18 Famous Poets From Hawaii

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Dan

Are you a teacher looking for a fun way to explore the amazing culture, history and words of some of Hawaii’s most famous poets?

Then look no further! From the traditional centuries-old chants from ancient chanters such as King Kalākaua to modernist experimentalists like Joseph Stanton, there is something for everyone.

In this blog post we’ll take a deep dive into the five most prominent poets that have come out of the Aloha State– each with unique styles and stories that will enthrall your students.

So what are you waiting for? Read on to learn more about these incredible Hawaiian writers!

Related: For more, check out our article on Famous Poets From Wyoming  here.

Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Lois-Ann Yamanaka, a poet and novelist from Hawaii, is celebrated for her poem “Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre.” Her work often explores themes of cultural identity, family, and the complexities of growing up in Hawaii.

Drawing from her experiences as a Japanese-American and her local vernacular, Yamanaka often writes in free verse, using dialogue and narrative to create vibrant, character-driven poetry.

Haunani-Kay Trask (1949–2021)

Haunani-Kay Trask, an influential Hawaiian poet, academic, and activist, is known for her poem “Racist White Woman.” Her work, deeply rooted in her advocacy for Native Hawaiian rights, explores themes of colonialism, racism, and indigenous identity.

Trask often wrote in free verse, using powerful language and stark imagery to voice her strong socio-political commentary.

Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez, a poet and scholar originally from Guam, now resides in Hawaii. He is celebrated for his poem “from unincorporated territory [hacha].” His work often delves into diaspora, colonialism, and cultural memory themes.

Perez’s poetry, inspired by his Chamorro heritage and his experiences as an indigenous Pacific Islander, is known for its experimental style and innovative use of form.

Don Blanding (1894–1957)

Don Blanding, a poet and journalist from Oklahoma, spent significant time in Hawaii and is known for his poem “Vagabond’s House.” His work often reflects on travel, nature, and the allure of the Hawaiian landscape. Blanding favored writing in rhymed verse, using simple language and a sense of wanderlust to create engaging, picturesque poetry.

W. S. Merwin (1927–2019)

W. S. Merwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from New York, spent much of his life in Maui, Hawaii. He is known for his poem “The Lice.”

His work, heavily influenced by his passion for environmental activism and his interest in Buddhist philosophy, often explores themes of nature, mortality, and the human connection to the natural world. Merwin typically wrote in free verse, using sparse language and profound insight to create evocative poetry.

Eric Chock

Eric Chock, a poet and educator from Hawaii, is celebrated for his poem “Ka Lei Ha’aheo: Beginning Hawaiian.” His work often explores themes of cultural identity, language, and the Hawaiian experience.

Drawing from his experiences growing up in Hawaii and his work in promoting local literature, Chock often writes in free verse, using personal narratives and local vernacular to create authentic, engaging poetry.

Garrett Hongo

Garrett Hongo, a poet and scholar born in Volcano, Hawaii, is known for his poem “Yellow Light.” His work, often inspired by his Japanese-American heritage and his experiences growing up in Hawaii, explores themes of cultural identity, displacement, and memory.

Hongo typically writes in free verse, using rich imagery and lyrical language to evoke a sense of place and history.

John Dominis Holt IV (1919–1993)

John Dominis Holt IV, a poet, author, and cultural historian from Hawaii, is remembered for his poem “Waikiki.” His work often reflects on Hawaiian culture, history, and the effects of colonialism.

Drawing from his Native Hawaiian heritage and his experiences as a cultural advocate, Holt wrote in both traditional and free verse forms, using storytelling and historical narratives to create thought-provoking poetry.

Lee Tonouchi

Lee Tonouchi, a contemporary poet, author, and educator from Hawaii, is known for his poem “Da State of Pidgin in Hawaii.” His work often explores themes of language, cultural identity, and the local experience in Hawaii.

Drawing from his experiences growing up in Hawaii and his advocacy for Pidgin English, Tonouchi often writes in free verse, using humor, dialogue, and local vernacular to create dynamic, culturally resonant poetry.

Mahealani Dudoit (1954–2002)

Mahealani Dudoit, a poet, editor, and founder of the literary journal ‘Oiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal, was born and raised in Hawaii. She is known for her poem “Kapu.” Her work often explores themes of cultural identity, indigenous rights, and the Hawaiian experience.

Dudoit’s poetry, inspired by her Native Hawaiian heritage and her passion for cultural preservation, is characterized by its evocative imagery and powerful voice. She often wrote in free verse, using personal narratives to advocate for Native Hawaiian voices.

Cathy Song

Cathy Song, a poet from Honolulu, Hawaii, is celebrated for her poem “Picture Bride.” Her work often reflects on themes of cultural identity, family, and the complexities of life as an Asian-American woman.

Drawing from her Korean-Chinese heritage and her experiences growing up in Hawaii, Song typically writes in free verse, using vivid imagery and intimate narratives to create moving, personal poetry.

Frank Stewart

Frank Stewart, a poet and translator from Denver, Colorado, spent significant time in Hawaii and is known for his poem “By All Means.” His work often explores themes of nature, cultural exchange, and the human connection to the natural world.

Stewart’s poetry, inspired by his experiences living in Hawaii and his interest in Pacific literature, is characterized by its detailed descriptions and contemplative tone. He often writes in free verse, using precise language and thoughtful insight to create evocative poetry.

Kathleen Norris

Kathleen Norris, a poet and essayist originally from Washington, D.C., spent significant time in Hawaii. She is celebrated for her poem “Hawaiian Islands.” Her work often reflects on spirituality, nature, and the everyday moments of life.

Drawing from her experiences living in various parts of the United States and her interest in Christian spirituality, Norris typically writes in free verse, using simple language and introspective narratives to create reflective poetry.

Albert Saijo (1926–2011)

Albert Saijo, a poet and Buddhist from Los Angeles, California, later moved to Volcano, Hawaii. He is known for his poem “Basho.” His work, heavily influenced by his Japanese-American heritage and his Buddhist beliefs, often explores themes of nature, mindfulness, and cultural identity.

Saijo favored writing in free verse, using a stream-of-consciousness style and philosophical insights to create unique, meditative poetry.

Bradajo

Bradajo, a Pidgin poet and storyteller from Hawaii, is celebrated for his poem “Da River of Life.” His work often reflects on local culture, everyday life, and the unique language of Hawaii.

Drawing from his experiences growing up in Hawaii and his passion for Pidgin English, Bradajo often writes in free verse, using humor, dialogue, and local vernacular to create dynamic, culturally resonant poetry.

Willyce Kim

Willyce Kim, a poet and visual artist from Hawaii, is known for her poem “Clearing.” Her work often explores themes of love, sexuality, and the female experience. Inspired by her experiences as a lesbian woman and her interest in visual art, Kim typically writes in free verse, using vivid imagery and personal narratives to create intimate, empowering poetry.

Wing Tek Lum

Wing Tek Lum, a poet and real estate developer from Honolulu, Hawaii, is celebrated for his poem “The Nanjing Massacre: Poems.” His work often delves into themes of war, violence, and the Chinese diaspora. Drawing from his Chinese heritage and his interest in history, Lum often writes in free verse, using stark imagery and historical narratives to create powerful, thought-provoking poetry.

R. Zamora Linmark

R. Zamora Linmark, a poet and novelist born in the Philippines and raised in Hawaii, is known for his poem “Drive-By.” His work often explores themes of cultural identity, immigration, and queer experiences.

Linmark’s poetry, inspired by his multicultural background and his experiences as a gay man, is characterized by its playful language, pop culture references, and unconventional forms. He often writes in free verse, using humor and narrative to create vibrant, contemporary poetry.

Drawing inspiration from each of these great poets, you now know that Hawaii is a hotspot for literary talents. From historical songs to modern poems, this small set of islands has produced some of the best poetry readers and teachers have ever encountered!

Thanks to Iona Rahula’s performance work, Kealoha’s celebrations of Hawaiian culture, and Kinaohele Lancelot’s storytelling we’re left with an appreciation for how rich and varied Hawaii’s poetical style can be.

So next time you take in some music or come across a new poem, look out for the flavors of this island-based poetic tradition. It can teach us all something unique about the world around us.

If you liked what you read here don’t forget to check out our other articles on inspirational writers, books, and cultures. Until next time—aloha!

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