In 2024, the Academy of American Poets invited twelve poets to each curate a month of poems. In this short Q&A, Noʻu Revilla discusses her curatorial approach and her own creative work. Welcome to the Guest Editor Q&A, hosted by the Academy of American Poets. I’m Mary Sutton, and I’m here today with the Guest Editor for May, No‘u Revilla. No‘u is the author of the 2022 collection Ask the Brindled, selected by Rick Barot as the winner of the 2021 National Poetry Series. No‘u, welcome and thank you.

No‘u Revilla: Aloha, Mary. Let’s begin. Let’s jump right in. How did you approach curating Poem-a-Day for May?

Revilla: So I found myself gravitating to poems that do not look away, and the world is and has been locked in such relentless death dealing, and it doesn’t have to be. We can see each other with more tenderness. We can reach out for each other in better ways. And each time I reached out to a poet, and each time I got to return to their language, I found stories that do not look away. And each of these poets pays attention to place and power and history, and they are so scrupulous with this vision.

And in Hawai‘i, our word for sight is also our word for knowledge: ‘ike. ‘Ike can be “to see,” “to know,“ “to distinguish.” And importantly, looking isn’t always about violence and injustice. This is also about love, keeping our tenderness alive. And so it’s been such a privilege to be in conversation with these twenty-three poets. If you could direct our readers and listeners to one poem, or more than one, on that you haven’t curated, what would it be and why?

Revilla: Well, we could be here all day with me doing praise poem after praise poem, talking about the wonderful archive that you have available for readers. But right now, I definitely would like to share praise for “How to Write a Poem in a Time of War” by Joy Harjo. And I think many of us are bringing this question into our writing, into our classrooms, into our activism, into our relationships, really, because the death dealing we are constantly surrounded by comes into our lives and seeps through and leaks and takes its toll.

So I believe where we begin our stories has great consequence, and I’m constantly thinking about how to write the multiple and the simultaneous, and I think Joy Harjo does this so elegantly and powerfully. I mean, like, the first line of the poem, “You can’t begin just anywhere.” Right? And as the reader is redirected to a better place to begin, we begin with a different kind of looking. We are redirected to deer peering out from the woods, and “[w]e used to see woodpeckers” here. So the redirect is actually to the way an animal sees. And then the human vision comes into play. And I just, as with all of her work, I just appreciate Joy Harjo’s guidance into putting forth the question, “Where do we begin to look,” and engaging that as an ongoing negotiation rather than just a clean-cut question, answer. The marvelous and generous Joy Harjo, for those who don’t know, is a Chancellor of the Academy and served as U.S. poet laureate from 2019 to 2022. Who or what are you reading right now?

Revilla: So I think it’s just so important to make time for aloha and to take aloha seriously. So now I get to really celebrate my students, my haumāna. I’m teaching a course right now on the poetics of water and power at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and it’s just been one of the most nourishing experiences. I love to teach. I love my students. And we just finished reading Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub: Finding Ceremony, which is absolutely exquisite. If you are listening and you haven’t read any of Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s work, please furiously Google and find her writing. [laughs]

But alongside Alexis, my students and I were thinking about visitation memory, what it means to write from or into a “we,” what decolonial feminist research methods can do for poets and alongside poetry. So recently we put Dub in conversation with an essay by a Hawaiian scholar, Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, and that essay is called “Dreaming is an Everyday Act of Resurgence.”

So alongside Dub, my students and I were thinking and discussing and studying and writing dream as method, we as method. Will you recognize your messengers? Will you even know how to listen? Will you even know how to respond? So these are just some of the things my students and I have been navigating through poetry, specifically Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s work. I want to talk a little bit about memory. Your mother is a memory maker, is that correct?

Revilla: Absolutely! Oh, thank you for that beautiful attention! Would you tell our readers and listeners a little bit about memory culture and the place of mnemonics in Hawai‘i and its role in Hawai‘i and poetry?

Revilla: Oh, I love this question, Mary. And my instinct is to respond with kind of two tools, which are very much my compass, my day ones. So one is repetition, and one is the art of asking beautiful and better questions. And so for ‘Ōiwi, or Hawaiians, in Hawai‘i, much like many Indigenous cultures, repetition is not just this tool of memorization, but it’s also a way to mesmerize. And I think in terms of memory, in terms of my mother whose work as a memory maker and the way … what she will remember, what other people easily forget, and the way that she can weave a story through these things that she remembers, so much of it has to do with repetition, and the musicality of repetition, and the strategy of repetition.

And for me, I think, as a queer ‘Ōiwi poet, repetition and difference is the dynamic that I am constantly shape-shifting around. And that brings me, of course to, well, in my brain, this is how it works. I go from repetition to asking questions because, growing up, and I think many people, not just Indigenous folk will relate to this, but as a child, you’re constantly asking the same question, which can be so affectionately obnoxious. [laughs]

What I think as poets, we’re always writing another poem. As scholars, we’re always writing another piece that navigates the same question. And whether that be of power, of your people, of what we do next or where we’ve come from, I think we all kind of follow our gut. And our gut are [sic] made of some core questions. So I really love this question because I’m going to be thinking about repetition and inquiry, slow dancing, and talking shit to each other for the rest of the day. [laughs] And I noticed that repetition in your erasure poetry, those who have picked up Ask the Brindled, and those who haven’t should, will notice that there is one note in “Notes on aloha erasure,” Number Nine, that I really love. It is “[e]rasure poetry builds family from scars, but forgiveness is not a home.” I love that line.

Revilla: Thank you so much. [laughs] Aww, thank you so much. I still believe in that. Yeah, yeah. What are you working on now in your writing, teaching, and publishing life?

Revilla: You know, it’s just absolutely cosmic that you bring up that language because in a very real way, I think I’m following another scar. So I’m writing toward my second book right now, which more and more feels like it’s been something I’ve been readying myself for rather than kind of finding. I was lucky to workshop my first two poems with my excellent cohort of Poetry & the Senses Fellows in 2023 at the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley. And being able to be, and this is why poetry continues to matter and will always matter, because it’s not this thing that just lies down on the floor by itself, right? It’s a thing of community. It’s a thing of animation and question, you know, and wonder. And I was so lucky to be able to work on the beginnings of this book alongside incredible writers who just built such a beautiful space of trust and risk and deep listening.

So I definitely want to shout out those beautiful writers from my cohort because, I mean, what a privilege. I mean, this is all about just gratitude for being able to be in conversation with poet, after poet, after poet. And hopefully I can continue reciprocating in my own work. In your debut, Ask the Brindled, you explored themes of colonial erasure, queerness, maternal lineages. I’m curious if you don’t mind sharing, and I don’t want to jinx anything, but what themes are you interested in exploring in your future work?

Revilla: Resurrection. My second book will be circling a Hawaiian woman who was drowned, is brought back to life, and struggles with her resurrection. So the fact of her death is already ... It’s not the thing at the center of the book. It’s not the thing that haunts. It’s the struggle with one’s resurrection. And I think, when I think about, again, the death dealing we wake up to in the world every day, and what we try to protest and respond to with affirmation after affirmation of life, coming back from COVID. My students and I are still dealing with what happened to us during COVID. What’s happening in the aftermath of colonization throughout the world. How do we struggle with our resurrections? Because the end of the world is nothing new to Indigenous people. This has been a thing that we are born into and we are trained to see, or perhaps untrained to see.

So I really appreciate it when you’re in a room with people and one by one, someone is generous enough to say, “I don’t have this all together. I don’t have this all figured out.” And the way that kind of courage slips through a room is absolutely one of my favorite things about being alive, is watching the generosity of people realize that the thing you think should be secret is actually the thing that’s going to make us stronger together. So I’m very much interested in thinking through resurrection and grief and the aftermath. Well, I want to thank you for your generosity in sharing those thoughts about your future work, about your current work, and this curation. Thank you so much for joining me.

Revilla: Mahalo, Mary. Mahalo.