Caroline Sinavaiana

'He is good, / but he is a product of the world'

Rhetorics of empire in Scott Abels's 'Rambo Goes to Idaho'

How to be a poet in Hawai`i — or elsewhere — who opposes imperialism, colonization, the military, and yet appears, as a Euro-American, to embody them? I've worried this issue before on my own blog, and thought I'd think more about it here by way of a new book from BlazeVox by Scott Abels.

Abels, whose MFA is from Boise State in the state of Idaho, notorious for its white supremacists, has lived in Hawai`i for several years now.  His thesis forms the basis for his first book, Rambo Goes to Idaho, which moves between Idaho and Hawai`i.  As he writes in the first section of “Idaho Conspiracy,” a poem obliquely about moving to Hawai`i:  “My Composition 1100 assignment was to guess the titles / of the first five poems on the Poetry and Politics website.” Then this: “The only thing I could come up with was / Hawaii comes before Idaho alphabetically” (49).  Abels's move back in the alphabet forces him to look at the problem of American empire, although one senses he did so before his “geographically confusing” move.  For the MFA thesis is set up as that of John Rambo, whose thesis signature page comes after two brief proems called “Screenplay” and “Burst.”

Uncertain geographies: Caroline Sinavaiana & Hazel Smith in (imagined) conversation

Part of the "Hand Upon Hand" sculpture in Centennial Park, Sydney; poem by Adam Aitken

In her marvelous, odd textbook, The Writing Experiment: Strategies for Innovative Creative Writing, Hazel Smith devotes a late chapter to “Mapping worlds, moving cities.”  Composing in a kind of sociological sublime, she writes in the subsection, “The diasporic city,” of the sub-section, “Cities rather than city,” “As the concept of the nation-state breaks down, people migrate and borders shift.  The modern western city has become a mixture of nationalities and ethnicities: this has transformed food, clothing, customs, art and language” (260).  Cutting to the chase, she ends her paragraph on “the diasporic city” with this pithy sentence: “The diasporic city is as much about displacement as about place” (261).  

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