The Appositional Project: Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory [saina]

Ryan Clark, Series Contributor

Ryan Clark’s series “The Appositional Project” examines poetry that makes use of appropriative writing methods (such as cut-up, erasure, and homophonic translation) to investigate intersections of place and domination/loss.

One of the more compelling poetry projects I have come across over the past few years has been Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory series, currently comprised of two titles: [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008) and [saina] (Omnidawn, 2010). In both books, Santos Perez addresses the history of Guåhan (Guam) and its native Chamorro people. It is a project of repair, one that seeks to incorporate the fragments of Chamorro culture that have survived centuries of colonization at the hands of Spain, Japan, and, presently, the United States. Further, from unincorporated territory enacts a mapping of Guam through the author’s layering of political, cultural, and personal memory that serves to locate that which has become dispersed, replaced, and forgotten.

The act of incorporation is emphasized throughout the series by the preposition “from,” which appears in the title as well as at the start of each poem. Rather than writing stand-alone poems, Santos Perez has woven through each book excerpts from several long poems. In [saina], these include “tidelands,” “all with ocean views,” “sourcings,” “preterrain,” “aerial roots,” and “organic acts.” Each excerpt is therefore titled “from tidelands” or “from organic acts,” or even “ginen aerial roots,” ginen being the Chamorro word for “from.” Additionally, Santos Perez draws from numerous source texts in his poetry, including Chamorro folk tales, travel brochures and websites, and the 1950 Organic Act of Guam, which again places emphasis on the act of incorporating and bringing together. Just as colonization heavily influenced Guam and modern Chamorro culture (most Chamorros are Catholic, a holdover from Spanish rule), Santos Perez brings different texts and voices into contact with one another in order to create poetry that is multivoiced, multilingual, and multicultured, with multiple levels of mixed identity establishing a never singular and never complete representation of the Chamorro experience.

While just about every page merits lengthy discussion, I find myself most drawn to the excerpts “from all with ocean views” (and “ginen all with ocean views”). Each excerpt consists of two parts: the first includes a series of lunes composed of language appropriated from a variety of travel magazines, and the second features a prose block with the words “guåhan is” followed by language that has been remixed from articles from the website of a Guam news network. One excerpt of a lune section is as follows:

‘reinvented by
each new gaze’
the arc of a cliff                     diver’ funeral
complete with
water buffalo

sacrifice’ for those  |  inclined to  |  paradise’ ‘all our
employees are still  |  native and  |  we require no
translations’ (58)

The opening calls attention to the ways that colonialism so frequently attempts to replace an existing culture with the culture of the colonizer. Even the lune itself is the Japanese haiku re-envisioned as an American form. Guam has been “reinvented by / each new gaze” for centuries, and this language also calls attention to the tourist industry. At the end of the excerpt, we are reminded how native cultures are exoticized and held up as living tourist attractions. That “‘all our / employees are still  |  native” is presented as a selling point, just as one might expect a brochure to mention beachfront access or gorgeous scenery (“all with ocean views”).

In this sense, Santos Perez is making evident the way in which tourism in Guam acts as a sort of neo-colonialism. In a later excerpt, “ginen sourcings,” Santos Perez mentions that in 2008 approximately 1.179 million tourists visited Guam, spending an average of “$1,650 for a three-night four-day stay” (89). That the majority of tourists are from Japan, a former colonizer of the island, only reinforces this notion. By using travel magazines as his source text, Santos Perez is turning the language of tourism in on itself.

This serves as a clear example of apposition, and it is a technique that the author turns to repeatedly in the “from organic acts” excerpts, where he appropriates language from the 1950 Organic Act of Guam, the law that designated the island as an unincorporated territory of the United States. In one such excerpt, subtitled “proclamation no 4347 < 2/1/75 40 fr 5129 >”, Santos Perez inserts language from the Catholic rosary, both in Chamorro and in English, into the language of the government document, ending with the mixed lines, “but literate us from] the independence of the united states of america” (101). The “organic acts” poem is the longest that appears in [saina], and it is also the poem that incorporates the most diverse blend of political, cultural, and personal history. On the same page as the above excerpt, Santos Perez draws text from a Chamorro legend and also inserts language from his grandmother talking about how her singing voice resembles that of her mother.

from unincorporated territory is not simply a project of opposition, though opposition is certainly a necessary step in the process of reclaiming Chamorro culture and identity. The project is most importantly one that hopes to incorporate the multidimensional history of Guam and the Chamorro people. In “from preterrain,” Santos Perez writes, “could i break ‘sky’ / into pieces of ‘want’ / to gather all / that [we] remember did i say words show evidence / of how we are made // to see” (69). The words that make up the poetry in these books explore how identity and culture have been formed. How are we made to see Guam, an island invisible on most world maps?

The evidence must come through language, and so this project is charged with the task of creating Guam as a place in words, of incorporating the various elements of the Chamorro experience. It is a project of mapping, of locating the dislocated, and while this work is ambitious, it nonetheless succeeds through the author’s willingness to engage the act of gathering with an attentiveness to the importance of historical facts, cultural values and stories, and the personal experiences of individuals such as his grandmother. Craig Santos Perez reminds us that “from” is a marker not only for location but our relation to location as well.

Ryan Clark has dedicated years of his life to homophonic translation and is particularly interested in the reparative potential of appropriative writing, including how poetry responds to violence and subjugation, symbolic and otherwise. His poetry has appeared in Smoking Glue GunTenderloinSeven Corners, and Fact-Simile, and he also has an essay about teaching homophonic translation forthcoming from Something on Paper. He currently teaches composition at Savannah State University.

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