Have net, will travel

The new face of Chinese poetry

Yin Lichuan. Photo © 2004 by Martin de Haan.

It is impossible to convey the baffling complexity of the Chinese poetry scene, or rather scenes, for China is a huge and fragmented country with thousands of poets spread across millions of square miles. Further, China is but one of several countries or “renegade states” (as some Chinese politicians refer to Taiwan) in which poetry is composed in the Chinese language. It is nonetheless possible to observe some general trends, of which the most salient, in my view, is the impact of the Internet. While many scholars have described the Internet’s influence on the publishing and consumption of Chinese poetry, I have yet to see anyone discuss the profound influence that it has had on the form and content of Chinese poetry.

At the risk of sounding cynical, most poems written in China today aspire to the condition of an elevated blog entry. The poster child for this trend is Yin Lichuan, the most prominent and influential member of the still controversial (but no longer active) Beijing-based Lower Body Movement, which was the first poetic movement to write about sex, adultery, drugs, crime, bar life, lowlifes, and other unsightly blemishes on the grimy underbelly of China’s new urban culture. Now, however, she is but one of hundreds and possibly thousands of Chinese poets who write in a similar vein. Interestingly, although the Internet and Internet culture have also had a profound effect upon poetry’s presence and prestige in Taiwan, poets in Taiwan have responded rather differently to this new media landscape, embracing print publication and book arts, although they too now seem to be moving in the same direction.

But China first.


The late nineties and early years of our new millennium — when Chinese poets began going online — saw online poetry forums, bulletin boards, and journals spring up like mushrooms across the Chinese Internet. Although many of these ventures were relatively short-lived and had few readers to speak of, others became hugely popular alternatives to print publication. These included the Shanghai-based Under the Banyan Tree; the women’s poetry journal Wings, operated out of Beijing; and Poetry Vagabonds, whose servers and moderators were located in the Guangdong area. Although these sites typically relied upon a visually unattractive HTML format, they allowed readers to instantly post comments and exchange messages with authors and other readers, which created extraordinarily active online communities, at least for a time.[1]

For many readers, or “net-friends,” to borrow the Chinese term for Internet users, interest in poetry was fueled by the opportunities it provided for social networking, particularly for those living outside major urban areas who enjoyed little if any access to poetry books or poetry-related events. However virtual and fugitive these communities may have been, they allowed scores of “outsider poets,” Yin Lichuan among them, to cultivate a devoted following. Even once software for creating personal blogs became easier to use and poets abandoned these collective platforms, their followings tended to remain. While a few of these online forums and journals persist, the quality of the poetry and the quantity of the posts have fallen off dramatically, and many of the more prominent avant-garde venues, such as Poetry Vagabonds, have been inactive for years.

The alpha male of this vast tribe of virtual “escribitionists” is probably Yang Li, a “third-generation” poet who rose to prominence in the eighties, long before most people in China had heard of computers, much less the Internet. The fifty-six-year-old Sichuan-based poet learned how to go online only in 2000, but he took to the new medium readily. Yang Li’s poetry is, to put it mildly, an acquired taste, for much of it consists of tell-all confessions on provocative topics such as the rights of sperm or why he has lost interest in giving oral sex as opposed to receiving it. Indeed, his most famous poem is an epic-length meditation on “The Big Cannon,” a Chinese euphemism for masturbation. 

Yang Li's Glorious

Yang Li’s obsession with sex can be read as an example of the return of the repressed. Like other poets who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when nearly all books without the party stamp, including collections of classical poetry, were routinely seized from private homes and destroyed on the spot, Yang Li had little exposure to poetry besides some then-banned classical poems a neighbor would recite to him and the poems of Mao Zedong, in an irony that makes me wonder about the Chairman’s commitment to socialist realism and the proletarian revolution, were written in a classical form dating back to the Song Dynasty.[2]

There is, of course, the much simpler explanation that sex sells or at least prompts hits. But this should not be reason to write this poet off. As his first English translator Simon Patton has noted, Yang Li’s poems are all the more engaging for their apparent lack of craftsmanship.[3] For instance, “Albania,” which was inspired by a socialist propaganda film the poet was forced to watch in his youth, is a most engaging depiction of life during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Even his more provocative efforts, such as “Spring Days” and “When We Eat We Never Talk about Sex,” have unexpected depths. Written in Beijing some five or six years ago, they bear witness to the massive transformations that city underwent in order to become the symbol of China’s emergence as a major world power.

As urban historian Hanru has aptly observed, “the traditional substance of the Chinese city is the hutong — a mat of courtyards impressive for its intimacy and versatility, but often casual in its construction.”[4] Beijing in particular was once a perfect warren of close courtyards and narrow lanes, but these have been swept away to clear the ground for parking lots, skyscrapers, and huge, multistory condominiums such as the one Yang Li describes in “Spring Days.” Seen in the light of this new urban reality that isolates people even as it forces them together, the poet’s account of the deterioration of his relationship with “Ms. Chrysanthemum Wang” and “Xiao Yang” can be read as both symptom and critique of the general loss of intimacy and community that have followed China’s efforts to reinvent itself as a modern urban society.

Virtually every major city in China has experienced a similarly traumatic makeover over the past two decades, and the infusion of global capital and commodity culture has done much to diminish the presence and prestige of poetry in a nation that, for more than two thousand years, regarded the writing of poetry as its most revered cultural practice. In the eighties and early nineties, when even outsider poets enjoyed an almost heroic status, poetry readings were major events, in part because there was so little else for people to do during their leisure hours. Unlike in post-Maoist China, where “to be rich is glorious,” poets did not have to compete with the likes of cable television and tabloid news, pirated videogames and DVDs, porn, shopping, or those most alluring and addictive practices of eating out and playing the stock market, as Zhang Er describes in her prose piece “The Husband of a Younger Cousin on My Father’s Side.” Moreover, as tea houses have been gradually replaced by Starbucks-style coffeehouses, fast food restaurants, karaoke bars, malls, and other urban spaces where muzak, video streaming, and the endless chatter of cell phone and laptop conversations make it all but impossible for anyone to read aloud, there are fewer and fewer places where poets can present their work in public, assuming of course that anyone would want to hear them. As Yu Jian’s “Executing Saddam” suggests, with the invasion of cable television and American-style news programming, even the private home has become subject to the intrusions of an aggressive visual and consumer culture that has little room for poets or poetry. Small wonder that China’s poets have turned to the blog and in their effort to reach out to readers have reshaped their work to fit this more intimate format.

Zhai Yongming (in red) at White Nights

The “blogification” of contemporary poetry in China has had a tremendous leveling effect on individual style even among poets who came into their own before the Internet. Take the work of Zhai Yongming and Yu Jian, for example. In the nineties, the breakout decade for both, their poetry had little in common in terms of form or content. Zhai, who runs “White Nights,” a wine bar in Chengdu, and used to write elegant free verse that is deftly captured in this translation by Andrea Lingenfelter:

For Women Poets

They say:
             Don’t worry your pretty little heads over poetry
Their desks piled high with
Ink cartridges, CD-ROMs, blank paper

But we
             want it all:
an iBook          Estee Lauder
a printer           paint and powder

When I stand beneath a concrete ceiling
Its geometric structure             abstracts into a heart
I even fancy                    I could snatch that cube
for my own personal compact

Some years ago            from an airplane
I looked down and saw those carbon dark strata
They’d passed through prehistory       acquired significance
How long ago was that?
Before there were women or men[5]

Yu Jian, on the other hand, is regarded as one of the founding fathers of post-Soviet Chinese poetry and lives in the relatively remote province of Yunnan, where he has spent much of the last decade documenting the natural and cultural life now threatened by rampant development. Yu Jian established his reputation as the author of Whitmanesque inventories comprised of telegraphically short phrases sprawled across the page. His signature work and magnum opus, File 0, is a twelve-part prose poem modeled on the personal dossiers the state once compiled for virtually every citizen in the country, covering the whole lifespan, from elementary school until death:

5 thought report 

(brought to light and compiled on the basis of conjectures and suspicions of comrades with
       a grasp of the particulars)

he wants to bellow reactionary slogans    he wants to violate the law and public discipline   
       he wants to go into a frenzy    he wants to be degenerate

he wants to rape and defile    he wants to strip naked    he wants to go on a killing spree    he
       wants to rob a bank

he wants to be a billionaire    a big landlord    a big capitalist    wants to be king    president

he wants to lead a life of debauchery    dissolute to the nth degree    be a local despot    act
       the tyrant    ride roughshod over the people

he wants to surrender    he wants to betray    he wants to give himself up    he wants to make
       a political recantation    he wants to turn against his own side

he wants to riot    take frequent action    rampage    rebel    overthrow a class[6]

Both poets, however, now write colloquial confessional verse that is not all that different in style and register from that of Yin Lichuan, Yang Li, and company. Although there are important differences in their work, the distinctions have much less to do with form than with content, tone and degree of irony or confessional disclosure.

To be sure, there are a number of important Chinese poets whose work has remained relatively immune to the trend I have just described — Bei Dao, Duo Duo, Han Dong, Xi Chuan, Zhang Er, and the late Zhang Zao, who passed away earlier this year, come readily to mind. However, most of these poets either live outside China or are employed by Chinese literature or foreign language departments that reward or require them to publish their work in books or print journals. There are also many performance poets who write with a view to public recitation, but the vast majority of these poets are salesmen (or saleswomen) for commercial ventures or the Communist Party, or rank amateurs with naïve dreams of being snatched from obscurity.[7] Among the exceptions worth mentioning is the rocker poet Cui Jian, whose songs and lyrics are almost as famous in China as Bob Dylan’s and Leonard Cohen’s are in the English-speaking world. Yan Jun, whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform a few years ago in Taipei, combines computer-generated soundscapes and video clips with a recitative style that simultaneously evokes religious incantation and the iconoclastic antics of the edgier sound poets. His Dutch translator Maghiel van Crevel astutely observes that Yan Jun’s poetry “qualifies as nothing less than theater,” but very few poets in China have followed his lead in exploring the possibilities of multi-media.[8]

I suspect the trend toward “blogification” will continue until something more alluring replaces the blog, but it is hard to imagine what that might be, as most of the other Internet services and technologies that could conceivably provide an alternative platform and template for poetic composition and social networking, such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and YouTube, are more often than not blocked by the Chinese authorities. For better or for worse, the personal blog seems destined to remain, for the immediate future, the platform of preference for the lion’s share of poets in China.

If the blog entry is the current default setting for poetry in China, this is not yet the case in Taiwan. Here, too, the rise of the Internet and the proliferation of blogs, coffee houses, videos and other forms and forces of commodity culture and globalization have had a drastic impact on both the readership for poetry and the genre’s presence and prestige in the society at large. Poets on this side of the Formosa Strait, however, have been much less willing to abandon the book for the blog. There are several reasons for their persistent investment in print culture. For one thing, during the martial law period of the Nationalist government or Kuomingtang (KMT), which lasted from shortly after World War II until 1987 — the longest martial law reign in modern history — poetry enjoyed an enviable currency and centrality thanks to the prevalence of coterie journals, newspaper literary supplements and state-sponsored poetry competitions that actively sought interesting lyric poetry and paid contributors a respectable fee for the privilege of publishing it as a distraction from divisive political and social issues.

For the same reason, the island’s major poets, most of whom were former soldiers who had fled to Taiwan after the “fall of China,” turned to surrealism and other Western modernist movements so as to avoid state discourses of “anticommunism” and “moral reconstruction” without prompting the ire of the army of censors employed to keep a lid on public criticism of state policies.[9] Many of these “second-generation modernists” who came up in the late fifties, sixties and early seventies, such as Guan Guan, Ji Xian, Zheng Chouyu, and the late, great Shang Qin, who passed away last June, became household names during the martial law period. Even after this period ended, their reputations were so firmly established that they felt little need to alter their poetics or to turn to the Internet as an alternative to print publication. Quite a few of them are contributing editors to the literary journals and newspaper literary supplements that continue to publish poetry, or serve as judges in the highly-publicized poetry competitions these publications regularly sponsor, which has helped to keep the genre alive.

Although Taiwan has had its share of Internet poetry forums, bulletin boards and blogs, even avid Internet users still prefer to publish their verse in print form. Indeed, the triumph of the Internet in other spheres of life seems to have intensified the desire for print publication. This may have something to do with the island’s relatively small size and the concentration of its population in the greater Taipei area, which diminishes the difficulties of distribution, promotion and public recitation. Another possible reason is the growth of specialty bookstores and upscale bookstore chains such as Eslite that rely upon poetry and poetry-related events to advertise their cultural sophistication and are always on the lookout for novelty publications that can be used for book displays and point of purchase items. But the biggest reason for this persistent investment in print culture is the publication of the avant-garde journal Poetry Now, which since 2002 (as I have written in Jacket) has “served up more interesting verse in more interesting formats than the rest of the island’s journals combined.”[10] Their newest “Heartless Poetry” issue, for example, is designed along the lines of a glossy fashion magazine sans stories, with each page containing one or two poems set against a backdrop of digitally retooled, full-color ads stolen from the pages of the journals it imitates.

The pioneer here was Hsia Yü, who was one of the founding members of the journal and the driving force behind its emphasis on rethinking the possibilities of the codex book and enlarging the notion of the poetic text. Hsia Yü was the first poet in Taiwan to insist on designing her own books, which she fills with poems that draw attention to the book as a material object and to reading as a visceral and sensual practice.[11] Her innovations in poetic form, content, composition, and book design, which rival those of Johanna Drucker and Keith Smith, had a tremendously liberating influence on the island’s younger poets, many of whom subsequently joined the Poetry Now coalition or contributed to its publications. In particular, poets such as Hung Hung, Amang and Ye Mimi, have followed Hsia Yü’s example by designing their own books or hiring someone to do so. Their publications have helped to prompt a renewed interest in book design that has included such innovative formats as “big character” wall posters, accordion books, poetry calendars, “Poetry in an Egg,” “Poetry in a Matchbox,” “Poetry in a Sleeve,” and other novelty items. These innovations have encouraged concomitant experimentation in poetic style and content. While the poetry that has been published in Taiwan these last seven or eight years is not necessarily better than what has appeared in China, it is certainly more stylistically diverse and lends itself to more diverse forms of engagement: as aesthetic object, as gift or intimate possession, as script for recitation or browsing.

But there are downsides to this investment in novelty. Not only are many of these publications difficult to come by and relatively expensive, many of the best poems lose something in translation when they are reprinted in anthologies or posted on the Internet by the growing number of readers who prefer to read poetry on a computer screen. Hsia Yü’s “Tied Up and Waiting” and Ye Mimi’s “Sunlight’s Dotted Line,” for example, both have a flirtatiousness and musicality that make them a pleasure to read in almost any presentational format, but their closing lines make little sense outside the pages of a book. What is lost in the translation to the screen is fairly obvious in the case of Ye Mimi’s poem, but I should probably point out that the volume for which “Tied Up and Waiting” was originally published had a sewn binding and uncut, untrimmed pages, and was comprised of poems that play off the various ways in which authors attempt to ensnare readers and how readers, in turn, accept, resist, or ignore these enticements.

The other downside to this investment in novelty is that it eventually runs up against the law of diminishing returns. Here, too, Internet culture has become increasingly hard to resist as attention spans shrink and more and more people spend less and less time reading and tend to browse even when they do read, which helps explain why the new Poetry Now was designed to look like a glossy magazine. The oft-quoted paradox that there are more people writing poetry than reading it is not that far from the truth in Taiwan. Most poetry collections and anthologies published in the past few years have had few if any readers and simply molder on dusty shelves in the remote corners of bookstores if they manage to get into the stores at all. Moreover, the institutions that once generously supported poetry readings have not been unaware of this diminishing interest. Last year was the first time in almost a decade that the city of Taipei failed to host the Taipei International Poetry Festival, which was cancelled in order to free up funds for the International Flower Show. Several of the more established newspapers and journals continue to consider poetry submissions for their literary supplements, but the poems they publish tend to be but a few lines in length and read more like jokes than poetry, which has prompted some literary critics to predict the triumph of the “Twitter poem.”

This is a depressing trend, so much so that I sometimes wish I were in China rather than in Taiwan. But then again, when I’m online, I often am.



1.  There are many articles in English on Internet poetry communities in China, of which the most informative I have read is Michel Hockx’s “Virtual Chinese Literature: A Comparative Study of Online Poetry Communities,” in The China Quarterly 183 (2005): 670–691.

2.  The source for this information is an interview of Yang Li, forthcoming in Full Tilt: A Journal of Poetry, Translation and the Arts 5.

3.  Simon Patton, “Yang Li,” in the Chinese section of the online archive Poetry International Web.

4. Hou Hanru, “Beijing Preservation,” in Content, ed. Rem Koolhaas (London: Taschen 2004), 454–465.

5.  This translation originally appeared in Full Tilt 3 together with an interview by Andrea Lingenfelter, whose collection of Zhai Yongming translations, The Changing Room, is forthcoming from Zephyr Press.

6.  My translation of this section of Yu Jian’s “File 0” is indebted to Maghiel van Crevel’s version, which was originally published in its entirety in Renditions 56 (2001): 19–23 and subsequently reprinted in Maghiel van Crevel’s Chinese Poetry in Times of Mind, Mayhem and Money (Leiden: Brill, 2008), together with the Chinese and an extensive commentary (223–280). Readers are also directed to Robert Hass’s “Two Poets: A Generation after the ‘Misty School,’ Chinese Poetry Has Come Alive,” in the online journal The Believer (June 2010).

7.  John A. Crespi has several articles and interviews on performance poetry, most of which are available online.

8.  Chinese Poetry in Times of Mind, Mayhem and Money 471. The last and, to my lights, most interesting, chapter of van Crevel’s monograph is devoted to Yan Jun.

9.  See Michelle Yeh’s “‘On Our Destitute Dinner Table’: Modern Poetry Quarterly in the 1950s,” in Writing Taiwan: A New Literary History, ed. David Der Wei Wang and Carlos Rojas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 113–139.

10.  “Is This the End of Poetry Now?,” in Jacket 35 (2008).

11.  The best study of Hsia Yü’s poetry and agenda in any language is Zona Yi-ping Tsou’s MA thesis, “The Pleasure of the Work: Making Senses of Hsia Yü’s Poetry,” which I had the immense pleasure of directing.

Signs of being

Chamoru poetry and the work of Cecilia C. T. Perez

Artwork by Aaron Nicholson.

Where do we go from here? We are in uncharted waters, or maybe in familiar waters, unable to recognize the signs that show the way. Am I a navigator? Am I the navigator? Are we moving? Are the islands moving? Have we been following the navigator, so well-guided we don’t even know the navigator is here?

— Cecilia C. T. Perez, Signs of Being

Located in the northwest Pacific Ocean, the Mariana archipelago consists of fifteen islands, including Rota, Tinian, Saipan, and Guam, and is the homeland of the Chamoru people. For an introduction to the literature of the archipelago, the scholarship of Robert Tenorio Torres is a good place to start. His three essays, “Pre-Contact Mariana Folklore, Legends, and Literature” (2003), “Colonial and Conquest Lore of the Marianas” (2003), and “Post-Colonial and Modern Literature of the Marianas” (2004), stand as the most sustained critical commentaries in the field and the first serious attempts to articulate a Marianas literature. In the latter essay, Torres defines the “modern literary tradition” of the region as post-1940s writing by both Chamoru and non-Chamoru writers who write in and about the Marianas.[1]

Torres not only analyzes the most visible works by Chamorus; he also examines representations of the Marianas by outsiders, tracing what Paul Lyons terms “American Pacificism” in the Marianas (2006).[2] An important source for Torres’s commentaries is Mark Skinner’s “Contemporary Micronesian Literature: A Preliminary Bibliography” (1990), the first bibliography of Micronesian literature (of which Marianas literature is a geo-literary subcategory). Skinner lists approximately 800 works published since World War II by nearly 400 indigenous and nonindigenous writers.[3]

I hope to modestly contribute to this ongoing mapping of Chamoru poetry. This essay presents a noncomprehensive listing of poetic works, providing an overview of post-1960 Chamoru poetry. I then provide an extended analysis of Cecilia C. T. Perez’s cross-genre work Signs of Beings: A Chamoru Spiritual Journey (1997), one of the most important works of contemporary Chamoru poetry. I emphasize the interrelationship between Perez’s decolonial politics, aesthetic tactics, and multilingual crossings as she explores the major themes of Pacific poetics: indigenism, colonialism, tourism, militarization, missionization, and historiography.


Many of Skinner’s citations are drawn from literary journals produced by the University of Guam (UOG): Xanadu, Xanadu II, and Storyboard. Xanadu, published in 1966, featured work by students and faculty members of Chamoru and non-Chamoru descent. The journal was resurrected from 1981 to 1983 as Xanadu II. Dating from the same period as the first publication of Xanadu, one of the earliest Chamoru poetry books is Juan A. Sanchez’s History’s Four Dark Days: An Ode in Honor of the Late John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1965). This epic ode, comprised of sixty-eight quatrains, is written in Chamoru but includes an English translation by Father Andrew San Agustin. Sanchez expresses his fond feelings for President Kennedy as an ally of the Pacific nations, as well his sadness over Kennedy’s death.[4]

In the nineties, San Francisco–based writer P. C. Muñoz published two books of poetry, currently out of print and unavailable for review: The Daily Balance (1991) and Half-Truths (1995). The university also began production of Storyboard: A Journal of Pacific Imagery, published 1991–2001, 2006, and 2009 (currently in electronic format). This journal featured works by many Chamoru writers, including Anne Perez-Hattori, Cecilia Perez, Muñoz, Keith Camacho, and Tina Taitano deLisle. Recent issues include seasoned writers Peter R. Onedera and Evelyn Flores, as well as younger writers Kisha Borja-Quichocho, Fanai Castro, and Michael Lujan Bevaqcua, to name a few.

The heavy reference to university journals and unavailable titles in Skinner’s and Torres’s work, and in my own list here, illustrates that while many important books of Chamoru poetry are out of print, many other works have yet to be printed in book form. Recent anthologies have addressed themselves to this dual difficulty. Chamoru Childhood, coedited by Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Victoria Leon Guerrero, and myself, was published by Achiote Press in 2009. This anthology features poetry and prose by seventeen Chamoru writers. The Space Between: Negotiating Culture, Place, and Identity in the Pacific (2009), edited by Marata Tamaira and published by the Center for Pacific Islands Studies, presents several poems by Chamoru writers Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Kisha Borja-Kicho’cho’, and Angela T. Hoppe-Cruz. As of this writing, an anthology of Micronesian literature is being edited by Evelyn Flores and Emelihter Kihleng; it will include an ample selection of Chamoru writing.

It is clear that this situation is changing: besides myself, at least two other Chamoru poets have received MFAs in the United States: Clarissa Mendiola (California College of the Arts, 2009) and Lehua Taitano (University of Montana, 2010). In 2008, Hawai‘i-based Tinfish Press published my first book of poems, from unincorporated territory [hacha]. My second book of poems, from unincorporated territory [saina], was published in 2010 by California-based Omnidawn Publishing. In both works, I attempt to capture my grandparents’ experiences during World War II as well as my own experience growing up in Guam and living in California. Much of my work also explores the devastating impact of U.S. colonialism on Guam’s environment and culture.

Further, in recent years, the spoken-word scene on Guam has blossomed. In particular, the Sinangan-ta Poetry Slam was created in 2005 by Jovan Tamayo, Kie Susuico, and Melvin Won Pat-Borja. Sinangan-ta (“our spoken words”) is the only spoken word and slam poetry event on the island. According to Won Pat-Borja: “Spoken word poetry is a way for our people to reconnect with the oral traditions that our ancestors practiced centuries ago. It may look a little different with stages and microphones, but it is still a vehicle that allows us to share our stories, songs, and histories.”[5]


One of the most important Chamoru writers is Cecilia Catherine Taitano Perez, also known as “Lee” Perez and “Hagan Ita” (Daughter of Ita or Blood of Ita). In 1997, Perez published her master’s thesis, Signs of Being: A Chamoru Spiritual Journal, with the University of Hawai‘i’s Center of Pacific Islands Studies. Comprised of poetry, prose and commentary, this cross-genre, multilingual book is described by Perez as “a documentary in the form of creative writing, on the politics of cultural identity and historical memory in the process of decolonization of the Chamoru mind and senses. It is written from the self-reflexive view of an indigenous Chamoru woman writer from Guam, whose sense of physical sight is blurred.” Her journey through a “Chamoru mindscape” travels across five chapters, or what Perez calls “passages”: Hinasso (Reflection), Finakmata (Awakening), I Fina’pos (Familiar Surroundings), Lala’chok (Taking Root), and I Senedda (Finding Voice).[6]

In one of the opening poems, “As I Turn the Pages,” Perez depicts the invisibility of Chamoru people in western-authored histories of Guam. According to the commentary that follows the poem, the speaker was sitting in the theatre at UOG, listening to a lecture given by a history professor on “romantic and tragic” portrayals of Guam’s history:

In the drama
of what is called,
“The History of Guam,”
             severed from
sister homeland,
Northern Marianas,
the stage is set: 

Nanyo, extension of Nippon,
bastion of American democracy. 

One of many scenes
is played:

Foreign actors walk in
float in      fly in     bomb in
inseminate into
the passive props. (4)

Here, Perez asserts that Chamoru invisibility is a part of the colonially constructed narrative of Chamoru history, in which Chamorus were considered “passive props” in the struggle between various colonial powers to claim Guam. This narrative begins in the seventeenth century after Guam was “discovered” by Magellan and Spain colonized the Marianas. Following the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold the remaining northern islands to Germany. Japan occupied the Northern Marianas in 1914, and a League of Nations mandate recognized Japanese control. In 1941, Japan invaded and occupied Guam for three years; however, the U.S. recaptured Guam in 1944 and occupied the Northern Marianas.[7] Guam, again, became a possession of the U.S., while the Northern Marianas came under U.S. control through a mandate from the United Nations (the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands). In 1950, Guam became an “unincorporated territory” of the U.S., a status unchanged to this day. The Northern Mariana Islands became a commonwealth of the U.S. in the late seventies, thus cementing the severing of the Mariana Islands and the Chamoru people-cum-“passive props.”

Perez’s poem continues with the speaker remembering how she’s “turned those pages” of history, often ending up at these words: “‘And in the end …’ / ‘in one final gasp of life …’ / ‘the last Chamorro died’” (5). The poem ends:

who am I
who know
my    self
to be
and how is it
I sit here

The speaker herself is proof that Chamorus survived four centuries of colonialism, despite the “fatal impact” thesis of many historical texts. This theme of cultural survival is further articulated in a prose essay, “Signs of Being — A Chamoru Spiritual Journey,” which appears in the second section (Finakmata): 

I always come back to the idea of cultural survival. We are here. We are now. But what is it that brought us, as a people, to this point? Despite years of governance by colonial powers, our language and our ways persevere. We are not pickled, preserved, or frozen in time. We are not measurable or validated by blood quantum, ethnic breakdown, physical characteristics or DNA. We are vital, and vitalized by our tenacity and joined inner strength.

It is not in words spoken that we have been taught, but rather in the silent teachings of our Saina. What we learn is to open ourselves to the “collective memory” of our People who came before us and help us to move ahead — I Taotaomo’na. They show us how to remain in spiritual love and connectedness with each other and our homelands.

Where do we go from here? We are in uncharted waters, or maybe in familiar waters, unable to recognize the signs that show the way. Am I a navigator? Am I the navigator? Are we moving? Are the islands moving? Have we been following the navigator, so well-guided we don’t even know the navigator is here?

With my diminishing eyesight, I try to expand my vision. I have stopped looking for signs and started feeling for signs. The islands are moving, and we are being guided. I felt my first wave, felt my first star and felt my first island here in recent memory. (24)

This essay morphs into literary nonfiction, and the speaker describes a trip to the neighboring northern island of Luta (Rota) with a friend. They walk through a Latte quarry site. Latte are stone monoliths constructed with a vertical pillar and a bowl-like capstone that our ancestors used as the foundations to various buildings, such as homes and canoe houses. Latte sites house ancestral spirits, and Chamorus consider these places sacred. The speaker’s friend, Lina, leans down to a fallen capstone and asks in Chamoru: “Guella yan Guello, hafa na ti un na’fonhayan i che’cho’-miyu? What happened to make you leave your work?” The speaker believes that the fallen Latte is a sign: “It is from within the row of Latte that we feel our strength. It is the severed capstone that gives us Their message, “Ti monhayon I che’cho. We will not rest until the Latte is whole” (26).

Throughout Perez’s work, she implores Chamorus to listen to our ancestors struggling to speak through the silencing effects of colonialism. The poem “Kafe Mulinu” (Ground Coffee) begins with a “we” drinking coffee in our modern homes:

Venetian-blinded windows
encase us in
conditioned air
conditioned minds
and keep us from seeing
keep us from feeling
the surrounding sesonyan. (17)

Perez draws a link between the air conditioning of modernization and the mind conditioning of colonialism. Because of this dual conditioning, Chamorus are blinded from seeing the surrounding “sesonyan,” or wetlands, which have been “poured thick” with concrete. The moment of bilingualism in the poem is important because it signals a momentary return to seeing the indigenous surroundings. Another Chamoru word propels the next stanza:

our beloved ancestors
Cries from the past
whirl in the present
are hurled at our presence
but only blow at us
like a whisper.

Taotaomo’na, Chamoru ancestors, begin to wail following the linguistic invocation of “sesonyan.” The past haunts the present of our surviving presence — but do we hear their voices over the hum of the air conditioner? Perez mourns: “We leave Them in Their pain / as we heave / and take, yet / another numbing sip.” At this numbing point, the poem turns linguistically, introducing six lines of Chamoru:

Ai, mohon yanggen siña ta hungok,
yanggen siña ta nginge,
yanggen siña ta li’e

Mohon yanggen siña ta siente
na ti apman esta i ora,
siempre ti man manmatåtåchong hit (18)

Both stanzas are initiated by the word “mohon,” which expresses a desire, hope, or wish. This repetition, followed by the repetition of “yanggen” (if) and “ta” (we), creates a chantlike structure. To translate, the speaker wishes we could hear, smell, see, and feel the signs that colonialism is destroying us. If we could truly feel that our extinction is near, then we wouldn’t be sitting around drinking coffee. The poem ends: “thirsting, / groundless / sitting sipping / churning mixing / tasting / bitter with sweet.” Perez insists that Chamorus must remain connected to our ancestral surroundings and to i taotaomo’na. To do this, we must experience an awakening of our senses to indigenous roots encased within modernity and colonialism.

While “Kafe Mulinu” explores how Chamoru diets and residences have changed over time, the poem “View of Tumon Bay” explores how an entire village was transformed and deformed by tourism:

Big hotels
skew the view,
and as if what we’ve got
ain’t enough
the gov. wants
to build


You talk about
by 2000 …

Let ME
tell you
I don’t feel much like waving,
Enthusiastically. (42)

Tumon, now the main tourist center, was one of the most prominent villages in precolonial Guam. Now it is thick with hotels, bars, restaurants, duty-free shopping, strip clubs, massage parlors, and gun shops. The “gov” that the speaker refers to is the former Governor of Guam, Carl Gutierrez, who aimed to bring 2 million tourists to the island by the year 2000. The acrostic that ends the quoted passage, “Welcome / All / Visitors / Enthusiastically” (WAVE), was a promotional slogan of the Guam Visitors Bureau encouraging residents to wave at tourists. The poem’s anger and refusal continues:

My hands are
too busy
fanning away the stench
of tourist industrial waste
and praying
for that
      threatened silence
“if there were
no tourism”
on Guam.

It’s getting
so it’s hard
to find a fish
but a hotel dinner plate
these days. (43)

To pave the way for the tourist industry in Tumon, large sections of reef along the shoreline were removed. In addition to mechanized sand sweeping, the use of motorized water recreational vehicles, soil erosion, and sewage runoff destroyed much of the fish population in the area. So the speaker prays for silence — a silence derived from another Visitors’ Bureau ad claiming that there would be a “silence of cash registers” if the tourist industry failed.

Surrounded by the effects of colonialism, modernization, and tourism, Perez feels “lost in a wilderness / not of [her] making,” as she puts it in the poem “Strange Surroundings.” Unlike “Kafe Mulinu,” in which the speaker seeks to hear our ancestors’ voices more clearly, “Strange Surroundings” also invokes Catholicism, another agent of colonialism in Guam:

I seek the one
who walks on water
to pull me from
this brackish water
and cloak me
in the finest wet air
of our deepest hålom tåno,
our deepest jungle,
to find the graces of
the Ones Who Walked Before.

Catholicism, brought to Guam by Spanish missionaries, is now the major religion of the Chamoru people, compacting over the healing powers of our taotaomo’na.[8] Again, Perez signals this movement toward indigeneity through the use of the Chamoru language. I hålom tåno, or deep jungle, is guarded by the taotaomo’na. While Catholicism may guide us toward a spiritual place, the depths of the Chamoru spirit belong to the graces of the “Ones Who Walked Before.” Throughout Signs of Being, Perez compels Chamorus to see and feel and listen to what she calls “the invisible ceremonies” of our language, our land, and our ancestors.

The poem “Sky Cathedral” explores the theme of religion more fully, as it weaves Catholic ritual and Chamoru spiritual beliefs. The poem begins by describing how “Nåna” (mother) lives “in jeweled nights, / stars / like candles / lit / in a sky cathedral.” Blending the natural world with the Catholic world, the poem then weaves into Nåna’s prayerful, Chamoru voice:

Abe, Nånan Yu'os
sen gågås Maria
ma'okte minaolek
yan gråsia siha. (61)

Within the echoes of Nåna’s voice, the speaker addresses the reader with the haunting question: “Did you see that shadow pass / and pinch me on the cheek?” While the mother’s spirit wakes her up, the speaker’s voice reaches out to the reader to wake us up. She seeks — and asks the reader to seek — what is compacted beneath concrete, what is buried beneath Catholicism, what is invisible and shadow. In this poem, however, the speaker not only seeks, she finds:

I find [Nåna]
in gualåffon
dancing light
in a field of Latte
singing dreams
to me. (61)

Gualåffon, or full moon, propels the reader deeper towards an indigenized land and mindscape. In the passage, gualåffon reflects the light of the Latte, i hålom tåno, and i taotaomo’na. By invoking a field of Latte, Perez weaves the past and the present; the following stanza powerfully captures this interweaving:

Gently then,
she strokes my hair
with moonbeam fingers
that let my strands
and glisten
in the wind
cascading to
my shoulders
that greet
the kiss
of Nåna’s hair,
silver streams
that drape me
with my past. (61–62)

Hair, especially women’s hair, is an important trope in Chamoru storytelling. In the story explaining the shape of Guam, a giant fish eats the middle part of the island. Even though the men hunted every night to kill the fish, the beast successfully hid from them. One day, a group of young women tied their hair into a net and sang near a spring. The fish swam near to hear their songs; then, the women caught the fish using their net.[9] Hair becomes a symbol of protection; just as Nåna’s hair protects the speaker and drapes her in the past, Perez’s words unfurl in the glistening winds of silence, cascade in our imaginations, and drape us in the Chamoru past.

Like many other poets from the Pacific — we might think of Albert Wendt and Haunani-Kay Trask — Perez believes creative writing can be a tool for decolonization, “a process that comes over time through a development and nurturing of intellectual and sensory acuity.” Contemporary Chamoru poetry, while unique in its own ways, navigates the currents of Pacific literature outlined insightfully by Wendt in Lali: A Pacific Anthology (1980):

The new Pacific literature examines (and laments), often angrily, the effects of colonialism. It argues for the speeding up of decolonisation [sic]; the development of cultural and national and individual identity based firmly on our own ways, values, and visions. The quest is for self-respect and the forging of forms of expression which are our own. But, more importantly, like writers elsewhere our writers are explaining us to ourselves and to one another, and adding details to the faces, organs, hopes, and dreams of each of our cultures. They are helping us to understand who we are, where we are, where we came from, and where we might be going, by singing their own individual songs, by plotting their own paths through the Void.[10]

By reading the literary signs of Chamoru being, we are reminded that in the history of the Marianas, the Chamoru people have survived. How can we be dead if we are sitting here, reading and writing our once invisible stories? Beyond merely surviving, Hagan Ita calls us to see, touch, smell, hear, feel, and remember our ancestors because “their pain is our legacy.” Perez insists: let this pain guide us through the moving and changing islands; let our poems and stories guide us into i hålom tano; let us make the Lattes whole again.

In the introduction to his bibliography, Skinner describes the literature from Micronesia as “stunted” in its “infancy,” especially as compared to the growing corpus of work in English from Melanesia and Polynesia. In the twenty years since Skinner completed his bibliography, Chamoru literature has been flourishing. If the current proliferation of Chamoru writing continues, we might be on the crest of a new wave of Pacific writing.

In this 2007 video, Chamoru poet Cecilia “Lee” Perez reads “As I Turn the Pages” and “Kafe Mulinu” on KUAM News Extra, a feature on one of Guam’s news channels. The video was recorded during Mes Chamorro (Chamorro Month), which occurs every March.


1.   See Robert Tenorio Torres, “Colonial and Conquest Lore of the Marianas: A Critical Commentary,” Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2.1–2 (2003): 22–30; “Post-Colonial and Modern Literature of the Marianas: A Critical Commentary,” Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences 3.1–2 (2004): 26–44; and “Pre-Contact Marianas Folklore, Legends, and Literature: A Critical Commentary,” Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2.1–2 (2003): 3–15.

2.  Paul Lyons, American Pacificism: Oceania in the U.S. Imagination (New York: Routledge, 2006).

3.  Mark E. Skinner, “Contemporary Micronesian Literature: A Preliminary Bibliography” (master’s thesis, University of Hawai‘i, Manoa, 1990).

4.  Juan A. Sanchez, History’s Four Dark Days: A Memorial Ode to the Late John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Saipan, CNMI: Trust Territory Printing Office, 1965). For an extended analysis, see Torres, “Post-Colonial and Modern Literature of the Marianas.”  

5.  Won Pat-Borja, personal communication, 28 August 2010.

6.  Cecilia C. T. Perez, Signs of Being: A Chamoru Spiritual Journey (Honolulu: Pacific Islands Studies Plan B Paper Series, 1997).

7.  The Enola Gay and the Bockscar — the two planes that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — were launched from Tinian.

8.  A literal translation of taotaomo’na is “people of before.”

9.  Another version of the story replaces the young women with the Virgin Mary, a version that reflects the influence of Catholicism.

10.  Albert Wendt, ed. Lali: A Pacific Anthology (Auckland: Longman Paul, 1980), xvi.

Notes on this edition

'The Book Of Revelations'


“she writes not me this like”

The works Hannah Weiner published during her lifetime are never accompanied by an extensive editorial apparatus. Often, indeed, the only thing following the title page and publication information (sometimes actually omitted) is a brief statement by Weiner acknowledging her use of “second sight” in the composition of the text. For many of her readers, it may seem strange, or even opposed to Weiner’s spirit, to confront an essentially scholarly presentation of her work. The question of whether or not such a representation violates Weiner’s profound and costly commitment to deterritorialization at all levels of her poetics has been constantly with me.

At last, two considerations convinced me to proceed as I have. The first consideration is essentially political. In the academic economy in which Weiner now exists — editions signal literary and cultural value — a scholarly edition of Weiner’s work attests to her significance and may help generate further investigation of her work and of all works at the margins of literary history. The second factor issued from Weiner’s own attention to detail in her published works. As her typesetters know, Weiner was deeply mindful about the design of the pages she wrote and meticulous about the translation of even tiny details from typescript to published work. I hoped to bring that level of care to this unpublished document.

Finally, it may help to remember that “back matter” is simply that: materials at the end of a volume that may or may not ultimately belong to it. In the end, The Book Of Revelations may take its chances alone and unaccompanied by any commentary.



“the words told me to get this”


Hannah Weiner’s The Book Of Revelations is housed with the extensive collection of her papers in the Archive for New Poetry, Mandeville Special Collections Library, at the University of California, San Diego. Although clearly a “notebook,” it is not included in the primary sequences of Weiner’s notebooks (1971–1975, 1976–1979, and 1990–1992), but classified as a “Manuscript” (box 10, folder 6), possibly because although it exists in holographic, handwritten form, it does not contain “raw” notes but a text ready for typesetting and publication. The notebook served as the copytext for the transcripts included here.

A digital scan of all the pages of The Book Of Revelations is available online at the New Poetry Archives, University of California, San Diego, and on Weiner’s homepage at the Electronic Poetry Center. This scan was made under the supervision of Lynda Corey Claassen, director of the Mandeville Special Collections Library. The cover was scanned first, followed by shot of each page, folded back one by one. The notebook was scanned at the library’s usual standard of 600 dpi and in color.


Transcripts of the Notebook 


“terrified of all consequences / carefully we cross inbetween”

The Diplomatic Transcript

The primary goal of the diplomatic transcript is to present a deciphered text that gives clarity to a manuscript which is sometimes veiled by the idiosyncrasies of Weiner’s hand, the nature of the media (pencil), and the passage of time. The fundamental requirement for any transcriber is to detach herself from certain fixed preconceptions about the text and the notebook and to act as a reflecting glass for what actually occurs on the page. This is especially challenging in transcribing Weiner, where the temptation to read what is reasonable rather than what is in fact written is strong and compounded by her habit of composing fragmentary phrases for the reader to finish in her mind. Thus during the first transcription of the notebook, we adopted the practice of transcribing individual lines from end to beginning, hopefully short-circuiting our impulse to misread or read willfully. In the second full transcription, we reversed this process, then collated the two transcripts to discover our errors. After this, the transcript was proofread completely three times through a process of reading manuscript and transcript aloud.

The painstaking process of transcription took more than two years. From the outset, we proceeded from the idea that everything on the page was of equal significance: spellings and apparently corrupted spellings, the sizes of words and their position on the page, the angle of the script from line to line, the presence of illegible and stray marks — all may be relevant to a reading of the work and all have been retained. We hope that by following this method we offer a transcript that recovers a least a somatic trace of the original.

To create the diplomatic transcript of The Book Of Revelations, my research assistant Elizabeth Cattarin and I used Photoshop CS3 in combination with Adobe Acrobat 8. We began the transcription process by downloading the scans of the notebook displayed on the UCSD website and then loading them into Photoshop. After capturing each page as a “layer,” we created a template in Photoshop that determined the outermost boundary of all of the pages. The result was a blank document with the same contours as the original notebook. In this template, each page is in fact of set of three layers: the blank canvas, the transcribed text, and the original scan.

Each page of the notebook was transcribed in the same way. The original scan was called to the screen and then faded to approximately 50 percent opacity so that the text remained clearly visible. We then typed directly over Weiner’s handwritten text, using Photoshop tools to adjust the size, spacing, positioning, and alignment of each word, which was then saved separately. The base font set used was Calibri, primarily because it turned out to be a good typographical match for the form/shape of Weiner’s handwriting. Material written in another hand, in this case, Barbara Rosenthal’s, is composed in Calligraph 421 BT.

The desire to record every mark made by Weiner on the pages of the notebook was accompanied by the decision to avoid using editorial symbols in the diplomatic transcript. For the most part, the manuscript evidence is clear; however, when complications arise, these cases are marked in the Microsoft Word transcript and, if necessary, discussed in the appendices. There is one very important omission in this record of textual complications. It is clear from an examination of the notebook that Weiner frequently erased words and passages and wrote over them. This habit, clearly interesting and important to the exploration of her poetics of writing, has not been documented in the Word transcript or in the notes. In the future, Weiner scholars will want to use the various technologies available — filters within Photoshop, for example — to determine what lies beneath the overwritten text.


The Microsoft Word Transcript

The Microsoft Word 2007 transcript reproduces the text The Book Of Revelations. This transcript, like the diplomatic transcript, remains faithful to the words as Weiner wrote them in the notebook — i.e., no misspellings have been altered, no capitals introduced, etc. — though it seems likely given Weiner’s careful attention to textual matters in her published works that she herself would have made changes had she remained in control of the text. There are three exceptions to this general rule. First, in cases where a transcription is uncertain, the word or phrase is placed in {braces} and a list of possible readings incorporated in the appendices. Second, although Weiner did not number the pages of the notebook, page numbers have been added in parentheses to aid the reader who may wish to return to a specific place in the notebook. Finally, changes in the tearing/slicing/knife-cutting patterns created by Barbara Rosenthal have been marked to encourage further investigation of the relationship between textual and material boundaries.

The primary values of the Word transcript are its representation, as far as possible, of the temporal dynamics of Weiner’s writing, i.e., the order in which she composed the words, its electronic searchability, and its future potential for deep encoding. At the moment, readers can search words and parts of words easily; since recurring words are often linked to larger thematic and formal concerns in Weiner’s work, following specific words and word combinations across the notebook may prove significant. Later, the document may be encoded in ways that reveal far more about its visual and linguistic structures.

The Word transcript does not illuminate fully the patterns of cuts and visual relations between and among sections. Nor does the Word transcript adequately illuminate the spatial dynamics of each page. For these features, readers should consult the original notebook, the scans of the notebook pages, and/or the diplomatic transcription.


The “Blank” Notebook

It is not possible at this time to offer a “transcript” of the blank notebook before it was filled with writing. It is hoped, however, that the following description will provide readers with some sense of its strikingly tactile nature. The notebook is a commercially made hardbound blank book with a black, textured leatherette cover and a sewn binding (6” x 9” outer dimensions), of the kind manufactured by companies like Canson or Cachet as “classic sketch books” with acid-free, 70-lb bright white paper, and sold in art supply stores. Besides being a book of writing, it is also an artist’s book, or, more specifically, an “altered” book. Its 110 pages were torn, sliced, ripped, and knife-cut at different lengths and angles by Weiner’s friend and collaborator, Barbara Rosenthal, who, for New Year’s 1989, gave Weiner the notebook. In chapter-like progression, the first third contains pages torn upward against a straightedge to form cascading sequences of what she calls “pagels”; the second is sliced freehand with an X-Acto knife into concentric, rectangular openings she calls “basins”; and the final third is a series of nesting L-shapes she created by one vertical straightedge rip and one horizontal freehand knife-cut (unpublished correspondence, November 2010). Since Rosenthal sometimes “composed” books by layering, hiding, and revealing — see, for example, her offset version of Homo Futurus, published in 1986 by Visual Studies Workshop — The Book Of Revelations may be said to have two authors and to exist in two distinct incarnations.


A collection of straightedges. Photo reproduced by permission of Barbara Rosenthal.


X-Acto knives and other artists’ tools. Photo reproduced by permission of Barbara Rosenthal.

Although Rosenthal “composed” the blank notebook more than twenty years ago, she recalls her working process with great clarity and specificity. Rosenthal created the opening section of the notebook (from “forthcoming and absolutely to “no one can eliminate a particle”) by placing a steel straightedge on the page in sequenced parallels, grasping at the paper at the lower corner with her right hand, bearing down on the steel with her left, and pulling upward to form straight rips with a slightly textured edge; she created a second section (from “read more about it in the papers” to “absence of time between 5 and 7”) by using an X-Acto #2 Fine Point Blade to slice concentric or nested angles or rectangles; she created the final section using a combination of these techniques: “renunciation and something else” to “she writes not me like this” was created using the straightedge, and “the insatiable quotient quote” to “love come to a” was created using the X-Acto knife (unpublished correspondence, November 2010).

Readers interested in altered books/artists’ books in general and in the Weiner/Rosenthal collaborations in particular may wish to explore the following works: Written In (1984), which was “written” by Weiner “in” Rosenthal’s (blank) first version of Homo Futurus (now called Homo Futurus blank book, 1984, eMediaLoft); and Weeks (Xeoxial Endarchy, 1990), for which Rosenthal created photographs of television newscasts to accompany Weiner’s texts of the same.




“report all interference at once”

In addition to the critical introduction and transcriptions of Hannah Weiner’s The Book Of Revelations, this edition includes five appendices detailing misspelled and alternatively spelled words; neologisms; part-words and uncertain transcriptions; proper names; and literary and cultural allusions.

Christianity, civilization, colonialism, and other diseases

The poetry of Haunani-Kay Trask

Artwork by Kimberlie Wong.

Hawaiʻi’s history following Western contact is a history of disease, colonization, and denial. In Before the Horror: The Population of Hawaiʻi on the Eve of Western Contact (1989), David Stannard estimates the Hawaiian population dropped from 800,000–1,000,000 in 1778 to just 40,000 in 1900, a 96 percent decrease over a little more than a century, following the introduction of various foreign diseases to which Hawaiians lacked immunity.[1] Most of the depopulation — an 80 percent decrease — occurred within the first fifty years of Western contact alone.[2] These statistics, however, are unable to voice the lived reality of disease and devastation experienced by our ancestors, who had to fight for their very survival while also fighting to retain their land, culture, and traditions amidst missionization and other agents of colonial encroachment. Today, we are a minority in our own homeland, which has been occupied by the United States for more than a hundred years, and the colonial impulse has largely been to deny its own conquest, to proffer the hegemonic narrative of our complacent adoption of “Americanness.”

It is precisely this history of denial that many contemporary Hawaiian poets like Haunani-Kay Trask seek to expose in their writing. Trask is arguably the most well known voice in the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement. She has written two books of scholarship, Eros and Power: The Promise of Feminist Theory (1986) and From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai‘i (1993), as well as two books of poetry, Light in the Crevice Never Seen (1994) and Night Is a Sharkskin Drum (2002). Trask is also the coproducer and scriptwriter of the 1993 documentary Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation. Additionally, her poetry has been widely anthologized in both Native American literary anthologies, such as Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writings of North America, edited by Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird, and her scholarship is widely quoted within indigenous studies, Pacific studies, and American studies. She is an activist, scholar, professor, and poet.

Trask frames her work as stemming from her “rage and an insistent desire to tell the cruel truths about Hawaiʻi.” These truths include “Christianity and the racism of its ideologies and clergies; American greed and arrogance and the embrace of violence; [and] the constant erosion of a people’s self-respect through a colonization of the mind and the elegant spirit that once sustained it.”[3] In this essay, I examine poems from Trask’s poetry collections Light in a Crevice Never Seen and Night Is a Sharkskin Drum for their depictions of missionization and colonialism in Hawaiʻi as disease and devastation, as well as their emphasis on the return to tradition as a primary means of resistance and remedy. I conclude by situating Trask’s poetics within the contemporary Kanaka Maoli literary movement, which I assert is reflective of our ongoing sovereignty as a people.

Trask’s first collection, Light in the Crevice Never Seen, is broken into three sections. The first section, “Chant of Lamentation,” is comprised of several intimate portraits of the poet and her family and close friends. Together, as the section title suggests, these poems offer notes of profound grief and mourning, preparing the reader for the horrific images of the devastation wrought by colonialism and its missionary agents in the poems “Pax Americana: Hawaiʻi, 1848” and the extended lyric “Hawaiʻi.” “Pax Americana: Hawaiʻi, 1848” examines the violence of missionary contact in Hawai‘i by highlighting the introduction of western diseases and the resulting massive Hawaiian depopulation, as well as the advisement of King Kamehameha III to privatize land ownership in Hawaiʻi through the Great Māhele in 1848. The first stanza likens both events to rape and consumption:

I am always falling
toward that dark, swollen
river filled with tongues
drunk and baptized

new priests waving foreign
flags and parchment
calling in the conquered
to hungry bankers.[4]

The horrific imagery of consumption in the “dark, swollen river filled with tongues” alludes to the death that consumes the Hawaiian people, as well as to the missionaries’ consumption of the land. They show their colonial loyalties by “waving foreign flags and parchment.” The poet falls victim to alcohol and the Christian god, both western introductions accompanying and solidifying the onslaught of colonialism, as she is “drunk and baptized” in the process. The result of these introductions is “sacred places gone for coin,” followed by the violence of foreign claims to Hawai‘i, the “hooks and stripes / the lash across my face / and pale white stars // nailed to coffins,” and the death and displacement of the Hawaiian people in the two concluding one-line stanzas: “only my scream in the homeless wind // and murdered voices.” The poet is left to bear witness to the horror as a survivor, “reliving” the violence of history as a descendant.

The first part of the title, “Pax Americana,”[5] Latin for “American Peace,” then, is meant to be ironic, as what follows the colon is “Hawai‘i, 1848.” In other words, “American Peace” means colonial entrenchment and displacement. In the notes accompanying the poem, Trask describes the Māhele as a “tragic action” that occurred after the ali‘i converted to Christianity and followed the advice of the missionaries. She writes: “Within twenty years […] nearly all our remaining people were dispossessed of their lands. The missionaries’ children, meanwhile, had become plantation owners and sugar barons on the ancestral lands of the Hawaiian people.”[6] Though the poem notes historical events, it is written in the present continuous tense. Thus, the poet “is always falling” toward the violent history she describes, even though the specific event she refers to took place in 1848 and has not been experienced directly. Trask’s choice of tense emphasizes not only the colonized Kanaka Maoli’s continual reliving of historical and cultural trauma in the present, but also how the event continues to affect Hawaiians, who have effectively been displaced and disenfranchised from our homeland. The poem also references how missionary descendants benefited from the Māhele, reaping the tremendous wealth resulting from their ancestors’ enterprising interests and white privilege. As Trask notes: “Today the missionary companies, known collectively as the Big Five, still control much of Hawai‘i’s lands and politics.”

Like the poems that precede it, “Hawai‘i” can be characterized through its grieving tone and its articulation of loss of culture, land, and people through various kaona references; however, “Hawai‘i” presents smaller snapshot images of Hawai‘i as a colonized space. Part I illustrates a beach scene spoiled by the “ruddy face” of a tourist who, like other tourists, “take[s] our pleasures / thoughtlessly” (34). In part 2, Trask gives the following description of the kōlea:

The kōlea[7] stilts its way
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
thickened by the fat
of our land. It will eat

ravenous, depart rich,
return magnificent
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Haole plover
plundering the archipelagoes
of our world. (34–35)

The kōlea is a metaphor for haole (especially missionaries and their enterprising descendants), a word which was often employed by Hawaiians during the nineteenth century. Like the kōlea, the missionaries and their descendants are “thickened by the fat / of our land,” profiting from the land development and industry attained through Kanaka Maoli displacement. Trask juxtaposes this colonial consumption of the land with the “lost” plight of Hawaiians:

       gorging ourselves
on lost shells
blowing a tourist conch

into the wounds
of catastrophe. (35)

Part 4 of the poem marks a shift posited through the ancestral gaze. A “green-toothed mo‘o of Kaua‘i” (36) angrily witnesses the pollution and blatant degradation of the water, which, according to traditional moʻolelo, he guards:

heiau stones lie crushed
beneath purple resort

toilets: Civilization’s
fecal vision

in the Native
heart of darkness. (36)

Sacred land, where heiau once stood, now lies beneath tourist toilets, creating an ironic image of the “civilization” which has been brought to the “Native / heart of darkness.” The “vision” of civilization is reduced to its excremental waste, its feces flushed down ridiculous “purple resort toilets.”

Like the preceding sections, part 6 references the mythic realm, addressing Pele, Papa, and Hiʻiaka, gods who represent mana wahine, or feminine power, but who also together represent strong regenerative power. However, Trask demonstrates that their power has been weakened by geothermal energy development:

   E Pele e, fire-eater
   from Kahiki.

Breath of Papa’s life
miraculously becomes
Energy, stink with

sulfurous sores. Hiʻiaka
wilting in her wild home (37)  

This section disturbingly describes the victimization of the gods, as manifest in the ʻāina’s denigration. Papa, our Earth mother, is ridden with “sulfurous sores,” an allusion to the introduction of foreign diseases that historically plagued the Hawaiian population. Hiʻiaka’s regenerative power is also weakened, as suggested by the images of “black lehua, shriveled / pūkiawe, [and] unborn ʻaʻaliʻi” (37) as well as the “Cracked lava stones” that “sprout / thorny vines, thick / and foreign” (37). These invasive vines and their destruction of the stones serve as a potent metaphor for colonial dominance over that which is indigenous, preventing all growth and recovery.

Trask is unflinching in her apocalyptic portrait of Hawaiʻi in the closing two sections. “Hawaiʻi” concludes with the horrific image of a “dense vapor / colored like the skin // of burnt milk” that invades “the recesses / of our poisoned / naʻau” (37). This “dense vapor,” a metaphor for the disease of colonization, comes from “these foreigners / these Americans” (38) and is seemingly inescapable. Trask depicts the disease’s spread through our bloodline as “a foul stench / among our children” for which there is “a long hollow / of mourning / in our maʻi (38).[8]  These lines give a concluding vision of death and devastation, indicating that there is no hope — future generations of Hawaiians, too, will come to die and decay under the disease of colonialism.

Images of disease and devastation wrought from colonialism can also be seen in Trask’s second collection, Night Is a Sharkskin Drum, wherein she frames the “foreigner” as the devourer of Hawaiian culture and land in “The Broken Gourd,” an extended lyric written in three sections. The poem opens with an image of new dawn: “After the last echo / where fingers of light / soft as laua‘e / come slowly.”[9] Rather than the natural beauty of Hawaiʻi, however, the light reveals a vision of devastation:

a cracked ipu
whispers, bloody water
on its broken lip. (11)

Trask describes our Kanaka Maoli people as “cracked gourds”: gourds were commonly used symbols for people, specifically with regard to judgments about their knowledge base or appearance.[10]  In the lines that follow, Trask describes a time of unbroken “ipu”:

Long ago, wise kānaka
hauled hand-twined
nets, whole villages shouting
the black flash of fish.

Wāhine uʻi
trained to the chant
of roiling surf;
nā keiki sprouted by the sun
of a blazing sky. (11)

Trask highlights the sharing of fish within communities, the composing of oli to the rhythm of the ocean by women chanters and orators who were valued and employed by aliʻi for their literary skill, as well as the children of our people, cared for by a land that provides abundantly. This image of the pre-western contact past illustrates a sense of wholeness and connection to community and land.

This image of the past, however, is dashed in the next section of the poem when the narrator hears this “island’s moan / welling grief”:

Each of us slain
by the white claw
of history: lost
genealogies, propertied
missionaries, diseased

Now, a poisoned pae ʻāina
swarming with foreigners
and dying Hawaiians. (12)

Here, Trask asserts that Kanaka Maoli are broken through the disconnection of ancestral knowledge of the land and our culture. She depicts history as having a “white claw” that has slain us, resulting in the loss of our familial histories, our genealogies. The “white claw” is an image of violence attributed to haole, its white wielders. This loss to/of history has resulted in the satisfied greed of missionaries who become “propertied” by spreading their diseases to Kanaka Maoli, with devastating effects. Moreover, the “foreigners” are depicted as “swarming” over the “poisoned” lands of Hawaiʻi, reminiscent of a plague. These images of devastation culminate in the final stanza and line depicting “dying Hawaiians,” both bodily and culturally, as the effect of colonialism and the loss it has enacted.

While the second section of “The Broken Gourd” describes colonialism’s impact upon the people, the third section focuses on the devastation wrought by colonialism upon the land:

A common horizon:
smelly shores
under spidery moons,

pockmarked maile vines,
rotting ʻulu groves,
the brittle clack
of broken lava stones. (12–13)

Various akua are represented through their kinolau, or earthly forms, in this catalogue of images, including the moon (Hina), maile (Mailelauliʻi, one of four Maile sisters associated with hula), the ʻulu (Kū), and the lava stones (Pele). However, the gods’ presence is little consolation, as they are shown to be either diseased or in a weakened state. Together, they show the ʻāina in decay, at once affirming the intricate reciprocal relationship, or mutual mālama, that is supposed to exist between kānaka and ʻāina, as well as the weakened states of both. So long as the land is ravaged, so are the people, and vice versa. In Native Land and Foreign Desires, Pehea Lā E Pono Ai? Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa describes this relationship through the “traditional metaphor” of mālama ʻāina:

[I]t is the ʻĀina, the kalo, and the Aliʻi Nui who are to feed, clothe, and shelter their younger brothers and sisters, the Hawaiian people. So long as younger Hawaiians love, serve, and honor their elders, the elders will continue to do the same for them, as well as to provide for all their physical needs.[11]

Trask’s images of the ʻāina — diseased maile, brittle lava, ʻulu rotting due to neglect or waste, polluted shores — demonstrate a lack of pono, or harmonic balance, under American colonialism.[12] The ʻāina’s suffering emphasizes the severe wrong of the current colonial system in traditional terms: “should an Aliʻi Nui neglect proper ritual and pious behavior, surely a famine or calamity would ensue. Should a famine arise, the Aliʻi Nui was held at fault and deposed.” While colonialism is a system which has been imposed upon Kānaka Maoli, and thus is outside the system of reciprocal mālama ʻāina, Trask affirms that the devastating effects upon the ʻāina should be taken as hōʻailona, or signs, that American colonial rule in Hawaiʻi should be deposed because Americans are to blame for the devastation of the Hawaiian people and the ʻāina:

Out of the west
the din of divine
violence, triumphal

At home, the bladed
reverberations of empire. (13)

“The din of divine / violence,” in particular, fingers the missionaries for their collusion in Hawaiʻi’s history of conquest, native displacement and death as ironic consequence to their Christian conversion efforts. A now well-known saying in Hawaiʻi goes: the missionaries came to do good; instead, they did very well — profiting from the privatization of Hawaiian land and becoming wealthy entrepreneurs in the sugar industry. Eventually, the descendants of missionaries forged the “bladed reverberations of empire” with the Bayonet Constitution, the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation, the banning of the Hawaiian language in schools, and the end of Hawaiian sovereignty with Annexation to the United States. Trask’s description of colonialism as “bladed reverberations” is appropriate because those earlier colonial acts, committed over the past 200 years, “reverber[ate]” to negatively affect Kānaka Maoli today through land dispossession, homelessness, poverty, and poor health and education.

The third section of Night Is a Sharkskin Drum, “Chants of Dawn,” is erotically charged, but also represents a return to the lushness and mana of the ‘āina, where Trask posits a refuge for healing. In doing so, she employs sexual kaona, an aesthetic nod to the orature of our ancestors. Trask writes in “Decolonizing Hawaiian Literature” that

Because Hawaiian is a profoundly metaphorical language, and Hawaiians an openly erotic people, descriptions are always rendered with fertile imagery: the land is a fecundity of beauty; our traditional deities are gods of abundance, of plenitude.[14]

Indeed, the erotic is a strong part of the poem “Upon the Dark of Passion,” which exemplifies the collection’s final section. The poem begins with an invocation to “Let our shadows / swell into longing // between breadfruit / and palm, throbbing” (48). Both the breadfruit and palm are common Hawaiian symbols for male genitalia. In the Hawaiian language of symbols, “hua,” or “fruit,” is commonly used as a metaphor for “testicle.” This can also be seen in the final poem of the collection, “Into Our Light I Will Go Forever,” wherein the land reflects the erotic, regenerative mana, or power that Trask describes as “our light.” The poem reads:

Into our light
               I will go forever.

               Into our seaweed
                              clouds and saltwarm

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Into the passion
                             of our parted Ko‘olau,
                                           luminous vulva.
                             Into Kāne’s pendulous
                                          breadfruit, resinous
                                                        with semen. (60)

Koʻolau is rendered here as the ʻāina’s female genitalia, a “luminous vulva” that is “parted,” awaiting lovemaking, while Kāne, a powerful god of procreation, is described as having “pendulous / breadfruit, resinous / with semen.” This sexualized image refers to the ʻulu, or breadfruit, in particular, which emits a white, sticky sap resembling semen. Moreover, Trask employs repetition of the word “into” at the beginning of each stanza to emphasize our movement and complete containment within the ʻāina.

The poem features several coastal ʻāina on Oʻahu in the following order: Heʻeia, Waiāhole, Kualoa, Kaʻaʻawa, Kahana, Punaluʻu, Lāʻie, Mālaekahana, and Haleʻiwa. Each ʻāina is praised in terms of the gifts they offer, and the signs of the Hawaiian gods’ presence. For example, Trask takes the reader into “the hum of / reef-ringed Kaʻaʻawa, / pungent with limu” (61), and later, into “our corals of / far Kahana, sea-cave / of Hina” (61). Moreover, Trask’s use of the erotic resists earlier missionary regulation and censorship of those aspects of our Hawaiian culture that celebrate sexuality and procreation in songs, chants, and the hula, whose very movements were viewed by missionaries as lascivious and obscene.

Trask’s images focus on the mana, or power, of the land. She concludes the poem with the lines: “Into our sovereign suns, / drunk on the mana / of Hawai‘i” (62). These lines highlight at once how the mana of Hawai‘i could never be anything but sovereign, and how Kanaka Maoli, who are of the land ourselves, must look toward “our sovereign suns” to heal, taking our strength from tradition and the tremendous life still within the ‘āina. Overall, Trask asserts a return to cultural tradition and other forms of resistance as powerful remedies for the disease of colonialism.

In Reinventing the Enemy’s Language, Trask defines her project as a writer as resisting in order to heal: “I write to resist, to tell my people how resistance feels, to guide them through our pain to the triumph of our vision. Every poem is an offering, sometimes in victory, often in sorrow. Words are spears, or storms of light, or the chattering winds of hope.”[15] For Trask, then, the disease of colonialism, while debilitating, need not be terminal, so long as there are words and breath enough to speak and write in resistance. Indeed, her poetics, like the poetics of several other contemporary Kanaka Maoli writers, offers the weaponry of fierce hope for justice and sustenance of our sovereignty as native people. Together, our voices rise in solidarity affirming, in the words of Haunani-Kay Trask, our “continuing refusal to be silent. […] Hawaiians are still here, we are still creating, still resisting. […] Decolonization is all around us.”[16]

Further reading:

Contemporary Kanaka Maoli literature is flourishing as the inner drive for Kanaka Maoli to articulate the rich fluidity of our history, traditions, and culture continues. Besides Haunani-Kay Trask’s Light in the Crevice Never Seen (1994) and Night Is a Sharkskin Drum (2002), other examples of Kanaka Maoli poetry abound:

John Dominis Holt, Hānai: A Poem for Queen Liliʻuokalani (Honolulu: Topgallant Press, 1986)

Joe Puna Balaz, After the Drought (Honolulu: Topgallant Press, 1985), Electric Laulau (Hawaiʻi Dub Music 1998), and OLA (Honolulu: Tinfish Press 1996)

Michael McPherson, Singing with the Owls (Honolulu: Petronium Press, 1982) and All Those Summers (Honolulu: Watermark Publishing, 2004)

Imaikalani Kalahele, Kalahele (Honolulu: Kalamaku Press, 2002)

Māhealani Perez-Wendt, Uluhaimalama (Honolulu: Kuleana 'Ōiwi Press, 2008)

Wayne Westlake, Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (1947–1984), ed. Mei-Li Siy and Richard Hamasaki (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009)

Sage Uʻilani Takehiro, Honua (Honolulu: Kahuaomānoa Press, 2006)

Brandy Nālani McDougall, The Salt-Wind, Ka Makani Paʻakai (Honolulu: Kuleana 'Ōiwi Press, 2008)

See also the many Kanaka Maoli poets published in the following anthologies:

Mālama: Hawaiian Land and Water, ed. Dana Naone Hall (Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge Press, 1985)

Hoʻomānoa: An Anthology of Contemporary Hawaiian Literature, ed. Joe Puna Balaz (Honolulu: Ku Paʻa Press, 1989)

ʻōiwi: a native hawaiian journal, vols. 1–4, ed. Māhealani Dudoit and kuʻualoha hoʻomanawanui (Honolulu: Kuleana ʻŌiwi Press, 1998, 2002, 2005, 2010)

Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English, ed. Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri, and Robert Sullivan (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2003)

Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English, ed. Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri, and Robert Sullivan (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2010)



1.  David E. Stannard, Before the Horror: The Population of Hawai‘i on the Eve of Western Contact (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1989), 31.

2.  Stannard, 51.

3.  Haunani-Kay Trask, “Writing in Captivity: Poetry in a Time of Decolonization,” in Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, ed. Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson (New York: Roman and Littlefield, 1999), 19.

4.  Trask, Light in the Crevice Never Seen (Corvallis: Calyx, 1993), 11.

5.  In an article in the September 2004 issue of the online magazine Monthly Review, John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney trace the term “Pax Americana” to the nineteenth century, when it was first associated with an American imperialist agenda. They write that “the notion of a ‘Pax Americana’ enforced by American arms has become the preferred designation for those attempting to justify what was portrayed as a benevolent American Empire.” They also cite Ronald Steel’s Pax Americana, first published in 1967 during the Vietnam War, as the first to characterize “the benevolent imperialism of Pax Americana” by “empire-building for noble ends rather than for such base motives as profit and influence.” In examining Steel’s book, they focus on a chapter on foreign aid (described as an “element of imperialism”) entitled “The White Man’s Burden,” which harkens back to Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated poem calling on the United States to exercise an imperialist role in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War of 1898. The United States, of course, acted on this urging and annexed Hawaiʻi by joint resolution. Forster and McChesney argue that the ideology of Pax Americana has recently “resurfaced in a post–Cold War world marked by U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and by a permanent U.S.-led ‘War on Terrorism.’ Once again we hear establishment calls for the ʻdefense of Pax Americana’ and even renewals of the old cry to take up ‘the White Man’s burden.’”

6.  Trask, Light in the Crevice Never Seen, 12.

7.  Trask chooses to italicize Hawaiian words to emphasize their distinctiveness. However, all Hawaiian words used in this essay that are not direct quotations from Trask’s work are purposely left unitalicized to make a political statement against their “foreignness.” While the Modern Language Association standards direct one to italicize foreign (non-English) words used in an English text, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian language, is not a foreign language in Hawaiʻi.

8.  “Maʻi” is the Hawaiian word for “genitals,” which have been traditionally celebrated in song, chant, and hula for bringing future generations, children, into being.

9.  Trask, Night Is a Sharkskin Drum (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002), 11.

10.  Several ʻōlelo noʻeau, or proverbs, support this common metaphoric reference comparing humans to gourds. See ʻŌlelo Noʻeau, Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings, ed. Mary Kawena Pukui (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983), for examples, including:

He ipu palaʻole. An empty gourd, describing an ignorant person. (73)
He ipu kāʻeo. A full gourd, describing a knowledgeable person. (73)
Haumanumanu ka ipu ʻinoʻino. A misshapen gourd makes an ugly container, describing an ugly person. (59)

 11.  Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa, Native Land and Foreign Desires: Pehea Lā e Pono Ai? (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1992), 25.

12.  Kameʻeleihiwa writes that “pono” is “often translated as ʻrighteous,’ but actually denotes a universe in perfect harmony” (Native Land and Foreign Desires, 25).

13.  Ibid., 26.

14.  Trask, “Decolonizing Hawaiian Literature,” in Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, ed. Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson (New York: Roman & Littlefield, 1999): 174.

15.  Trask, “Sisters,” in Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writing of North America, ed. Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), 520.

16.  Trask, “Writing in Captivity,” 20.

Appendices to this edition

Spellings, neologisms, part-words, proper names, and literary allusions

Appendix 1: Misspelled and alternatively spelled words
Appendix 2: Neologisms
Appendix 3: Part-words and uncertain transcriptions
Appendix 4: Proper names
Appendix 5: Literary and cultural allusions

Appendix 1: Misspelled and Alternatively Spelled Words

Hannah Weiner’s original spellings/misspellings/alternate spellings have been retained here, for while some are almost certainly errors or just the effects of a lazy, indistinct pencil, and ones she would have corrected in a published version of the text, others, such as Weiner’s play on the word interfering and its cognates, seem meaningful.

about is spelled a bout (18) 

behavior is spelled in the English way, behaviour (19, 27) 

can’t is often misspelled cant (11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 29, 41, 48, 52, 54, 56, 60, 64, 66)

capable is misspelled capabable (21)

Christianity is not capitalized, christianity (87)

color is spelled in the English way, colour (89)

deceit is misspelled decipt (27)

doesn’t is sometimes misspelled doesnt (53, 68, 70)

don’t is generally misspelled dont (8, 15, 18, 28, 34, 40, 41, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 52, 54, 55, 56, 58, 60, 62, 63, 65, 69, 80, 82, 84, 86, 95, 96, 97, 98, 101, 104, 109)

dossiers is misspelled dociers (24)

eighth is misspelled eigth (76)

eleven is misspelled elven (88)

falsely is misspelled falsley (85)

flint stone is run together, flintstone (83)

forthwith is misspelled forwith (18)

humorous is misspelled humerous (48)

I’m is misspelled I m (89)

in between is often run together, inbetween (12, 18, 41, 75, 93)

inconsolably is misspelled unconsolably (22)

inflammable is misspelled inflamable (15)

initiative is misspelled iniative (82)

insatiable is misspelled insationable (99)

insistence is sometimes misspelled insistance (72)

interfering is sometimes misspelled interfearing (20)

interference is sometimes misspelled interferrence (94)

irascible is misspelled irrascible (60)

it’s is sometimes misspelled its (25, 71, 89, 91, 98, 104)

laziness is misspelled lazyness (28)

leveled is misspelled levelled (45)

MacDonald’s is misspelled Mac Donalds (72)

occasions is misspelled occassions (26)

occurred is sometimes misspelled occured (38)

occurrence is sometimes misspelled occurance (30)

occurrences is sometimes misspelled occurances (31, 41)

over intelligent is run together, overintelligent (93)

pamphleteer is misspelled pamphletier (105)

permissible is misspelled permissable (30)

plagiarism is misspelled plagerism (27)

recurrence is sometimes misspelled recurrance (16)

referent is sometimes misspelled refferrent (106)

Samadhi is misspelled samedhi (97)

senseless is misspelled sensless (19)

some closure is run together, someclosure (97)

some space is run together, somespace (96)

strawberry is misspelled strawbery (104)

sumac is misspelled sumach (84)

symmetry is misspelled symetry (22)

there’s is sometimes misspelled theres (23)

till is sometimes misspelled til (104)

toxicity is misspelled toxisity (45)

transference is sometimes misspelled transferrence (96)

unaccountable is sometimes misspelled unacountable (48)

unaccustomed is misspelled unacustomed (25)

upside is sometimes separated, up side (23)

vaccines is misspelled vacines (104)

welcome is misspelled welcolm (69)

withheld is misspelled witheld (43)

won’t is sometimes misspelled wont (47)

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Appendix 2: Neologisms

The following words seem to have been deliberately coined by Hannah Weiner for use in the notebook. They are listed here alphabetically, followed by page number.

allsmy (94)

disreferential (16)

inbetween (12, 18, 41, 75, 93)

intromobile (97)

nonbalance (93)

overintelligent (93)

rememorable (100)

someclosure (97)

somespace (96)

superadjacency (81, 82)

unbefore (95)

unbought (97)

unconsolably (22)

undecidable (108)

undoubles (88)

unlax (94)

unplace (96)

unpressed (95)

unrequired (94)

unthought (108)

uphandle (96)

upsist (95)

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Appendix 3: Part-Words and Uncertain Transcriptions

Part-words and uncertain transcriptions are {bracketed} in the searchable Microsoft Word transcript, but not in the diplomatic transcript. The part-words and uncertain transcriptions are listed in alphabetical order, followed by page number. I am grateful to Charles Bernstein, Susan Bee, and Patrick Durgin, as well as to my research assistants Elizabeth Cattatin and Tina Bampton, for their careful checking and rechecking of these questionable transcriptions. In places where our eyes disagreed, I have listed all the suggested possibilities.

absen (93)

archie* (90)

blow, possibly blou or flow (25)

compre (107)

de (88)

Enwai (76)

fe (16)

fract (108)

fueld (89)

instace (94)

liver (97)

loof, possibly look (72)

oblitted (74)

parof (88)

pers (94)

qui (93)

radius, possibly radios (88)

reluct (74)

rememb (74)

requi (94)

sits, possibly fits or sits (96)

sofits (97)

som (97)

spony, possibly strong (106)

sti (95)

substant (96)

un (93)

unt, possibly ent (94)

wo (94)

*Weiner scholar Patrick Durgin notes that the word/name “archie” appears throughout Weiner’s work, and suggests further that “archie” may have been a boyfriend in an early clairvoyant period.

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Appendix 4: Proper Names

Two groups of proper names appear in The Book Of Revelations; both, moreover, appear in a relatively narrow range of pages (69–98; sections 8–10). The first set of names seems connected with the American Indian Movement (AIM); the second set of names, found in the same range of pages, contains several allusions to towns and settlements in the Upper Calder Valley, Yorkshire, England. The connection between the two sets is elusive, and, as always with Weiner, specific allusions may fan out into more general references. Three other names appear in the notebook: first, Barbara Rosenthal, who gave the blank notebook to Weiner, signs her name on the inside cover; second, Weiner alludes to herself once in the course of the notebook; and third, Weiner offers the noun “Samadhi,” a Sanskrit term for the state of consciousness induced by meditation. The proper names are listed below in the order in which they appear in the text, followed by the page number.

Barbara Rosenthal (inscription): b. 1948, the Bronx, New York. An American avant-garde artist and writer and one of Hannah Weiner’s closest friends during the last decade of Weiner’s life. Rosenthal bought the blank notebook as a present for Weiner, and she is the volume’s first “author,” too, since she is responsible for slicing/tearing/ripping the notebook’s pages and creating the patterned sections. Weiner and Rosenthal collaborated on six projects: three books (Written In [1984], which was “written” by Weiner “in” Rosenthal’s [blank] first version of Homo Futurus, now called Homo Futurus blank book [1984, eMediaLoft]; Weeks [Xeoxial Endarchy, 1990], for which Rosenthal created photographs of television newscasts to accompany Weiner’s texts of the same; and The Book Of Revelations) and three videos (Colors and Auras [1985], in which Weiner describes auras she sees around Rosenthal’s body; Rock-A-Bye Lobster [1986]; and Semaphore Poems [1986], based on Weiner’s book of that title).

Pedro (69, 82): possibly Mary Brave Bird’s first child, born during the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee.

Henry (72, 75): possibly Henry Crow Dog, Leonard Crow Dog’s father, who held peyote ceremonies on the family allotment, Crow Dog’s Paradise.

Leonard (73): possibly Leonard Crow Dog (b. 1942, Rosebud Reservation), the spiritual leader of AIM during the 1960s and 1970s who served time in prison for his political activities. Alternately, Weiner may be alluding to Leonard Peltier, an American activist and member of AIM who was convicted for the murder of two Federal Bureau Investigation agents killed in 1975 during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and who was subsequently sentenced in 1977 to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment. 

Rochdale (74): possibly an allusion to the large market town in Greater Manchester, England, which lies among the foothills of the Pennines on the River Roch.

Smithy Bridge (74): possibly an allusion to a village within the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale, in Greater Manchester, England, and close to the South Pennines.

Littleborough (74): possibly an allusion to another town within the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale, in Greater Manchester, England and close to the South Pennines.

Todmorden (74): possibly an allusion to another market town within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, in West Yorkshire, England, on the moors. The town forms part of the Upper Calder Valley, and the town’s center occupies the confluence of three steep-sided valleys in the Pennines.

Hebden Bridge (74): possibly an allusion to yet another market town within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, in West Yorkshire, England, and close to the South Pennines.

Mytholmroyd (74): possibly an allusion to yet another town within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, in West Yorkshire, England. Mytholmroyd is the birthplace of the English poet Ted Hughes, who married the American confessional poet Sylvia Plath.

Sowerby Bridge (74): possibly an allusion to a market town lying within the district of Calderdale, in West Yorkshire, England, and close to the South Pennines.

Halifax (74): possibly an allusion to Halifax, a minster town within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, England, and located in the southeastern corner of the moorland region of the South Pennines.

Luther (75): unknown.

George (77): possibly George Mitchell, a member of AIM.

Frank (86): possibly Frank Clearwater, a Wounded Knee occupier shot in the head in his sleep, April 17.

hannah (95): the one and only reference in the notebook to Hannah Weiner.

samedhi (97): possibly a misspelling of Samadhi, the Sanskrit term for the state of consciousness arising through the act of meditation.

John (97): possibly John Trudell (Santee Sioux), a spokesperson for the Indians of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz Island, 1969–1971, and Chairman of AIM, 1973–1979.

Mary (98): possibly Mary Brave Bird, later Mary Crow Dog, wife of Russell Crow Dog. The book Weiner alludes to here may be Lakota Woman, published in 1990 by Grove Press.

Russell (98): possibly Russell Means, a prominent leader of AIM.

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Appendix 5: Literary and Cultural Allusions

The opaque style of Weiner’s writing makes identification of the many possible literary and cultural allusions difficult; here, only the most obvious allusions are recorded. Alert readers will hear many additional ones.

PLO (70): an allusion to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Weiner may have been preoccupied with the many attempts to reconcile tensions in the Middle East occurring in or around 1989.

FBI (70): an allusion to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This allusion is possibly related to Weiner’s meditations on AIM and the fate of Leonard Peltier.

the sex which is not one (85): possibly an allusion to Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which Is Not One, translated by Catherine Porter and published in English by Cornell University Press in 1985.

purloined letter (90): possibly an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe’s tale “The Purloined Letter,” the third of Poe’s three detective stories (the other two being “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”) featuring the fictional C. Auguste Dupin.

they stretch onto the moors / she writes not me like this (98): possibly an allusion to the writings of the Bröntes.

English labor theory of value (104): possibly an allusion to Karl Marx or Marxian economics.

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