Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pre-Orders now available for Lehua Taitano's _A Bell Made of Stones_

Tinfish Press's next book, _A Bell Made of Stones_, is by Lehua Taitano. We are now accepting pre-orders in order to pay the printer-piper (to say nothing of the postal-piper). So, if you are interested in buying this stunning book of visual poetry from Guam by a writer who is Chamorro/Appalachian, then please order early, rather than late, from our website. The book was beautifully designed by Allison Hanabusa. Go to the website for a sample of her work, as well as more advance notice and the pre-order button:

Advance notice:

Lehua Taitano’s unforgettable poetry joins a new wave of Chamorro and Pacific literature. In A Bell Made of Stones, she bravely navigates the currents of mixed-race indigenous identity, transoceanic migration, and queer sexuality through a series of experimental (and lyrical) typographic poems. With the typewriter as her canoe, Taitano chants homeward “for the flightless, to stretch roots, for the husk of things set adrift.”

—Craig Santos Perez, author of from Unincorporated Territory [hacha] and from Unincorporated Territory [saina]

A Bell Made of Stones is a synaesthestic kaleidoscope—where we listen to “sheen” and “husk” and “rope,” where the canoe can sing, and where what seems solid might “settle as through a sieve.” Taitano’s poems—her “stampings”—pile-up lyrical language into gorgeous collisions of type. Yet, as “visual evidence of the echo,” the poems also gesture to what is not there, such as “the surfacing and submergence of islands of sound” made by a typewriter. As poet-guide, Taitano shows her reader how the map of her every day contains assumptions and aspersions cast by others, reminding us that she is “with and without explanation.” These are poems where a hyphen can be both a “perforation” and a “stitch.” Be patient. Wait out assumptions. Ready oneself for revelation.

—Kaia Sand, author of Remember to Wave

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Meditation: On My Mother's Ashes

Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us.

--Sir Thomas Browne, "Urne-Burial"

I picked up my mother's ashes from the post office the other day; they came in a priority mail box, certified (not registered, as the post office employee told me was mandatory). "It's because they need to be under lock and key at all times," my own mail carrier told me later. The man at Georgetown University's Anatomical Donor section told me on the phone that UPS and FedEx do not deliver cremains. He was checking my address, which he (like everyone who calls with from another time zone) could not pronounce. According to a certificate, which came in a plain envelope, my mother's body--she died on June 14, 2011--was cremated on September 2, 2012. Her remains arrived, then, a full year later to the Kāne`ohe Post Office.

The lead story in the Star-Advertiser on September 16 was "Rights clash amid dispute over mural." The mural, "Forgotten Inheritance," by Hans Ladislaus, was installed at the Convention Center 16 years ago. Since the 4th of September of this year, it's been covered over by a black cloth. Native Hawaiians, including those who protect bones against construction, asserted that "they were offended by the depiction of bones in the sand [left exposed to the elements] at the edge of the mural." According to Native American Legal Corporation lawyer, Moses Haia, "iwi [bones] of our ancestors provide us with our foundation. It's what makes us who we are."

A few weeks ago, an artist at Na Mea Hawai`i told me about a group of native Hawaiians who very secretly bury the iwi in isolated locations on the Islands. In the old days, the person who hid the bones was killed, so that his secret could never be revealed. Many of these iwi are repatriated from museums, others from sites where rampant development is taking place--hotels, highrises, highways. In his law review essay on the iwi, Matthew Kekoa Keiley describes the burial of a young man's bones, and explains that "Nā iwi kūpuna represent the immortality of our ancestors. After the flesh decays, the bones remain. The bones of our Native Hawaiian ancestors symbolize an important link between our past, present, and future." From the sublime to the ridiculous, my google search also locates an episode of the new Hawaii 5-0 called "Ka Iwi Kapu (The Sacred Bones).

When my friend Charmaine Crockett, who has a beautiful new website on issues of death and dying, saw the date on my mother's ashes (I sent her the photos that were posted to this blog yesterday), she said that the delay is grounds to sue, that there has been disrespect paid to my mother's remains. When I tell a non-native colleague that my mother's ashes arrived, he says most people apparently never pick them up. Never could there be a starker difference between cultural notions of human remains and the way they represent (or fail to) our connections to the past, and to each other. She notes that I do not sound upset by this, but reminds me that remains are sacred to native Hawaiians. I respond that I'm not upset by the delay, that what is sacred in these remains is my memory of my mother. My sense of ancestry resonates not as belonging to a larger community, but of the small unit of daughter and mother.

My mother was never one to hold anything sacred; she would not have had much interest in her own remains, or anyone else's for that matter. A vicious combination of cynicism and fear, along with a healthier dose of realism, governed her notion of death, though occasionally she'd let on that she believed in reincarnation. That belief, such as it might have been, came divorced from any spiritual tradition and seemed to be the least of what she could take from traditions she otherwise admired not. "Can Martha go to heaven?" her Catholic school friends had asked of their one proto-Protestant class-mate. I gather the answer had been no, and that no had decided her against that spiritual path.


My mother's ashes. There's pathos in the apostrophe. She's no longer in possession of them. She never was in possession of them. "How the bulk of a man should sink into so few pounds of bones and ashes, may seem strange unto any who considers not its constitution, and how slender a masse will remain upon an open and urging fire of the carnall composition": Sir Thomas Browne. Their weight is literal; there appears to be no spiritual heft to these ashes as they sit on the floor beside my computer desk. Proust describes the world of Celtic belief as one where material objects hide spirits that escape when someone walks by later. He shifts that magic to memory in his study of how the past emerges (like new life) from odd encounters with the material world (a tea cup, a madeleine). So I might say that these ashes, sitting as quietly as my mother did in the years before she died, contain memories yet to be dislodged.

Her ashes sit beside me, not in the suburban chair she sat in at Arden Courts Alzheimer's home, her elbow slipping off the arm rest, right shoulder slumped lower than her left, but in a black box inside which a plastic bag holds visible gray ash. The box's label tells me where the remains were cremated (Beltsville, MD), when (9/2/12), her name (Martha J. Schultz) and includes a "cremation ID": 026518. The last line reads "Georgetown University School of Medicine." This is her epitaph.

My husband wonders why I did not have the ashes sent to Arlington National Cemetery, where my father's ashes are interred (after quite a fight between my mother and me). That would have been more practical, I admit. But to have them here, not quite knowing how to feel about them; not yet summoning involuntary memories; unsure of what to do with the undifferentiated material that was my mother's body; this means something. Meaning must await its unfolding. Perhaps it will be stored in a warehouse with other boxes of latent memory, or maybe it will never unfold. But these ashes, if not quite sacred to me, if not quite the Christian "dust to dust," sit still as possibility, containing a future not of their own making, but of ours.

"If we begin to die when we live, and long life be but a prolongation of death, our life is a sad composition; We live with death, and die not in a moment."

--Sir Thomas Browne

"Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot turn back into firewood again. However, we should not view ash as after and firewood as before. We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and it has its own before and after. Although there is before and after, past and future are cut off. Ash stays at the position of ash and it has its own before and after. As firewood never becomes firewood again after it is burned and becomes ash, after person dies, there is no return to living. However, in buddha dharma, it is a never-changing tradition not to say that life becomes death. Therefore we call it no-arising. It is the laid-down way of buddha's turning the dharma wheel not to say that death becomes life. Therefore, we call it no-perishing. Life is a position at one time; death is also a position at one time. For instance, this is like winter and spring. We don't think that winter becomes spring, and we don't say that spring becomes summer."


With thanks to Jeneva Burroughs Stone for introducing me to Sir Thomas Browne's essay (after hearing John Ashbery recite part of it) and to Charmaine Crockett, for offering another perspective on human remains, and for her beautiful virtual talking circle on death and dying.

Later in the day, I received this "breaking news" from the newspaper: "The mural, 'Forgotten Inheritance,' by Hans Ladislaus will be unveiled again for public viewing at the Hawai'i Convention Center after having been shrouded in black cloth since Sept. 4."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Meditation: On Tragic Appliances

The Apartment of Tragic Appliances is the title of Michael Snediker's new book of poems. I carry the book around with me, though I hardly ever open it. I'm at home in Kahalu`u listening to the rain and the fan and the deaf cat's random calls from my kitchen; Snediker's book remains in Honolulu at my office. More and more my cat's meows resemble appliances, though we cannot turn him on or off and he doesn't do the dishes. The phrase "tragic appliance" hums in my head like an unguided motor, all energy and nowhere to go. What might it mean for an appliance to be tragic, or for a tragic event to be an appliance?

Apply yourself.

An appliance makes my life easier: it does my dishes, washes my clothes, cools my food. Until it turns tragic, breaks, makes my life more difficult. The appliance is a metal box with an inside and an outside; it rumbles, hums, leaks, whirls like a dervish, emits steam, runs on a timer (it has beginnings and endings, punctuated by whooshes and knocks). My appliances are private; two of them reside in a dingy room whose door closes on a floor of dirty clothes. Other appliances are public; for years, I went to the Mānoa Laundromat to wash my clothes, drank coffee at the now defunct cafe. One laundry day I thought I met Paul Theroux. He said he wasn't, but added, "Theroux honors Hawai`i by living here." He said he'd met Theroux in Bali. I didn't believe him. The private appliance allows me to write (processing my words), while the public appliance takes me out of my home and head.

Appliances are automatic. They do their work without us, though we turn them on and empty them when they're finished. Genres too are automatic; we fill them in with words, turn them on, and out comes poem, story, song. A too-simple proposition, but let's start there. Tragedy is an appliance. Once its narrative begins, there's no shutting it off; the hero falls, the heroine dies, the accident cannot be stopped in traffic. We automate our lives in art, but that is much of its joy. If I put Alzheimer's patients in children's stories, a process proceeds without my intervention, except as scrivener of a story that cannot come out right. If you follow Antigone into the tomb, you know you can't get out as the same person who went in. If I am someone with a good memory who runs into a telephone pole at high speed, I become (or am becomed) someone other, someone clean of memory.

Memory is a tragic appliance. What I remember seems automatic, but what I forget is the spin cycle that disarms me. My memories turn and turn (in the laundromat there are windows to see undergarments spinning in public), but my memories also take flight as if there were no containers for them. Forgetting is what crosses the line, becomes the red flag, beckons memory like a cruise missile strike. It knows not what it does; it's automatic. Someone else's memory drones on.

We're reading Kevin Varrone's Box Score: An Autobiography in my creative writing class. It's an app. John Kinsella wrote an autobiography called Auto. Cars are appliances, as were automats. The app makes a poetic sequence into an appliance of sorts. I ask my students to use the "shuffle" function to find poems to talk about in class. One group happens upon Rick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost the ability to pitch. His left arm had been automatic, a gorgeous appliance, but it and he broke before he returned to baseball in another function, that of outfielder. To what extent is a life an app? One with sound files (Kaia Sand's voice flits first from their devices), with collages, with poems. They seem not to match, the documents and the poems, but that's because we assume they apply to one another. Pretend they're not applied, not glued together as binary code. See what happens when you let go of that idea, the one we believe about how meanings fold together, like gluey flaps over an envelope. Marianne Moore with one flap up, tricorn hat askew.

The little boy who comes with his dad to remake our bathroom (including its appliances) has a Gameboy with no batteries. My husband gave it to him, as it was unwanted by our children, an elderly appliance. He roams the house with his little yellow box, its screen dark, the battery housing empty. He makes noises, he causes the yellow box to fly. It's better without the batteries, his dad notes. Imagination is an appliance, but one that has no immediate function. The yellow box may be tragic (it doesn't work, after all) but where it goes we cannot know because it is no more yellow box than we are.

My students are scared of our book on memory and forgetting. Forgetting can change you. The moment you kill a man in battle makes you someone else. There are images you cannot ever get out of your head. They are automatic, persistent, unchanging memories, and they never break (even if they break you). My students wonder if they could be so broken; they suspect they could. What we remember is not necessarily what is most important to us. It's our brain that causes us to forget. When the batteries run out, the electricity fails, when the mechanism cannot work, our appliance fails. La machine, c'est moi. Another student tells me Rick Ankiel, outfielder, was recently released by the Mets.

The phone just rang. Caller ID: Georgetown University Hospital. "As you know, this is about your mother's remains," says a jovial man's voice at the other end. He checks my address, mispronounces my street. Her ashes will come by US Mail. FedEx and UPS won't ship cremains. He will get a tracking number, a receipt, try to make sure they get here safely. From body to ash, from ash to US Post Office. What we love best.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Talking in Outer Space

I've never met Gillian Parrish, but I want to.  She's an English-American Buddhist St. Louis Cardinals fan and a poet.  Her new website is terrific and I'm happy to be one of her interlocutors.  This is not a typical interview of short questions and long answers.  I really like the way it turned into long answers and short questions. Here's the "encounter," as she calls it.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Meditation: On Honors 491: Memory & Forgetting

We're reading Daniel Schacter's The Seven Sins of Memory in my honors class. Many of memory's sins have to do with its lack, others with its false, or incomplete fulness. One of my students said he finds the book "disturbing." "It's like we're just a mechanism," he said, adding that "the NSA already knows what we're thinking and now people know why we're thinking it!" Another student fears her tendency toward "cryptomnesia," a word I could not remember in class, which means "unintentional plagiarism." Cryptomnesiacs are visual thinkers. They set up their days according to images of it. At day's end, they believe these images true, whether or not they acted on them.

Because of this course, I seem to have become a mother confessor of memory loss. In the elevator a colleague with whom I don't usually talk much asks me about the course (some of the index cards I used to advertise it ended up in the elevator for a while, mysteriously). The second time she sees me asks about being over 40, about why she can't remember names. I remember Schacter's diagram sketching out why we so easily forget names, that the the line in the diagram denoting a name sticks out by itself in the top left. Like the oddball in a family, this branch of the tree sits alone, lacking stories, lacking detail, without any way for us to remember its arbitrary beauty. I start to describe the diagram for her as I walk out of the elevator. I've gotten to the outer stick when the door starts to close. "There's a reason!" I call out, as she disappears behind the elevator's trap.

In class, we rehearse our forgetting: keys, cars, alarm clocks. It's like an Elizabeth Bishop poem, our litany of losses. We're spending a lot of time remembering our forgetting. I remember forgetting a student's M.A. thesis defense. I'd been on a trip to England; I'd had a hard time recovering from jet lag. I was sitting on the cream colored couch (before it was reupholstered in another version of the same color) when the phone rang. The committee was in a small room about to launch the defense and where was I? I was where I could not drive in quickly enough, so I appeared via speaker phone. I remember we talked about his unexpected use of a form John Ashbery used in April Galleons. The form was one of repetition with a difference; see the Kalevala. And then I made another mistake of forgetting with that same student. Remember all those directed readings I did for free? Remember the publications? I want to say, but of course those do not count in the face of my unprofessional forgetting.

Avishai Margalit writes about ways in which forgetting can be unethical. Something about an Israeli officer forgetting an atrocity. When I go to amazon to look for his book because I cannot find my own, I see he makes a distinction between "thick" memory and "thin" memory, the memory that binds us together and that which does not. That I had forgotten my student's important dates, twice, bordered on the unethical, was also due to a conflict between us in classes (and yet I was the boss, yes, and hence more ethically challenged). No atrocity that--the student is thankfully now a tenure-track professor in another department--the sense that the sins of absent-mindedness and transience could be interpreted--by him and me--as unethical is a lesson I cannot forget.

But if an army officer acts unethically when he forgets a war crime, what of nations, governments, that insist remembering theirs? The archives of Hitler's Germany and Pol Pot's Cambodia are full of faces. Almost all of us remember faces, even when we cannot bear to look at them. Children, parents, people with suitcases and those in pajamas without. Tourism develops around genocide. See Emma Willis's work on "dark tourists." (And there are tourisms that ignore others.) Genocide is not only destruction on an enormous scale; it is also the forced manufacture of memories. Bad ones, vivid ones. Their faces are like suns. We need to witness them obliquely. I cannot look directly at this small girl from the S-21 website because she is sad, because she resembles--at least racially--one of my family members. I cannot look at her because I know this to have been one of her last acts as a living being, that of staring into the camera at those of us who cannot save her.

Memories are like the humidity in Cambodia; they stick to everyone's skin. We traveled with Khmer Rouge survivors. Each one, at some unexpected moment, usually while we eating another large meal, opened up. There were stories about having no shoes, stories about lost family members, stories about walking to Thailand. There were the stories that were only hinted at (something happened in the camps). There were stories that filtered down to their children and to the rest of us. We held those stories as if they were mercury, not knowing how to embrace their poison without wounding ourselves. The wound, we knew, was a gift (in German the false friend for gift is "poison"). But it was a gift we wanted to accept and then to contain, to corral, to put into a box to cool.

Our semantic memory (for facts) is best when we repeat information over time, when we enact the way in which it first came into being. Episodic memories remain because we experienced an event. If you are under 80, try remembering Pearl Harbor, and then turn to your memories of 9/11.  The first set of memories will be textbook, the second set involve waking up in your own bed (in Hawai`i) to the news ("airplanes flew into the Twin Towers and they came down") that we all shared (thick memories) because of our televisions. But the repetition of something forgotten makes for odd memory, indeed. I remember my own episodes of forgetting; they are litanies of something that did not happen, all the more painful because it did not. An odd watered down inversion of PTSD, the persistent memory of something that did happen.

My mother never had an especially good memory. As a young woman, she recalled, she'd heard about mnemonics, had given it a try. She was introduced to a woman whose name also signified a cow, maybe a Jersey. The next time she saw this woman she called her "Mrs. Hereford," and that was the end of her memory experiment. As a child I suffered from loss. Loss of stuffed animal, loss of person, loss of whatever I had misplaced, even at a very young age. Loss triggers memory, but memory triggered what in me proved to be depression. I've read that depressives have over-active memories, and I believe it. Memories clustered when I was depressed, like sequins on fancy dress. They shone like pins. As an adult I experienced my mother's painful loss of her own memories. Whose pain was it? It's its own kind of loss, this loss not of a thing but of memory itself. When memory loss ends, for it is process-bound, emotions associated with loss drain away. For now, an emotion provokes my memory; in that future I cannot know because I cannot remember it, forgetfulness might drain emotion from me. It's part of the mechanism. "Meet Mason on Monday," said my student, when I asked them to write a memorable sentence.

"The Last Modernist," a prose piece I wrote about the ethics of forgetting can be heard here.  The poem originally appeared in Boston Review; Oct/Nov2004, Vol. 29 Issue 5, p 26.

Monday, September 2, 2013

SPD Press of the Month & Steve Shrader Event News

[from a press release of sorts]

Tinfish Press recently published Steve Shrader's posthumous double album _The Arc of the Day / The Imperfectionist_. See here for more details:

Shrader was an instructor in the UHM English department for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He was also a journalist (for the _Hawaii Observer_) and a graphic designer (he worked for many years for _Hana Hou!_). After getting an MFA from Iowa in the late 1960s, he seems to have stopped writing poetry until shortly before his death in 2007, when he completed the two book-length volumes of poetry. He lived in Waimānalo for over 35 years, and many of his poems reflect his sense of place there.

Koa Gallery at KCC will be having a gallery show of Shrader's photographs (many of which can be found on the book cover) and some collages. The photographs were taken in Portland, Oregon, where he went on frequent press checks for _Hana Hou!_

--On October 3rd, there will be a reception between 4:30-7 at Koa Gallery.

--October 5th at 1 p.m. at Koa Gallery there will be a reading from his new Tinfish book, designed by Allison Hanabusa. We are seeking guest readers for that event. The exhibition will run until October 11.

Please feel free to come by the Tinfish office in 214 Kuykendall and have a look. No strings.

aloha, Susan

PS  Tinfish is press of the month at Small Press Distribution in September.  See for details and a rather devastating discount on our books.