Bamboo Ridge’s latest is a mixed plate of familiar and fresh

Literary / The 34th-year anniversary of Bamboo Ridge is a triumph. Without losing its pidgin populist edge, this small, independent press has eclipsed the old, academic, Hawaii literary establishment. In Issue #100, there’s much to like.

The drily shimmering “Sky Watching” by Gail Harada contrasts predictions and expectations with reality and chance. Children watching a comet “did not comprehend its impact on them,” but another night, “the moon emerged from its eclipse . . . like the princess of clouds and mist . . .”

Marie M. Hara’s “Sugar” depicts a lonely Big Island plantation child living with her grandparents, “imagining that almost transparent fairies could appear out of the shrubbery . . .” Lisa Linn Kanae’s understated “Bobby Pin” is narrated by a local girl working at McDonald’s Waikiki who is hurt, though she’d never admit it, by a white customer’s insult. An excerpt from Mayumi Shimose Poe’s novel features the mother of a soldier’s child, in a fraught airport homecoming scene. In Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s “Weiner,” a youth copes with a pressuring father (“Be a winner. Not a whiner.”) by underachieving at school and finding heroic pride in a hot-dog eating contest rather than the help he gives his grandmother. Lee Cataluna’s “Koloa” also has an ironic twist that eludes the narrator. In “Da Local Spirit” Lee Tonouchi spins a masterly and funny haunted-house tale. Characterization, conflict and dialogue are strengths in these three works that one wishes appeared more consistently in this uneven collection.

Sylvia Watanabe’s poignant poem “Atomic Histories” juxtaposes Hiroshima, where “A door had opened into the air/ There you were then you weren’t,” with Bikini, where the bomb “turned the ocean inside out.” Wing Tek Lum litanizes the deaths of ordinary Nanking citizens–the fishmonger, the tea house waitresses, the lantern maker’s baby–in “The Murder.” In Amalia B. Bueno’s persona poem, a native Hawaiian prisoner tells her wrenching tale.

Darrell Lum portrays Cane Haul Road artist Grant Kagimoto and includes several of his irresistible designs, such as “hardly any char siu nowadays” and “quack seed.”

Especially rewarding are 20-odd pieces by writer-philosopher Albert Saijo, a 442nd vet who hung with the Beats and lived in Volcano. He insisted on all caps: “LETS TAKE DOWN EVERY SIGN AND BECOME A JAM OF EXISTENCE.”

Bamboo Ridge still cultivates an outsider sensibility, even though its contributors have long since become insiders. Still, while 34 years is impressive, a little magazine called The Dial once changed the universe of words in nine.

Bamboo Ridge Issue #100

Edited by Eric Chock and Darrell Lum

Bamboo Ridge Press, softcover, $18