Author: Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan/Guam. He is the co-founder of Ala Press, co-star of the poetry album Undercurrent (Hawai’i Dub Machine, 2011), and author of two collections of poetry: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008) and from unincorporated territory [saina](Omnidawn Publishing, 2010), a finalist for the LA Times 2010 Book Prize for Poetry and the winner of the 2011 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry. He is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, where he teaches Pacific literature and creative writing.

from the legends of juan malo: juan malo & the next american president

from the legends of juan malo: juan malo & the next american president

       [a malologue]

Get ready for the latest, greatest Obama campaign subgroup: Pacific Islanders for Obama (sign up on Facebook today)! President Obama salutes the Pacific Islanders enlisting from the shining shores of the Hawaiian Islands to our Pacific Island territories, all fulfilling the American dream. Therefore, I, Barack Obama, do hereby proclaim May 2009 as Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The Pacific Islanders for Obama car magnet is a great way to make a statement when you’re cruising in your truck. The Obamas will once again vacation in Hawaii over the holidays this year, but this time it will be a bit more expensive than previous trips, costing taxpayers $4 million (that’s a lot of SPAM!). The President and his family are renting a five-bedroom estate in Oahu all with ocean views. Obama’s vacation consisted largely of trips to the gym and golf course at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. On a recent visit, President Obama and his daughters cooled off with a shave ice, the local version of a snow cone. Obama said he feels a little odd wearing a suit in Hawaii. This grey Pacific Islanders for Obama T-shirt is a great way to show that you stand with President Obama in 2012 (Made in the USA). Obama was born in Honolulu on August 4, 1961 at the old Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital at 1611 Bingham Street—wink, wink. President Obama, hosting APEC in Hawaii, emphasized the importance of exploiting the Pacific region to the American economy. Mr. President, almost two-thirds of us Pacific Islanders voted for YOU! We voted for CHANGE! On the heels of announcing that the 21st century is “America’s Pacific Century,” the militarization of Guam has become a “top priority.” Obama appointed a Guam son, Tony Babauta, as Assistant Secretary of the Interior For Insular Areas. After almost three years in office, President Obama finally decided to visit Guam. After delaying his trip to Guam three times, Obama landed on Guam in the middle of the night, to refuel Air Force One on his way across the Pacific. His visit comes just days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped on Guam for a refueling stop on her way to Manila. Senator Barack Obama appeared to win the Democratic caucuses in Guam on Saturday, defeating Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton by a seven-vote margin. A protest entitled “Hey Mr. President, Come Meet the Residents,” was organized outside the gates of Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base. Protestors brought banners and posters, including one lit with flashlights and aimed upwards. It read “Guam: Where America’s President Refuels.” According to The Obamas, by Jodi Kantor, Michelle Obama’s office in the East Wing of the White House became so isolated that aides referred to it as “Guam” because it was “pleasant but powerless.” Our Pacific Islanders for Obama buttons look great pinned to any military or hotel uniform. Wear them and shaka wave for the President who once said: “I am a Pacific Islander too.”

“Nånan Tåno` is calling for you”: Four Contemporary Chamoru Poets

“Nånan Tåno` is calling for you”: Four Contemporary Chamoru Poets

Guahan (Guam) is the largest and southernmost island in the Marianas archipelago, located in the region of the Pacific Ocean known as Micronesia. The indigenous people, and our language, are known as Chamoru/Chamorro. Lala’chok.

Guahan was a colonial possession of Spain from 1665 to 1898. Thatʻs why some of us have Spanish surnames; that’s why some of us are Catholic; that’s why Spanish words have entered our language. Lala’chok.

As a result of the Spanish-American War, Guahan became a possession of the United States, governed by the U.S. Navy. That’s why we speak English; that’s why we use American currency; that’s why we imitate U.S. hygienic and educational practices. Lala’chok.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Japan bombed, invaded, and occupied Guahan for three years. Remember the poster for the 1984 American movie Red Dawn, in which the U.S. is invaded by the Soviet Union. The poster reads: “In our time / no foreign army / has ever occupied / American soil. // Until now.”

The foreign army of the United States returned to Guahan in 1944. They too bombed, invaded, and (re-)occupied the island. Some call the day they invaded our shores “Liberation Day.” Lala’chok.

In 1950, the Organic Act of Guam was signed, solidifying Guahan’s political status as an “unincorporated territory” of the U.S., a status unchanged to this day. The U.S. military occupies a third of our islandʻs landmass. Lala’chok.

According to the United Nations, Guahan remains one of the last remaining sixteen non-self-governing territories in the world. Lala’chok.

In “Signs of Being: A Chamoru Spritual Journey,” acclaimed Chamoru writer Cecilia “Lee” Perez writes: “I always come back to the idea of cultural survival. We are here. We are now. But what is it that brought us, as a people, to this point? Despite years of governance by colonial powers, our language and our ways persevere. We are not pickled, preserved, or frozen in time. We are not measurable or validated by blood quantum, ethnic breakdown, physical characteristics or DNA. We are vital, and vitalized by our tenacity and joined inner strength” (1997: 24).

Perez believed that “an increased presence of Chamoru literature in Guam’s community can help to stimulate thought on the politics of culture, and cultural identity.” She also believed that creative writing could be a “tool for this process of decolonization; a process that comes over time through a development and nurturing of intellectual and sensory acuity” (1997: viii-ix). Finakmata.

While voices of contemporary Chamoru literature have remained on the margins of the study and formation of Pacific, American, and World literature, new Pacific voices are beginning to coalesce into waves, moving across great distances to sound against the shores of our attention. This feature is one such arrival. I Senedda.

These four Chamoru poets present a wide range of Chamoru experience, aesthetics, and cultural identity. However, they do have a few things in common. They are all strong Pacific women, and they all have earned graduate degrees at various U.S. institutions in the past few years: Clarissa Mendiola received her M.F.A in Writing from California College of the Arts; Lehua Taitano received her M.F.A. Creative Writing Program at the University of Montana; and Kisha Borja-Kicho’cho’ and Angela “Anghet” T. Hoppe-Cruz received their M.A.s from the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa.

These four writers currently reside in very different locales, reflecting the diasporic reality of the Chamoru writing community: Kisha lives in Guahan, Anghet lives in Hawaiʻi, Clarissa lives in San Francisco, and Lehua lives in North Carolina. The Organic Act of Guam granted Chamorus U.S. citizenship; since then, there has been a continual out-migration of Chamorus to the states (they say there are more Chamorus living in San Diego than on Guahan). While we may be separated by thousands of miles of ocean and land, the work of Chamoru writers always remain rooted to our Nånan Tåno’, our motherland and home island.

I hope you enjoy this feature of Chamoru poetry, and that you will keep an eye out for these writers in the future-all of whom I believe will have full-length collections published in the coming years.

Special thanks to Andrew Wessels and The Offending Adam for the opportunity to edit this feature.

-Craig Santos Perez

Monday:: Lehua Taitano
Tuesday:: Clarissa Mendiola
Wednesday:: Kisha Borja-Kicho’cho’
Thursday:: Anghet Hoppe-Cruz

Work Cited

Perez, Cecilia C. T.. Signs of Being: A Chamoru Spiritual Journey. Honolulu: Pacific Islands Studies Plan B Paper Series, 1997.

On Offending

The Sand Man

     from colonium

One must have a mind of whiteness
To regard the wire and the barbs
of the fences crusted with sand;

And have been white a long time
To behold our mouths speaking English,
The hotels rising in the distant glitter

Of the Territorial sun; and not to think
Of the misery in the sound of our voice,
In the mound of a few bones,

Which is the pain of our land
Full of our maimed voice
That is crashing against the maimed shore

For the colonizer, who colonizes even the sand,
And, everything himself, beholds
Everything that is his and the Nothing that is not.

Postterrain III & Juan Malo Explains what a “Guam” Is & from all with ocean views

Postterrain III

the ribcage of a house can never be pulled free from
its backbone
we stay in our rooms to believe what we’re told
sometimes I reach for you sometimes your movement
awakens me—
when i close my eyes
is that you walking away is that you waiting for ‘voice’
many enter this house
after breaking
narrative into… see what the house sees                light-
waves break
to learn a new body to carry the uncertain
dark into certain
the map of once living story

say a word
and mean its depth

say ‘myth’ and mean
‘no end’


Juan Malo Explains what a “Guam” Is

Guam is virtually nonexistent, just a little island, a little fly-speck in the Pacific, far, far away from everything. Guam is three and a half hours. Guam is a travel hub to other Micronesian Islands and America’s gateway to the West Pacific and Asia. Guam is one of the few remaining colonies of the world. Guam is a duty-free port. Guam is a United States citizen at birth. Guam is also part of the U.S. Postal System (“state” code: GU, ZIP code range: 96910-96932), mail to Guam from the U.S. mainland is considered domestic and no additional charges are required. Guam is inviting and on Myspace. Guam is generally receptive to the military expansion plan for the island. Guam is being made without the consent of Guam’s people. Guam is being revived as a pivot point in a sweeping realignment of US forces in the Pacific and Asia. Guam is situated along what the Chinese call the “second island chain” to which the communist military intends to project air and sea power in the foreseeable future. Guam is an instrumentality of the federal government. Guam is a compilation of testimonies presented to the United Nations. Guam is vulnerable to the tyranny of distance. Guam is strategically located close to several of the worlds most important sea lanes, such as the Strait of Malacca, through which some 50% of the world’s oil passes each year. Guam is causing some pilot rust to show through. Guam is using Twitter. Guam is to go into places with air conditioning. Guam is like visiting the four exotic corners of the globe. Guam is halfway around the world. Guam is nothing to most Americans. Guam is a small harmless creature the size of an earthworm. Guam is not as remote as you might think. Guam is a melting pot of Chamorro, Micronesian, American, and Asian cultures. Guam is called the land of the rosaries. Guam is one of the best Hotels. Guam is about to boom economically, and a good many of our young people are going to join the military. Guam is on Facebook. Guam is 671. Guam is narrow in the middle and why women were held in such high esteem in ancient Guam. Guam is jungle and sometimes there just aren’t any good landmarks. Guam is strictly business—and the business is to accelerate the military. Guam is like a mini Hawaii. Guam is normally on the spicier side. Guam is one of our most curious possessions. Guam is the punchline to so many Hollywood movie gags/jokes. Guam is being used to film 3 Hollywood Movies in the next few years. Guam is being upgraded by the Pentagon. Guam is being beefed up to better project power. Guam is the largest and most spectacular mall in all the western Pacific. Guam is not volcanically active. Guam is pretty scarce. Guam is not a Guam.


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Written with a Hand of the Tremor

Written with a Hand of the Tremor

Christian Peet:: Big American Trip:: Shearsman Books

Christian Peet’s Big American Trip (Shearsman Books, 2009) is entirely composed of poems “hand-written” on imagined postcards by an “alien” of unknown nationality, ethnicity, and gender traveling across the United States (according to his biographical note, Peet has driven across the U.S. numerous times, camping in all but five states). The book’s format opens like a book of postcards; in addition, the book invites the reader online to view video interpretations of the poems performed by various artists (

The main themes in this book are language, nation, relationships, travel, and work. One postcard opens with expository discourse: “Raspberry fields, Lynden WA, Washington State leads the nation in red raspberry production. In 2004, Washington raised 60.3 million pounds of red raspberries valued at $46.6 million.” Many of the postcards contain some sort of informational heading, following the postcard genre convention to provide some kind of description of what is depicted. Peet’s poems that follow the description, however, are completely unexpected:

Margin Lesson

“That” is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun,
“Which” the nondefining, or nonrestrictive

—Washington State Raspberries, which
are harvested by illegal aliens, are delicious.

—Washington State Raspberries that
are harvested by illegal aliens are delicious.

This postcard, addressed to the “Washing State Raspberry Commission,” captures what lies beneath the touristic description of Washington’s famed raspberry production. Peet shows that language and grammar does not change the fact that “illegal aliens” are depended on to harvest the fruit. Another postcard, addressed to the “Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors National Headquarters,” addresses issues of translation and immigration:

Entienda Mal = Missverstehen Sie
Misunderstand “the sage as brush”
Misunderstand “the horizon as longing of length and depth”
Misunderstand “barbed wire as absence”
Misunderstand “presence as absence of barbed wire”
Misunderstand “we” as “in this together”
Misunderstand “conflict” as “conflict”

It’s interesting to imagine Peet writing these postcards and deciding whom to address them to; it’s also fun to imagine the individuals/organizations receiving such cryptic postcards. These postcard meditations call into question what America means by “we,” and why many feel that the presence of immigrants means there isn’t enough barbed wire to keep them (“us”) out.

While Peet’s syntax feels “alien”—as in somewhat grammatically “incorrect”—many of the postcards are also written in “Plain English.” Addressed to a Montana Senator, one poem reads:

Dried snake on the roadside.

Sage brush in gray rock.

Best estimation is 50 miles in front of me:

Plain English.

Three postcards are entirely composed of pasted clippings: the first is a job listing of “Available Non-Management Positions,” the second is an article about a group of U.S. soldiers in Iraq who named their camp in Iraq after a KOA campground, and the third is a description of a Michigan Law Enforcement course called “Spanish for Criminal Justice Response Professionals.” These poems testify to the complex, formal range of Big American Trip.

While much of the book deconstructs the various discourses of nationhood that the speaker encounters, the other strand of this project is to document. This becomes clear in a postcard addressed to no one, but designated “[for purposes of documentation]”:

Twenty miles to Fargo
or the time is disappeared.

Road Sign: Test Sites Next Three Miles

This is ‘Explanation.’

Throughout, Peet questions the dominant narratives and discourses of American empire and culture in profound ways.

One of my favorite pieces in Big American Trip explores what it means to “drive” (addressed to the “Recreation Vehicle Association”):

The drive is “welcome to” and “thank you”
The drive is bison disappear to the hills
The drive is abandoned, condom in the rest area
The drive is no backyard hill or stump
The drive is find the long definition home
The drive is steel & tar & oil & gas & coffee
The drive is under the weather as under the law
The drive is beyond me
The drive is heartland into stone

The drive, always beyond the poet, drives the traveler to “find the long definition home.” This long definition, of course, can never be fully defined in language because there is just too much mistranslation, misunderstanding, and weathering. However, Peet seems to suggest that the important thing is the driving and not necessarily the final definition. In a series of three postcard-poems titled “Hand in the Matter,” he describes his own poetics as searching for the “tracks / of the surface of underlying processes.”

In a sense, there is no single narrative, but “between lithosphere and atmosphere / of imitation, is this ‘lyric’ ‘body’ of ‘work.’” Of course, Peet questions even the linguistic designations of lyric, body, and work because words don’t capture the complete atmosphere of their referents. Finally, Peet notes: “the ‘lyric’ is // written with a hand of the tremor.” Indeed, the lyrics of Big American Trip are written with a hand of the tremor—a tremor caused by the unstable surfaces and underlying forces that constitute the history, language, politics, economy, and culture of the nation.

Christian Peet:: Big American Trip:: Shearsman Books