Office of Insular Affairs = Poetry?
It’s not every day that a poetry collection I write a blurb for appears on the U.S. Department of Interior “Office of Insular Affairs” website. OK, so I’m one of those US poets imbricated in party politics: I read on a 2004 Democratic campaign stop with former VP Walter Mondale and then VP candidate John Edwards (though Edwards’ plane, perhaps foreshadowing the 2004 election results, was delayed for nearly two hours to clear airspace for current Vice President Dick Cheney’s Labor Day arrival for a Republican crowd here in ’Sota). Additionally, I used to be a writer for local Green party campaigns and was chair of the Political Issues committee of the National Writers’ Union Local (and its representative at the Minnesota AFL-CIO convention in the first years of this new century, back in the Paul Wellstone days). Maybe we can talk about the over-riding contemporary separation of poetics (church) and politics (state) at some later date…
A poem from this poetry collection announced on the Department of Interior website, Emelihter Kihleng’s My Urohs, opened XCP no. 14 and I’ve been a fan of her writing ever since, watching for its appearance in such innovative journals as Tinfish, boundary2, Chain, and others. Here’s what I wrote when she approached me to pen something about her first book:
“At times a Human Rights Watch labor report refashioned in free verse, at others a deft and dynamic poetic illustration that the personal remains the political, Emelihter Kihleng’s My Urohs interrogates the “everyday” in this era of ongoing war and the expansion of American empire, leaving no proverbial or actual stone unturned (not even Destiny Fulfilled!). It is a must-read first book from a must-read new author.”
The collection opens with, “To Linda Rabon Torres,” a poem about a woman from Yigo, Guam, who “fired her .22-caliber rifle into her backyard jungle to supposedly scare off wild pigs and dogs, killing a 14-year-old Chuukese boy, A.C. Kaselen on April 17, 2006.” The poem begins with a witness-stand question, “How often do you shoot off your .22-caliber rifle?” and the interrogation tone proceeds unabated for another sonnet-full of lines before ending with yet another incisive interrogative: “Did you hear the pig squeal?”
The stunning and wide-ranging poems that follow address the growing number of Micronesian soldiers killed in the “War on Terror” (25, as of the book’s publication), women textile workers in the “Micronesian Diaspora(s),” “No post in Colonialism at COM” (a wonderful double-edged entendre-sword pointed at the teaching of writing/composition and the College of Micronesia), cultural collectivity and stereotyping on Myspace (“Pohnpei Outer Space”) and so much more--though probably far from the politics the DOI would want to see in its poems.
Mark Nowak is the author of Revenants, Shut Up Shut Down (afterword by Amiri Baraka), and Coal Mountain Elementary (2009), all from Coffee House Press. His writings on new labor poetics have recently appeared in The Progressive, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan...