April is officially National Poetry Month and since there will be several poets at the Celebrate Reading Festival this Saturday I decided to review No Choice But to Follow, a book of linked poetry or renshi, written by four of Hawaii’s notable female authors. For a whole year, Jean Toyama, Juliet Kono, Ann Inoshita and Christy Passion wrote poems one after the other–taking the last line of the previous poem and starting a new one.  The beauty of linked poetry is that you cannot help but read on as one line inspires another.You’re drawn to how gracefully the poems seem to weave together, how the emotions and feelings bleed from one poem to the next. It’s a remarkable collection about all aspects of life: history, politics, family, love and loss. It’s all very magical.

This book makes me want to be a better poet. It makes me want to write and sing. It makes me want to explore and learn. It makes me want to hug my loved ones.

It starts off with each of the authors summarizing their experience with this project. This serves as a great introduction to the book and really establishes how unique each author is and how their voice and writing styles differ. Immediately you get a sense of how much these women respect each other as artists and how even though they had no interaction, the book sort of naturally fell into place. For example, the title comes from the last line of one of Christy Passion’s poems “Into the Wild”.

The second part of the book is the poetry, divided by month, one from each author. The poems are very organic and free flowing so that each one moves seamlessly to the next. I would read each poem and then go back to read the last line before starting the next one, curious how each author changed or interpreted it. They’re all amazingly talented and creative, taking those last lines to places I would never have imagined, myself. Juliet Kono mesmerizes me in every one of her poems. She uses words so thoughtfully and powerfully to convey such complex emotions, it’s almost overwhelming. I was in tears reading her poem “Coming Home.” Ann Inoshita’s poems “Embrace” and “What Had Been” have so much personality! Just reading them you feel how important and timeless literature can be—how books and words can be a part of you.

The last section of the book talks about renshi itself, being a modern form of Japanese renga. Jean Toyama explains the history of renshi, how it’s evolved and its significance to Japanese culture. She remarks on how poetry writing is viewed as a solitary thing in Western culture, which to some extent is true but not so much anymore, in my opinion. Reading No Choice But to Follow reminded me of the round-robin writing groups I used to be in. Round-robins are popular among fan-fiction writers, but have started to generate buzz in a broader sense and there are several projects running on the Internet. Technology has changed the way we read, and the way we write. Authors in general have to be more social than ever, self-marketing their books and interacting with fans. No Choice But to Follow is an excellent example of what can be accomplished when writers and readers get together.  Even better, the book comes with a recording of the authors reading their poems aloud. I highly recommend picking this up.

Don’t forget, all four ladies will be at the Celebrate Reading Festival this Saturday, to talk about the book and give advice on writing poetry. Also, Bamboo Ridge currently has No Choice But to Follow on sale at their webpage bookstore!