In her debut book of poetry, How to Be a Good Ojoosan, Tammie Oka explores her identity and the social and intimate relationships formed through growing up in Hawaii. Her local Asian-American heritage is layered in pidgin and slang, and the inspiration for her work seems to be found in the book’s telling dedication, “For Margaret Park Nishimoto, This is how I keep your memory alive.”
Born and raised in Honolulu, Oka possesses a lyrical gift, one that commands the open-form and rhythmically enables the reader to savor the idea that memory can transcend self, gaining entry into a collective literary place.
In the poem, “My Space,” Oka writes,
I painted the walls blue
to remind myself
that womanhood does not come packaged
in a pink paper box.
I remove the ribbon
from my eyes, and though
“Genesis” says I am only a fragment
of man, there are caverns of a woman
where man has
They’ve paced me ten seconds behind your feet
declared us fragile creatures
to be supported with wire, metal
corsets and bras,
but I prefer to be unbound
with my tits dangling
towards the floor…
What isn’t buried beneath layers of local matter is uniquely satisfying, both to the tongue and the mind.
Kahuaomanoa Press, 2008
72 pages $12