Am so excited and honored and humbled to share that Rob Wilson discussed my two books in a talk he gave called “Towards an Ecopoetics of Oceania: Thinking With, and Beyond, Epeli Hau’ofa’s Asia Pacific Imaginary” at the 21st Annual Conference, “Crosscurrents: New Directions in Pacific and Asian Studies,” held at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, School of Pacific and Asian Studies, on March 10, 2010. Here is an excerpt of his longer talk that focuses on my work:
Two book-length contemporary poems by Craig Santos Perez enact a hugely innovative and historically informed feat of repossessing Oceania and the Marianas, a mode of world-belonging in which Guam/ Guahan can never be named (or forgotten as) just another unincorporated territory of the post-1898 American Pacific. Resisting Guam’s being just the “Pacific hub to Asia” in from Unincorporated Territory [hacha] , 30) and from Unincorporated Territory [saina] (2010), and being referred to as “USS Guam” (11) in the region, to use a powerful example of Asia and Pacific remapping, the poet-scholar Santos Perez would resist the centuries-long Spanish and U.S. “reduccion” process of “subduing, converting, and gathering natives through the establishment of missions and the stationing of soldiers to protect those missions” (11).
Guam as a militarized island with (as Robert Duncan saw it) “planes [forever] roaring out from Guam over Asia” turning the Americanized Pacific into “a sea of toiling men,” “a bloated thing” of war, dispossession, and exploitation (10). His poems (tied in transpacific tidelands to the experimental writings of Tinfish in Honolulu and the Bay Area open poetics of Robert Duncan, Rob Halpern, Barbara Jane Reyes et al) would proliferate counter-namings and trace precarious routes and roots on Guahan, resulting in a whole counter-geography of archipelagic belonging to Oceania and the Marianas as more than an act “to prove the ocean/ was once a flag” (47).
Dispossessed by Spanish of natives seafaring tools and boats of “tasi” (the ocean or sea) like the flying proas or the sakman (long-voyaging canoe) and thus prevented from interisland travel, “the chamorros themselves were by this time [1780s] no longer a people of the sea” (quoting Destiny’s Landfall by Robert Rogers, 74), and Guam was called in WWII “omiya jima” (great shrine island) by the Japanese (76). All this process of dispossession leads to the poet using Chamorro as a “drowned/ anguage” (78) returning in fragments and broken phrases and renaming of plants and things and history. At the same time, 8000 marines will be transferred to Guam from Okinawa by 2014 through a joint effort of the US and Japan (91). And, ecological miscreant, the brown tree snake which first reached war-torn Guam as WWII cargo ship stowaway (87) has grown exponentially and led to declining bird populations and other losses of native animals (93), as illegal dumpsites proliferate as well.
Santos Perez “convenes,” as Aaron Shurin frames it, “an oceanic poetics”: the poems, like its rooted and routed people, must begin again in salt water and sub-surface groundings and waterings, tracing ‘one salt water’ across different parts of the Pacific. “What the map cuts up,” as Michel de Certau puts this quest, “the story cuts across” [saina, 44), as the poet works in a diaspora of open-field or circum-oceanic poetics (he has lived in Northern California since his family moved there in 1995) to tell the broken story, in shards, remainders, space-time constellations of place, family, and hand-me-down story. It’s Oceania as re-convened to put the water-land nexus back into pre- and postcolonial focus, via a resurrected spatiality of four languages. As Perez Santos writes, acknowledging his complex borrowings from Charles Olson as well as from Epeli Hau’ofa in his oceanic “field composition” poems, “Hau’ofa draws our attention to an oceania, preoceania, and transoceania surrounding islands, below the waves, and in the sky—a deeper geography and mythology” (saina, 63). Perez Santos does not just say this New Oceania, he does this region in performative worldings in the poems. He also quotes from Robert Sullivan’s waka, “Ocean Birth,” “every song to remind us/ we are skin of the ocean” (113). And the fluid Muriel Rukeyser, from “The Outer Banks,” “All is open./ Open water. Open I” (113), making fixities break down and fuse, link across imposed divides of subjected verb, making “open” into world-making and I-breaking action.
The Asia of these poems by Santos Perez is largely an exploitative one as well, as well-off pregnant South Koreans arrive to give birth to children who become guaranteed US citizens as promoted by “birth tour agencies” (saina, 47). And the postwar tourists begin to pour in from the Rim, particularly Japan, with its ties of war and colonial settlement: “1967: 109 passengers on pan am flight 801 from haneda, japan arrive; ‘japanese rediscover guam’” as “ginen sourcings” grimly puts the timeline (saina, 87), by 1973 a quarter of a million tourists comes to Guam, 70 percent Japanese (88). The very numbered sections of the poem all have Japanese number embedded in them, along with English and Chamorro and Spanish, ichi to go. The rebranding of Guam as “world class tourist destination” and hotels “all with ocean views” continues (115), as a function of what Teiawa calls the “militourist” mode of space-production of the Pacific for Asian and Euro-American fulfillment. Even as the grandmother’s Catholic rosary ties the Pacific together in grassroots beatitude and oceanic crossings, “when I say rosary [in Chamorro] I think I can hear her voice/ even here in California” (saina, 119).
No Asia or Pacific region-making framework can remain innocent these days of uneven power dynamics, historical elisions, bordered exclusions, internal discrepancies, its own aporias of place-making. Oceania as such (full of Robert Sullivan’s wakas and Craig Santos Perez’s sakman as well as 350-meter long containerized diesel ships from Matson and Evergreen to STX, with such ships losing some 10,100 containers each year at sea) offers no eco-cure or postcolonial kava-pill for the Cold War hangovers of war, militarization, racial tension, or the dynamics of neo-liberal globalization reshaping space, time, self, or world.