Thursday, December 10, 2009

M.I.A. reading series & harvest time

[Jade Sunouchi, Tom Gammarino, Ken Quilantang]

Yesterday was the second reading in the M.I.A. series at the Mercury Bar in Chinatown, organized by Ph.D. student/poet Jaimie Gusman. I'll digress first, then move on to the heart of the matter. When I asked the bar owner if owning a bar was like small press work, he said, yes, in both cases you need to define your mission. His was to set up a bar under the aegis of Mercury (a mercurial place), where the music was not too loud, and there are no televisions. So, while the Chinatown alleyway in which it sits is none too inviting, the bar itself is. The first reading in November had featured readings by Ph.D. student, Ranjan Adiga, Jerrold Shiroma, a poet new to Honolulu, Joseph Cardinale, a Ph.D. fiction writer, whose novel is forthcoming from Fiction Collective 2, and myself. Oh, and then there was the performative homage to Michael Jackson by a former flight attendant and current student in fiber at UHM, who somehow managed to make the aftermath of 9/11 funny.
Last night featured work by Anjoli Roy, an M.A. student in fiction and non-, Ken Quilantang, M.A. fiction writer, Jade Sunouchi, M.A. poet, and Tom Gammarino, whose new book, Big in Japan is just out. The readings were punctuated by the work of an improv duo (In Your Face Improv, or IYFI) that worked off prompts like "sheep" and "run" in hysterical fashion. [Photo: INFI, with Chris Riel, foreground, who MC'ed the event]

Two things strike me as significant about this reading series. The first is that there is an audience for writing in Hawai`i that is not exclusively local or indigenous. You could call this "graduate student writing," if you wished. But there has always been writing in Hawai`i that cannot be classified in the usual ways--those that fit the magazines and/or the academies here. This series confirms that power of that kind of writing, even as it sometimes mixes it in with local writing (Ken Quilantang's writing is very much of this place, but benefits from being contextualized in this way). The second is that the range of writing going on in the graduate program is wide. Ken Quilantang's work is gritty, sometimes violent (last night's story contained passages about a young man beating his father with a baseball bat, for example), while Tom Gammarino is making more postmodern moves, using a character named "Brain" to pirouette brainily through concerns like love, religion, and cross cultural desire. Joseph Cardinale's story last month about a boy who falls from a tree and then speaks from the dead oddly complements Jade Sunouchi's novella in poetic prose that features a dream sequence in the underworld of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In that dream sequence, the protagonist, Aster, confronts the wrath of Malinche (who slept with Cortez) over the incursion of tourists to Mexico. Ranjan Adiga's story was about barely suppressed homosexual desire in contemporary Nepal; Anjoli Roy's non-fiction piece about a farflung relationship and the rats who interrupted it (literal rats). Jerrold Shiroma presented slides of his Shakespeare sonnet project, in which he takes the texts of sonnets and makes them, by "photoshopping them like hell" into stunning visuals. And mine on dementia seemed out of place in a bar, except that so many of my conversations these days are about demented parents (and grandparents) that all imagined boundaries of decorum appear artificial.

Good news, then, that Jaimie has gotten some funding for the series. It's a wonderful addition to Honolulu's literary scene.


Yesterday was also harvest day, the last day of my Literature & Creative Writing (273) and Form & Theory of Poetry (410) classes, the day final projects were due. Here is a photograph of my new collection of chapbooks. First the pile of chaps on my living room floor, then some details, taken by Allegra Wilson, who is hoping to reconstruct her book based on photos she took yesterday.

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