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Poets unite in differences

Posted by HAKEN
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 9:05 AM


At 2008's Hawaii Book and Music Festival, four poets, brought together by an online project by Bamboo Ridge Press to celebrate its 30th anniversary, met to read their writing aloud for the first time.

This was uncharted waters for them. Jean Yamasaki Toyama, Juliet S. Kono, Ann Inoshita and Christy Passion were only four months into a yearlong project based on the Japanese writing process of linked verse, known as renshi. The tricky part was that their ongoing collaboration, regularly posted on the press' website, needed to be done within a week of the updated posting. It was not the kind of deadline creative writers normally face.

Like the resulting collection's title states, the four had "No Choice but to Follow" one another on this dynamic "train" of poetry.

The book — the publication of which will be celebrated with special events starting Wednesday — was a decision by press founder-editors Eric Chock and Darrel Lum, made after that initial reading.

"There was electricity in the air," remembers Kono, who gathered with her fellow poets last Monday in the Na'ea Courtyard on the grounds of the Queen's Medical Center (Passion works there as an intensive care unit nurse). "It was such a powerful delivery of our voices. Before that we didn't even know each other that well in person."

"It was like we had rehearsed beforehand," said Toyama.

"It felt organic," added Inoshita.

Based on a suggestion by press staffer Wing Tek Lum (who himself participated in a renshi back in the early 1990s), Toyama, a poet/scholar/translator/fiction writer and an emerita professor of French at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, was chosen as the first participant.

"It was up to me to find the other three," she said. "I admit I turned the screws on Juliet to help, and Marie (Hara, a press executive officer) and Darrel knew of Ann's and Christy's work, so we finally we had a set.

"I went into this fearless," Toyama said. "I never doubted we could do this."

Even though the poets could write about anything they wanted — provided they used the previous poem's last line as its title and starting point — Toyama kicked things off with "What Does Bamboo Ridge," an obvious choice in her mind to commemorate the independent press' 30 years of existence.

From there, the 48 linked poems made for a clear and unified flow but still expressed the musings and thoughts of four unique voices.

"Each one of us are very different poets," Kono said. "Her's (Toyama) is strong and very to-the-point. Christy's strength is in narrative and imagery. And Ann's a little more serene, and her use of pidgin (in her 'Without Meaning to Be Cruel' poem) is wonderful."

"Taking part in the renshi took me out of my element," said Inoshita, a published writer and professor at Kapiolani Community College. "I felt I was being thrown into the unknown, addressing topics I usually don't write about, so there was a need to be more creative."

Although all concerned are pleased with the resulting book, Passion, an award winner as both a writer and a nurse, said that "if I know something of mine is being published, I would polish it and belabor any choice of words. So had I known beforehand our online poems were going to be published, I probably would've been more manic about the whole process."

"It was odd to see the final result," said Kono said, whose laudable work has been published by Bamboo Ridge over the years. "You realize that this is your writing, but you're more self-conscious of it because it's part of a group effort."

"I was trying to strike my own voice," said Passion. "I admit there were times that I tried to resist the flow of tone and subject the other three had established — like a shopping cart with that one uncooperative wheel. But since I'm more of a novice in comparison to the others, I felt I had to step up my writing and not to emulate, but to find my own voice in this project."

Source: http://www.starbulletin.com/features/20100425_Poets_unite_in_differences.html

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