Review: ‘Pidgin Eye’ stay broke da eye good
Finally! As one fan of Pidgin writing. As one fan of one of Hawaii’s most underrecognized poets, Joe Balaz, I wuz supa-excited for learn that Ala Press came out with his book of poetry “Pidgin Eye.”
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Finally! As one fan of Pidgin writing. As one fan of one of Hawaii’s most underrecognized poets, Joe Balaz, I wuz supa-excited for learn that Ala Press came out with his book of poetry “Pidgin Eye” (available on top amazon.com).
Since this book wuz so fat at 279 pages, my initial assumption wuz that it wuz going be his collected works. But turns out it nevah include his earlier more English works from da ’70s or any of his English visual poetry or his Hawaiian concrete poetry. This collection is solely his Pidgin stuff, yet as I wuz reading ’em, I took note that it wuzn’t every single Pidgin piece he ever wrote. It wuz one carefully curated collection with ukuplanny new Pidgin material added too. And since da ting stay called “Pidgin Eye,” I figgah this gotta be Balaz’s definitive statement about Pidgin, no?
Many of Joe Balaz’s poems going make you laugh, but lot of ’em get one serious message too. In my favorite “Anyting You Kill You Gaddah Eat,” da narrator relates how his faddah tells him repeatedly how he gotta eat whatevah he kills, whether it be fish or fowl. So da serious lesson is about hunting and fishing for sustenance. But da ting get one comedic twist at da end when da kid narrator extrapolates even further and says, “aftah I heard dat / no moa I kill flies wit wun rubbah band.” Lol.
One noddah one I love is “Da Mainland to Me.” I tink this one’s probably Balaz’s most famous and often republished poem. In this poem, da narrator has one Abbott and Costello-type argument with his friend about going to California. Da narrator’s friend tells, “I heard you going mainland.” But da narrator humorously keeps refusing for call da 48 contiguous states da “mainland.” Finally at da end, he tells he going to “da continent” because “Hawai’i / is da mainland to me.” Whoa.
What does it all mean? Some of Balaz’s character sketches made me tink of Lee Cataluna’s “Folks You Meet in Longs.” Some of his more risque pieces like “Tofu Vagina” made me tink of Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s “Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre” and how no subject stay taboo. And some of Balaz’s philosophical musings made me tink of da kine common sense critiques of da establishment that da comic George Carlin might give. Like in da poem “Whea Da Homeless Wen Go” wea da narrator concludes, “So smile and say cheese / and snap your camera / in one paradise unknown / as Waikiki gets one facelift / to go wit its heart of stone.”
And then there wuz some poems that just made me go, HAH?! Especially da ones about aliens, antennas and da workings of da universe.
I wuz having hard time deciphering da sequence. I wondered how come it wuzn’t grouped togeddah like most traditional poetry collections in sections either by theme or style, but somewhere along da line, I noticed I wuz coming for appreciate its spontaneity. Joe Balaz wuz being Joe Balaz. Lotta his verse get that strong element of rhyming and rhythm. He occasionally hits a blue note. Blue where it might be a little bit naughty. But blue in da musical sense too wea we get notes das unexpected. Das wea da humor comes in, da unexpected punchline. An’den all those tangential excursions into da mysteries of da universe, das purely improvisational. I realized this wuz da work of one Pidgin genius. I just wen pau reading … Pidgin jazz poetry!
Lee A. Tonouchi, aka da Pidgin guerrilla, is an Aiea-based Pidgin author and playwright.