Last Blog, First Day of Class

Sadly, my contract with the Kenyon Review has come to its end, and this will be my last blog here. Thanks to Tyler Meier for inviting me to share my writing in this space. It has been a pleasure (if youʻd like to keep in touch, dear reader, please find me on Facebook).

As many of you know, I teach creative writing and poetry in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa. This semester, I am teaching two new courses that I designed: an upper-level undergraduate course, Community-Engaged Poetry and Poetics, and a graduate course, Pacific Poetry and Poetics.

The undergraduate course will introduce students to the vibrant and diverse array of poets and projects that bring poetry into community spaces. For our first day, I introduced my own background in such projects, and then we discussed the power of poetry and the role we think it should have in our communities and society at large.

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I was pleasantly surprised by how committed the students were to the idea that poetry is a powerful tool of expression, empowerment, healing, change, advocacy, and solidarity. When we shifted our attention to talk about the relationship between aesthetics and ethics, the students suggested that both are important considerations (depending of the poet, the poem, and the context) in the creation and evaluation of a piece of art.

Needless to say, I am excited about this course. We are going to read, among other texts, June Jordanʻs Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint (edited by Lauren Muller and the Blueprint Collective); Blueprints: Bringing Poetry into Communities (edited by Katharine Coles); and Landscapes of Dissent: Guerrilla Poetry & Public Space (edited by Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand). We will also have many guest speakers who will visit our class in person or via Skype. The major project of this course will involve the studnets designing, planning, and executing a community-engaged poetry project.

Interestingly, my graduate course started in the most unexpected way. First, I received emails from several students who were planning to attend a march that night to protest the injustice of the Kollin Elderts case. So in the spirit of Pacific poetry and poetics, we decided to have our first class participate in the sign making, march, and protest through Waikiki to the McDonaldʻs where Elderts was murdered. After the protest, we sat in a discussion circle in a patch of grass across the street from the McDonaldʻs.

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We shared our thoughts about the march and protest, expressing what we will remember about the experience. We also talked about our role as poets to remember, to honor, to make connections, and to speak against injustice. Importantly, we considered our responsibilities to the dead, and to the family members, in terms of symbol-making and narrativity. We ended by echoing these powerful lines from Samoan writer Albert Wendtʻs poem “Inside Us The Dead”: “Inside me the dead / woven into my flesh / like the music of bone flutes.”

With that, I thank you once again for reading, commenting on, liking, and sharing my blog posts this past year. Itʻs been an honor and a pleasure.

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