Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, April 26, 2001

Glen Grant, who's built a career telling ghost stories,
says he wanted The Haunt "to be an alternative place
for storytellers, literary people and musicians."

Music  +  Words

Nights low-key as sunset on
the radio / vocal chords with
breathing space / no spit

By Gary C.W. Chun

When Glen Grant first opened up his bookshop and coffee bar The Haunt last November in Moiliili, it wasn't meant to be filled just with the ghostly and supernatural stuff he's built his reputation on.

"I also want it to be an alternative place for storytellers, literary people and musicians to come and gather," Grant said Tuesday afternoon at the cozy business he and co-owner Jill Staas run. "Something creative and offbeat will always find a home at The Haunt."

Located in India House's former space -- before it moved across the street -- in the nearly century-old Kamada Building, the place is an accurate reflection of the two owners' quirky tastes.

And they're providing space for small concerts, regularly scheduled nights when old radio dramas and grade B movies are played, and tonight, a gathering of three poets and a guitarist.

Poets Lopaka Kapanui Brown, David Parrish and Robert Pennybacker, along with guitarist Shoji Ledward, have been collaborators since 1995, "playing in all of the coffee shops around town -- most of whom have gone out of business," said Pennybacker.

Poets Robert Pennybacker and Lopaka Kapanui, and
guitarist Shoji Ledward can’t wait to take the stage
tonight. David Parrish, a fourth member, couldn’t
get away from duties as a lifeguard.

"When Lopaka joined us in '97, we felt it was a good mix because we write very differently from each other," he said.

"Shoji holds it all together. The three of us approach this like we're just as much a musical instrument like Shoji's guitar."

Both Ledward and Brown (who occasionally leads some of the walking tours offered by Grant) worked together on the late Tremaine Tamayose's school-touring play "Family Laundry" from '94 to '97, "all about a local dysfunctional family and redemption," Ledward said. "I provided the soundscapes."

"And I played the punk son!" added Brown.

Compared to the fashionable poetry slam competitions, where poets try to cram as much vociferous hyperbole as possible within a small amount of time, Pennybacker said, "We tend to give a lot more breathing space, where Shoji has developed different phrasings to complement our poetry."

"There will be no spewing and spitting!" quipped Brown. "Bitter and angry are too easy."

The poets admit that deciding what gets read at any given performance can be pretty random, trying out something new to "surprise the guitar player," Ledward joked.

"Actually it works out better if he's not prepared," said Pennybacker.

They first started getting a wider response on Grant's Sunday evening radio show on KCCN-AM. Over the span of four appearances that began two years ago, "a lot of people have called up, sometimes reading their own poetry while Shoji accompanied them over the air," Pennybacker said.

Grant observed that he thought "David's poems are more like in the hard-boiled genre of style, Robert is more to jazz and Lopaka adds a humorous twist at the end of his writings, like O. Henry."

The group is wrapping up recording a CD of their carefully crafted performances, hoping to release it two months from now. Among contributions from each of the poets (like Brown's contemplation of Native Hawaiian identity, "Pagan Tattooed Savage," and Parrish's wry "Anthropomorphicide," one of the poems is a collaboration, "where I picked a theme, 'Honolulu,' " said Pennybacker, "and we all read eight lines that we wrote on that theme, setting up a call-and-response with Shoji."

Pennybacker said he was inspired to try that after hearing legendary Beat poet Jack Kerouac do the same with jazz saxophonist Zoot Sims.

"It's a wide variety of stuff," Brown said. "I especially like Robert's poem 'Moonlight in Vermont,' which mixes in the lyrics of that song." (One stanza goes, with the original lyrics in italics, "Evening summer breeze/a charcoal grey morning greets me as I leave the after-hours joint/Warbling of a meadowlark/the sad taste of cigarettes and gin/is scoured off my tongue by the scalding first swallow of coffee/Moonlight in Vermont/blue life in New York.")

"Expect to hear good music," Pennybacker said, "in the sense that we think of what we do more as a musical performance than a literary performance. It's meant to be enjoyed on different levels, even on just the rhythm of our reciting our poems."

Grant thought the group's name of "Poets Without a Net" was appropriate to them because "they don't go into some arena-defined kind of poetry -- I think they're doing poetry like streetfighters."

"It's a basic art form," Pennybacker said, "one that everyone comes back to. Even if it's lousy, it's still a valid way of expressing yourself. For us, the music helps take it out of the realm of the classroom and academia."

Mixing it up

What: Poets Without a Net
Place: The Haunt, 2634 S. King St.
Time: 7 p.m. today
Admission: Free
Call: 943-0371

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