Renderings of nature and nurture

Literary / They must have been stories before they were real, the Hawaiian islands, don’t you think?” asks Brian Doyle in the introduction to this anthology.

I was expecting something more literary–on the order of rigorously composed and edited short stories and nature essays, say–from a decade-old writers’ group whose mentors have included W.S. Merwin, Bill Kittredge and Barry Lopez. Instead, it’s a collection of well-crafted, earnest, if too-often sentimental and fragmented, poetry and prose.

Part of the problem may lie in self-consciousness. In “Just Visiting,” Pam Woolaway, glimpsing night fishermen on the reef and families at dinner, thinks, “But I will never feel completely local.” Dot Pua feels grateful for being included in a grave-cleaning trip with a local friend, as does Jean Rhude after practice with her local canoe club. In both cases the nature writing is fresh and evocative, yet fails to resonate more deeply.Gems include Namoi Sodetani’s recollection of her grandmother: “When I was young her/Hunger filled the house . . .” Mahealani Perez-Wendt’s “Remembering Lawai Valley” describes her family’s garden: “We learned about kinship and from the earth, we learned our place.” Kuualoha Hoomanawanui’s “Wanini” starts with fish and poi and ends with a family in a rowboat staring up at the moon, “Hina’s full radiant face beaming,” as the mother reveals, “there are men up there walking on her surface.” Joan Conrow explores the different Hawaiian names for mists–the koi‘ula “carry rainbows . . . even intact perfect arches,”in Waimea Canyon, but “. . . the Kokee mist was special, alive.”

Hoolaulea: Celebrating Ten Years of Pacific Writing

Edited by Brian Doyle and Mahealani Perez-Wendt

Pacific Writers’ Connection, 2012, 124 pages, $18.95