NOʻU REVILLA (she/her/ʻo ia) is an ʻŌiwi poet and educator. Born and raised with the Līlīlehua rain of Waiʻehu on the island of Maui, she currently lives with the Līlīlehua rain of Pālolo on Oʻahu. Her debut book of poetry Ask the Brindled (Milkweed 2022) won the 2021 National Poetry Series.
Ask the Brindled, Milkweed Press, 2022
Hear No’u Revilla read from Ask the Brindled
Author site: No’u Revilla
How did this book come about? What were you thinking about, how is it the same or different from previous work? How long did you work on it, how did the pandemic affect the process of writing it?
NO’U REVILLA: I wanted to ask better questions about aloha. I am an ʻŌiwi queer writer and I wanted to center questions grounded in my language, my people’s history, and our ancestral lands and waters. Aloha is both a practice and intelligence, which has been carried and protected for centuries by our lāhui. Ask the Brindled is one of many contributions toward this history of protection.
What was your favorite thing about writing it? What gave you the most satisfaction, what was energizing or enlivening about it?
NR: This book means more to me than I have language for, but one of the most satisfying things about the process was reworking the contrapuntal that became “The opposite of dispossession is not possession; it is connection.” The poem worked me for years. I knew the three columns of text were always going to be me and my two older cousins but what we were turning our bodies toward and how I wanted to write us moving through it shapeshifted a lot. As I drafted, the song “Kaulana Nā Pua” kept coming up in my mind. You cannot properly listen to “Kaulana Nā Pua” without remembering its history in the illegal overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani. You also can’t listen to that song without recognizing the unshakeable and unifying aloha our people had for our queen. “Kaulana Nā Pua” helped me to think through the gratitude I have for my two cousins, Kyla and Meagan. For what we inherited as Hawaiian women growing up in nineties Maui, what we refused, and what we staunchly made our own.
Was there a section or poem or part of the book that you felt doubtful about including? What made it so? How did you come to the decision you did?
NR: I knew I wanted to include an extensive offering of notes to my readers so that I could hold space for Hawaiians like me who didn’t grow up reading and speaking ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. My notes are for them, for us. I didn’t learn my ʻōlelo makuahine until I was in my 20s and I will forever be learning my language. Yet I remember what it felt like to find Haunani-Kay Trask’s poetry in Bobst library at NYU. In Light in the Crevice Never Seen, Haunani included a brief glossary as well as short notes after certain poems. It felt like she was packing light into a wound I didn’t know I had. She made me, a Hawaiian thousands of miles away from Hawaiʻi, feel like I had permission to earn a part in the conversations she was prioritizing. There are important reasons why some people do not offer translations or notes of any kind, and I respect that choice. For me, gratitude inspires reciprocity. Haunani reached out in Light in the Crevice Never Seen, and I wanted to reach out through my book. Not one part of me is interested in gatekeeping other Hawaiians. Mai, mai e ʻai.
What are some lines, phrases or images from the book that stay with you, either because they capture something that feels very true, or they came to you in a way that felt whole and generative, or some other reason?
NR: My grandmother’s presence marks this book. She is the first shapeshifter in my life, so even though I didn’t set out to write about her, it’s no surprise that she appears in some form in all four sections of the book. My grandma lives on Maui and I miss her a lot. Writing and performing her poems helps me to feel closer to her. I wish I could’ve included audio of her voice. Right now I’m working on a multimedia project to make something like that possible.
Can you share a few other works that influenced you in the writing of this book? Do you think these influences would be visible to readers? Would you like them to be?
NR: The aloha I have for Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s work is very clear in Ask the Brindled. Of her writing, I read Islands of Decolonial Love, first, and that was it for me — I wrote more honestly, I asked better questions, I took more risks in my collaborations, I stood taller in the different ways I practiced aloha. I am incredibly thankful for her storytelling.