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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 21, 2001

Creations of innovative poets challenge, titillate

By Ann M. Sato
Special to The Advertiser

For six years, Tinfish, a poetry magazine edited by University of Hawai'i associate professor Susan M. Schultz, has gathered the works of poets and writers from "west of the continent" — Hawai'i to Asia, Australia and New Zealand — into a periodic bouquet presented with a little flourish, a half-smile, weeds and hothouse flowers, forest vines and scrubby greens mixed up together.

"The claim is not that all these 'experiments' (poems that concentrate self-consciously on their language and form as they weave out their "messages") are similar, but that putting them inside the same covers creates a dialogue between writers about such issues as place, identity, language and poetry itself," Schultz says.

In addition to the staple-bound magazine — about the size of one of those marbled notebooks we used in school, but not so thick — Tinfish publishes occasional chapbooks, collections of the works of particular writers, the first being a 1996 production by pidgin poet Joe Balaz of "Electric Laulau" CD fame, followed by collections from Kathy Banggo, Rob Wilson, Bill Luoma, Gaye Chan and Lisa Asagi. A chapbook, by the way, is simply a small book or pamphlet of poems or other writings, often a first entry into print for a writer, or a way to disseminate less-commercial or potentially controversial work.

Two new Tinfish chapbooks, "Physics" and "12 Scenes from 12 a.m." by Lisa Asagi and Gaye Chan, are just out and two others are scheduled for publication soon: "Sista Tongue," an essay/memoir about pidgin speaking by Lisa Kana'e, and Linh Dinh's "Three Vietnamese Poets" in translation.

Chan, a writer and artist billed as "covergirl," has been producing the covers for Tinfish almost since the beginning and, for issue No. 10, invited 10 artists to produce covers for the collection released in the spring (but only now getting a long-delayed reading at Native Books & Beautiful Things Kapalama).

Tinfish No. 10 is typical of the range of innovative and challenging works that Schultz and her colleagues select for the magazine. The range is from fairly straightforward pidgin story poems by Irene Cadelina and Joe Balaz to criticism (a review by Paul Lyons of Richard Hamasaki's "Spider Bone Diaries") and essays about writing (Australian poet Ouyang Yu's "Multicultural Poetry as Unwritten in China or the Night You Went to Sleep Away With or On"). The poets are from as far away as Prague and China.

Some poems take liberties not only with the literary forms but with the typographical treatment: Joel Bettridge's "Elmer Thomas" is printed as a sort of square or maze, reading from left to right, then down and then right to left, with the words having to be unscrambled backwards, up and into the center again. An excerpt from Stephen Ratcliff's "Painting" is printed sideways on the page, so you have to turn the magazine around to read the rambling, unpunctuated lines.

Such departures from the norm will turn some readers away and cause others to accuse the writers of sophomoric posturing.

But in addition to the specific messages contained in each work, a central point of Tinfish is to tease readers into a tilt of the head, to force a sideways, upside-down look at things they might not otherwise really see or think about.

Typical of the works that nip at the consciousness is Hawai'i Community College teacher Lou Zitnik's "Postmodern Aloha-Stress Syndrome Or, Contemplating the Statue in Front of the Hawaii Convention Center, From the Doorway of Club Rocks-Ya." Zitnik's rapid-fire, rhythmic, word-associative narrative poem crashes Island icons together like a child rummaging through a toy box.

"At night, while the city slept in its Halloween stupor of Christmas cheer and queer fear, I de-revolutionized in gossamer underwear (Kalvin da Kine). Ala Moana shopping bag instead of ski mask to hide my face (no shame), I borrowed into the warehouse of discontent. Past discontinued, price-rolledback merchandise, I charged, visa-man in Bank of Hawaii slacks and Patrick Henry aloha shirt, whispering "Give me Liberty House or give me death ... or a raincheck. Five percent off my next purchase."

Paige Wilmeth, a recent master's of arts in English graduate from the University of Hawai'i, who is a student advisor there, writes a chilling piece, "The Girl Collection" about a woman who collects girls, lovingly grooms them, pins them to her wall, admires them and then is stymied when she runs out of wall space. The style is straightforward, almost journalistic, reminiscent of the serial-killer genre of popular novels. The poem seems to be, in the twisted manner of these novel killers' minds, about the nature of love and possession. But this is a woman acting on women — girls. Again, convention turned on its head, then pinned through the heart.

Balaz's "Urgency Test" is a relief, by contrast, social commentary leavened with humor, that takes off from those monthly emergency broadcast system tests/tidal wave alert siren screams that we are so familiar with here. "Dis is wun test/ of da urgency broadcast system—/ Right now/ on every radio station/ you stay heahing dis same test/ all ovah Hawai'/ including Papakolea." He posits all forms of disaster, but reassures, in a mock-comforting closing, that "dis is only wun test."

Tinfish, too, is a test, but in a friendly way, of the reader's willingness to move out of accustomed channels and see in a different way.

Tinfish Poetry Night

  • 7 p.m. July 28
  • Native Books & Beautiful Things Kapalama, 1244 N. School St.


  • Readings from new Tinfish Press chapbooks "Physics" and "12 scenes from 12 a.m." by Lisa Asagi and Gaye Chan
  • And readings from Tinfish 10, which featured Irene Cadelina, Joe Balaz, caroline sinavaiana-gabbard, Jody Helfand, Daniel A. Kelin III, Paige Wilmeth, Juliana Spahr, Paul Lyons and 10 cover artists
  • Free. Information: Tinfish Editor Susan Schultz, 239-4426

Excerpt from Tinfish

This poem by Leonard Brink, editor of Untitled, a new journal of prose poetry, is a chapter from a completed book-length project called "This is That."

The Hours

I am at several distances
from a spark
So that when I try to capture it,
Wondering if it is an igniting spark
Or terminal
It singes both sides of my hand.
When they say
"A picture is worth a thousand words"
This is the one they're talking about.