Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The introduction to _Jack London is Dead: Euro-American Poetry of Hawai`i (and some prose)_

To find out more about this book, and/or to order it, click here.

Susan M. Schultz, Introduction:
Jack London is Dead: Euro-American Poetry (and some prose) of Hawai`i

In Honolulu's multi-ethnic community, he was constantly reminded of his dearth of roots, his nonexistent heritage of homeland, customs, music, food and language. Part of a wandering family, he has no geographical place to call home. No sweetly remembered visions of hills, woods or country roads to revisit; no proud ancestral plot of land passed down through generations. Only a paltry handful of relatives, scattered across the states, for whom reunion is unthinkable because there was never any union to being with.

--John Wythe White, “Surf Cities”

FAQs (before the fact):

What are Hawai`i's demographics?
Caucasians are a numerical minority in Hawai`i. According to the 2000 census, Hawai`i's population is 24.3% white, 41.6% Asian, 9.4 native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 21.4 % two or more races. That's when you organize your statistics under “one race.” Other means of organization yield different results, elevating the percentages of all of these groups. These are not the only groups, just the most numerous. The white population is a minority among minorities, although whites, along with local Asians (with the exception of Filipinos) tend to be well-educated and to wield political and economic power in excess of their numbers.

Why do you employ the term Euro-American, which no one in Hawai`i actually uses? Euro-American seems a good umbrella term for the different categories of whiteness in Hawai`i. Kama`aina are writers whose families have lived here for generations. Local Haole include writers who grew up here, speak Pidgin, know the local culture and references. White or Caucasian writers would be those who came to live here, at least for a time, although they're also referred to locally as haole. Crucially, Euro-American is a term that does not detach whiteness from culture. If I am German and Irish (as I am), I carry aspects of those cultures and attitudes with me, whether or not I can directly identify them. I also participate in the dominant American culture, one that is often seen as bankrupt but whose influence is pervasive. (In what follows, I do tend to fall back on the term “white poet,” if only because it's shorter than Euro-American poet.”) As a poet educated on the east coast, I participate in a tradition of Euro-American poets from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson through Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery and Lyn Hejinian, a tradition that grafts itself uneasily—but surprisingly—to the traditions I have encountered and learned about in Hawai`i.

Why title the book Jack London is Dead?
The title is an homage to Jessica Hagedorn's Charlie Chan is Dead anthology of Asian American writing. Just as Charlie Chan, with his broken English and his Swedish actor's face, has been a problematic figure for Asian American writers, so Jack London is a writer whose work about Hawai`i is deeply problematic to native Hawaiians and others. The writers in this anthology work hard not to appropriate the stories of this place and its inhabitants. Euro-American poets in Hawai`i have their own material to work from, all of it vexing. [Jack London represents the old canon of Hawai`i writing; the poets in this volume represent a generation of writers who have experienced the necessary reaction against that canonization.]

What is it like to be a Haole?
Haole is the local term for “white” or “Caucasian.” Originally it meant “without breath” and “foreigner”; even as its meaning can be neutral (“that haole guy who sits in the back”), the harsh echoes of its original meaning co-exist with the neutrality of its present. “Haole” can also be used as an insult, to mean someone who is overbearing, who acts entitled, whose ear is deaf to local and Hawaiian cultures. At worst, “haole” is the word that comes after “f*cking.” Interestingly, one of the best descriptions and investigations of Haoleness is by an Asian American writer, Keiko Ohnuma, in “Local Haole—A Contradiction in Terms? The dilemma of being white, born and raised in Hawai`i.” In this 10-year old essay, Ohnuma writes: “White has never been invisible or normative in Hawai`i. It was superior, dominant, and then it was overthrown. It is this overthrow—at first social, then political and cultural—usually not expressed as such, that represents not only a resistance to colonization and external forces, but that has been full incorporated into the hegemonic” (274). She uses the word “overthrow,” which resounds with the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. The resonances are probably too strong, but her argument that white culture was later marginalized is right on. The word “haole,” too, connotes more than anyone outside Hawai`i would know: “For while a Caucasian appearance might open the doors to jobs or privilege, “haole” as an identity is not the same as white. Whiteness is not a culture; it is a position the local haole does not know how to take. And localism is a position they are still not allowed to take” (283). Local whites, in other words, are neither here nor there, neither local nor unmarked. In her more recent work, Haoles in Hawai`i, Judy Rohrer notes that “whiteness in Hawai`i is always marked and often challenged” (2). Rohrer is a white woman whose family moved to Kauai when she was seven; she grew up haole. She takes her cue from Ruth Frankenberg's White Woman, Race Matters:”White women need to become conscious of the histories and specificities of our cultural positions, and of the political economic, and creative fusions that form all cultures.” This is not, Frankenberg continues, in order to reinforce the too-simple dualisms or to “valorize whiteness.” Instead, she calls for a need “to develop a clearer sense of where and who we are” (1993, 204).

Where and who we are. These sound like the right cues for us poets, too. Not all the poets in this anthology grew up in Hawai`i; the roll of names reads like a cast of diasporic characters. Many of these poets came to Hawai`i when they were adults. Among those who grew up here, many left. They had the privilege to come and go, to experience the stresses of “haoleness” but then to leave. That privilege is not without its catch-22, however. The privilege to move away can be seen as a reaction against the difficulties of staying, difficulties that include publication, as well as the problem of how to make a living in such an expensive place. The complications of this position are reflected in much of the writing, which uses cultural references that are Euro-American, but also some that are native Hawaiian, and many that are simply “of Hawai`i.” Euro-American writers are expected to have their careers on the continent, not in Hawai`i. In 2005, Ron Silliman noted “that is it—or always has been, up to now—virtually impossible for a writer to go to Hawai`i & then become widely known & read on the mainland. You can go there if you’re already famous – viz. W.S. Merwin – but the more common result is either for the poet to head back to the continental U.S., usually pretty quickly, or to disappear into the sun glare more or less entirely.” Ah, the “sun glare.” Leaving aside the condescension, however well-meaning, of Silliman's statement, his desire for Hawai`i's Euro-American writers (he mentions none other in this post) to be read “back stateside,” as he calls it, there's another problem. That problem, precisely the one that concerns me here, is that Euro-American writers are read on the continent, but not so much at home in Hawai`i. Post-internet, it can be much easier to find a readership on the North American continent (and in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain) than it is to find one in Honolulu. And this is often true whether or not the poet writes about Hawai`i.

The attention paid to Euro-American writers in Hawai`i, while not always derogatory, is often so. Ian MacMillan, when he first began writing about Hawai`i, was publically called to task for doing research on canoe-making in books rather than by talking to Hawaiian elders. W.S. Merwin has taken the most severe criticism of any poet, over his book The Folding Cliffs, based on a memoir that Jack London originally appropriated from Pi`ilani. This narrative told the history of Pi`ilani's husband Koolau, who suffered leprosy and evaded authorities on Kaua`i for years in the early 1890s, at the time the Hawaiian Kingdom was being overthrown on O`ahu. In an essay titled, “The Literary Offenses of W.S. Merwin,” Kapalai`ula de Silva writes, “If it is a masterpiece [as Ted Hughes claimed in a blurb], it is a masterpiece of literary colonialism.” Later in the essay, de Silva argues: “Merwin’s epic, however grand in scope and language, fails to honor Pi‘ilani’s simple, bottom-line intent: the truth.” Here we have, at best, a cultural divide: what is truth in an epic poem? Native Hawaiian truth is different from Merwin's truth. While I find this essay extreme in its attack on Merwin, I have also found myself explaining to white writers on the continent why such an attack happened, why it is to be expected, and why it should not be dismissed. I mention this controversy not in order to flesh it out, but to point to the difficulties of writing about Hawai`i. Merwin has lived on Maui since the 1970s, where he has long been an environmental activist. But his many decades in the state hardly immunized him to being called an outsider. So the problem remains: what can a Euro-American poet write about? How can she or he be responsible to this place on which there have been so many claims? How to answer the question posed by another of Merwin's poems, “Chord,” published in The Rain in the Trees (1988), namely the question of linguistic colonization?
     While Keats wrote they were cutting down the sandalwood forests
     while he listened to the nightingale they heard their own axes echoing through
     the forests
     while he sat in the walled garden on the hill outside the city they thought of their gardens
     their gardens dying far away on the mountain
     while the sound of the words clawed at him they thought of their wives
     while the tip of his pen travelled the iron they had coveted was hateful to themselves
     while he thought of the Grecian woods they bled under red flowers

     when he lay with the odes behind him the wood was sold for cannons
     when he lay watching the window they came home and lay down
     and an age arrived when everything was explained in another language 

What pronoun(s) will you use in writing about Euro-American poets? The question of whether to speak of the anthology as a collection of “us” or of “them” has been significant to me in thinking about this collection. When I talk to other white writers who say, “I was considered an artist before I moved to Hawai`i,” or “In Hawai`i, I'm an editor not a poet,” or “that's a reading I can attend, but can't participate in,” there's an implicit “we” between speakers. But the conversation usually ends there, suggesting that we are not speaking as community, but as individuals who lament the lack of community. It's not my intention in editing this anthology to create a community composed solely of white writers. It is my intention to call attention to the ways in which we (yes, we) write about Hawai`i. Such calling-attention-to is meant to suggest ways to form coalitions with non-white writers over issues like environmental destruction, militarization, politics, and—let's not forget—the ways in which we make our art. As I write, I notice the pronouns shifting from us to them, from they to we, and will honor their divergences from a stable subjectivity by permitting them their pronomial diasporas.

Who publishes Euro-American poetry in Hawai`i? Among the small presses still in operation in 2012, only Bamboo Ridge's annual journal, Tinfish Press, and occasionally the University of Hawai`i Press, publish work by white poets. Bamboo Ridge has never published a full-length book by a white poet. Tinfish Press, which I founded in 1995, has published numerous chapbooks and full-length books by white writers, but no full-length volumes by a white writer living in Hawai`i (that will change when we publish Steve Shrader's posthumous work). Meg Withers wrote A Communion of Saints, which chronicled the 1980s AIDS epidemic in Honolulu. Many of the voices spoke in Pidgin (Hawai`i Creole English). Withers lived in Hawai`i for nine years, and has since lived in the Bay Area of California. White poets publish on the continent, necessity and choice interwoven in their books' histories. Faye Kicknosway's selected poems are from Wesleyan. Juliana Spahr published four books whose central subject is her five years in Hawai`i: they were published by Wesleyan, the University of California Press, Black Sparrow, and Atelos. Eric Paul Shaffer has written books centered in Hawai`i, published by Leaping Dog Press in Raleigh, North Carolina. Margo Berdeshevsky publishes with Sheep Meadow Press in New York State, Endi Bogue Hartigan has book from the press of Colorado Review, and my poetry books have come out from Salt in the UK and Singing Horse Press in San Diego. These writers may publish on the continent because they want to, but the dearth of possibilities here in Hawai`i surely forces their hands. To be published outside the state may offer the Euro-American poet a bigger audience, but not one as well-educated in the cultural values of Hawai`i or in its history, its languages. To be published outside the state reaffirms the impression that the Euro-American poet is not committed to working in Hawai`i. That the Euro-American poet is an outsider. Another Catch-22.

Tinfish Press has resolutely refused to publish work because it is “ethnic.” We've published experimental poetry from the Pacific by poets whose work marries (however awkwardly) local and avant-garde traditions of writing. Tinfish relishes experiments. I consider this anthology to be an experiment, one likely not to be repeated. I came to it after noting that Bamboo Ridge Press's anthologies of ethnic literature from Hawai`i have been devoted to work by local Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Hapa (mixed race), and native Hawaiian playwrights. Other publishing concerns print work by native Hawaiians (`oiwi ) and by Pacific Islanders (the new Ala Press). As I read more general anthologies of literature from Hawai`i, like Gavan Daws's and Bennett Hymer's enormous compendium, O`ahu Stories: Two Centuries of Writing, I notice that Hawaiian and local writers were offered categories within the book, but Euro-American writers floated around in categories that did not reference “the local” or “the Hawaiian,” and yet never touched whiteness as category. Some of these writers could be found in a section about Waikiki, for instance, whose connection to whiteness is mostly by way of tourism. Tourism is the outside flooding in. The ways in which white writers are pegged as “outsiders” makes them, in the eyes of editors and publishers, more like tourists than like native or local writers.

Who teaches Euro-American poetry in Hawai`i?
In researching course descriptions of English 370, Ethnic Literatures of Hawai`i, I find no recent evidence of Euro-American poets or fiction writers on the syllabi. Even where the course narrative for Fall, 2011 includes the problematic category of “settler groups,” there are no books by Euro-Americans, only local Asians. The frame to the course, no matter who teaches it, oddly mirrors that of ethnic studies on the continent, marking writers of color as “ethnic,” Euro-American writers as non-existent. Surely, Hawai`i is one place where white writers are marked as ethnic, where their work can be read as such. When I went to the website for the Ethnic Studies Department at UHM, I found listed a course called “Caucasians in Hawai`i.” When I clicked to find the description of syllabi, I found a list of courses taught since 2006. Nowhere on that list did the course on Caucasians show up.

Speaking of editorial practice, in what way is this anthology an “experiment” for Tinfish Press?
Years ago, I taught a group directed reading on small press publishing, and talk turned to the ways in which publication issues are fraught in Hawai`i, we came up with the notion of “positive critique.” Positive critique is what editors do; seeing the absence of an important kind of writing, say, they move in to fill the gap. Rather than attack institutions that leave them out, they create new institutions, presses and reading series mostly. In the 1990s, Bamboo Ridge was criticized for not publishing native Hawaiian writers; `oiwi was founded to provide a place for their work. This anthology is such an act of positive critique. I write to suggest that more publishers (some not yet in place, I suspect) print work by Euro-American poets and that they do so in the long form. Books, not single poems here and there.

One of my fears in pointing to this non-category category, Euro-American poets, is that it will prove too persuasive, that white writers will read and write for themselves only, that the larger community will reify the category (either as another way to re-marginalize white poets or as a way to honor them only as such). This anthology poses a paradox; I'd like to call categories into question by asserting the presence of one that exists but has been too long left out of polite conversation. Only if white poets prove that we have something to offer to the conversation will we be able to join it, under different terms from those that existed until at least 1980, if not longer. One venue at which these literary conversations are already taking place is the MIA (Mixing Innovative Arts) Reading Series, founded in 2009 by Jaimie Gusman, a Ph.D. candidate and poet in the English department. These readings occur once a month during the school year, with workshops in the summer. It's a venue that is open to every kind of writer, musician, and performer. The cross-fertilizations have been striking.

What experiences do Hawai`i's white writers have in common, then?
I direct the reader to the statements by each of the poets included in the anthology. They are eloquent testimonies to the ambivalent status of being white in Hawai`i. These writers share the awareness that it was mostly white people who suppressed Hawaiian culture, who brought Asian contract labor into Hawai`i, and who to this day—as a dominant force in the US military and politics—have made the state into a militarized zone. They are also aware that white writers have appropriated Hawaiian texts, remade them and circulated them as flawed “truths” about Hawai`i. Does the name James Michener come to mind? There's guilt in the blood-stream of the white writer. But Euro-American poets also chafe against totalizing notions about who they are and what they can or cannot write. They chafe against the notion that they are “mainland” to the local/indigenous writer's “Hawai`i.” One of my students, Mason Donald, who grew up in Hilo, graduated from public schools and from the University of Hawai`i, wrote the following poem out of frustration. The gatekeepers he refers to were white, another of the many ironies:

My Potatoes
Don't write about Hula,
she explains to me. It's not yours.
Try working with hula
hoops instead. That's more fitting
to your . . . . personal subject position.

No, she says,
don't write about Kamapua`a.
Try working with something more
related. Do you eat pork?

No, don't write about Waikiki either.
Let's see you describe
your home. Where are you
from exactly?

I'd rather you stay away
from Pele, too, she explains.
Pele's such a wrathful God,
and I'd hate for her to disagree.

Okay. What about tourists?” I ask.
Can I write about the commodification
and sexual exploitation of Hawai`i?
Can I write about the gaze?”

No, no. You don't understand,
she continues.
Write about your home.
Write about your people.

It's not easy writing about a home
to which I don't belong,” I tell her.
It's not easy writing about

This poem, written for my class in 2007, is part of a significant sub-genre, one that examines the costs of being identified as haole, as someone who cannot write about Hawai`i. (In this anthology, Evan Nagle has a rather different notion of what it means to write about potatoes.) Another such poem is by Tony Quagliano, a poet who died in 2007. He wrote a version of this poem many times, first as lament:

I stood there in the Pali wind
American, and local guide
despairing of cross-cultural understanding —
I had just recently learned
that I’m a haole

and later as satire:

A Haole Writes One Local Poem
My granmoddah wen fish
catch one trout
haole fish, dat
she trow back
catch one snappa den
hapa fish
she trow back
granmoddah den
catch one ***
a local fish
pure you know
good fo eat
good fo da soul
granny keep em 

The way in which white writers are taken to task became clearer to me when I taught a Tinfish Press book by Portland poet Kaia Sand, Remember to Wave. Sand's documentary work is about the Pacific Northwest, not about Hawai`i, but in writing out the “secret histories” of her hometown of Portland, Oregon, Sand includes the history of Japanese-American internment. She puts her work in context, writing both a forward and an afterword in which she explains her methods, her role as a poet-journalist, her family background. But two students in the upper-level class that was reading the book objected to her work. They reminded me that she's of Norwegian and not Japanese heritage, saying that her interest in the internment experience seemed odd to them. One student, of whom I've very fond, came to my office and extended the conversation by telling me that white teenagers have no culture of their own, so they appropriate other cultures. Even being an environmentalist she saw as a white person's appropriation of another group's cause. She was echoing a thought I've heard before, one that John Wythe White plays with when he writes about a character with no culture, no home, no roots (see the headnote to this introduction). That conversation stopped me in my tracks. Yes, there is bad appropriation. But equally troubling is the notion that we ought not to write and think about the histories of other groups of people, those with whom we share our city streets, our schools, our families.

Of course the sub-generic poem about being prevented from writing about the place you live in quickly meets its limits. One can only read so many of these poems without wondering if there isn't in fact something better to spill ink over than one's inability to write anything meaningful. Tony Quagliano wrote eloquent poems about jazz, ended up writing as much about New Orleans as about Honolulu. Mason Donald now teaches creative writing in Honolulu. One moves on. But where? What are shared experiences that lead to poetry that contributes to more than blasts of resentmentt? In what forms do we choose to write? How do we navigate the rocky shoals of acknowledging bad history while trying to make a better one? These are the questions that each of the writers in this anthology addresses.

There are no exact answers to these questions. The statements mostly generate more questions. But the refinement of these questions, the attention these writers devote to considering their work in the context of living in Hawai`i, all these are important to witness. Most of the poets whose work you will be reading write about Hawai`i; others write (as they would not do otherwise) out of the experience of whiteness they have encountered in Hawai`i. Faye Kicknosway, whose work is not included here (she did not respond to my emails) wrote a sequence of poems about the ways in which the Pacific is represented in Hollywood movies. Several of her poems were published in an issue of How2 in 2006 (see here: In that way, she elides the problem of writing about the places themselves, instead honing in on how Hollywood interprets those places for American consumption. Living in Hawai`i often demands that the writer use more than one genre to encompass more than one voice, that the writer move away from narrative and into a more experimental (yet firmly grounded) mode. Anne Brewster's essay, “Teaching The Tracker in Germany: A Journal of Whiteness,” includes a fine meditation on the question of just how to write out of what she calls “the intersections of Anglo-Celtic creoleness with whiteness and with Australian multiculture in a way that would address my affective dispositions and equivocations.” (5). Her solution is multi-generic, as it is for many of the writers in this anthology. It's time to honor another way in which Hawai`i has affected its poets, in this instance its Euro-American ones. To consider that writing in Hawai`i is not always about Hawai`i is another way to say that “Hawai`i writing” is more than is dreamed of in our current philosophies.

Are there enough poets to fill the book? (This was a real question.)
There are more than enough Euro-American poets to fill the book. Many of the poets one might expect to see here are not here, for reasons of editorial overlook or because they did not send work. No matter: this anthology, which makes no claims to being comprehensive, presents many wonderful poets, some of them older, many of them young and just getting started. There could have been other batting orders. This is the one that came up and it's a strong one.

Works Cited
Brewster, Anne. “Teaching The Tracker in Germany: A Journal of Whiteness.” In The Racial Politics
of Bodies, Nations and Knowledges, Eds. Barbara Baird and Eamien Riggs. Newcastle on
Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing [in press].
Daws, Gavan and Bennett Hymer. Honolulu Stories: Voices of the Town Through the Years: Two
Centuries of Writing. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 2008.
de Silva, Kapalai‘ula. "The Literary Offences of W.S. Merwin’s Folding Cliffs.”
Frankenburg, Ruth. White Woman, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. Minneapolis:
U of Minnesota P, 1993.
Hagedorn, Jessica. Charlie Chan is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction.
NY: Penguin, 1993.
Ohnuma, Keiko. “Local Haole—A Contradiction in Terms? The dilemma of being white, born and
raised in Hawai`i.” Cultural Values (6:3 2002): 273-285.
Rohrer, Judy. Haoles in Hawai`i. Honolulu: U of Hawai`i P, 2010.
Schultz, Susan M. “'Be a Haole, a Dumb Haole, or a Dumb Fucking Haole': On White Writing
--. "Special Feature: Pacific Poetries." (2:4, 2006):
White, John Wythe. “Surf Cities.” In Short-Timers in Paradise. Honolulu: Anoai Press, 2000.

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