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About this poet

Japanese American poet, Garrett Hongo, was born in Volcano, Hawai'i, on May 30, 1951. He attended Pomona College and the University of Michigan. He received his MFA in English from the University of California at Irvine.

His collections of poetry include Coral Road: Poems (Knopf, 2011); The River of Heaven (Knopf, 1988), which was the Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Yellow Light (Wesleyan University Press, 1982). He is also the author of The Mirror Diary: Selected Essays (University of Michigan Press, 2017) and Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai'i (Knopf, 1995), winner of the Oregon Book Award for nonfiction.

His honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

He is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon at Eugene, where he directed the creative writing program from 1989 to 1993.



Coral Road: Poems (Knopf, 2011)
The River of Heaven (Knopf, 1988)
Yellow Light (Wesleyan University Press, 1982)


The Mirror Diary: Selected Essays (University of Michigan Press, 2017)
Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai'i (Knopf, 1995)

The Bathers, Cassis

It’s too hot to think much about the ochre cliffs of Cap Canaille
or the moan of a tour boat’s engines grinding through the aquamarine
                                                                                  of the Mediterranean.
I’m inside measuring the width of the white ribbon of the wake
like a long skin shedding itself from the exoskeleton of a Zodiac boat,
assessing valuations of finitude among my household property,
gazing at the bathers as they take turns diving off the limestone promontory
                                                                                  below and to my left,
lazily frog-kicking through the cerulean waters of Port-de-Cassis.

Their bodies are pale as salamanders as they scoot through
                                                                                  the zaffre and viridian
back to the rock-toothed shore where they pull themselves up,
amphibian-like, stunning the air with their glistening bodies.
It is a sensate joy that releases like ecstatic vapor
                                            from off their skins and sea-drenched hair.
A hand has touched them and pass’d over their bodies,
                                                                     but not over mine.

If I were to walk a serrated shore, worn by wind and the idylls
                                                                                           of companionship,
I’d be twenty again and arrogant as Icarus
making survey of his father’s domain,
scanning the surface of the sea for a boil of sardines
glinting like a scatter of coins.
Preposterously, I’d glance neither to my left nor to my right,
and launch myself straight into a dive of my own,
unshowy and silent as I cut the immaculate waters,
joyous only in the theater of my own being, alone
as the brown salts that dry on the stoic, limestone lips of the sea,
unconsecrated by touch, the liquidinous mask of my face
submerged and upturned, trailing shrouds of sapphire and indigo.

Copyright © 2018 Garrett Hongo. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2018 Garrett Hongo. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Garrett Hongo

Garrett Hongo

Japanese American poet, Garrett Hongo was born in Volcano, Hawai'i, in 1951.

by this poet

I swear that, in Gardena, on a moonlit suburban street,
There are souls that twirl like kites lashed to the wrists of the living
And spirits who tumble in a solemn limbo between 164th
And the long river of stars to Amida’s Paradise in the West.

As though I belonged, I’ve come from my life of papers and exile

L. T. H., I. M.

There were years at her bedroom vanity, daubing on
makeup, fussing with clips and brushes, a clamp
for eyelashes, the phalanx of powder jars and perfume
bottles assembled like the glassy face of a wave standing
over a box of Kleenex. She’d paint on lipstick,
then blot

No one knew the secret of my flutes,
and I laugh now
because some said
I was enlightened.
But the truth is 
I'm only a gardener
who before the War
was a dirt farmer and learned
how to grow the bamboo
in ditches next to the fields,
how to leave things alone
and let the silt build up
until it was deep enough to