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Hawaiʻi's poet laureate Brandi Nālani McDougall on poetry as healing

Hawaiʻi State Foundation on Culture and the Arts

Brandy Nālani McDougall from Maui became the newest Hawai’i State Poet Laureate back in January. Now she's using her position to offer poetry workshops, readings and advice to prospective writers in the community.

"My overall vision is actually to put poetry out there as a space of healing and as a strategy for healing and working through trauma. And also working with ʻāina, or being a part of land and water, being outside, reconnecting with land and water, alongside connecting with our own stories and poetry, how both of those together are so healing for all of us," McDougall said.

McDougall is the first woman selected for the two-year term. She is the author of "The Salt-Wind, Ka Makani Paʻakai."

Her forthcoming book "ʻĀina Hānau, Birth Land" is inspired by her daughters and will be released by the University of Arizona Press in May.

"It's really something that's connected to my own personal history, I feel that poetry has saved my life in many ways," she said.

And what is it about poetry that can metaphorically or literally save a life?

"Yes, thank you for that question. Well, I can speak from my own personal experience," she said. "What made a difference for me was being able to confront that trauma, childhood trauma head on, and thinking about the stories that I would often tell myself already in my head about it, but to be able to actually get it out of your head."

McDougall said there is a poet in every Pacific Islander household, in fact there might be more than one.

"Often it comes about because of our connection to oratory," she said. "It's very common for many of our elders to be excellent at storytelling and to be raised with legends and stories... All of that is very rich and very strong in our culture and I'm really proud that that continues to be the case."

Extended interview
The Conversation - March 7, 2023

This interview aired on The Conversation on March 7, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Stephanie Han was a producer for The Conversation.
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