Polynesian Poet Will Giles Brings His Poetry to Akron
by Claude Christensen
What does it mean to live in a country founded upon colonization, and what are the lingering effects, especially in regards to indigenous and minority communities?
On February 26, at 7pm, poet Will Alfred Nu’utupu Giles will perform on the third floor of the Summit Artspace as a part of his touring poetry show, “Until Name Becomes Prayer,” exploring themes of colonization, his own masculinity and his identity as a second-generation immigrant born in Hawaii.
A spoken word poet, Will led Hawaii’s poetry slam team to first place in the International Poetry Slam Championship, and is also the first Pacific Islander to win the National Underground Poetry Individual Competition.
Will’s spoken word poetry draws heavily from his personal life and his identity as a Pacific Islander, second generation immigrant and young man coming to terms with his own masculinity. Reverberating with barely suppressed emotion, Will’s poetry explores the history of colonization in the Pacific Islands and the Americas as a whole, and the continuing crisis of identity and representation that affect indigenous communities.
In a particularly moving piece, “Ursula,” he likens the alcoholism of his father, grandfather and himself to a roiling internal ocean. A coping mechanism, the drinking (and, possibly, the poetry) is a reaction to the vast array of external forces that threaten Will and the men of his family.
“The best way to overcome a fear of the ocean,” Will declares, “is to become one.”
“He’s exploring the effect of historical trauma,” says Amber Cullen, an Akron native.
It was Amber who began the effort and subsequent GoFundMe campaign to bring Will to Akron as a part of his tour.
Amber, who works for the South Street Ministries as a the Director of Communications and has a degree in film and sociocultural studies from Bowling Green State University, first came across Will’s poetry when it showed up in her Facebook newsfeed.
She knew at once that Akron would benefit greatly from hosting Will on his tour. In addition to his own poetry, Will also teaches poetry to young poets in Youth Speaks Hawaii, part of the Pacific Tongues nonprofit where he himself began his poetry career. He particularly enjoys teaching workshops on poetry.
Amber believes hosting a performance and workshops with community members could help Akronites confront America’s complex history as a nation that has often silenced minority voices.
“The title of the tour itself, ‘Until Name Becomes Prayer,’ is an homage to every indigenous and immigrant mouth that had to become a history book,” said Amber.
And although Akron is a landlocked city nowhere near the Pacific, Amber believes that Will’s poetry and workshops hold the tools necessary to begin a discussion of the history of minority oppression in the United States.
Will himself has a great interest in coming to Akron. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, he remembers the Midwest as a place of almost year-round winter. “In Hawai’i,” Will describes, “anything below 60 degrees is winter.”
Yet, despite the cold, he has great enthusiasm for “expanding the shores of [his] community, one conversation at a time.”
In addition to Will’s spoken word poetry, the event on February 26 will include performances by various Akron-area artists. The event is made possible by the generous donations of many Akronites and Akron-area organizations. For a list of sponsors, head to the GoFundMe page for the event, gofundme.com/bring-a-polynesian-slam-poet-to-oh.
For more information about Will Giles and to watch videos of his spoken word poetry, visit his site at willgilespoetry.com.
“Until Name Becomes Prayer” (FREE)
Monday, February 26
Summit ArtSpace, 140 E. Market St.
7pm on the 3rd floor
(Featured photo of Will by photographer Katie Kaneen)