Saturday, April 18, 2009

Celebrate Reading: TINFISH 18.5 meets junior high school!

[Top: Tiare Picard, Ryan Oishi, Kai Gaspar, Jill Yamasawa
Bottom: Enthusiasts from Kalakaua Intermediate School in Kalihi; click on photo to see more students]

Today, April 17, was the large Celebrate Reading festival at UHM, organized by Lorna Hershinow, local literary activist--readings at the Art Auditorium and HIG, as well as break out sessions in Kuykendall, where the English department resides. Ryan Oishi read his "Walmart: A Love Poem" at one of the two opening sessions, and then he and I and Tiare Picard and Jill Yamanasawa and Kai Gaspar met a raucous group of students for a 50 minute session of readings and Q&A. We quickly found out that a large group of the students had taken the bus from Kalihi (they are Kalakaua Intermediate School students) to earn extra credit from their teacher (praise be to him or her). Another couple of students had taken TheBus from the North Shore. This speaks volumes about wonderful teachers inspiring their kids in the public schools. After Kai and Ryan and Jill and Tiare had read from their poems in 18.5, the questions began. One girl from the Kalihi group was especially eager to ask questions, and her questions were themselves a form of poetry, clearly marvelous, but also like koans, hard to comprehend. After she had asked a mysterious question about the imagination and poetry, she followed up by asking: "does the imagination interfere with your past?" After much back and forth, I asked for a final comment and one boy raised his hand and said, "poetry is AWESOME."

After lunch, Ryan, Jill, Tiare, and I had a workshop session. Jill offered an exercise based on the phrase "I am," which included naming yourself based on the objects in your house, historical events, food, and a couple of other items. Tiare chose to give them a word game. Find a word, any word, and play with it, see what happens. Ryan had little time, but proposed an exercise that caused one sentence to grow and ramify with words and phrases added to the end and the beginning. "Love is a mango" erupted into a marvelous compound thing!

Here is my riff off of Tiare's exercise. My word was "torture."

I torture syllables--
I screw down their toe nails until they bleed
I pour water into their mouths until they drown
I sic dogs on them
I smear syllables with fecal matter
I take off my clothes for the shy ones, put them on for the brazen
I keep them awake, play them loud music, interrupt them with guards
I make syllables stand until they cannot, put them in tiny boxes
and introduce insects to them
I pry open their tiny hearts and replace them with handcuffs
My syllables will say anything.

And so I return to the subject of poetry & politics & the way language has been degraded by such as Bybee and Yoo, Cheney, Addington, and Bush.

But let me end by saying how lovely it was to see all these young people listening to poetry, and then writing it themselves!

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