Coral Road

Coral Road

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by Garrett Hongo
     
 

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Garrett Hongo’s long-awaited third collection of poems is a beautiful, elegiac gathering of his Japanese-American ancestors in their Hawaiian landscape and a testament to the power of poetry, as it brings their marginalized yet heroic narratives into the realm of art.

In Coral Road Hongo explores the history of the impermanent homeland his ancestors

Overview

Garrett Hongo’s long-awaited third collection of poems is a beautiful, elegiac gathering of his Japanese-American ancestors in their Hawaiian landscape and a testament to the power of poetry, as it brings their marginalized yet heroic narratives into the realm of art.

In Coral Road Hongo explores the history of the impermanent homeland his ancestors found on the island of O‘ahu after their immigration from southern Japan, and meditates on the dramatic tales of the islands. In sumptuous narrative poems he takes up strands of family stories and what he calls “a long legacy of silence” about their experience as contract laborers along the North Shore of the island. In the opening sequence, he brings to life the story of his great-grandparents fleeing from one plantation to another, finding their way by moonlight along coral roads and railroad tracks. As his grandmother, a girl of ten with an infant on her back, traverses “twelve-score stands of cane / chittering like small birds, nocturnal harpies in the feral constancies of wind,” Hongo asks, “Where is the Virgil who might lead me through the shallow underworld of this history?” In fact, it is Hongo who guides himself—and us—as, in these devoted acts of recollection, he seeks to dispel the dislocation at the center of his legacy.

The love of art—making beauty in however provisional a culture—has clearly been a guiding principle in Hongo’s poetry. In this content-rich verse, Hongo hearkens to and delivers “the luminous and the anecdotal,” bringing forth a complete aesthetic experience from the shards that make up a life.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
With anguish and love, Pulitzer Prize finalist Hongo (The River of Heaven) presents his ancestors' stories as they unfolded on the island of Oahu, their first homeland after they migrated from Japan. Hongo here sees poetry as a meditation, and he touches on everything from nature, personal experience, and myth to his ancestors' experiences of love and survival. To a great extent, he relies on narrative, with meaning emanating from the constant stream of places, colors, names, and anecdotes he cites. But Hongo's lively images and fluid tone prevent the reportorial style from slipping into passive documentation, and his language embodies the local as a way of connecting with the vast outside world: "When you see the blue sky that one day in Istanbul, Nazim/ How can you lie down on the ground and look up to it/ In respectful devotion to its full immensity." VERDICT Hongo's lyricism echoes Whitman's, and his shaping of life experiences through poetic stories generates a tremendous feeling of intimacy. This poetry narrates journeys we all take and is recommended for all readers.—Sadiq Alkoriji, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375712043
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/02/2013
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
120
Sales rank:
649,428
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Coral Road

I keep wanting to go back, across an ocean, blue-gray and uncaring,
White cowlicks of waves at the continental shore, then the midsea combers
Like white centipedes far below the jetliner that takes me there.
And across time too, to 1919 and my ancestors fleeing Waialua Plantation,
Trekking across the northern coast of Òahu, that whole family
                                                                                      of first Shigemitsu
Walking in geta and sandals along railroad ties and old roads at night,
Sleeping in the bushes by day, hàalelehana—runaways
From the labor contract with Baldwin or American Factors.

My grandmother, ten at the time, hauling an infant brother on her back,
Said there was a white coral road in those days, pieces of crushed reef
Poured like gravel over the brown dirt, and, at night, with the moon up,
As it was those nights during their flight, silver shadows on the sea,
It lit their path like a roadway made of dust from the Ocean of Clouds.
Michiyuki is what they called it, the Moon Road from Waialua to Kahuku.

There is little to tell and few enough to tell it to—
A small circle of relatives gathered for reunion
At some beach barbecue or Elks Club veranda in Waikiki
All of us having survived that plantation sullenness
And two generations of labor in the sugar fields,
Having shed most all memory of travail and the shame of upbringing
In the clapboard shotguns of ancestral poverty.

                                                                         Who else would even listen?
Where is the Virgil who might lead me through the shallow underworld of this history?
And what demiurge can I say called to them, loveless ones,
               through twelve-score stands of cane
Chittering like small birds, nocturnal harpies in the feral constancies of wind?

All is diffuse, like knowledge at dusk, a veiled shimmer in the sea
As schools of baitfish boil and revolve in their iridescent globes,
Turning to the olive dark and the drop-off back to depth below,
Where they shiver like silver penitents—a cloud of thin, summer moths—
While rains chill the air and pockmark the surface of the sands at Sans Souci,
And we scatter back inside to a humble Chinese buffet and cool sushi
Spread on Melamine platters on a starched white ribbon of shining cloth.

Meet the Author

Garrett Hongo was born in Volcano, Hawai‘i, lived as a child in Kahuku on O‘ahu, and grew up thereafter in Los Angeles. He is the author of two previous collections of poetry, three anthologies, and Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai‘i. His poems and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. He has been the recipient of several awards, including fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. He lives in Eugene, Oregon, and teaches at the University of Oregon, where he is Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Coral Road 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eats a fly