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10 Questions for Craig Santos Perez

I drop my daughter off at her first day

of preschool—re-opened after a year closure.

Masked teachers, unvaccinated children.
—from "Preschool Sonnet during the Pandemic," Volume 62, Issue 4 (Winter 2021)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The first poem I wrote that was published in a literary journal was titled, “The Lust of Emperors,” and it was about how soldiers are sacrificed during war, and it includes a memory of my dad, who was drafted to fight in the American war in Vietnam.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I have been deeply influenced by an older generation of Pacific Islander writers, including Albert Wendt, Haunani-Kay Trask, Epeli Hauʻofa, Konai Helu Thaman, Patricia Grace, Peter Onedera, and Witi Ihimaera.

What inspired you to write this piece?
I was inspired by the theme of the issue, climate crisis and displacement. When I started writing the poem, my youngest daughter was beginning preschool after being home for more than a year due to the pandemic. I remember driving on the freeway after having picked her up and thinking about the journey she is beginning with school amidst the tides rising all around us.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
My writing is strongly influence by Hawaiʻi, where I currently live, Guam, where I am originally from, and the larger Pacific Ocean and the many archipelagoes.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
For me, I prefer writing and revising in silence so that I can read the poem aloud without other sounds or distractions and hear the music of the poem.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
With two young kids, it is hard to maintain any consistent rituals or traditions, so I am often just improvising and trying to write whenever some free time opens up in my busy schedule.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Usually my wife, who is a much more talented poet than me. Her name is Brandy Nālani McDougall, and her book is The Salt-Wind: Ka Makani Paʻakai.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I used to paint in college, and I love working with oils, acrylics, and mixed media. If I could devote my life to another art form, I would return to painting.

What are you working on currently?
I am currently co-editing an anthology, Indigenous Pacific Islander Eco-Literatures, which features nearly a hundred authors from across the Pacific writing about traditional ecological knowledge, environmental justice, human-animal relations, ocean and waterscapes, and climate change.

What are you reading right now?
I recently wrote a blurb for Making Kin: Ecofeminist Essays from Singapore, edited by Esther Vincent Xueming and Angelia Poon and published by Ethos Book. It is a very powerful collection of personal essays.

CRAIG SANTOS PEREZ is an indigenous Pacific Islander from Guam. He is the author of five books of poetry and the coeditor of five anthologies. He is professor of English at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

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