the world, in the words and ideas that come to them. Of course they are authentic. Let you be an authentic reader, then, with the words and issues at hand. Poetry is the effort to see thru the invisible wall.
Re. Allen Bramhall: A diminishing flow of poems, a continuing insistence in watching superhero movies with my son, an increasing interest in the healing, lifebound elation of creativity, and some websites: