THE SFSU POETRY CENTER: craig santos perez + aaron shurin

[ Sat Apr 28 12 ]

The Poetry Center and Archives at San Francisco State University continues to host a remarkable roster of poets for their reading series. Last week, Craig Santos Perez and Aaron Shurin read at the Unitarian Center. Shurin read from Citizen and other works, and Santos Perez read new work and from a ten-part poem that compromises much of his second collection, from unincorporated territory [saina].

At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Santos Perez teaches creative writing and Pacific literature, and his poetry reflects the front lines of native writing and indigenous culture. A native of Guam who emigrated to California as a teenager, Perez Santos explained his approach to the tricky concept of (artistic) identity: “‘Poetry helps me understand my own experience of being from. Poetry maps the visible and invisible lines of my cultural identity, helping me navigate my life in the diaspora as both ‘indigenous’ and ‘immigrant’—as ‘Pacific Islander,’ ‘Asian American,’ ‘Latino,’ and ‘Native American.’ As ‘Chamorro.’ As ‘Chamoru.’”

from aerial roots is a ten-part poem and Santos Perez’s journey to answer emergent questions from Guam’s colonized past that affect what he calls a “sovereign imaginary.” His poems are literally and metaphorically fluid: They focus on the people, the land, the raw materials and the water surrounding the revival of the legendary sakman water vessel, a swift-moving outrigger canoe that had once been skillfully hand-crafted, and the pride of Santos Perez’s ancestors until colonizers destroyed sakman in order to immobilize the people. He explains that he could not attend the inaugural launch of Sainathe first sakman canoe to sail in Pacific waters for modern generations, and writing the poems was his way of connecting to such a historic event.

Santos Perez’s work will resonate with any people and all cultures that struggle to understand more acutely the forced physical disconnections that are or were out of our control. His steady, rising imagery, at times coaxed from painful losses suffered centuries before his birth, is slowly released in each poem, afloat, images on air, into the atmosphere of the poem, into the world. With his quiet, intensive rendering, he creates a world that lies open for us to ponder when he reads from aerial roots:

                             what we inherit  what is passed from  the salt wind trades in things unknown and 
                             unpredictable  even without the names of the stars  even when we lost contact  it will
                             never be too dark for us to see


– Evelyn Manangan-Price