Sunday, August 8, 2010



This is a letter sent to Susan Schultz, editor of the poetry journal, Tinfish, which she publishes from Oahu, where she works as a professor at the U. of Hawaii at Manoa.     

dear Susan,
i am sorry to impose on your time yet again, but i was quite dismayed by part of your recent blogpost (july 26th) criticizing as "appropriation" the magisterial, deep, ennobling and great work by W.S. Merwin, THE FOLDING CLIFFS (Knopf, 1998), which i consider a masterpiece not just of late 20th century American poetry, but one which as Ted Hughes noted, is "an original masterpiece on a very big scale"....
i did read with interest the links on your blog, in particular the link to the rather nasty (even jealous) deconstruction of THE FOLDING CLIFFS a decade ago (which i had not seen previously) by Kapalai ula de Silva.  you should note that it is absolutely incorrect of de Silva to say that Merwin does not acknowledge the major source of his meditative narrative.  he clearly states that he read the translation by Frances Frazier of Pi'ilani's story, and of course his poem is dedicated to Olivia Breitha, whose own little-known book, MY LIFE OF EXILE IN KALAUPAPA, (of which i blogposted about 5 years ago - Dec. 2, 2005:, when i read it on Molokai, caused me to weep.  well, i am sentimental; i don't apologize for that. 
nor do i apologize for believing that when Haunani-Kay Trask (whose writing in other contexts (i.e. her book LIGHT IN THE CREVICE NEVER SEEN) and which i also blogposted on @iprefernotto, and like very much) writes (in your other link) that "Hawaiian culture is our culture.  It does not belong to everyone but only to us" that that is cultural fascism which i distrust and resist.  in fact, i think it typical of many Kanaka Maoli in Hawaii, to be so resentful, and in fact this goes completely against the grain of Polynesian sensibility, certainly in the islands south of the equator, which, despite all the horrors inflicted on the people there (far moreso than in Hawaii in point of fact) remains open and warm and sans the xenophobia which seems to exist in Hawaii, sad to say.  
you don't of course speak for the people of Oahu or of Hawaii so it is wrong of you to say that Merwin's extraordinary poem (and i do not know Merwin personally so i have no ax to grind in his defense except a poetic one) "was seen here as an act of appropriation" unless by "here" you simply refer to the academic world of Manoa.  you use the word quite negatively as you must know; would you also say that the lovely short film, KALUAIKOOLAU, made by the Ke Kula Ni'ihau O Kekaha Learning Center, is also an act of "appropriation"?        


be well... aloha.....