Summer Books 2011

Summer Books 2011

Summer Books 2011 / War, Surf and Every-ting in Between Li’dat

Bamboo Ridge #98
Bamboo Ridge Press
255 pages, $18

The latest issue of Bamboo Ridge (Issue 98) once again showcases the latest and the finest in local literature, and it opens with the Editor’s Choice Awards. Awards for this particular issue include the poetry prize won by Tamara Leiokanoe Moan for “June 1986” and “Revolution of the Spheres”; the prose prize for “Falling Water,” written by Mary Lombard; and the New Bamboo Ridge Writer Award, which went to went to Emil DeAndreis for “The Pigs of Hilo.” All of which are terrific reads, but the issue has many more enlightening surprises.

Themes of surfing and war accidentally popped up in this collection, and the results are readably fascinating. In “A Question,” Gail N. Harada equates war with cancer: “the daily number of deaths, locations, causes–/ documented by a timeline that resembled a hospital monitor screen/ dotted with tiny maps multiplying like small tumors on the page.”

In the surfing section, Carl Millholland takes us to Point Panics in the short story “Surfing Hollow Days,” a love letter to the fabled surf spot. “Panics didn’t have a beach,” he writes. “It sat off a wall of rocks left over from when the area was a landfill from a nearby incinerator. You’d have to crawl down the rocks to get into the water. You’d slip on your fins at the bottom and wait for a swell to rise and jump in…” It’s a sincere, open-faced bit of nostalgia that only a surfer could have written.

There are other word-joys to be had in the issue, with contributions by such names as Noe Tanigawa, Rachel Ana Brown, Brenda Kwon, Gavin McCall, Da Pidgin Guerilla (Lee A. Tonouchi) and many others. All in all, it’s yet another exciting and provocative collection on Hawaii life from the folks at Bamboo Ridge.

Let Her Run

Say Throne
Nou Revilla
Tinfish Press, 2011
13 pages, $3.00

Say Throne is a collection of seven poems by Nou Revilla. The 13-page issue is the first release in the Tinfish Press Retro Series–chapbooks published monthly in limited runs by Tinfish Press.

A Cultural Studies scholar at UH–Manoa, Revilla’s poetry questions what it means to be a woman in the face of religion, biology and indigenous culture. True to a long feminist tradition, Revilla writes without apology and by the final poem we want to thank her for it.

The first poem is “Sentenced,” a smart selection to open her collection. Laid out in a timeline table of the Monday through Sunday week, each day a journey of menstruation where the moments come across with compact restriction. The spine running through “Sentenced” is unwavering, but the prose remains curvy and feminine, an interesting dialogue that asks: Is a woman a prison to herself? Revilla’s response maybe lies in the final two sentences:

Give her

Her own period.

And let her run


Noting the lack of punctuation, let’s take that as a “no.”

For some, maybe “Sentenced” is overdesigned. Too literally structured. But the choice doesn’t feel arbitrary, considering the poem is, well, called “Sentenced.” Same for the closer “Say Throne,” which incorporates scene directions to convey the didactic and spoon-feeding nature its title suggests.

Regardless, Revilla never really returns to this postmodern style (with the exception of “Catch”). Though by acknowledging her subject in such a strict manner from page one, she somewhat frees Say Throne to be more traditional with subsequent poems like “Getting Ready for Work” and “How to Use a Condom.” Their subject matter is political, but at least you can breathe through them.

It’s “Pull Without Push” that’s the uninhibited standout–the least reserved in this mini-canon. As an ode to pre-colonial notions of sex, women and power, Revilla is successful in writing with an abandon that allows for eroticism without feeling forced (sex-cessful?) leaving us with slippery fragments like:

of making eyes biting lips saying “fuck” sexy

Fucking formed like vowels between our legs–

not like other girls and their ABCs–we

knew rope like A E I O U.

Sound out these poems for yourself. You may be surprised by what you hear.

Heal, Instruct, Inspire

Kumu Hula: Roots and Branches
Kumu Hula: Roots and Branches
Ishmael W. Stagner
Island Heritage Publishing
152 pages, $35, $20 (paperback)

Perhaps it’s best to say right from the start that Kumu Hula: Roots and Branches doesn’t attempt to offer the “one and only” historical account of what hula is and what it has become. What author Ishmael W. Stagner offers us is an education about ancient and modern hula, the former being a style many of us have never really seen.

Stagner takes us through the tragic mid-19th century and accounts for the many changes and losses hula endured. “The religion dimension hula once had, either ceased as people converted to Christianity, or it went underground.”

Throughout the book, the author details Hawaii’s political changes, from a semi-feudal system of chiefs to a European monarchial system with a king, parliament and constitution, and then brings us to hula’s lowest point–the territorial years.

“Businessmen quickly tried to commercialize anything that could be labeled Hawaiian. Cultural leaders soon realized that they had to take ownership of traditions such as the hula, or these would be lost to those eager to package Hawaii for mass consumption.”

Stagner touches briefly on the controversy of competition and contemporary costume, but it seems that the impetus for the book is designed to ask us to consider a value system that not only allowed hula and its originators to survive, but also to prevail over forces that nearly destroyed them.

What was once a tradition of a remote Pacific archipelago is now an international phenomenon. If you don’t know why, or how it happened, read this book.