Six poets with ties to Guam will be featured alongside other Pacific creators in the international “Poem-a-Day” series throughout May in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Subscribers to the Poets.org service can expect new works by poets CHamoru Evelyn Flores, Craig Santos Perez, Lehua Taitano with Art 25, Arielle Lowe and Ha’åni Lucia Falo San Nicolas, as well as Pohnpeian poet Emelihter Kihleng, who lives on Guam.
Guest Editor Brandy Nalani McDougall is taking the opportunity to celebrate Pacific poets with the over 100,000 readers of the Poem-a-Day series. McDougall is also an Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawaii, with a focus on Native Studies.
Because Poets.org operates under the Academy of American Poets, McDougall said Poem-a-Day publications typically focus on Americans — a category that harbors immense diversity, though much more needs to be done. represent it accurately.
She noted that when it comes to acknowledging Asian American and Pacific Islander writers, the work done by Asian Americans tends to take center stage, leaving Pacific Islanders relegated to the suburbs.
“I wanted to take the opportunity to focus solely on Pacific Island poets and showcase our voices. Also to show that we have a truly thriving, vibrant and diverse community of writers in the Pacific, as well as in the Diaspora said McDougall.
Choosing to spotlight Pacific voices has the dual effect of serving and connecting Pacific communities, as well as sending their stories into the lives of people who otherwise might never have encountered them.
“To the average person living in the United States, I think much of Pacific poetry is invisible, or to them, they might not even know it exists,” McDougall said.
Many layers of history contribute to this, McDougall says, including colonialism and the imposition of English in places like Guam.
There is also the problem of dwindling publishing opportunities.
“That’s not to say the editorial scene is non-existent in the Pacific, I think there’s incredible work going on, activist work going on to get Pacific voices and local literature out in the Pacific,” said she declared.
Evelyn Flores, whose poem “The Flame Tree” will be featured in the Poem-a-Day series, is a professor of Pacific Island literature at the University of Guam.
She has worked in this line of effort throughout her career.
In addition to writing and self-publishing a series of children’s books when she noticed her children did not see themselves as CHamorus in the 1980s, she and Kihleng collaborated as editors on the anthology 2019 “Indigenous Literatures of Micronesia”.
Flores is currently working on an anthology focusing specifically on Chamoru literature and paving the way for her students to continue their work.
“This semester, I just introduced a course in Chamoru literature. It is perhaps the first class of this type in the world.
“It was like a pilot class of how we were going to handle it, how things were going to happen so that we weren’t running it thinking about Western methodology, but trying to teach it so that the students who were in the class felt like they were actually becoming more involved with CHamoru literature through CHamoru lenses, rather than CHamoru literature through Western lenses,” Flores said.
According to Flores, CHamoru literature encompasses more than the Western definition of literature allows, making it imperative that CHamoru writers and scholars of CHamoru literature consider forms outside of the text.
“Chamoru literature has its very strong oral beginnings. And we’re not that far off.
“In the past, we didn’t write our literature. We danced it, we sang it, we put it in our prayers, we sang it, we painted it, we did all these wonderful things.
“And textual literature is Western. It’s a western import, and it’s a good import. Because as we move away from the spoken word, we lose our means of preserving ourselves. And so we have to have another method of preservation, because we are moving away from orality,” Flores said.
This sense of expansive expression finds an echo in Flores and McDougall’s shared sense that poetry has more power than a simple report of what happened or how someone felt.
“A mode of connection”
McDougall views the perspectives of Pacific Islanders and members of the diaspora as deeply important to the history of the United States of America.
She says that as an Indigenous studies scholar, she always thinks about how the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the Pacific relate to Indigenous groups in North America.
“Poetry is above all a mode of connection. … There are ways that our poetry, our songs, can kind of transcend and travel for us and meet,” McDougall said.
Although the experiences of people living in the Pacific are extremely varied and cannot be considered monolithic, some elements are shared across the region.
For McDougall, creating art that addresses these elements is a form of activism, and it’s exciting that people in North America can be introduced to these issues through a poem that arrives in their box. reception.
A clear example of this, offered by McDougall, is how the peoples of the Pacific experienced “the explosion of militarization in our region” as a form of American colonialism.
Make voices heard
“Our perspectives are really unique in that sense, in the sense that they are shared across the Pacific. And that’s an important question that I think few Americans are fully aware of. Because we seem far away, because we seem distant.
“In the Pacific, there are ways we are invisible, and our literature, and all the issues we face are also invisible.
“And so our literature is a key way to fight against that, and to make our voices heard and known, and also to speak out in favor of protecting our lands and waters and protecting our communities,” said McDougall.
Amid painful stories, incredible acts of resilience, and current hardship, McDougall and Flores turn to poetry to transcend what cannot be easily said, a perspective that contains their rich understanding of Pacific storytelling traditions. .
“To stay in touch with our world, we go to the news, and we go to talk shows. But I think to stay in touch with our spirit, we go to literature, and there are parts of being human that can’t really express themselves directly.
“To me, that’s what poetry is, it’s a way of expressing the inexpressible,” Flores said.