I’m teaching an online workshop!

CULTURE, FOOD, POLITICS, AND ECOLOGY: AN ONLINE WORKSHOP BY CRAIG SANTOS PEREZ TO BENEFIT OMNIDAWN PUBLISHING

Sign up now! Tuition is $750 ($650 of which is tax-deductible) and is fully donated to Omnidawn Publishing, a 501(c)(3) fiscally sponsored project of the 2430 Arts Alliance.

Some partial scholarships available. Write to Rusty Morrison regarding this.

All applications due by Saturday, January 2 on a first come, first served basis.
Class limit: 10
Decisions will be made by January 5th
Tuition due by Tues January 5th

Craig Santos Perez will be leading an online workshop: Culture, Food, Politics, and Ecology, to benefit Omnidawn Publishing.

The meeting times are every Sunday, 10a-12p pst, for 5 weeks,
from Jan 10, 2016 – Feb 7, 2016.

Each week, for the first 20 minutes of class, there will be one guest poet. They will will share their experiences in writing poetry in relation to that week’s subject, that week’s realms of relation.

The five weeks’ subjects & guests will be

Jan 10: Ecopoetics: Angela Hume

Jan 17: Writing culture, writing family: Terrance Hayes

Jan 24: Writing poetry of witness: Myung Mi Kim

Jan 31: Writing food and sustenance : Ewa Chrusciel

Feb 7: Writing with documentary source texts: Camille Dungy

Rusty Morrison, Omnidawn’s co-publisher, will be an active member of the class each week, as support to Craig, and as another voice engaging in the exciting conversations.

We will begin with an interactive conversation/presentation from the guest poet. Guests will speak casually, with candor, sharing ideas, insights, challenges regarding this aspect of their writing. Guests may be reading some writing/poetry of theirs that aligns with the week’s arena of thought–in order to talk about the generation of that writing in this context.

After the guest poet is finished, Craig will give a presentation on the week’s topic, and the poets who are students in the class will participate in an engaging conversation with Craig about that week’s ideational landscape.

Then Craig will lead a workshop discussion of a poem from each of the class members. Rusty will also contribute to this discussion. Craig is an amazing teacher: serious, friendly, knowledgable, deft at offering sharp acuity and compassionate insight into the poems workshopped.

The tuition is $750 ($650 of which is tax-deductible). All proceeds go to Omnidawn Publishing, a 501(c)(3) fiscally sponsored project of the 2430 Arts Alliance.

To apply for the class:
please send a five page packet of poems to both Rusty Morrison at rusty@omnidawn.com & Craig Santos Perez atcraigsantosperez@gmail.com by January 2nd. Decisions will be made by January 5th. Tuition is due on January 5th.

Omnidawn Publishing is very grateful to Craig Santos Perez and to all of the poets who are donating their time to this workshop.

Dr. Craig’s Poetry Excellence Awards Go To…

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About ten years ago, I wrote a blog critiquing how all the major poetry awards were going to white poets. It was not a unique insight, but more an expression of institutional racism.

This year, however, nearly all the major poetry awards went to writers of color. Check out this list:

2015

  • Pulitzer Prize: Gregory Pardlo
  • National Book Award: Robin Coste Lewis
  • National Book Critics Circle Award: Claudia Rankine
  • American Book Award: Arlene Biala & Craig Santos Perez
  • Pen Center USA award for poetry: Claudia Rankine
  • PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry: Saeed Jones
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize: Claudia Rankine
  • Wallace Stevens Award: Joy Harjo
  • Walt Whitman Award: Sjohnna McCray
  • Kate Tufts Discovery Award: Brandon Som
  • Lannan Literary Awards: A. Van Jordan, Layli Long Soldier, Philip Metres
  • US Poet Laureate: Juan Felipe Herrera

There are many more fellowships, grants, prizes that were given out this year, and many were awarded to poets of color.

Why?

Some say it is because of racial nepotism, since today there are many more poets of color who are judging literary awards.Others say it is the result of literary affirmative action and/or historical guilt. Others are adopting fake ethnic names & bios so that they have a better chance of winning an award. You are sooo lucky, they say, because you have soooo much trending trauma to write about! Others are saying: enjoy because it will never happen again. While others are saying, will you finally quiet down now and get over it.

But Dr. Craig says: it’s about damn time! this is what a level playing field looks like! we should still burn down the system but in the meantime let’s recognize our excellence!

California Love Poetry Tour

For all my friends, fans, haters, and stalkers: I will be in northern California for a few performances and the American Book Award Ceremony. Hope to see you:

*

Friday, October 23, 2015

UC Berkeley

554 Barrows Hall

Conversation 4:00pm

Reading and Reception 5:30pm

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

American Book Award 2015 Ceremony

San Francisco Jazz Center 2:00-5:00 p.m.

Joe Henderson Lab, 201 Franklin Street (at Fell)

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Stanford University

Reading 5:15 pm

The Terrace Room, 4th floor, Margaret Jacks Hall (Bldg 460)

*

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

UC Davis

Reading 7:00pm

126 Voorhies

berkeley reading

Stanford reading poster

Davis reading

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

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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) 

Sincerely,

Craig Santos Perez

Are You a Real Literary Activist? Take the Quiz!

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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.

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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

Abstract:

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]

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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.

aquarium
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
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