Monday, January 18, 2010

Tinfish 19 (with Lyz Soto): The Launch

Yesterday's Tinfish board meeting, at Cafe 2600 in Puck's Alley on the corner of King and University Avenues, was dedicated to solving some problems, like workload. As Tinfish has grown, the strain has begun to show. We have lacked procedures for making the transitions from words to design to press easier. We find ourselves more a small business than a guerrilla enterprise these days, surely a mixed blessing. While we are publishing significant books (hell, we got bestsellers at SPD!), we aren't laughing much any more, as we did years ago at an early meeting, when Bryant and Gaye proposed setting up a Tinfish van and driving around the island serving up poetry and snacks. That the university and the non-profit sector feel the real threat of budget axes only makes the sensation one more of anxiety than celebration. So we're adjusting the workload, asking members of the board to do more work, and holding our breaths (or I am, in any case). So it was good to turn to the launch of Tinfish 19 and Lyz Soto's Eulogies, just around the corner on King Street, at Revolution Books.

Here is a picture of the audience, composed mainly of graduate students and some friends of the poets. In some ways, what Carolyn Hadfield of the bookstore calls "the poetry problem" was proved (the missing were legion), but in other ways, the liveliness of the art was evident.

Tinfish has always aimed to surprise through shifts of tone and visual design. These shifts were on display yesterday. Gizelle Gajelonia, whose 13 Ways of Looking at TheBus is forthcoming from the press, is the very image of a nervous student when she first stands in front of an audience. She breaks all the rules I always set up (no self-deprecation, no acting lost, no nervous chatter) and somehow gets away with it, because very soon she launches into a reading as funny as her tone is dr--like a very dry martini. Gizelle read her poem, "13 Ways of Looking at TheBus," which riffed off Wallace Stevens, even as it took on local places and politicians (she mentioned Mayor Mufi Hannemann so often in her reading I began to think she was on his campaign staff). She followed that up with "Bustainability," a poem about Wahiawa that featured a girl in love with "Ikaikia, numbah 52," and finally her take on John Asbhery's "Instruction Manual." This last piece takes Ashbery's mock touristic take on Guadalajara, a place he's never traveled, and goes instead to New York City, where the speaker wants to attend Columbia University and mingles with all manner of stereotyped New Yorkers. It's a kind of Versailles of parody, that poem. Gizelle was then supposed to leave and attend a wedding, but I found her mingling with the audience after the reading.

Ryan Oishi read his poem from Tinfish 19, a poem that evoked a mixed reaction in the first meeting of my graduate poetry workshop this semester. It's a letter to the editor dressed up as a poem; it's a poem that parades statistics; it's a rant about the overdevelopment of Hawai`i. It's maybe not even a poem. Ryan takes on the traffic problem, the water issue, the incredible cost of housing, and his own complicity. He finished up with a short poem about the Father, Son, the Holy Ghost, Father Damien, and three pimples that had appeared on his face. He made deft links between Father Damian's care for lepers and the outbreaks on his own face (deft because he milks--to use an utterly awful metaphor--the situation for humor, recognizing the perspectival abyss of his comoparison). Ryan and Gizelle are only two among many local poets who have proved the literary value of TheBus.

Jaimie Gusman, Rachel Wolf, Jade Sunouchi, and Lurana O'Malley were guest readers, presenting poems by authors who could not be with us for reasons of geography. And so we heard work by Janna Plant, Aurora Brackett, Jennifer Reimer, and Emelihter Kihleng. This has always been one of my favorite parts of a Tinfish reading, the reading by proxy section (though Carolyn caught me when I suggested there would be "live readers," wondering out loud if the others would be "dead.") Between that gaffe and my forgetting to buy leis, the afternoon was not all together put together well!

Lyz Soto concluded the reading with a performance of her small book, Eulogies. Lyz is head of YouthSpeaks Hawai`i and herself a slam poet, so she called this her "first poetry reading." She commented on the fact that emotion is welcomed in slam venues, but tends to be tamped down in "regular" poetry readings. Her own performance was emotional, and utterly unlike what one hears in readings where the tone is "poetic" and monotone. I have blogged elsewhere on her book, but suffice it to say that her performance was an expression of necessity, not simply duty.

Note: Tinfish's board is composed of me, Gaye Chan, Bryant Webster Schultz, Jon Osorio, Masako Ikeda and John Zuern. Last year's office assistant was Jade Sunouchi; this year's is Rawitawan Pulam. I am grateful to all of them, and especially to Gaye for over 13 years of (un)common and unpaid labor on the project.

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