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Local writer selected for Indigenous Nations Poets 2022 cohort as only Kanaka ʻŌiwi

Kalilinoe Detwiler (second from left, top row) attended the Indigenous Nations Poets 2022 cohort of Fellows as the only Kanaka ʻŌiwi poet.
Shawn Miller
Indigenous Nations Poets
Kalilinoe Detwiler (second from left, top row) attended the Indigenous Nations Poets 2022 cohort of Fellows as the only Kanaka ʻŌiwi poet.

Local writer Kalilinoe Detwiler was selected to participate as the only Kanaka ʻŌiwi poet at an inaugural retreat by the Indigenous Nations Poets. Sixteen poets were invited to the Washington D.C. event.

She told HPR she signed up for the cohort not only because she loves to write, but because she enjoys filling out applications. Prior to the inaugural retreat, Detwiler mostly wrote short stories.

Detwiler traveled to Washington D.C. with two other poets from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She said she received her first validation as a poet from their Uber driver.

"We told our Uber driver about the program, and she says, 'So you guys are poets?' And we said, 'No, not really.' And then she said, 'No, you're poets. Own it, you can be a poet,'" Detwiler explained.

"I think that reinforces something that's coming up a lot right now, which is that there's always a fear about representing our culture — of being the poet or like the indigenous woman who was selected to go on this thing. And none of us want to be representative of a whole culture! But we can still claim these spaces because that's what we need to do to connect with everyone else. We need to still enter these other spheres," she said.

Native mentors guided daily workshops during the retreat.

Poets presented their work at different venues and learned about the business of poetry.

Detwiler loves how the kaona — or the metaphorical nature of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi — flows in poetry.

She will be continuing her research in Native Hawaiian storytelling as a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa English Department.

"Makahiki" by Kalilinoe Detwiler

Red feet race against earth in the brisk air of hoʻoilo

Breath spills into shared wind as fingers unfurl like baby ferns
Releasing the washed grey stone at the call, aʻoia!

Stone rolls upon land's stomach and slips between wooden marks
As pū sounds, our bodies hum— ah, it is Makahiki

See how rain insists on tending brown cliffs

At Lono's arrival, Kū rests. Kanaloa feeds Kane's veins
Oh how we surge and burst, overflowing in all directions

The four brothers blush as foam fills space between horizons
We, too, cannot look away from Wākea and Papa's embrace

Let us remember the lofty descent of rain's white carriage

That nests in blue valleys and swallows whole mountains
Clouds tumble clumsily like the steam of new earth's creation

Waʻa sails graze the Waianae and Koʻolau plain, consume pasts, rebirth futures
Peak like tsunamis, crash against bodies, ripple sharkskin hearts

When dryness returns and earth mother reaches for sky father, we remember
How dirt clings to our soles, we grasp windy ropes tethered to one of kalā's many legs

And reassure our beloved parents that despite the struggle of mortal wars
Our bodies remember the feeling of peace and rejuvenate the land

Just as sky's frothy swells caress blooming ʻāina buds

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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