"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Poetry Review: FROM UNINCORPORATED TERRITORY [åmot] by Craig Santos Perez

from unincorporated territory [
amot] by Craig Santos Perez the 2023 winner for poetry for the National Book Award.
This book is the fifth collection in Craig Santos Perez's ongoing from unincorporated territory series about the history of his homeland, the western Pacific island of Guåhan (Guam), and the culture of his indigenous Chamoru people. “Åmot” is the Chamoru word for “medicine,” commonly referring to medicinal plants. (NBA)
"Perez’s project is complex, layered, and shifting. It’s a work of activism, history and archiving, and through it all, a carefully composed work sensitive to a poetic history. Just as each book is positioned as part of a larger work, so too is each poem." (The Poetry Project)

Each poem in this set begins the Chomoru word "Ginen" which means "here (by way of)". Ginen is a perfect precursor to each poem since so many of the events that have happened on Guam (here) came (by way of). For example the book is full of poems about the brown tree snake which came to Guam by way of some place else and has nearly decimated the bird population on the island. Now everything is out of whack ... too many spiders and beetles, for one thing.

Even Bingo, the Catholic faith, and Spam have come to Guam by way of elsewhere but are now deeply embedded in the culture.

My favorite poems are in a series revolving around Spam -- The Zen of Spam.

ginen the zen of spam
                towards spamvana

what is
the true
of spam 
                                            spam is
                                            the absence
                                            of striving
                                            for spam
does a poem
have spam nature

This series of poems are humorous and made me laugh as I shared them with my husband but most are serious, perhaps presented in a playful way, and possibly heartbreaking. Why does the USA have an unincorporated territory? Why don't we ever address the challenges and problems caused by colonialization? Even though I have several friends from Guam I have never, until now, wondered what the US occupation on Guam has done to the culture? Or how Guamanians feel about it. Sigh. When one is part of the dominant culture it is so easy to ignore other cultures. 

The second poem in the collection, ginen the legends of juan malo, really got me thinking. Among the fifty or so questions the poem asks, these stopped me in place:
...Is #Guam the tip of America's spear in Asia? Is #Guam dangerous? Is #Guam a target for North Korean missile strikes? Is #Guam in danger?...
So many questions with no answers.

In another poem Santos Perez talks about what it is like to live on a tiny island where 30% of the territory is a US military base. A rare tree exists on that part of the island which needs protection so the tree doesn't become extinct. The military's response, "Don't worry. We'll build a fence around it."

The judges for the National Book Award said this about from unincorporated territory [amot]:
The work of poetry as both praise and redress comes into intense realization in from unincorporated territory [åmot]. While tenderly elegizing family and homeland, Craig Santos Perez is also always aware of the forces—of colonialism, militarism, environmental destruction, and systemic sexual abuse—that devastate what is intimate and hallowed. Proudly polylingual, as lyrical as it is outraged, from unincorporated territory [åmot] is poetry as fierce medicine. (Judges citation, NBA)
If you want to read poetry which also makes you think and feel something new, this collection is for you. If you want to learn about Guam and its struggles, this collection is for you. If you like Spam or making fun of Spam, this collection is for you.

It is for all of us!

I give high praise for from unincorporated territory [amot] which will undoubtedly make my 2023 list as favorite poetry books read in the year. Now I am going to read backwards and see if I can find the other four books in the series.


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