Dr. Craig’s 11-Step Program to Curing “Mainly White MFA” Sickness

Does your MFA program suffer from “Mainly White MFA” sickness (symptoms include few to no students of color)? If yes, this program is designed to bring some healthy color to your department or your institutional racism back!

Step 1: Funding. Offer full or reasonable funding packages. Writers of color no longer want to be part of your debt plantation.

Step 2: Hire. Hire faculty of color (who should comprise at least half your faculty). Student writers need mentors who understand how to write about racialized experiences and how to survive and succeed as a writer of a color.

Step 3: Retire. Incentivize retirement for the mediocre white faculty that you hired 20 years ago, who are at best completely out of touch with multicultural literatures or, at worst, racist (you know who Iʻm talking about). If they refuse to retire, require “literary diversity training” under the guise of “mandatory faculty development.”

Step 4: Require. Every MFA program should have at least one required literature course in “Multicultural and Indigenous literatures” and at least one required writing workshop in “Ethically Writing Race and Culture.”

Step 5: Speak/Perform. Every MFA program should have at least one required course in performance and spoken word, and should hire at least one Spoken Word and/or Performance faculty. You have ruined the literary reading by producing a surplus of writers who have no idea how to read their work aloud.

Step 6: Community. Every MFA program should have a community engagement requirement/component. Offer tuition remission or GAships for semester-long community engagement projects. 

Step 7: Civics. Every MFA program should have a civic engagement requirement/component. Study protest literature and bring your students into the streets, into the legislature, into the public sphere. Offer tuition remission or GAships for semester-long for literary projects that engage political, social, or environmental justice issues.

Step 8: Invite. Half your reading series should feature emerging and established writers of color. I will give you a discount on my reading fee if you mention this program. 

Step 9: Brochure. Be honest in your brochure. Don’t put the only 2 people of color in your MFA program on every page of your brochure/website. Reveal the racial demographics of your faculty and student body. This will help you realize how much work you need to do.

Step 10: Partner. Partner with the many organizations that have a history of supporting writers of color, including Cave Canem, Kundiman, Kearney Street, Asian American Writers Workshop, VONA, Canto Mundo, IAIA, Pacific Tongues, Youth Speaks, Brave New Voices, Split this Rock, Urban Word, and more. Offer scholarships, featured readings, special issues in your program literary journals, etc. 

Step 11: Accept. Accept the fact that you must change your program. Accept that you have not done enough to support writers of color. Accept that it will take time to rebrand and rebuild trust. Accept that you may not be ready for us. Accept that the passion, fire, and talent of writers of color might burn your program down. Accept that only we can help you rebuild this broken system. 

Dr. Craig’s 15-Step Program to Cure the “Mainly White Room” Poetry Sickness

Does your literary series suffer from “Mainly White Room” sickness (symptoms include mostly white audiences at poetry events)? If yes, this 15-step program is guaranteed to bring some healthy color to your events or your institutional racism back!

Step 1: Name. Make a list of 50 poets of color in your city and state. If you can’t name 50 poets of color without asking Facebook, you should not be curating a literary series. Spend a year reading us instead of trying to curate us.

Step 2: Attend. There may be a literary series in your area that is organized by poets of color and that does not suffer from “mainly white room” sickness. Attend the series for a year. Pay attention and learn how to respect protocol.

Step 3: Group Line-up Quantum. People of color are more likely to attend group readings because we value community. If you schedule 4 readers, make sure at least 3 of them are poets of color. This quota system will help you resist your unconscious urge to include only white poets in your reading series (it’s not your fault).

Step 4: Time. Give all poets equal time.

Step 5: Order. Do not have poets of color “open” for the “featured” white poet. 

Step 6: Intergenerational. Include poets of different generations. Poets of color value our elders and youth. Warning: may induce grandparent/grandchildren poems.

Step 7: Food. I’m not talking about cheese and crackers. Think rice and grilled meat. Vegetables are optional, but if included make sure they are cooked. Warning: if you have an ethnic restaurant cater your event, make sure it does not appear thematic (i.e. if you have a Pacific islander reader, he might be offended if you serve a Hawaiian luau and sliced pineapples).

Step 8: Venue. Ask yourself: will poets of color be pulled over while driving in this neighborhood? Will they be harassed on the street? Will the patrons of this bookstore think they are trying to steal poetry books? If yes, change your venue.

Step 9: Slam. Slam and spoken word poetry are the most popular forms of poetry events for a reason! Make sure you include at least one slam poet of color! Bonus: choose a white slam poet for your one white poet slot (they write the most conscientious poems about race and whiteness)! 

Step 10: Boredom. Avoid boring poets, especially the intentionally boring and uncreative poets (you know who I mean).

Step 11: Racism. Avoid racist poets, especially those who claim to be anti-racist but their poems actually replicate racism (you know who I mean).

Step 12: Aesthetics. Do not organize your series towards a specific aesthetics (unless its slam). Poets of color appreciate a diversity of fresh styles.

Step 13: Posters. Design cool posters. If your poster/flyer looks lame, it’s a signal that your reading series is probably lame too.

Step 14: Money. If your series is part of an institution, make sure you offer honorarium. While this won’t make up for past crimes, it’s a start.

Step 15: Introductions. When introducing us, do not comment on our hair or our phenotypes. Do not ask if we have white heritage (if we don’t discuss that in our poems, there’s a reason)! Do not comment upon how “surprising” our work is, or how we “represent” a certain kind of “experience.” Just read the bio we sent you and get out the damn way.

Dr. Craig’s 12-Step Program for White Poets Contemplating Ethnic Fraud

Are you a white poet writing mediocre poems that are constantly rejected? Do you feel cheated out of your entitled publications? Do you find yourself desperately reaching for an ethnic pseudonym?

If you answered yes, Dr. Craig’s 12-step program is designed to help you write like poets of color without committing ethnic fraud. This program is guaranteed or your privilege back!

Step 1: Read. You’ve probably spent most of your life reading white poets. Spend a year reading only poets of color. You will learn how ethnic writing is diverse and exceeds all stereotypes and expectations.

Step 2: Listen. A major thread of ethnic poetry is spoken word. Try listening to one poetry video every day. Hear our voices.

Step 3: Attend. If there is a poetry event in your town featuring poets of color, support the community and bring a dish just in case it’s a potluck.  

Step 4: Culturize. Write about white culture–your customs, values, and practices. If you are not familiar with your culture, research: “American.”

Step 5: Genealogize. Write about your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Talk to them. Do research. Travel to Europe, dig for deeper roots. Write about the ancestors you admire and are ashamed of. (Avoid the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library).

Step 6: Eat. Write about your people’s foods, what you ate growing up, what symbolic meanings foods have to you. Play with your food poetry: write a humorous ballad about white bread, a villanelle about vanilla, a pantoum about potatoes, etc. 

Step 7: Migrate. Write about moving, letting go, saying goodbye. Even small migrations can be traumatic. Write about larger settler movements and their consequences. 

Step 8: Speak. Write about the linguistic nuances, accents, or dialects spoken in your house. Write about your experience learning English, learning Silence. 

Step 9: Historicize. Write about how history has shaped your family and your culture. Write about major and minor historical figures.

Step 10: Politicize. Write your political opinions about the hot political topics in the United States and around the world. Write with one fist raised to the sky. 

Step 11: Ecologize. Write about your relationship to the natural world and other-than-human species. Write about how climate change and environmental degradation affect you.

Step 12: Humanize. Write about your name. Your real name. Write with passion, fierceness, and integrity. Write to inspire and empower others. Write towards justice, truth, and dignity.

Letters to Best American Poetry


Dear David Lehman,

Because of your shameful decision to publish Michael Derrick Hudson’s poem of ethnic fraud, I will not purchase a copy of this year’s anthology. You should pulp the current version, withdraw the poem, and reprint the anthology with an apology.

p.s. If by some nepotistic miracle a future poem of mine is selected for your anthology series, I will not give you permission to re-publish it.

Dear Sherman Alexie,

I am disappointed in you. You spent so much time creating inane editorial rules that you forgot the most important rule of being an editor of color:

Do Not Allow Acts of Literary Racism to Occur on Your Watch.

The reason why we advocate for people of color in positions of editorial power is not about nepotism, it is about protecting against institutional racism, which has shaped the literary world for too long.

Institutional racism is as common as oxygen. 

In the past, you have critiqued Asa Earl Carter, Barbara Kingsolver, and mascots. While you couldn’t stop those acts, you could have stopped Hudson’s offensive “yellowface” and prevented the harm that it has caused. Instead, you were more concerned about your embarrassment. Your honesty does not hide your lack of integrity.

You state that you take the publication of Best American Poetry “very f*cking seriously.” You should have taken the golden rule of being an editor of color very f*cking seriously instead.

Dear Michael Derrick Hudson,

Shame on you. You are not entitled to publication credits. Ethnic minority identities are not submission strategies for white poets.

You have probably realized by now that you have ruined any chance of publishing under your own name. If you feel any remorse, you should publicly apologize and withdraw your poem.

If you don’t feel remorse, I imagine that you are likely coming up with new pseudonyms to use for your future, mediocre poems. Let me help. Below are some ethnic sounding pseudonyms you can use that fit your personality:

Ipu Palaʻole (Hawaiian), Juan Pendejo (Spanish), Bèn Dàn (Mandarin), Lo Dit (Vietnamese), Uso Tsuki (Japanese), Anakka Nangputa (Tagalog), Writes With Privilege (Native) 


Craig Santos Perez

Poem for West Papua


Earlier this year, I worked with a collective of artists, poets, scholars, and activists to raise awareness about the ongoing colonization, exploitation, and genocide of West Papua, its people, and its resources. We held a teach-in, arts workshop, creative writing workshop, public performance, and an online publication sharing our poetry. This literary activism was part of a larger campaign called Free West Papua and We Bleed Black and Red.

I collaborated with Hawaiian poet Brandy Nālani McDougall to compose and perform a poem for this series of solidarity events. I have shared this poem below as a further act of aloha for West Papua, and to call on other Pacific countries to endorse a fact finding mission in West Papua, and for the United Nations to appoint a Special Human Right Envoy to West Papua.

Please feel free to share this post and learn more about West Papua.


“Twinkle, Twinkle, Morning Star”

our daughter, kaikainaliʻi, wakes
from her late afternoon nap
and reaches for nālani
with small open hands—

count how many papuan children
still reach for their disappeared parents

using my iphone,
i change my facebook profile picture
to a graphic of the morning star flag
and share an article about the grasberg mine—
gaping open pit

count how many papuan children
are dying from copper poisoning each year

kaikainaliʻi watches cartoons
on our flat screen tv
while nālani and i watch
an online documentary
about west papua—

count how many papuan children
have watched their loved ones
mounted and shot

after we turn off the tv
and close the laptop—
nālani reads to kaikainali’i
a bedtime story:

“Twinkle, twinkle, small hōkū
Shining down on our canoe
Up above the sea so high,
Like a candle in the sky”

count how many papuan children
have been extracted
to islamic boarding schools in jakarta

“When the ocean waves are black,
When we feel like turning back,
Hōkū shines its little light,
Guiding us all through the night.”

count how many papuan children
are seeking refuge across borders
only to become forgotten refugees

“Waves may fall or rise up high,
Keep your eyes upon the sky,
Hōkū peeks out in between,
Shining out its steady beam.”

count how many hashtags
will it take to trend
bleeding black
island bodies strip-
mined by bullets
crushed into slurry
by military boots
pumped through pipelines
across poisoned rivers
and treeless lands,
shipped overseas
and enslaved
by our technology—

“Thunderclouds may push and shove.
Rain may pour from up above.
Never fear, our star is strong,
Burning bright the whole night long.”

papuan cousins,
we’re so sorry
we didn’t see you—
but we see you now—
and imagine someday
we can talk story,
chew betelnut,
and color the soil
with our spit
as our children
paint their faces red
and play
in the quiet shelter
of our sacred mountains—

“Paddle one and paddle two,
Following our brave hōkū,
Like our fathers did before,
We will make it to the shore.”

papuan cousins
we’re so sorry
we didn’t see you,
but we see you now
bravely raising your flag
so the world can witness
the five-point star
on the horizon—
and we promise to rise with you
until morning finally comes
to heal
our open wounds

“Twinkle, twinkle, small hōkū,
Shining down on our canoe,
Up above the sea so high,
Like a candle in the sky.”

“Twinkle, twinkle, small hōkū,
Shining down on our canoe.”


*Quoted text by Jane Gillespie, from Twinkle, Twinkle Small Hōkū (BeachHouse Publishing, 2013). Used with permission.

Are You a Real Literary Activist? Take the Quiz!


The spirited discussion on “literary activism” has prompted me to create this easy quiz to see if you are a real literary activist! Each yes answer earns you a point.

  1. Do you write poetry that addresses political, cultural, environmental, and social justice issues?
  2. Do you write poetry that might be described as protest, documentary, decolonial, ecopoetry, subaltern, undocumented, feminist, indigenous, queer, minority, disability, or witness?
  3. Does your poetry carry an ethical dimension to raise awareness, educate, inspire, empower, dignify, or humanize?
  4. Do you write and publish articles, essays, reviews or features of other poets?
  5. Do you conduct interviews with other poets?
  6. Do you publicize and attend other poets’ literary events?
  7. Do you buy other poet’s books?
  8. Do you curate and host events for others?
  9. Do you edit publications that featuring emerging and established writers?
  10. Do you work or volunteer at a small press?
  11. Do you organize or teach local, affordable community writing workshops?
  12. Do you teach creative writing or language arts at a private or public school?
  13. Do you assign other poets’ books in your classes?
  14. Do you present/lecture on other poets’s work at conferences, symposia, or festivals?
  15. Do you encourage students to attend literary events in the community?
  16. Do you share publishing, reading, or funding opportunities with others?
  17. Do you work or volunteer at a for- or non-profit literary organization?
  18. Do you advocate for the end to racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism in a publishing or literary institution? 
  19. Do you call-out, boycott, or divest from racist writers, organizations, and “plantation publishers”?
  20. Do you attend marches, protests, or rallies?
  21. Do you sign petitions and contact your legislatures?
  22. Do you organize direct political actions?
  23. Do you sit-in, occupy, blockade, kayak, shut-down, or interrupt?
  24. Do you make poetic protest signs?
  25. Do you compose poetic slogans, mottoes, chants, or ditties?
  26. Do you write poetically-inflected political speeches?
  27. Do you organize poetry readings at activist events/rallies?
  28. Do you perform your poetry at activist events/rallies?
  29. Do you contribute your writing skills to activist pamphlets, press releases, op-eds, hand-outs, etc?
  30. Do you host activist zine workshops?
  31. Do you teach writing workshops at activist events or within social justice movements (labor unions, prisons, immigrant communities, etc).
  32. Do you extend the activist event by writing poetry about the action and publish your poem on social media, in books, or in literary journals?

Don’t worry about adding up your score: the point is not the points! The point is to realize that there are many ways to be a literary activist. Even if you don’t have much time or money to engage with activism, there are still ways to contribute—and any contribution will certainly enrich social movements and your own personal life.

Poets and creative writers are a necessary and vital component of every activist movement. Poets can inspire others to speak out and write their own truth. Poets can change minds, capture hearts, and humanize others. Poets help nurture our imaginations, which we will need for creative non-violent activism. Most importantly, poets can show us that deep down, everyone can be a poet–that we all have valuable stories and meaningful lives.

For 2016, consider attending Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2016, which is dedicated to exploring the relationship between poetry and activism.

Quiz Notes:

Read Barbara Jane Reyes’s posts on “Literary Activism and Generosity” from 2011. 

Read my post on “Poetry, Politics, and Why I am Not an Activist,” from 2010.

Read Amy King et al, “What is Literary Activism”

Read Linda Russo’s post on poets addressing ecological movements.

Read Stephen Collis’s posts on “After Burnaby Mountain” 

Read about Mark Nowak’s creative writing workshops with labor unions.

Read about a zine project in Hawaiʻi 

Lead photo from The Operating System

On Finishing My Ph.D.


In 2005, I applied to three Ph.D. programs: Stanford’s Modern Thought and Literature, UC Santa Cruz’s History of Consciousness, and UC Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies. At the time, I was enrolled in an MFA Creative Writing program at the U of San Francisco, and teaching writing at an after school learning center. I hoped to get into a Ph.D. to give myself more post-MFA options.

Sadly, I was rejected from all three schools, which was not a good feeling. I graduated with an MFA in 2006, and continued working and submitting my poetry manuscript to publishers/contests. That year, I decided to apply one more time, but only to Berkeley. If I didn’t get in, I would move on.

To my surprise, I was accepted to the 2007 cohort and even received a fellowship. Yes, I felt like an “imposter,” not quite smart enough–more a poet than a scholar. Coursework was a struggle, but I managed to pass all the classes and the MA exam in 2009.

My first two poetry books were published in 2008 and 2010, thus sparking my double life as poet and scholar. I traveled (way too much) for performances and presentations in those years (to the point where I messed up my back). As my poetry took off, I neglected my orals/area exam reading lists.

What saved me during that time was receiving a Ford Foundation Fellowship, which supports scholars of color. This allowed me to not have to teach or work, and I was able to focus on completing my orals/areas, and my prospectus in 2011.

Even though I knew I was a long-shot,  I applied to a creative writing job in an English department at U of Hawaiʻi, Manoa in 2011. I never thought I would get the job, and I was applying to dissertation fellowships. When I actually got the job, I once again felt like an imposter in the white halls of academia. Perhaps because of that feeling, I worked very hard my first two years–so much so that i met all the minimum requirements of tenure by my third year (i applied to, and received, early tenure).

The downside: I rarely had time to work on my dissertation. I contemplated dropping out of the Ph.D. program. What good would a degree from a totally different discipline do for me now? Shouldn’t I just focus on my creative writing?

I decided not to quit because I had already put so much time into passing all the other requirements, and because I had received so much fellowship support. In 2014, I told myself that I would give it one more year: if i couldnt do it in 2015, then I would move on.

So I worked on it almost every day this year (even if only for an hour a day), either doing research or outlining or writing or revising. Things got done slowly, but it also built a steady momentum. Committing to and prioritizing the work was key. Also, I had a very supportive dissertation committee, in particular my chair, Beth Piatote, and committee member Elizabeth DeLoughrey. On a personal note, my amazing wife and family were also very supportive in giving me time to complete the work.

My dissertation includes a preface, intro, 5 chapters, and conclusion. It consists of about 90,000 words, 350 pages, 700 footnotes, and 400 sources. It is far from perfect. There is a university press that is interested in publishing it, but I will definitely have to do another draft (or two) to get it to that stage.

Itʻs a strange feeling to work on something so long and to finally have it done. It’s strange to come from a very small village of a small island and to earn a Ph.D. from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. The dissertation was definitely the most challenging academic and intellectual project that I have ever undertaken, and I am very proud that I was actually able to do it. I feel much more confident now that I can be both a poet and a scholar.

For those interested, my dissertation abstract is below. If won’t be available online, but i am hoping I can get it revised and published in the next few years.

Title: Wayreading Chamorro Literature from Guam


This dissertation maps and navigates contemporary literature by indigenous Chamorro authors from the Pacific island of Guam. Because Guam has experienced more than three centuries of colonization by three different imperial nations, Chamorro language, beliefs, customs, practices, identities, and aesthetics have been suppressed, changed, and sometimes completely replaced. As a result of these colonial changes, many anthropologists and historians have claimed that authentically indigenous Chamorro culture no longer exists. Similarly, literary scholars have argued that contemporary Chamorro literature is degraded and inauthentic because it is often composed in a written form as opposed to an oral form, in English as opposed to Chamorro, and in a foreign genre (such as a novel) as opposed to an indigenous genre (such as a chant). This discourse of inauthenticity, I suggest, is based on an understanding of Chamorro culture and literature as static essences that once existed in a “pure” and “authentic” state before colonialism, modernity, and globalization.

Countering these arguments, I view Chamorro culture as a dynamic entity composed of core, enduring values, customs, and practices that are continually transformed and re-articulated within various historical contexts and political pressures. Relatedly, I contend that Chamorro literature is a dynamic phenomenon comprised of an aesthetic genealogy that has also been transformed by colonialism and re-articulated by every successive generation of Chamorro authors. To understand these complexities, I enact a literary methodology that I term “wayreading,” which involves tracking how the primary themes (the content) of Chamorro literature express the survival and vitality of Chamorro language, customs, values, and practices, as well as how the primary narrative structures (the forms) of Chamorro literature embody Chamorro aesthetics, technologies, and ecologies.

While the first chapter of this project launches into a discussion of Chamorro cultural identity and literary authenticity, the subsequent chapters focus on representations of important Chamorro cultural symbols—including land, housing, navigation, and storytelling—in a wide range of contemporary Chamorro literary expressions. In the Conclusion, I assert that Chamorro literature is a symbolic decolonial act and a pragmatic decolonial tool in ongoing decolonization, demilitarization, and sovereignty movements in Guam. This dissertation is significant because it highlights a relatively unknown indigenous literature, thus contributing to the intellectual traditions of Pacific Islander, Native American, and Global Indigenous Cultural and Literary Studies. Beyond the realm of the indigenous, this study also contributes to the fields of Hispanic, American, Post-colonial, and Comparative Ethnic Cultural and Literary Studies.

This Paradise of Fugitive Dust (2015)

[originally published at ke kaupu hehi ale, 2015]


When my wife, Brandy, became pregnant last year, I began writing a poem titled “understory.” In ecological terms, “understory” refers to plant life (shrubs, saplings, fungi, and seedlings) growing beneath the canopy of the forest.

I imagined a human understory as we read books, websites, and apps related to pregnancy and fetal development. Everything Brandy ate, breathed, heard, smelled, thought, felt, feared, and dreamed affected the embryo. In a sense, her womb housed an understory. They say amniotic fluid is ninety percent water.


We ourselves dwell within an understory. We are surrounded by dominant colonial narratives and structures, such as global capitalism, colonial nationalism, militarism, industrial food systems, media conglomerates, educational institutions, urbanism, and Western health care.

Brandy and I toured several hospitals during her pregnancy. Even though birthing centers are becoming more common, they still felt very cold and plastic. Doctor appointments often involved unnecessary tests, coercive prescriptions, and pressure to schedule a c-section.

Throughout the Pacific, indigenous healing, medicinal, and birthing customs were displaced and replaced by colonial health care practices. The establishment of hospitals was often seen (and funded) as charitable acts to civilize, sterilize, quarantine, and purify us—the diseased and dirty islanders.

A new story unfolded for us when we learned about a pregnancy class based on Hawaiian cultural values and customs, offered at a comprehensive health services provider, Kokua Kalihi Valley. The class was called Ka Lāhui o ka Pō, and included lessons, a free dinner with local ingredients, and a talk story circle. This class empowered us to explore the meaning of “birthing sovereignty.”


After 22 hours of labor, Brandy birthed our daughter, Kaikainaliʻi, on our bed, in our apartment, with the guiding hands of our doula, Grace, and our midwife, Selena. April, 2014. The hottest April in recorded history.

Honolulu Aquarium

I continued writing “understory,” week-by-week, as Kaikainaliʻi grew. We take her on stroller rides around our Mānoa neighborhood, to the park and community garden. The poem asks: When do they spray herbicides and pesticides on the sidewalks and grass? We hand feed her first solid foods. The poem asks: Are these foods genetically modified? Treated with chemicals?

Summer 2014 was the warmest in recorded history. My mom, who lives in California, calls to Facetime with Kaikainaliʻi, her only grandchild. She tells us about the historic drought, tips to ration water.

A strong fever gripped Kaikainaliʻi during that summer. We constantly take her temperature, apply cold compresses, worry. We felt so relieved when her fever broke, her small body drenched in sweat.

Outbreak of enterovirus D68 in New York, outbreak of chikungunya in the Caribbean and Tokelau, outbreak of dengue fever in China and Japan, outbreak of MERS in South Korea, outbreak of West Nile virus in Texas and California, outbreak of ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, outbreak of measles at Disneyland.

When we take Kaikainaliʻi to the pediatrician, the nurse recites the names of the vaccines, shows us the expiration dates. Kaikainaliʻi cries as the needles pierce her thighs. They say our skin is forty percent water.

As the planet warms, our bodies host fever chains of transmission. Food-borne, insect-borne, water-borne, air-borne. Kaikainaliʻi was born into this fourth era of disease.


Kaikainaliʻi cries from teething. We wipe away her tears. How many children have been killed, maimed, and traumatized during the bombing and siege of Gaza? The poem asks: How do parents wipe away tear gas? Disarm occupying armies? #freepalestine

How do parents comfort children atop trains, children escaping domestic, cartel, and state violence? What lullabies echo inside private detention centers? What songs cross the teething US-Mexico border? #unaccompanied

The poem asks: How do parents hold violence at arms length, when raising our hands up is no longer a universal sign of surrender? #blacklivesmatter

Temperatures rise / violence intensifies


“The rape of Oceania began with Guam” (Douglas Oliver, The Pacific Islands,1951: 234).

The history of sexual violence perpetuated by the U.S. military in Guam, Hawaiʻi, the Philippines, South Korea, and Okinawa (among other places) is well-documented. The history of sexual violence within the U.S. military is becoming more documented. #yesallwomen

The poem asks: How do we prevent Kaikainaliʻis body from becoming target practice? How do we protect our sacred islands from becoming live firing range complexes? #savepagat #savepagan #savetinian

The poem asks: How will we remember the names of those who have disappeared from reservations, machiladoras, villages, and schools? #mmiw #mmaw #bringbackourgirls


The first time we take Kaikainaliʻi to the beach coincides with RIMPAC (the Rim of the Pacific), a multinational maritime military training exercise, weapons showcase, and simulated war games that occurs biennially in the waters around Hawaiʻi.

Brandy carries Kaikainaliʻi into the ocean, holds her tightly to her chest.hanom hanom hanom.

first ocean
First Ocean

The poem asks: What will 23 nations, 48 ships, 6 submarines, hundreds of aircrafts, and thousands of soldiers take from us?

The ocean warms and acidifies. Coral reefs bleach. Fish stocks collapse. Tides rise. Islands drown. Plastic gathers. Radiation seeps. Oil spills. Drills mine sea bed. Whales, deafened by sonar, wash ashore thousands of recently spawned fish, now lifeless, litter the shorelines.

The poem asks: Is Oceania memorial or target? Monument or territory? Dead zone or eco-resort? Economic zone or mākua?

Kaikainaliʻi loves the salt water.


We recently celebrated Kaikainaliʻi’s first birthday. Many of our friends and family traveled from around the island, as well as from Maui, Utah, and California. Throughout the year, we have witnessed Kaikainaliʻi reach several milestones. First latch, first grab, first laugh, first tears, first step. We have also witnessed the effects of reaching and crossing several climate and habitability thresholds: record floods, heat waves, typhoons, extinctions, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. We have witnessed an onslaught of human violence.

Great grandparents

The poem asks: How will Kaikainaliʻiand future generationssurvive in this paradise of fugitive dust.  


I am learning to divest from all that is destroying our world, our humanity. I am learning to let go of all that we have lost and will lose.

At the same time, I am learning to fight for all that can be saved. I am learning to hold onto all that is sacred.

I am grateful to Brandy, for her strength and beauty and labor.  I am grateful to our families for loving Kaikainaliʻi, for raising us in the understory. And I am grateful to our friends (and fellow bloggers) for surrounding Kaikainaliʻi—and inspiring us—with art, poetry, activism, and music.

Sometimes I watch Kaikainaliʻi sleeping. Her breath rises and falls like the tides. Sometimes Kaikainaliʻi smiles, for a moment, in her sleep. I ask the poem: Please hold this moment for me.

I ask the poem: Please carry creation and destruction, birth and extinction, love and loss. Please carry a message for me, when I am gone, to Kaikainaliʻi: tell her that even though our stories are heavier than stones, she must carry them with her, no matter how far from home the storms take her small canoe.

Please tell her that she will always find family in our stories. She will always find shelter in our stories. She will always belong in our stories. And she will always be sacred in our stories hanom hanom hanom

kai big flower

Lip-Syncing the Poetry of Empire (2013)

[originally published at the kenyon review blog, 1/24/13 ]

It must be strange for Americans to have a President who appreciates poetry since the arc of American culture bends towards the destruction of human dignity, which is the very source of poetry.

The recent inauguration and its displays of American decadence and corporate sponsorship have once again broadcast contemporary poetry across the diminishing national attention span. As we witnessed from Obama’s last inaugural poet, Elizabeth Alexander, the poet’s task involves reaping the personal and professional benefits of national recognition, writing a cliché laden (and inauguration committee approved) poem, and performing that poem with less flair than the inaugural prayers, songs, or speeches.

Sadly, the task also involves steeling oneself against seething critiques and shameless praise from the insiders and outsiders of the poetry community.

Richard Blanco was a good choice for inaugural poet because he is a talented and thoughtful writer; I first read his work after reviewing The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (edited by Francisco Aragon, one of my the major driving forces behind for the new visibility of Latino poetry) back in 2007, and I immediately became a fan of his work. Blanco is also a good choice considering the record number of Latinos who were deported during Obama’s first term, as well as the administration’s unfulfilled promises to the gay community. Choosing a young poet also assured that Blanco was not likely to decline the invitation in protest, or to present a poem that would “rock the border”.

Why banish poets from the empire if empire can use poets towards its own ends? Use poets to wash over the empire’s crimes,use poets to feign respect for humanity, use poets to poeticize the ideology of empire. Blanco’s poem, “One Today”, is a poem of American exceptionalism and immigrant exceptionalism—of “one empire” built by many settlers on native lands. There it is, Mr. President, sitting there, for USE.

I confess that it was difficult for me to listen to “One Today”. How can you write about “fruit stands … begging our praise” without writing about NAFTA? How can you write about being rooted to “every stalk of corn” without talking about GMOs? How can you write about “routing pipes” without writing about the Keystone XL pipeline? How can you talk about “cutting sugarcane” without talking about the role of sugar and global trade in the war of 1898 between US and Spain, enlarging the US empire overseas? How can you muse about the “work of our hands” without talking about the unemployment rate? How will we head “home, always under one sky, our sky” when so many homes have been foreclosed, and so many futures, dispossessed?

The public attention that Obama has brought to poetry has led some to declare that poetry is dead. I think they are right. Poetry is dead because many Americans have sold their souls for the dream of capitalism, militarism, and colonialism—what Whitman called the “deformed democracy” of America.  Unlike some of Blanco’s other poems, his “One Today” is a perfect poem to present to zombie Americans because it is a dead poem.

For many of us whose native homelands are occupied by America, poetry is one of the few things that keeps us alive. Poetry is our defense against tyranny. It should not be the poet’s role to lip sync the rhetoric of empire. The poet’s role is to challenge and question. The poets role is to inspire others towards dismantling empire so that a truly humane form of life can emerge.

I Saw the Best Minds of my Generation Destroyed by Facebook

[originally published at the Poetry Foundation Blog, April 2012]

Once, blogging was king. My Google reader was a feast of interesting subscriptions to blogs written by poets. The Poetry Foundation was paying bloggers to write for Harriet. Comment boxes were the new salons. I was never bored; thus, I never had to conclude that I have no inner resources. And then

People stopped commenting on each other’s blogs. Threads died. Poets deleted their blogs and disappeared from public eye. Harriet shut down the comment box; later, Harriet shut down the group blogging. My Google reader grew silent. Noting this phenomenon, I wrote in 2010: “Facebook killed the blogger star.”

On New Year’s Eve 2010, I made a resolution to “Facebook everyday for an entire year.” I made this resolution because I wanted to see what Facebook was all about and why so many poet-bloggers abandoned blogging for a strange new social network.

On 1/1/11, my journey began with my first status update: “just wrote a poem titled, In a Comment of the Status. It goes, The characters of these Facebooks on the screen / Updates in a vast, news feed.” But I had no friends to like it. So I started Friending all my lost poet-blogger friends. I had subscribed to their lives for so long it was like I kind of knew them. But would Facebook feed me in the same way blogs fed me?

William Carlos Williams once wrote: “It is difficult to get the news from poems.” After my first month on Facebook, I concluded that it was difficult to get the poets from Facebook. The poet bloggers I once thought I knew were but status updates of their former selves. They were no longer espousing on the great poetic issues of our time; instead, they were posting pictures of food porn! If these were the best minds of my generation, they were destroyed by Facebook.

After another month, I learned many new recipes. I also learned many intimate details about the former poet-bloggers I friended. And by intimate, I mean TMI, as in Too Much Intimate! And sometimes these details changed the way I perceived the poet. You know, it’s like when you first learn that Ezra Pound was a fascist, or that Wallace Stevens worked for an insurance company. Something breaks on the inside.

After a few more months, I liked something that someone posted (probably food porn) and I commented “Double like!” That person liked my comment. What a rush. I began liking everything, it didn’t matter what it was—I liked it and I wanted you to know I liked it. What’s more, people started liking my own intimate details—and I’ve got enough intimate details to feed the needy.

Amidst all this liking, I discovered “sharing.” If I liked something really bad, I could express this by sharing it.  I double liked sharing. I like sharing my friends’s updates with all our “unmutual friends.” And perhaps someday all my friends will be “mutual friends” with all my other friends. Imagine. My friend count grew to over a thousand. Complete poet-strangers began friending me! I couldn’t keep up with all the friend requests! I no longer felt so lonely.

One day, a Facebook-poet- “friend” I had never met in real life posted about the publication of his new book. I shared the news and bought the book. When his book arrived, I began reading it. Taking a break to check my Facebook, I saw that this Facebook-poet- “friend” posted an intimate detail about his life and suddenly the meaning of all his poems opened up before my very intense eyes.

From that moment on, I couldn’t stop checking my Facebook. I began to forget about blogging. Why waste time blogging when there are people to friend, and places to “check in.” Remember the second part of the Williams quote: “yet men die miserably everyday for lack of what is found there.” With Facebook, I would never die miserably for abundance of everything is found there. In Facebook, I could like forever.

Plus, I do actually get all my news from Facebook.

Facebooking everyday was the only resolution I kept in 2011. I felt so proud. On New Year’s Eve 2011, I resolved to Facebook my life to the fullest. Like Rilke in translation once said: “You must change your profile.”

Now, I have 2649 Facebook friends. As I type this, I have a window open to my Facebook page. Between sentences, I snack on my feed. Oh look: Don Share shared a photo of a sexy stack of Poetry magazines (April 2012). Book porn. Three people like it. I just “liked” it. I’m not going to comment “Double Like” because I don’t like it that much. Maybe if Poetry magazine published some of my poems I would like it enough to share it. They always reject my work. I hate Poetry Magazine. I wonder: if I “like” everything Don Share posts, will he publish my work?

Speaking of April 2012, real people bore me, blogs bore me, especially great group blogs, like Harriet, which bores me. I’d rather be Facebooking. Oh look: my Facebook has refreshed itself & its trail tickers away into food or books or life, leaving behind: me, blog.