No Choice but to Follow
Linked poems by Jean Yamasaki Toyama, Juliet S. Kono, Ann Inoshita and Christy Passion (Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge Press, 2010, 149 pp., $20, paperback)
Four poets committed 48 weeks in 2008 to composing linked poems, in part, in celebration of Bamboo Ridge Press’ 30th anniversary. The culmination of Jean Yamasaki Toyama, Juliet S. Kono, Ann Inoshita and Christy Passion’s efforts is “No Choice but to Follow,” a collection of linked renshi poems.
Though simple, the rules were anything but easy to follow: each writer would have one week to write their poem, in which they would use the last line or word of the preceding piece as the title of their own poem. The poets, then, followed a loose interpretation of the linked verse poetry, which derives from a classical Japanese traditional form of poetry.
What unfolds is an intimate glimpse at the lives of four women poets, and the lens with which they view the stunning, complicated and flawed home that they call Hawai‘i.
For many, including Kono, 2008 was a tumultuous year, following the stock market crash.
Inoshita writes of nursing a cold with miso soup and squash cooked in dashi, shoyu and sugar, while muddling through the drudgery of writer’s block.
Lest one fear that 2008 was filled with nothing but hardships, one of the most memorable themes that prevails through one set of poems is the election of President Barack Obama. Passion appeals to the local boy not to forget his roots “of when hope was measured in pocket change after a long day of body surfing just enough for shaved ice and the bus ride home.” The poem, just as the book, remains uniquely steeped in the sounds, smells and tastes of Hawai‘i, and yet manages to be universal in appeal.
At the end of “No Choice” is a commentary, in which each woman’s poem is paired with her reflection on the process of writing that week’s piece. These gems offer an insightful peek into the solitary, laborious — but at its best, courageous — act of writing, and are all the more delightful when paired with the audio recording of each poem read by the author, on a CD.