Pidgin

When the author is dead: posthumous collections of poetry from Hawai`i

(with love & rage in equal measure)

Painting by Reuban Tam (1916-1991)

Just over a week ago, I put this request up on the Tinfish Press facebook page: “I’m looking for good models of books published posthumously, especially by poets who are not well known already. In what ways are these books same/different from books by living authors? How, in the end, does one work up interest in such poetry after the very literal death of the author?” Some 35 substantive comments later, I realized that there was probably a book to be researched and written in response to those questions.  Instead of writing one, I’ll be looking at two recent posthumous volumes from Hawai`i in this commentary, namely, Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (1947-1984) (University of Hawai`i Press, 2009), edited by Mei-Li M. Siy and Richard Hamasaki, and Language Matters: Tony Quagliano, Selected Poetry (New York Quarterly Books, 2012), put together by Quagliano’s widow, Laura Ruby, although no one is credited as editor on the title page. There’s a lot to remark upon: the way the poetry is presented, contextualized, edited, but also the odd, unremarked upon affinities between the two poets.  They both revered Kerouac, knew their Pound and his Imagism, adopted William Carlos Williams’s obsession with the local language, place. Their tone was often acidic, provocative. Both were idealistic and profoundly angry poets.

"Das how was": da pidgin elegy

Poetry by Lee Tonouchi & Meg Withers

When I turn left on Kahekili Highway near my house on the windward side of O`ahu, I turn toward my son’s baseball practice and many of his games in Kahalu`u.  I also turn toward a community of coaches and parents who, for the most part, speak Pidgin English.  (The language is actually Hawaiian Creole English or HCE, but people in Hawai`i call it Pidgin.) Many dads come from work in the bright green shirts of construction and road-workers; the moms, who speak less Pidgin, still live in its surround.  If I turn right on Kahekili Highway, in the direction of Kāne`ohe Town and highways to Honolulu, toward my daughter’s soccer practices, I drive into a world of local people who, for the most part, do not speak Pidgin to each other.  Kāne`ohe is the suburbs; Kahalu`u is still country.  Baseball has a working class history in Hawai`i, especially among AJA, or Americans of Japanese ancestry; soccer is played in a suburban middle class present untethered to plantation or war histories. While the local bumpersticker that reads “Keep the Country Country” is in standard English, its sentiment is Pidgin.  The response, or “Keep Town Town,” might be read with a local accent, but it’s hardly da kine.  

Syndicate content