‘Behold,’ a truly outstanding collection of poems

Our readers are familiar with Dawn Fraser Kawahara through her very popular “Green Flash,” column that generally publishes every other Monday in The Garden Island. Dawn is a fine writer, as evidenced in her work. She is also a worldly traveler, who has shared her many adventures with us. And besides being one of the kindest people you will ever meet, she is a gifted poet. Her book, “Behold Kaua‘i: Modern Days — Ancient Ways,” is a must read for anyone who loves this island. Her poems of Kauai are not just easy on the eyes and ears, but share cultural and historical perspectives that those who call this place home should know.

This 2005 book is a collection of poems and is a treat. It contains some of her best work and takes readers into places they likely otherwise will never go, gives you a view you considered. She takes you from Waimea Canyon to the South Shore with stops at the East Side and the Wailua River to the North Shore and its world of deep greens and heavy rains.

As Kawahara explains, “some poems center upon the sacred and sublime; others vibrate with human concerns such as life and death, love and loss. The collection extolls the light and dark sides of the island’s personality to keep ‘paradise’ realistic. “Behold Kaua‘i — Ancient Ways” melds ancient knowledge and lore with modern occurrence and insight.”

This is one of the books you don’t read once and give it away. You keep it around. You go back to it every so often and learn something new. Take your time, relax, and read. This is a good one when you just want to reflect a bit on life and Kauai. Kawahara writes in such a way it puts you both at ease and wanting to know more about these places, these events, these people, of which she writes.

Consider these words from “Forest Feast.”

“A mile later we rest on a long, wash damp grahams down with water and stare into the dense shade of cedars.”

Then, there is “Skeptics.”

“High waves launch a steady assault against the black and jagged cliff that marks the end of the beach. Cloud veils sift, the sun bounces once, rays stabbing the line of cool blue at the western edge, settles slims to a narrow disk, think and thinner still — a fiery slice slipping, slipped below horizon, transformed, becomes and emerald prism.”

“Dawn Chant (After Falling in Love Again)” is one of my favorites:

“Light breathes life into the dark valley warming the stream vining the trees with green — plum and mango, monkeypod, hau — The Breadfruit draws deeply, lifts arms to the sky. Rain comes, a blessing. The red road muddies and the ripe earth streams.”

I love those words, “The Breadfruit draws deeply, lifts arms to the sky.”

The book also includes a list of place names aimed to help readers “gain a sense of rightness.” Kawahara outlined that Kealia is ‘The Salt Beds’ beach area north of Kapaa Town,” that Lumahai is “A long sand beach with steep and dangerous drop-off on Kauai’s North Shore, a certain twist of the finger in formed string beans,” and Niumalu is “A valley area inland of Nawailiwili Harbor; shaded by coconut palms (Cocos nucifera).

I happened to have a signed copy of the book. If you want to borrow it, I’d be glad to let you.

One piece of advice about poems. Read them outloud. It helps with the impact of the words. And as Kawahara will tell you, the impact of each word matters. In Behold Kauai, it’s easy to see they do.

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Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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