Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumuali Westlake (1947-1984)
Westlake, W. Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumuali Westlake (1947-1984). Edited by M-L. M. Siy and R. Hamasaki. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai`i Press, 2009, 275 pages, perfect softbound, 8.3 x 5.6. ISBN 978-0-8248-3067, $17.95
plus postage. Available from University of Hawai`i Press, 2840 Kolowalu Street, Honolulu, Hawai`i 96822-1888.
Reviewed by Randy Brooks, Illinois
In 1979, our third year of poetry publishing, Shirley and I received a manuscript of poems from Wayne Westlake, a rising poet from Hawaii. The poems were a fresh mix of senryu and tanka or kyoka, and both of us immediately loved Westlake’s playful—and somewhat irreverent—voice. The manuscript came with wonderful woodcuts by Kimie Takahashi which perfectly matched the tone of the poems. We were pleased to publish this small collection, It’s Okay if You Eat Lots of Rice, as High/Coo Press Chapbook number 5 (see note, p. 95).
On the back cover we quoted Wayne Westlake’s submission letter “I never wrote this book for no ‘Literary Establishment.’ I’d rather stand accused of writing like Issa or Takuboku, than be accused of writing like W.S. Merwin.” His poetic goals were coming from the poets known for their ability to write with personal voice from immediacy instead of literary grandeur. In a preface to Westlake, gleaned from unpublished manuscripts, he writes, “My poems are autobiography—like poetic diary—moments immediately recorded that would otherwise have passed by unnoticed.” (p. xi)
Here are two examples from It’s Okay if You Eat Lots of Rice:
for the lice
living in my hair
a stormy morning
ashtray . . .
In 1984 Wayne Westlake died as the result of a car accident. He was thirty-six. I have missed his poetry ever since. So it such a pleasure to see that thirty years after the publication of It’s Okay if You Eat Lots of Rice the University of Hawaii
Press has now published Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumuali Westlake (1947-1984). This wonderful collection of his poetry is the result of an editing collaboration between his literary executor, Mei-Li M. Siy, and Richard Hamasaki. I am so grateful that Westlake’s poetry has been gathered so that his poetry is available again, and we can recognize his accomplishments as an Hawaiian writer exploring Japanese and Chinese traditions.
In this collection we find many poetic self-portraits:
just like naupaka
in the mountains
by the sea
And another written “to the spirit of ishikawa takuboku” which seems fitting as his own epitaph given Westlake’s own death as a young poet:
than the cherry
in the spring wind—
Westlake experimented with concrete poetry and wrote a short prose piece on concrete poetry and the Chinese written character. He enjoyed sketching and the book includes several of his sketchy poems and one haiga. He also wrote one line
haiku such as:
Haiku all night she hates me for it
Her name over and over in the wind
He wrote free verse with short quick lines including haiku-like images intertwined with his characteristic cynical expression. Overall, his collection shows that he was writing a poetry journal of his life. The poems are sometimes within traditions of haiku, senryu, kyoka, tanka and free verse, but mostly they are just Wayne Kaumuali Westlake writing about insights from his life. Here are a few more favorites from this new collection:
i open my lunch
aah big grassy field
take off slippers
cold dew between
mind like wood
sunset feels good
on this bald head
My thanks to Mei-Li M. Siy and Richard Hamasaki for recovering Westlake’s poetry, and my thanks to the University of Hawai`i Press for publishing this important collection.
Editors’ Note: For those interested in getting the 1979 chapbook, here is the necessary information: Westlake, W. It’s Okay if You Eat Lots of Rice. Battleground, IN: High/Coo Press, 1979, 32 pages, saddlestiched, 4 x 5.5. ISBN 0-913719-08-0, $3.50 plus $2.50 postage. Available from Brooks Books, 3720 N. Woodridge Drive, Decatur, IL 62526.