Bay Area Lit Scene: Pegasus Books


Reviews Editor: Meg Hurtado


Location: Pegasus Books, 2349 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA

Curator: Maile Arvin & Rachel Marcus
Pegasus Contact Person: Rachel Marcus

Parking/Transportation: Metered parking along Shattuck until 6 pm – after 6, parking is free wherever you can find it.

The Run of Things: Most of the audience arrived right at the stated time. There’s a good selection of books to rummage through and refreshments to keep you mingling and mulling about until the reading starts.

Is There a Blog? All their information is on the Pegasus Books website:

Poems from each of the readers are featured below the review.


Our Sea of Words
By Jason Bayani

If there’s one thing for which to appreciate Pegasus Books, it’s endurance in the face of one of those huge, corporate bookstores flexing its spanking-new stainless-steel-and-creamy-stucco edifice directly across the street. After this game of flinch, only the modest Pegasus bookstore remained standing. Along this well-trafficked section of downtown Berkeley, it’s easy to see why. Browsing the shelves of Pegasus, it’s obvious that the store pays attention to what’s really happening in today’s literature – a lesson in what’s truly relevant and not just Oprah-relevant.

My buddy and I showed up a few minutes before the reading. While we sat awkwardly in the back cracking jokes, one of the readers, Loa Niumeitolu, introduced herself and hung out briefly to chop it up with us. It was this kind of openness that would shine through her work. For me, it set the tone for the reading as a whole.

The first reader was Maile Arvin, a native Hawaiian from Kentucky. She is a doctoral candidate in ethnic studies at UC San Diego and has been published by Kearny St. Workshop, one of our proudest Asian-American literary institutions in San Francisco. Her first poem was about her return at age eleven to visit her family in Waimanalo— a mostly locals town on Oahu with some of the nicest beaches on the island. The poem addresses the loss of language, the Americanization— or more specifically the effect Kentucky has on her speech, and how this affects her connection with her homeland as even the sound of her own name has changed on her tongue.

The second reader was Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu, a Tongan-American scholar, poet and community activist who is currently a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley. At the beginning of her reading she acknowledged her friends and family in the audience and talked about how this reading represented for her a return to writing. The work she shared was intensely personal. Her first piece was a haunting poem about abuse, and the next piece she read, called “L.A. Story”, talked about a young woman who flees to L.A. to escape her home in Utah and her Mormon family – which brings to light the little known fact that Utah is home to a sizeable Tongan community of Mormon-converts. The poem, however, focuses on the young woman’s marginalization within a family for whom, “there are only sons.”

Next was Craig Santos Perez, a native Chamoru poet from Guam. He has been published by Tinfish Press, is a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley in Comparative Ethnic Studies, runs Achiote Press, and serves as the Omnidawn Blog Editor. He started off his set by engaging the audience in some pretty funny banter and made us all cover our ears and yell out “Make the poetry stop!” while recording us for his blog. His work was definitely more aggressive than that of the other readers, with rhythmic lines that seemed to barrel right into the next. His poems were filled with rich imagery and made some good use of wordplay. His style drew heavily from the ocean and uses water in its many forms as a model for some clever lines.

The fourth reader was Loa Niumeitolu, a Tongan-American poet and community organizer whose work revolves around issues within the prison system and within the women’s queer community. Her work draws heavily on the mythology of her homeland. In her list poem, “To a Young Tongan Poet”, she uses both mythology and American pop-culture to provide a good look at the Tongan-American experience. She also claims that “every poem is a love poem”.

The final reader was Caroline Sinavaiana, a Samoan poet and Associate Professor of English at UH Manoa. Her reading represented for her a return to Berkeley, as she’d studied there in the seventies. Her poem “Low Tide” takes a meditative look at a coral reef and the shoreline, studying all of its parts and exposing the beauty of the ocean; she then drives the poem to a point where it waits “for high tide to lift us again to the safety of deep water.”

It came as no surprise to me that the ocean had a prominent presence in the work I heard: through the images, the metaphors, but also through the rhythms of the poetry which often felt like the crashing and retreating of the tides. There was a sense that even when the ocean wasn’t being mentioned in the poem, it was an ongoing force. And that to me hearkened to something that Loa mentioned during her reading, that the importance of this event lay in bringing these Pacific Islander artists together to “help forge a language about being Pacific Islander, away from the homeland.” The community of art is an island of its own.

(Bay Area poet Jason Bayani is currently a second year MFA candidate at St. Mary’s College. A mainstay in the Bay Area spoken word community, he has earned a place on several National poetry slam teams. His publishing credits include Rattapallax Magazine, Maganda Magazine, and the 2004 National Poetry Slam anthology. As a guest performer and lecturer Jason has worked in high schools and Universities across the country. He has spent the last few years as a youth worker in San Francisco and continues to write and perform as a member of the Filipino-American spoken word troupe Proletariat Bronze.)


Poems from the readers:

Low tide
by Caroline Sinavaiana

of our oceans
the watery skin
of earth

pulled back to expose
a webbing of coral
rough & prickly

to hide treasures
of octopus &
spiny sea urchin

her long black spikes
of danger & allure
guarding that golden

softness of sweet
flesh at the center
of ourselves & each

other & other & other
millions of tiny spines
fused into this great

wall of lacy color & refuge
towering from the reef bed
laid for us on the ocean floor

layered over eons
of lifetimes imprinted
on this architecture of mind

streaming across time
that finds us again
consorting on this

ocean path
now run aground
on the fecund reef

waiting for high tide
to lift us again to the safety
of deep water.

for Skye


Three Points on This Map
After Darwish’s Four Personal Addresses

by Maile Arvin

1. Under this dusty ceiling fan, next to the louvered windows.

It’s the door and beyond the door is anything anywhere not here. I loved elsewhere from the beginning. I saw it hurt you in my rush to get there. I went anyway—still it tasted sweet. It was a gift I had been promised (wasn’t it by you?), and I had stared at the wrapping so long I memorized the patterns and dreamt of walking those weaves. Leaving is a privilege stolen from those who stay. You told me as much, and I could not see how I would ever come back to this young heart, this wet grass and stone. I held your chest close to me at night like a toy I would have to give back.

2. The light in this, my bedroom.

We travel in search of nothing, but we are asked to tell a different story. I believed in the fountains of opportunity, but that was not the reason. I came because I could not imagine not. I did not have the strength to build this bridge at home. I thought I should have something of my own. What I could afford is this IKEA lamp, and a view of concrete, sun reflecting off car windshields. Did I come here looking for a different you or a different me? Don’t you desire elsewhere too? Didn’t you get my postcards? I am making a here for you so that you might rejoice when you arrive.

3. At the top of the escalator, rising out of the station.

I cannot say how I got there. How do you hold on to a moving banister? Still- I remember how to hold on to you. But the shoji screen walls are too thin. With respect to the roommate, or with respect to me. So do we forget those who loved us in other hotels? I have only been to a hotel with you. Do we need a drink to remember who we are to each other? How do we tell which train goes home? Come, make this promise. We’ll find a nook, and only sit in the places where it doesn’t sound like goodbye.


originally published in Amerasia Journal 35:1 (2009)

by Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu

the bright lights of the city
surround her like flies

she mumbles a prayer learned in Sunday school
and holds on tightly to the cold air
funnels through her fingers
like the daughter her parents couldn’t keep

two weeks ago she fled her home in Utah
fleeing the grasp of the Mormon Church
and her parents’ shame,
freshly pickled
like the apricots church leaders taught her
to preserve every Autumn
a skill that promised
to make her into a good wife

tonight, on the corner of Sepulveda Boulevard,
brights lights expose the blue bruises on her body
disguising her as an older woman
she is her mother, her grandmother
lingering in dark corners
abandoning guests and
the tedium of polite conversations

she telephones her mother
pleading for her life
for a cusp of warmth to quell the cold

she images that their shared silences
histories of bruised abdomen and
crushed collarbones
at the hands of men
were reasons enough
to reconnect them
bury the aching distance and
reunite them

but the silence on the other end
hangs and festers like a wound
she is reminded
that in her family,
there are


by Loa Niumeitolu

that morning on the day you married my grandfather
nane tafu ‘ae afi ke tu’u ‘ae vai melie keke kaukau ‘aki

she piled dry branches, ignited the last match, to heat the rainwater for your bath
the girl from Kanokupolu
‘ae ta’ahine mei Kanokupolu.

Siliva, manatu’i hono hingoa?
her name, Siliva, Silver, do your remember her grandma?

You met at Mele, your mother’s koka’anga,
On foot, she came with the women from Kanokupolu to the capitol city,
lue lalo,
To beat the mulberry bark smooth, paint the kupesi, and set hundred yards of ngatu to dry in the sun.
Your dowery.

folding the last corner of tapa to be stored, the women returned to their families at the westside of the island

Siliva stayed to fish at Faua and returned to your home in late afternoon with tukumisi and koloa’a, ke kiki ‘aki ‘ae haka mei nake tu’u.
She brought your favorite foods, sea urchins and clams, to eat with the breadfruit you had boiled in coconut cream.

Those were her ways, Siliva.
patched the a puaka, the fence to keep the pigs in, then disappeared,
showing up at dark with tokonaki of cassava, taro and whole tusks of bananas.
Fixed the wheels of those wagons used to haul coconuts with to the Copra Board, then disappeared, returning after sunset with a bucket of salted beef.
Mended your dresses and embroidered your handkerchiefs, then slipped away, reappearing with a bottle of cognac and a golden paper box of Benson and Hedges.

You never talked to her, did you grandma?
although you were the same age, almost 19.
Each morning you went to peito, where meals were prepared separately from the main house,
the kettle already hot, filled with lemon grass,
and Siniva, squatting, turning her back towards you,
roasting hopa and ifi for your breakfast.

The morning on the day you married my grandfather,
she gathered vai malie, rain water, from the cisterns that flowed by fragrant blossoms, kakala,
to wash your hair.

She wrapped your hair around her left hand,
chewed the tuitui moe sinamoni in her mouth to a rich paste
and with her right hand, rubbed the paste gently into your scalp
rinsed your hair
molu hono nima, softly wiped water from your eyelids
when you opened your eyes, she already stepped out to leave you to bathe.

they still talk about the royal guests and the gifts of cow, pig, kie, the young doctor- your bridegroom.

Grandma, please tell me how she got that name, Siliva, the one that is not gold.


from preterrain
by craig santos perez

[we] reach the unwritten

point of arrival [we] learn ‘body language’ is more than ‘a litany
of signs’ each sound turns to us turns to ‘salt
water’ [we] tear at these veils
for the details [we] long for ‘from other instruments of production’ because names are preparatory
[we] name everything [we]’ve never seen and touch
the root

as if it used to lead somewhere as if chance and requital have become the same attachment
you say belief is almost flesh because so much flesh betrays each song [we] translate
vital signs when something else is in control [we] rely on the memory of what our house was like before and after [we] stand in what [we] know
is lost