Poets in Conversation: No'u Revilla
How did the poem “Sucking Sounds, Pōhai Street” come into being? Tell us a little about the origin, inspiration or circumstances surrounding it.
Pōhai Street is one of the things I trust when I write, something solid that connects my body to the past. I grew up in my grandmother’s house on Pōhai Street in Kahului, where I was constantly surrounded by strong ʻŌiwi (Hawaiian) women. My first book, Ask the Brindled, which is coming out with Milkweed in August, expresses my gratitude for these women and the knowledge and joy they cultivated alongside each other. I’ve been putting antihero and aunty hero side-by-side for a while now, turning it over and over. This poem, for me, is scratching at a much bigger set of questions about Indigenous Pacific women and intergenerational healing.
Do you feel poetry has a role to play during this global pandemic? How have you experienced writing and reading (or not!) during this time?
Poetry is a struggle for relation. When I write a poem, I am, in a very real way, saying to the reader: “I want to earn the right to hold you like this.” In some poems, I hold you at a distance. In others, if you let me, I want to hold you close. Once, after a reading, a woman came up to me and said my poem touched a part of her she didn’t think anyone could reach again. We talked for a long time, agreeing that the kind of listening that poetry demands is the kind of listening we want more of. I believe poetry can connect us and help us feel less alone, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we do to uplift each other.
Place--in several senses-- is so powerful in this poem. Talk a little about the importance of place in your work.
ʻĀina is our word for land in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language). ʻĀina is in our genealogy, so we care for our lands and waters the way we care for our elders. For poets, that means humility. Place precedes you. It is active and knowledgeable, not something to be conquered or owned. There are so many Indigenous Pacific women poets who center ancestor-affirming work in their practice–Jocelyn Ng, Grace Teuila Taylor, Lee Kava, Lehua Taitano, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Terisa Siagatonu, and so many more. I am humbled to be part of this ocean.
Is there a book or a writer you return to again and again who sustains you?
Every year, I re-read a sestina, a villanelle, and a sonnet sequence by Brandy Nālani McDougall. She is a brilliant ʻŌiwi poet, who is also from Maui, and a generous mentor. I learned a lot about poetic form from reading her first book The Salt-Wind / Ka Makani Paʻakai. Her work gave me both a model and permission–if not a kāhea (call)--to be more deliberate and more courageous in the ways I compose multilingual poems and rework “traditional” forms.
Tell us about a non-poetry passion, obsession or delight.
Ocean, ocean, ocean. The ocean is an ancestor and teacher, and all my families prioritize keeping good relations with the ocean. Surfing keeps me centered, and I have finally been able to get back in the water with my board. I wouldn’t be who I am without the waters who raised me.