TinFish 19 / Since its inception in 1995, Tinfish Press has consistently been a spunky purveyor of local writing. Susan Schultz, a professor of English at UH–Manoa, started the small company to provide a platform for experimental voices from the Pacific. From the start, Tinfish has been more Ginsberg than Silverstein, a subversive voice with little regard for convention.
Just as striking as the language in Tinfish books is the gorgeous do-it-yourself aesthetic. TinFish 19, a 60-page collection of poetry, is bound with exposed staples and thick black tape cut with jagged imprecision. A center spread, the books sole piece of art, depicts a black-and-white web of smeared chalk and raw pencil edges–shapes that appear to be drawn on a whim of instinctual angst, rather than precision. It properly evokes the sensation of some of the more abstract, experimental pieces within this collection, such as Philippines-native Barbara Janes Reyes’ “She: Chant/Fragments,” which, evocative of Gertrude Stein, layers phrases into textured landscapes resistant to interpretation.
Elsewhere, local poets are more concrete, waxing political. Ryan Oishi laments waste on “Today I ride TheBus”: “Today the people on Oahu will consume 333 million gallons of fresh water.” Emelihter Kihleng’s bluntly titled “Don’t come to my island” footnotes Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, (the author’s indictment of the Antiguan tourist industry). Yes, it’s that kind of joint.
In Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture, Pidgin guerilla Lee Tonouchi’s humorously charismatic tone carries the weight of a revolution: integrating local Pidgin–or what he calls “the first language of the majority of locally born children”–into Hawaii’s educational system. Most compelling is his argument that fostering Pidgin will spark new forms of art: “If people is born Pidgin and dey tink in Pidgin, den shouldn’t dey create oddah forms of art in Pidgin…like Pidgin artwork and Pidgin dance? Serious kine. Wot would all this look like, sound like, feel like?” For now, we can only imagine.
Charlotte’s Way, a sprawling poem by Norman Fischer, comes undone, literally; the spineless book is constructed like an accordion-style scroll, which, when fully unraveled, touches 20 feet. Fischer, a Zen Buddhist priest from San Francisco, writes stream of conscious prose that dabbles in both the monumental (death, faith, survival) and the mundane (cooking tofu, leaves blowing). Mostly, Charlotte’s Way settles into a meditative lull, Fischer’s lines slipping into one another like melting wax.