Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Hawaii didn't have a poet laureate until 2012, when Steven Kealohapau'ole Hong-Ming Wong was selected to represent the state. Hawaii, like the mainland, has its own flavor of melting pot, and Steven, who is known as Kealoha, is representative of that with a diverse background both genetically and experientially. 

Part of the Polynesian cultural tradition includes chant, and our modern Slam Poetry could be considered analogous. Kealoha is a long-time slam Champion, and has founded several slam groups and events, including First Thursdays, which is the best-attended regular slam in the world with 500+ attendees, according to Wiki. 

Kealoha was a scholastically gifted child, especially in math, and enrolled in MIT for college, where he studied nuclear engineering. After school, however, he switched paths and went into the business and administrative sector. It isn't hard to see how this could be disillusioning, so he started his first salon-type discussion group, supposedly inspired by Fight Club.  Slam didn't come until 2000 on a trip to the Bay Area. 

As with other Slam poets I've looked at in the past, the letter or lyrics of the poems are often hard to find, but there are lots of videos. This site shows a video and the text together, which is nice, for his work Intentions. I did, however, discover a good source for written-word Hawaiian and Islander poetry. (I have been saving these tabs open on my phone since we got back from our vacation, it's been weeks with this has been sitting in my mind waiting to be written). The Kahuaomanoa Press (review, actual site here)comes from poets of the University of Hawaii Manoa campus. It contains works written in English, pidgin, and Hawaiian. That link has some examples of the poems from that particular issue, such as Coming to Paradise by Sage U'ilani Takehiro: 

17-year-old Keahi Ho‘oulu is pregnant
with her second child; she dropped
out of high school to clean toilets at
The Breathtaking, Fantastic
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Open 24 hours every day of the year!
of verdant plantlife
dance legendary hula in the
Savor succulent exotic hues
of a colorful culture mix that
pampers, restores and heals
Your body and Your Spirit.
Hawai‘i’s whole culture
is based on Aloha—
and that’s a commitment we take
Very Seriously.

Here is another by Takehiro, Kou Lei (you can get her book Honua here): 

I was a fetal spirit born in the ti leaf womb of our mother

You uncurled my body and saw severed stems of white ginger
      layered over each other
            ‘awapuhi ke‘oke‘o standing side by side
                                                braided tightly in fine fibers, woven
                        into rope by loving hands
                                                                 that dangled
       on each end

You pressed your nose against me
                                                kissed my fragrance
and opened your eyes as you returned your breath

You held me in my ti leaf cradle, saw the brown footprints of rain
            and ‘A‘ala Honua that blows through the strands of your hair

                        You knew that I slept on a bed of ginger roots
                                                                                    drizzled with dirt

You watched my petals unfold and twist
eyes of white ginger
jumbled into my wrists as I rubbed them, crying
for Honua to feed my flowers
while forbidden blossoms were held firm
                        by the rope bones of my body

You peeled me from the ti-leaf and held me against your chest
I wrapped my arms around you and you tied my hands behind your neck
my mana
carried by yours

I lay on top of your shoulders
listening to our life beat
through your skin
You carry my beauty                                   
while I breathe yours

I am your lei 

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