Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Writing Found Poetry" (Sidewalk Blog) & a Faculty Reading

Today's English department colloquium featured faculty writers Marie Hara, Rodney Morales, Anne Kennedy, Gary Pak, Kathy Phillips, myself, S. Shankar, and Caroline Sinavaiana, in that--very alphabetical--order. There were fascinating threads, including one that involved sewing and mending, which linked Marie Hara's piece about "us locals" (with several wonderful local voices in it) with Anne Kennedy's selection from "The National Costume," on "the effects of plenty." In Kennedy's piece, a mender/seamstress learns to read the tears in clothing that is brought to her, tears usually caused by "passion," but not presented to her as such. S. Shankar read from a novel-in-progress, "Demons and Lovers" about an Indian girl forced to choose marriage offers by a young and alluring, but poor cook, and an older, less alluring, but rich man. (She chooses the latter over continued poverty.) Kathy Phillips's piece about Asian American vets dying, going to heaven, and talking about Ehren Watada's refusal to serve in Iraq (they didn't appreciate his resistance), linked to my own presentation of some installations by the Sidewalk Blogger. Gary Pak read from an epic poem about Korea in a Korean form, the shijo, while thinking about ways in which his three volume epic might resemble The Faerie Queen, which he studied with our chair, Mark Heberle, back in the day. Caroline Sinavaiana presented from a memoir-in-progress, "Nuclear Medicine," about her treatment for breast cancer; the manuscript is written via three traditions, American, Samoan, Buddhist, but also concerns western medicine, which she terms "another country." She also delved into the history of Queen's hospital; I, for one, hope she does more with that material, which adds historical depth to her story. While each piece was distinctive, there was a continual dance between them, and between cultures. When Shankar spoke about the work of translation within a piece of fiction written about India, but intended for an audience outside India, several writers nodded significantly.

I presented a slide show of my Sidewalk Blog of 2007-2008 (the link is to the fourth album of blog photos), riffing off of Jules Boykoff's and Kaia Sand's book on guerrilla poetry, which includes a chapter on the project. I had never presented my signs before, nor had I answered questions about them. So the exercise was valuable for me, and (I hope) for anyone planning resistance to the state of Hawai`i's evisceration of the university and public school system. The slides offered a compressed narrative of slides from the origins of the project (the word "impeach" on a narrow piece of wood).

Other signs were piggybacked on pre-existing messages:

to the middle period (where old Christmas signs were doctored):

to the last signs, which played off of Orwell's contraries ("war = peace" and so on).

I also showed one of the memorials placed beneath telephone polls, which included a piece of wood with the current death toll in Iraq, as well as a pot of flowers and an American flag. My colleague Laura Lyons asked a fascinating question as to why I said they were "like shrines" and were not shrines. My answer was overly complicated, though it led me other places. The direct answer would be that, unlike shrines to people killed in car crashes at that very telephone poll, these used telephone polls as platforms for anti-war interventions, by way of marking the dead.

The long version developed as I responded to Laura. These were not simply memorials to the dead; they were highly politicized. (The American flags were mostly cover for a subversive anti-war message.) The intentions were different. But when I thought more about it on the way home I realized that no memorial reflects simple emotions--all memorials reflect grief, anger, and so on. These memorials distinguished themselves from shrines to car crash victims only in scale, perhaps, and because they took on the government. But one of the signs that carried the number of Iraq War deaths, which I hung on the Marine Corps base fence, was left behind when all the other signs were taken down. So shifts of contexts could easily change the meaning of the signs--and work against the Sidewalk Blogger's intentions.

A couple of my students had wonderful comments. Lynn Young was taken by my story about the IMPEACH sign that kept growing a leaf over the IM so that you could only see PEACH from the road. Clearly, the Sidewalk Blogger had found a conversation; she could not know what it was about, however. (The entire question of reader response proved knotty and difficult to suss out--were signs ripped down due to anger, or because a road crew member was paid to take them down?) Jaimie Gusman asked what is was like to "write found poetry," a way of putting the activity I had not thought of in so many words. That it was poetry only occurred to me some time into the project, when I began to get more playful, more willing to play with the limitations of the form (especially the limitations of the given material used to create the sign, everything from narrow bands of wood to large canvases of cardboard to recycled political signs turned around to reveal a blank "page.")

Good to have had the opportunity to think more about my project, but also to sense the connections, however attenuated, between our larger concerns as faculty of UHM and citizens of this place (Hawai`i) and the globe. In the current climate of budget cuts and threatened retrenchment, such gatherings seem especially precious.

1 comment:

wii zubehor said...

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