The more years pass the more of a wonder it is that some of your friends never grow old. Unfortunately, they're the ones that died young.
Wayne Kaumualii Westlake was 36 years old in 1984 when a drunk woman crossed the centerline and cranked into his car. That was the end of this crazy, funny, Taoist, blond haired angry Hawaiian poet…the end of parties featuring pyramids of sake bottles and new translations of ancient Chinese poets or poems from being a janitor or just down on the sidewalk in Waikiki. My dad called him a "wandering poet like Basho or Issa," and the Universe I live in accommodates that quite comfortably. Wayne himself insisted that Li Po was of Central Asian descent and had blond hair and blue eyes. What a coincidence! (Which is not to say Li Po was Hawaiian or that Westlake had blue eyes.)
Wayne's companion (and literary executor) Mei-Li M. Siy stashed all his poems and manuscripts and bits of paper he wrote on, but as kind as time is to memory it is cruel to paper. When Wayne's friend Richard Hamasaki decided to gather together and publish Wayne's poems for posterity he had to rescue the manuscripts from the very brink of oblivion:
That collection of poetry, Westlake Poems, was published by the University of Hawaii Press in 2008, after Hamasaki mounted a fundraising effort (and most excellent party) at ThirtyNineHotel. No grant apps, no nonprofit blah blah, just a bunch of people putting funds together to accomplish something worthy.
And that's not the end of the story. Chris King of St. Louis (Poetry Scores), and UH-Hilo art professor Michael D. Marshall initiated The Westlake Project. Phase one of the project calls for the recording of 27 of Westlake's poems. Hamasaki invited poets, singers, and musicians from around the world to each record record one or more of the 27 poems from Westlake's "Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki." Among those responding were people who were friends, people who didn't know him, people who were born only after Westlake was dead.
The line up for the recording is really mind boggling: Hawaii artists like Imaikalani Kalahele step up to the mic on several poems, Augusto Alcalde from Argentina, Teresia Teaiwa from Aotearoa, Sia Figiel from Samoa, Wendell Ing from the Big Island of Hawaii, Jazz musician Fred Ho of New York, and many more.
The recording is complete and The Wayne Kaumualii Westlake Project is ready for mastering and digital release. In an effort to create physical artifactuality (I just made that word up), Hamasaki is making a limited number of CDs and for that there is another fund raising effort in place. He hopes to raise a modest $1,250 on Indiegogo for that purpose. There are various perks for contributors: $20 gets a complete CD mailed to you; $150 gets an original print by artist Mark Hamasaki. You can check out the Indiegogo project here, and you can read all 27 poems at the red flea blog.
I helped on one track myself and the process was interesting. Hamasaki recorded poet Sia Figiel of Samoa in a room at the University of Hawaii during one of her visits here. He gave me the recording which wasn't a dry recitation, but a very impassioned song a capella. I put some ambient sounds recorded during a police raid on the deOccupy Honolulu encampment in the beginning and background, layered in some music and mixed it to final.
OUT OF MY MIND
to give my poems
i sit all day
down on the
limp by . . .
i watch them
the PIGS –
they watch me – it’s enough to drive
TOTALLY OUT OF
And even that's not the end. Hamasaki plans that these recordings will serve as soundtracks for phase two of The Westlake Project: 27 movies/videos for "Down on the sidewalk in Waikiki."
Some people never grow old. Some people never die.
(You can read more about the project here on the redflea blog, or contribute to the project here.)
15 June 2013
H. Doug Matsuoka