To commemorate Black History Month, Chaminade English Professor Dr. Allison Francis recently collaborated with Karla Brundage, an adjunct professor at the university, to present a thought-provoking virtual renshi poetry reading session entitled, “Mulatta—Not So Tragic?”
As part of the event, Francis and Brundage also engaged in a conversation with participants on the history of “mulatta”—which they described as a controversial label “traditionally used to signify progeny of African and European parents.” In unpacking the term and its history, the two also touched on their own life experiences and those of family members seeking to grapple with identity and race.
Renshi poetry is also known as “linked poetry.” It’s a contemporary form of verse that relies on collaboration to uncover new understandings of the world and explore shared themes. Collaborators connect their poems by repeating the last line of the previous author’s work.
Francis and Brundage said renshi poetry was uniquely equipped to allow them to explore the “sometimes devastating and celebratory dynamics of being bi-racial women in the 21st century.” Brundage noted that renshi poetry doesn’t just connect verses, it links the poet collaborators.
She said the two started examining the theme of “being mulatta or being mixed” about a year ago.
It was Francis who started the spoken word performance of their poem, “We Feel the Thunder.”
“Such a brave woman,” the poem begins, “Rolling words through our heads like boulders.”
Following the reading, Francis and Brundage delivered a joint presentation to further explore the themes of “being mulatta.” Francis noted that Hawai’i presents unique—and refreshing—conversations about “hapa” identity, but stressed it is not a place devoid of racism or discrimination.
“I think there is a space that many of us can create here living in the islands that allows for us to embrace both worlds and not have to entirely dismiss one or the other,” Francis said, as she showed a photo of her daughter and explained she grew up in Hawai’i. “But,” Francis added, “that might just be a bubble we created for her and it’s something we continue to explore in this poetry.”
Francis teaches and conducts research across a range of topics, including Victorian and Scottish literature, African-American and Caribbean Women’s literature from the 19th century, and women’s literature with a focus on science fiction and fantasy. She has published extensively, is a performance poet and playwright, and is currently collaborating on a scholarly collection on Scottish literature.
Brundage publishes poetry, short stories, and critical essays. In 2020, her poem “Alabama Dirt” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She holds a Master’s in Fine Arts in Poetry from Mills College and is currently working to co-create a Hawaii-based publishing company, Pacific Raven Press.
Watch their full renshi poetry reading and related presentation below.