At the tail end of my recent travels, I had an amazing opportunity to do a poetry reading and visit classes at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, where I studied art and English as an undergraduate. Twenty-two years had passed since my graduation—enough time for another generation to go from the womb to a lifetime of student loan debt.
I left Hawaiʻi for the first time to attend college in 1992. I started college with a typewriter; I left with an email address. I wore black-and-white-striped tights with shorts, and long-sleeved shirts under my Radio Free Hawaiit-shirt. I learned that, yes, it really was possible to be cold when the sun was shining. I learned that jackets weren’t merely fashion accessories, when a fellow art student told me I should zip up.
In my first poetry class with Laurie Lamon, the last semester of my senior year, I wrote a catalogue poem, a food poem, a political poem, a dream poem, a villanelle. I found a way of engaging with that world that I loved. I still love it. For the poetry reading, I decided to read poems I’d written in that first poetry class in 1996, along with poems from my book, and a new longer piece.
I wanted to do something that would tell current students in the audience that the work they are doing now is valuable and important—not as a steppingstone to get them somewhere more “real” in the future—but worthy in and of itself. I think we so often want to hide early work, early drafts, early selves; we want to get beyond all that. I wanted to say to them and to myself: you are enough in every moment.
I read from my blue portfolio from that first poetry class, full of drafts with comments from Laurie, held together by a rusty metal clip. I told the audience that I wanted to honor myself as a young college student and so honor all of them. In truth, I felt admiration for those poems and the beginner who wrote them, so earnest and unaware of such things as simultaneous submissions, rejection letters, and graduate degrees. I recognized wisdom in my younger self that I hadn’t previously been able to see.
As 2018 draws to a close, I’m thinking about cycles and returns, the ones we mark collectively and the ones whose patterns speak to us quietly. I’m thinking about how I can wake up to patterns that do harm, and nurture patterns that invite healing. The reading took place on October’s full moon, and I felt my own fullness at the age of forty-four—returning to the place where I first began to love poetry, and reflecting on how poetry has sustained me in the twenty-two years since then.
After three months away, it’s wonderful to be home, writing, offering massage, and continuing to study lomilomi. Wishing you a peaceful end to 2018.