READ ABOUT IT
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bennet Hymer (left rear) and Gavin Daws (right rear) compiled 350 pieces of writing that covers two centuries of Honolulu's literary history for their latest book, "Honolulu Stories."
Telling isle history in story
The Internet may allow speedy access to facts and snapshots into other lives, but the nature of its content is informational. When was the last time a Web writer lured your imagination to ascend to another world, one in which you could almost feel the crunch of sand and seashells beneath your feet, feel the ocean's salt spray on your face or catch the scent of jasmine in the air?
"When I was a small boy, I looked into a pool and saw the sky passing through. When the glare passed, I saw snails and mud. Leaning forward, my face appeared at the edge, straight dry bangs fringing my forehead. But snails seemed to be crawling out of my eyes, so I collected the biggest black shells and corralled them with rocks, blanketed them with moss, threatened them with crayfish. The snails stayed in their cones, waiting. I pretended to be part of the sky, blue air, hovering above the surface."
-- By Eric Chock, from "Waolani Stream, 1955/1975"
The revelation that the Internet is changing the world, most immediately the print world, doesn't seem to cross Bennett Hymer's mind. The founder of Mutual Publishing believes in the power of the printed word and the deliberate pace of reading as only a book will allow.
So leave it to the publisher to deliver Hawaii's tome of tomes with his latest release, "Honolulu Stories: Two Centuries of Writing," co-edited by Gavan Daws.
The book comprises 350 works about Honolulu -- as experienced by personages from royalty to the common man, and as documented through short stories, poems, songs, novel and play excerpts, and other pieces of writing by about 250 writers -- contained in a whopping 1,120 pages.
It's a lot to ask of anyone to read that many pages, causing Daws to suggest a manageable way of tackling the task, unique to the book world and geared to the short-attention-span set, by starting a yearlong project of reading a page a day.
Truthfully, the reading goes much quicker than that.
Hymer said he wanted to start the project for a long time, and seeing similar anthologies, such as Philip Lopate's "Writing New York" and "David L. Ulin's "Writing Los Angeles," roused his competitive spirit.
"I felt Hawaii deserved a book like this. We have a literary history as good as L.A.'s, with proportionately fewer writers," he said.
He started weeding through local stories about five years ago, but 200 years of Hawaii's written history is a lot of ground to cover, and he turned to Daws, whose scholarship on island literature is similarly formidable. As the author of "Shoal of Time," "Holy Man: Father Damien of Molokai" and "Land and Power in Hawaii," Daws has been the recipient of the Hawaii Award for Literature and named a Distinguished Historian by the Hawaiian Historical Society, among many honors.
What Daws saw when he joined the project was Hawaii's literary history as presented from the perspective of "dead white males."
"In principle, there had to be a lot more," he said. "It was missing a lot of the multicultural voices from the second half of the 20th century.
More importantly, because of Hawaii's oral storytelling tradition, Daws felt it was necessary to draw on alternative sources, everything from songs to plays, musicals, cartoons and spoken-word poetry.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
The anthology covers the work of about 250 writers and their experiences of Honolulu.
Rap Reiplinger's comic genius, evident in his stage performances and recordings, becomes even more apparent when reading "Room Service." It would not be easy for anyone else to duplicate the three characters behind the one-man sketch.
Daws is also proud to say that "Honolulu Stories" may have topped every other similar anthology by including works in nine languages, including their translations.
"There were many times we tried to lock up, but we would find more and more," Hymer said.
"I could see the book expanding, always for the better," Daws said. "I regret the trees, but it's for a good cause."
Dueto Hawaii's late discovery by the Western world, written accounts of Honolulu's journey from independent islands to statehood and modernity are richly described in fiction and nonfiction works, presented in a timeline from the early 19th century to the present.
Along the way, novelists such as Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London took time to assign their experiences of Honolulu to paper, as have more contemporary novelists Paul Theroux, Hunter Thompson and Joan Didion.
Segments on "The Local Experience" and "The Way We Live Now" feature a who's who of local writers, from Bamboo Ridge founders Darrell Lum and Eric Chock, to Chris McKinney, noted for his darker take on "paradise."
Daws said he hopes the book will encourage further reading, and encourage people to seek out original source materials, whether to read or translate for others.
"Who would have known that in 1901, at the Ewa plantation, there was a haiku club?" Daws said. Examples of haiku and tanka give insight into the interior lives of people generally depicted as simple plantation workers.
The search also led them to Waianae to the granddaughter of a warehouseman, Manuel Jesus Coito, an orphan who made his way here from Madeira in 1886, and grew up to write poetry in classical Portuguese.
"A lot of times people downplay the value of the local in favor of the big world," Daws said. "Well, we're asking people to take a look at this."
A book signing will take place 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Borders, Ward Centre.
By W. Somerset Maugham
Nothing had prepared me for Honolulu. It is so far away from Europe, it is reached after so long a journey from San Francisco, so strange and so charming associations are attached to the name, that at first I could hardly close my eyes.
I do not know that I had formed in my mind any very exact picture of what I expected, but what I found caused me a great surprise. It is a typical western city. Shacks are cheek by jowl with stone mansions; dilapidated, dated frame houses stand next door to smart stores with plate glass windows; electric cars rumble noisily along the streets; and motors, Fords, Buicks, Packards, line the pavement. The shops are filled with all the necessities of American civilization. Every third house is a bank and every fifth the agency of a steamship company.
Along the streets crowd an unimaginable assortment of people. The Americans, ignoring the climate, wear black coats and high, starched collars, straw hats, soft hats, and bowlers. The Kanakas, pale brown, with crisp hair, have nothing on but a shirt and a pair of trousers; but the half-breeds are very smart with flaring ties and patent leather boots.
The Japanese, with their obsequious smile, are neat and trim in white duck, while their women walk a step or two behind them, in native dress, with a baby on their backs. The Japanese children, in bright-colored frocks, their little heads shaven, look like quaint dolls. Then there are the Chinese. The men, fat and prosperous, wear their American clothes oddly, but the women are enchanting with their tightly-dressed black hair, so neat that you feel it can never be disarranged, and they are very clean in their tunics and trousers, white, or powder blue, or black. Lastly, there are the Filipinos, the men in huge straw hats, the women in bright yellow muslin with great puffed sleeves.
It is the meeting place of East and West. The very new rubs shoulders with the immeasurably old. And if you have not found the romance you expected you have come upon something singularly intriguing. All these strange people live close to each other, with different languages and different thoughts; they believe in different gods and they have different values; two passions alone they share, love and hunger. And somehow as you watch them you have an impression of extraordinary vitality.
Though the air is so soft and the sky so blue, you have, I know not why, a feeling of something hotly passionate that beats like a throbbing pulse through the street.
Though the native policeman at the corner, standing on a platform, with a white club to direct the traffic, gives the scene an air of respectability, you cannot but feel that it is a respectability only of the surface; a little below there is darkness and mystery. It gives you just that thrill, with a little catch at the heart, that you have when at night in the forest the silence trembles on a sudden with the low, insistent beating of a drum. You are all expectant of I know not what.
By Tino Ramirez
I wonder too, about how it's going to turn out.
Of course, I want it simple, like those first words
We exchanged at Wahiawa Theater last year
Before they tore it all down. Something of you
Is stuck with me, and as the rumble of surf drifts
Across the empty lot tonight, I find myself humming
Arcane tunes of regret: how we both knew enough
To know the Koolaus can offer a view of both sides,
And how one evening we hiked up anyway
To a resting place above the windward coast
Where ridge lines arc down to sea
for what seemed
A pleasant walk of just a few more hours. But before
Our first steps fell and we could choose which strip
Of beach to aim for, the wind shifted due west,
Booming the groundswells in the trees behind us
I remember looking up next day
At midafternoon and the salt haze floating
Above an ocean so agitated in that rip of events,
My eyes burned looking at it. Premonitions rose
In the tears, and when the beaches were washed out
Back to the treeline, I knew it had already
Been too late. And though neither one of us
Will ever say what happened, the waves have a knack
For sorting themselves out. Go ahead and pick one.
The sand rising in its face will testify
That tomorrow is not hidden, but suspended,
Floating in view for a long moment
Before it falls on shore.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Bennett Hymer and Gavan Daws were incorrectly identified in a photo that appears in this story. Daws is standing to the right of Hymer.