The event came together through individually meeting and exchanging emails/Facebook messages with both Craig Santos Perez and Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu. Though I didn’t know either Craig or Fui very well, we have a lot of mutual friends through both the UC Ethnic Studies community (they being at Cal and I down at UC San Diego) and the Bay Area Pacific Islander communities. They had both heard that I was a poet through others, and they mentioned they would love to do a reading together if I were ever back in the Bay. I knew I was coming up in July for a visit and so we started talking dates and it all came together pretty easily. Craig invited Professor Caroline Sinavaiana, an acquaintance through them both being published with Tinfish Press, and Fui invited her sister Loa Niumeitolu. My friend Rachel Marcus at Pegasus said she would be happy to host us, and I was excited to read there because I always loved that store, and remember it always having a lot of poetry books and chapbooks.
My impression of the night was that it was a big lovefest- everyone, including me, was happy to be there, excited to meet the other readers and audience members, and enjoyed all the poetry and growing sense of togetherness. Loa said in her introductory remarks that the night was about finding a language where there just hasn’t been one. I think she meant both building languages of cultural/political alliance across Pacific Islander communities in general and perhaps diasporic ones in particular- as well as Pacific Islanders claiming/strengthening their diverse range of voices in poetry and literature. Fui also gave a heartfelt acknowledgment of Craig and Caroline as some of the few Pacific Islanders who have published poetry books, seeing them as folks to look up to and follow. Indeed, it felt great to me to have a mix of poetry experience in the reading, and many mentioned being honored especially by being able to read with and hear Caroline’s work as she was in that space a gracious elder, mentor, kumu.
My feeling about my own reading and work was that I am rusty. Especially compared to some of the solid, lovely work others read and I can’t wait to see again in print. In an ideal world, I would have worked harder to revise and write new work before the reading. I didn’t. I have been out of the poetry world for at least a year, in which school and other commitments have tied me up. Physically, of course, I am also away from the Bay Area and the poetry people and scenes I am familiar with. So, much of the night was simply about being ecstatic that I was reconnecting, that I was still recognizable as a poet to people. I actually think that ecstatic feeling, the lovefest and the related community building, is incredibly important and will push me to keep writing and work harder to be at least a little better next time. I am glad I shared some new work that wasn’t totally polished and now will return to it, maybe put some drafts up in this space even.
Certainly, the night also helped in the possibilities of having a next time: Craig mentioned wanting to get something together later this year in Southern California. I am hoping Our Sea of Words is the beginning of me tapping into a Pacific Islander poetry community that will eventually be not only a lovefest (which, again, was something I was really grateful for Monday night) but also a solid place of challenge and growth, with a presence not only at readings but online and yes, in print with Tinfish and other presses. Barbara Jane has some thoughts up on how community work is not always a lovefest, that it also gets confusing and hateful- and I am thinking I experienced that majorly this year but in the academic Pacific Islander community. Maybe more on that later, but for now: is it just me or does the Pinay writing community really rock at networking, creating an online presence, etc. (and put other writing communities of color, or whatever you’d like to call them, to shame)? I am so often drawn to Barbara Jane Reyes‘ and Kimberly Alidio‘s blogs and their candidness about the process of writing, and of being a writer. This is not to say that these writing communities are always mutually exclusive (my experience has usually been in broad, diverse writing communities of color), but I wonder if Pacific Islanders will come to have anything like the Philippine American Writers and Artists blog, if and how it would work and benefit P.I. folks. I think maybe that is a conversation we could have in the future, as there is a growing online presence of Tongan, Chamoru, Kanaka Maoli, Samoan and other writers and artists. I joked later that the night was brought to you by Facebook, but it wasn’t really a joke: without it, I don’t know that I would have connected so easily with Craig and Fui, and Craig with Caroline, etc.
In the past, my readings at Kearny Street Workshop were photographed by some of the lovely Asian Am. scene photographers, like Jay Jao. I was thinking on my way there that it was too bad Jay wouldn’t be there to take pictures, but it turned out that Oscar Bermeo showed up and did us one better. For the love of community readings, he took pictures and videos, which are all available on YouTube. The rise of Facebook culture also ensured that many more photos than I even expected and a continuing lovefest are happening there too. In all, I feel extremely grateful to everyone (including many friends who are not poets or Pacific Islanders) who came out to support, and I’m looking forward to getting back to work, in terms of poems, community, and even this blog.