On my way to the Volcano district of the Big Island to interview poet Garrett Hongo, I thought about the poems in his two books of poetry, “Yellow Light,” and his more recent “The River of Heaven,” which had been nominated for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Formerly on the University of Missouri faculty, Hongo is spending a year writing in Volcano, his birthplace, before assuming an associate professorship at the University of Oregon.

Hongo’s parents relocated to California when he was a youngster. He graduated from Pomona College, spent a year in Kyoto and at the University of Michigan, then earned his M.A. from the University of California at Irvine. His book, “Yellow Light,” published by Wesleyan University Press, included poems that won “The Discovery/Nation II Prize in 1980. “The River of Heaven,” published by Alfred A. Knopf, was a 1987 Lamont Poetry Selection, as well as a Pulitzer Prize nominee. In 1988, Hongo received a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Poet Garrett Hongo. (Photo by Dennis Kawaharada)
Poet Garrett Hongo. (Photo by Dennis Kawaharada)

I drove past the Volcano 25-mile marker and took a left into a maze of ohia trees. A wild Chukar ran across the road, drawing my attention to a road called Ruby, where, not far away, I found a two-story cedar house amongst the backdrop of a Big Island wilderness.

I parked my car in the gravel driveway, walked around a huge water tank, stepped up to the front door and was greeted by Hongo, who had just completed a day’s writing. I entered his living room/kitchen, where we talked about college, Missouri, Kyoto and about his one game on the Pomona football team in order for me, not him, to relax. It was 3:30 in the misty afternoon, time for Hongo’s daily smoke. We went out on the chilly front porch — Hongo took out his cigar and answered my questions between puffs . . .

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Aaron Hara is the information technology manager for the Honolulu Museum of Art (formerly the Honolulu Academy of Arts), with responsibility for the museum, the Honolulu Museum of Art School and Spalding House (formerly The Contemporary Museum). Aaron has been with the museum for nearly 15 years. It was a field he was interested in even while working at the Herald. Aaron, a Hilo native, says he remains interested in the Japanese American community, especially with the passing of his grandparents and aunts and uncles.


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