Saturday, April 18, 2009

Skyping Craig Santos Perez

Friday was the day to Skype Craig Perez in my Poetry & Politics class. After the usual series of technical glitches, we commenced. I asked Craig to read the first page of poetry in his book and to talk to us about his concept of the page as space. On this first page, "from Lisiensan Ga1lago"(15), names given to Guam are put in dialogue and spread like islands across white space--not an Olsonian field, but a Perezian ocean. Craig considers that there are currents between the words; the closer the words are to one another, the more tension is created between them.

Our next conversation was about translation. from unincorporated territory offers the non-Chamorro reader translations into English, although many of them have jet lag, the English translation following its Chamorro word by a page or two or three. This forces the reader to go back in the book, Craig says. He then told us about a significant moment in the text, where words are mistranslated. It happened to be my favorite moment in the text, when the word "teritoriu" is said to mean "my heart" (79). But that is not the case, so the English speaking reader gets it wrong (tourist asks for directions to Hanauma Bay and is told how to get to Yokohama Bay instead?). Translation is an aesthetic and a prosodic act, Craig told us, as well as one that includes readers on different sides of linguistic borders. Given two paths in a wood (or two currents in a sea), Craig chooses them both--he both translates and does not, spells Chamorro in the accepted way and spells Chamoru in the nationalist manner. He writes in the tradition of his storytelling grandparents and in that of the MFA program at USF from which he graduated in 2005. His poetry is as diasporic as he is; what is inevitably not a perfect fit becomes a place in which to play with different possibilities. He is at once Duncan the mythologizer and Truth seeker and Levertov the activist and political truth teller.

Craig talked about his work as a Chamorro activist, including his five minute speech at the United Nations this past October, where he talked about the negative effects of militarization on Guam. He considers this a moral act rather than a political strategy, considering the UN's lack of power to change conditions on Guam. Significantly, Craig also talks about working to inform the community of Guamanians in the Bay Area. The goals of this work are to get petitions signed, raise money and stop the military build-up on Guam by the United States.

When asked to talk about the organization of his book, Craig said that the poem's several sections had each been self-contained in early drafts. But each section seemed heavy and long when he read it in toto. So he began to tease out sections, weave them back and forth through the book, until he arrived at a poem he describes as being like a banyan tree, its roots aerial and spawning new parts of the tree. The ancestors live in these trees, and so can inhabit the book itself.

Oh, and Craig says his manuscript was rejected by another press months after it was published by Tinfish, and at about the point that it was #1 on the SPD best seller list. Hele on!

1 comment:

Lyz Soto said...

I enjoyed that conversation very much! Thank you for the opportunity, and given the episodic nature of the work too. . .I think I'll add hana hou!