Lehua Taitano – First Book Interview

A Bell Made of Stones

Author: Lehua Taitano  Publication Date: November 1, 2013

First Book Interview With Lehua:

How did you come up with a title for your book?

I knew that this book would be titled A Bell Made of Stones before I began writing it. I woke from a dream in which I saw the bell–large and cobbled from many small stones–hanging beneath the desert sun. I began writing poems based upon that image. Since then, the bell has become a remarkable image for me in my writing life. In the book, it perhaps performs as a place from which ideas and language resonate.

Where were most of these poems written?

I wrote the majority of poems in a little bedroom in my sister’s house, as I recovered from knee surgery–the result of a nasty kung fu mishap.

Who are some contemporary poets that you admire or want to collaborate with?

I am most interested in collaborating with poets, artists, and musicians who are radically minded. I want to work with those who are interested in making art that in some way addresses social justice, particularly for that of indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities.

How many places did you send your manuscript before it got picked up?

I had the unique privilege of being able to write A Bell Made of Stones after a guest editor from TinFish Press contacted me, requesting a manuscript. Craig Santos Perez came across my work at a NAISA conference (Native American and Indigenous Studies Association) back in 2009 or 2010. A colleague of mine gave him my contact information, and Craig and I began to converse about my writing and plans for publication. I was able to write this collection with the absolute freedom to choose content and style, while being able to focus on an audience and press from the onset. I am grateful for this rare opportunity and the autonomy it provided as I approached the project.

How did you decide which poem would go first? How did you figure out the order for your poems?

Organizationally, I looked to story, visual presentation, and rhythm, in that order.

What are some dream journals you’d like to be published in?

Those that aren’t yet journals, or journals that have yet to make their mark. Journals-to-be that will reach audiences that are otherwise forgotten about. Journals that celebrate the Other.

Where do you (or would you like to) see yourself or your poems in 5 years?

The future is a slippery thing. Maybe I will arrive there, and maybe I won’t. I can only hope that any future of mine will include the sea and a full heart. And maybe sweet potatoes and that spicy/vinegary rice I like. And conversations/collaborations/actions with people who want to see change. People who don’t accept that what IS is what will always be.

Has anything changed since your book has come out?

I cut my hair eight different ways. I wrote a song for ukulele. I had six-hundred orgasms. I cried seven times, but never for longer than two minutes. I learned that mycelium can help save the world. I am slightly more myopic than before. I lost a friend to stubbornness and stupidity.

How do you hope your poetry will change a community? 

I hope it gets transplanted into every kind of landscape. I hope it reveals other art that seeks to validate overlooked voices. I hope it makes other queer, brown folks inhale deeply and say, “Oh. Yes, yes, yes.”


Book Reviews:

“Lehua M. Taitano was born on Guåhan (Guam), the largest of the Marianas Islands, to a Chamorro mother and a Euro-American father. When Taitano was four years old, her family migrated to the Appalachia mountains of North Carolina. Since that time, she has lived in many different places on the continental United States. The poetry in Taitano’s first collection, entitled A BELL MADE OF STONES, attempts to reconstruct the foundations of home through story, fragments, echo, and type. Chamorro people, indigenous to the Marianas archipelago in the region of Pacific known as Micronesia, once built their houses atop rows of ‘latte,’ a two-tiered stone structure composed of a pillar and a capstone. The shape of the latte resembles a bell. These poems experiment with typographic representation and juxtaposition; in addition to the visual impact of these poems, Taitano bravely asks what it means to live a hyphenated, diasporic existence at the ‘intersections of half-ness.’ With the typewriter as her canoe, Taitano chants homeward ‘for the flightless, to stretch roots, for the husk of things set adrift.’ Lehua Taitano’s unforgettable poetry joins a new wave of Chamorro and Pacific literature. In A BELL MADE OF STONES, she bravely navigates the currents of mixed-race indigenous identity, transoceanic migration, and queer sexuality through a series of experimental (and lyrical) typographic poems. With the typewriter as her canoe, Taitano chants homeward ‘for the flightless, to stretch roots, for the husk of things set adrift.'”—Craig Santos Perez

“The journey through A BELL MADE OF STONES shifts us from empathetic observers to experiential participants. We are forced to engage with the unsettling disconnection and stress of locating a coherent voice and a culturally legible identity/identities in the fragments of loss and daily misrecognitions created by distance, diaspora and resistance to performing so-called hetero-normativity. Evoked instead of told, the poetry evolves into an installation that is beyond words, bearing witness to the stigma of enunciating through disconnected discourses. There is a surprisingly elegant, dignified aesthetic to the collapsed, repressed text that bares the raw marks of scarcely audible attempts at making meaning. While we are invited to find the lament left on the page, left with the palpable sense of what is missing and/or mistranslated. What is left to savor are the sparse, poignant leftovers—stringing together separate stories of mother, sisters, lover and other. But more than anything, we are left with the sense that the fragments are more (and less) than (and may never add up to) the sum of their parts.”—Karlo Mila

“A BELL MADE OF STONES is a synaesthestic kaleidoscope—where we listen to ‘sheen’ and ‘husk’ and ‘rope,’ where the canoe can sing, and where what seems solid might ‘settle as through a sieve.’ Taitano’s poems—her ‘stampings’—pile-up lyrical language into gorgeous collisions of type. Yet, as ‘visual evidence of the echo,’ the poems also gesture to what is not there, such as ‘the surfacing and submergence of islands of sound’ made by a typewriter. As poet-guide, Taitano shows her reader how the map of her every day contains assumptions and aspersions cast by others, reminding us that she is ‘with and without explanation.’ These are poems where a hyphen can be both a ‘perforation’ and a ‘stitch.’ Be patient. Wait out assumptions. Ready oneself for revelation.”—Kaia Sand

“Lehua Taitano’s A BELL MADE OF STONES formulates in its ‘tethered tautly’ poems the truth of her birth and the necessity of her aesthetic address. Rich with protest, these poems map the ‘story of [your] blood.’ These are ‘heroic feats’ that endure with clairvoyant strength and keep asking if there is ‘anything truer than truth.’ These poems keep replying, going beyond ‘the bareness of lament.’ This is a fierce and brilliant collection of poems—chock-full of issued utterances, elliptical enjambments, cross-outs, and elision—all of which persevere in constructing an apt orchestration between the tongue’s experiment and typewriter’s keys. —Prageeta Sharma


Lehua M. Taitano is a native Chamorro from Yigo, Guahån (Guam). She is a graduate of The University of Montana’s M.F.A. Creative Writing Program (2010) and is author of the Merriam-Frontier Award-winning chapbookappalachiapacific. Her poetry, essays, and Pushcart Prize-nominated fiction have appeared in Yellow Medicine Review, Witness, Storyboard, Versal, Nano Fiction, and Tinfish Journal, among others. She currently resides in Sonoma County, California.