Donovan Kūhiō Colleps constructs Proposed Additions out of
many parts: a house blueprint; his grandfather’s cancer journal; the
instructions to a pulmonary respirator; the story of a daddy sea horse;
and an investigation of O‘ahu’s leeward side, its histories and its
mo‘olelo. In this hybrid work—documentary poem, prose reflection,
elegy—Colleps recovers his grandfather’s memory by way of the filing
cabinet he left behind. As the poet carries the metal cabinet strapped
to his back across the ‘Ewa plain, he recovers more than this intimate
past. He also recovers significant cultural and linguistic histories of
place in a part of Hawai‘i now being turned into fields of templated suburban houses.
from “Daddy Sea Horse”
I found him behind
the Appliances folder.
Daddy Sea Horse, preserved
like so many things aren’t.
In a dirty plastic
watch box tomb.
His perfect shape
a memory organ,
his dried skin
a dark yellow. Each
ridge of his spine
confirming the fractal
geometry of generations.
reason 3: sight & sound. the daddy sea horse is anchored to a plastic plant in the tank and people are yelling behind me. i do not understand the words being thrown but i see hands cutting the air in the glass reflection. my sister storms out with her naked children, and when the front door slams, daddy sea horse explodes. i do not count his babies because there are too many. a desire to make a shaka in the water overwhelms me. but it passes.
I brought him
to the dining table
“Here,” I said, “here.”
Standing in the spot
where I swear
it all happened,
and placed the box
in front of her.
“Where dis came from den?”
The hole in daddy sea
horse’s belly was
still there cavernous, and
he was leaning
against the clear side
of his container, staring
out at the empty
plate of sausages.
“Nana bought dat,”
“long time ago,
from one adoze
Donovan Kūhiō Colleps was born in Honolulu
and lives in Pu‘uloa, ‘Ewa, on the island of O‘ahu. He is currently
working toward a PhD in English at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa,
focusing on creative writing and Pacific literatures.
If you find Donovan's book compelling, try other Tinfish titles. Books about place include Kaia Sand's Remember to Wave, Barbara Jane Reyes's Poeta en San Francisco, and Craig Santos Perez's from unincorporated territory [hacha]. Hawai`i authors include Steve Shrader, J. Vera Lee, Lee A. Tonouchi, Lisa Linn Kanae, and the many authors of Jack London is Dead. Books of documentary poetry include jai arun ravine's and then entwine. Elizabeth Soto's book, Eulogies, complements Donovan's elegy to his grandfather. And so on. It's a weave, a lei, a labor of love.
ka mate ka ora: a new zealand journal of poetry and poeticsincludes an essay by me on Alzheimer's. (Please click to see the essay!) This issue comes out of a conference held earlier this year in Auckland on poetry and social action. Christopher Parr has a response to the conference that includes a critique of my work--not the essay but the documentary writing--to which I intend to respond soon (though I'm very happy to see it).
Here is that section of Parr's essay:
The speaker I heard most willing to push the envelope for social
change through poetry was Susan Schultz, in her explication of texts
generated in part by her mother’s verbal disorientation because of
Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps appropriately, she presented a serious
challenge to me-as-audience or reader. By appropriating scrambled
sayings and disjointed speech patterns from her mother and others with
that debilitating disease, Susan was certainly expanding the range of
what ordinarily gets included in poetry, and in regular language use,
so she was again questioning the boundaries of ‘the social’ and what
constitutes social action in communication. I found myself made
uncomfortable by this source of practice, without being sure I should
be. The problem had to do, I thought at the time, with whether her
mother could and would truly choose to consent to her mis-speaking being used like this.
On reflection, I think it may really have to do with appropriating unintentionally impaired
speech from someone else. I am myself a fan of appropriation
strategies and have indeed used found speech and language, and I
readily concede that in most if not all instances we writers use such
found language without the consent of the initial utterer or writer.
But usually the utterer has a choice whether to have said or written
what we appropriate, no matter how discombobulated their utterance
might have been.
In the case of an Alzheimer’s victim – or, I reflected, of my own
mother who has survived a bad stroke but has serious though not total
aphasia and at times gets words very scrambled – we can see brain
impairment causing them to say something which is not what they would
want or mean to say, were they not impaired. Yes, such utterances are
thus language in the world. But poetry as art is (by definition) a form
of display. So does one honour the person whose scrambled speech,
caused by brain impairment, one displays in texts presented as poetry?
Or, since they may not truly identify themselves with what is coming
out of their mouths, is something less than honourable going on in this
appropriation? I am raising this as a genuine question, definitely not
as an accusation, since I see a number of variables involved in getting
an accurate picture of what the practice is, including seeking
consent. Happily too, I know I am raising issues that arise in the
avant-garde, a context that exists as much as anything to highlight
discomforting matters, especially about boundaries and acceptable or
admirable practices. Susan’s work takes its cues in this regard from
those like the Dadaists – both in the derangement of language and its
ways of making sense, and in terms of what experiences we humans have
and pay attention to, in order to be aware of our capabilities for
awareness. My own anxiety is that the issues Susan raises for me are
moral ones, more than aesthetic – but then, that would surely come with
the territory of ‘social action.’ Thank you to Michele Leggott, Lisa Samuels, and Murray Edmond for making this possible, and to Pam Brown for being herself in Auckland, as she everywhere. She was one of the featured speakers at the conference. Here's to you, Pam. The ad for Ryan Higa ain't bad, either.
In the aftermath of the long witnessing of my mother's Alzheimer's and death, I've written a couple more light-hearted poems for my children on the occasions of their birthdays and remembering their adoptions. Sangha adores the St. Louis Cardinals, as do I; Radhika is a terrific soccer player. So here's the one for Sangha, which appeared in Talisman a while back: