- Writing toward Action: Mapping an Affinity Poetics in Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory
in the opening section of his first book of poetry, from unincorporated territory, Chamorro poet, scholar, educator, and activist Craig Santos Perez writes, “From indicates a particular time or place as a starting point; from refers to a specific location as the first of two limits; from imagines a source, a cause, an agent, or an instrument; from marks separation, removal, or exclusion; from differentiates borders” ( 2017, 11).1 From thus not only invokes a chronological and geographical starting point and the concept of difference but also implies that there is an aim, a destination, a goal for this journey.2 From is incomplete, it is heading toward. Since all four of Perez’s books share the title from unincorporated territory (although each book has a unique subtitle: [hacha], [saina], [guma’], and [lukao], respectively), one must ask not only what the multiple meanings of from connote but also what is being moved toward.3
from unincorporated territory currently consists of four installments: [hacha] (originally published in 2008, subsequently revised and republished in 2017), [saina] (2010), [guma’] (2014), and [lukao] (2017). In my exploration of what these books move toward, I concentrate on the way Perez intertwines various issues, with a special focus on (neo)colonialism as a central dynamic that is interconnected with a variety of other concerns. I begin with a brief overview of the colonial history of Chamorros from European contact onward, then develop a theory of what I call “affinity poetics” in the context of Oceanic literary studies, and finally turn to Perez’s from unincorporated territory books to demonstrate through close readings the ways his poetry employs visual aesthetics to conduct an “affinity poetics” around issues of ongoing colonization. Perez’s poetry has been recognized with numerous awards, and the books’ complex engagement with matters [End Page 3] such as sovereignty, memory and history, the environment, family, militarization and (neo)colonialism, and indigeneity make them integral to the always-growing body of work one might call Oceanic literatures. As such, the varied forms of the poems in these books—which transnational arts scholar Jim Cocola describes as “a serial poem deeply grounded in place making” (2016, 189)—reflect the varied issues they grapple with. Depending on the content of each poem, Perez utilizes everything from typographical strategies (including strikethrough, bolded or italicized text, and the use of gray scale) to visual layout techniques (including white space, sideways text, and nonuniform distribution of text across the page) to the deployment of alphanumeric symbols (including tildes, forward and backward slashes, ellipses, dashes, and brackets) and even shifting between different languages (including Chamorro, English, Japanese, and Spanish). The diversity of formal strategies Perez employs enables him to engage with a vast array of political and social issues connected to Chamorro sovereignty in different ways. At the same time, the challenges presented by his innovative poetic tactics require a significant amount of work on the reader’s part—work that becomes an investment of sorts, forging an intellectual and empathetic bond between the dedicated reader and the drive for Chamorro sovereignty.
In order to begin to understand how Perez’s work functions, an overview of the histories from which Guåhan (commonly referred to as Guam) has emerged is crucial.4 Historically, Guåhan has been subjected to multiple layers of colonization since Ferdinand Magellan made contact in 1521: the Spanish began colonizing efforts in 1565, and the Catholic missionaries arrived in 1668.5 Guåhan remained under Spanish colonial rule until the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, when the Treaty of Paris shifted colonial rule of Guåhan, the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico to the United States. Shortly thereafter, questions of citizenship and rights had to be addressed; the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a series of opinions in 1901 known as the Insular Cases, which determined that only portions of the Constitution extended to these new colonies, thereby officially relegating them to the liminal status of territories. On December 8, 1941 (the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor), the Japanese attacked...