As National Poetry Month ends and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month begins, Wataru Ebihara discusses Infinite Loop, his recently published collection of poetry and photographs, with ModelMinority.com. You can order Ebihara's book and see some of his other work at his Web site.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm a third-generation Japanese American or "Sansei" from Cleveland, Ohio, and I moved to Southern California, Los Angeles, in 1995. I admit to easily fitting into the Asian American model minority stereotype... I have a PhD. in electrical engineering, even though, I'm not using it so much right now.
My current "day job" is an Information Systems Manager. I work for a non-profit organization that provides housing for the low-income, social services, and community development in downtown Los Angeles.
How long have you been writing poetry? Do you have any formal training?
I first started with Japanese haiku poems. I remember my mom showing me how to write haiku with lines of five-seven-five syllables. My grandfather also composed haiku. However, I've been writing poetry down on paper since I was around 15 or 16. Some of them I've kept in a journal, and it was a way for me to remember.
I do not have a formal background in English literature or creative writing, but I feel that poetry is something that arises primarily from "doing" -- and using one's experiences and heart. I enjoy the freedom of writing poetry, and playing with word images, and using the structure and sounds of the language.
What was it like to get your book published?
My original motivation was to share my writing with family and friends. It took some effort and thought to organize it. It's quite wonderful to see my poems and photos printed in book form -- so I'm happy. But there's a little feeling of nervousness too, though -- to release a work into the world for public view and criticism.
What inspired your poems in "Infinite Loop"?
The inspiration for my poetry comes from different places -- my memories, family, emotions, introspection, visions, dreams, travels, experiences. I guess, it's life. In some poems, I try to verbalize the non-verbal sublime experience that could be spiritual in nature. It's a thing only a poem can express.
As an example, I wrote a poem titled, "Night Visions on Interstate 10" which was inspired while driving on the freeway between Palm Springs and Los Angeles. The freeway parallels the San Andreas earthquake fault. But rather than earthquakes being fearful, I had the intuition of a glorious life source that created the mountains and brought people to live their lives here.
Finally, I get inspiration from the stars. This is the title poem, "Infinite Loop". There's nothing that compares to seeing the sky on perfectly clear and dark night in the California desert with the Milky Way spanning overhead. It just makes you say "wow!" It makes one wonder about space, time -- and a life from childhood through old age. It ends up in the poetry.
Did you personally take all the photos in the book? Where/when were they taken?
Yes, I took the photos. Most of them are fairly recent. Some of the photos were taken in my backyard, inside the house, and around my neighborhood. Others were taken in far away places in the California desert.
The last photo is of a Hawaiian petroglyph. It has meaning to me. There is a Native Hawaiian custom to place the umbilical cord of a newborn baby into the holes of the petroglyph carved in the lava. Similar to how a baby is connected to its mother through the umbilical cord, in this way, a child would be connected to the land and its power -- the "Mother Earth" -- giving them long life and health.
How have your family and friends reacted to your book?
Many of my friends and family have been quite supportive. One cousin mentioned showing the poem titled "Memorial Day" (about my grandfather) to my aunt, and she was quite moved.
Have you been giving any readings or had much publicity for "Infinite Loop"? Have you had any writings/poems published in any magazines/journals/anthologies?
I've kept a low public profile, so haven't done many readings. However, my most memorable past reading was at the annual "Manzanar Pilgrimage" in front of hundreds of people. Manzanar is the site of the former WWII Japanese American internment camp in California. I stood on the back of a flatbed truck that was used as the stage, and had the opportunity to read the poem "Manzanar Scorpions". It was quite an honor. The poem is based on my uncle's stories.
How long did it take you to create and put together the poems and photos in your book?
The poems themselves were selected from material written in the past 15 years. Some poems I wrote quickly, but some could take me weeks, on and off -- until I felt it was right. It might sound very simplistic, but I actually put together a first rough draft of the book in only one weekend. It was a "go with the flow" process. I collected my poems and photos together on the computer, and then I thought of ways to organize it...
How can readers order a copy?
Readers can preview and order the book that is published on demand via blurb.com. My website is http://webpoetic.weebly.com where you can find the direct link.
Are you working on any other projects now?
I'm thinking of another book project that might be more like a personal scrapbook of my writing, photos, and drawings. It might be something for a short attention span culture, but hopefully fun and interesting. We'll see.
Anything else that might be interesting to include about you, your favorite poems/poets/writers?
When I was growing up in Ohio, I would go to the local public library, and browse through random poetry books. I read poems by "the classic" American poets like Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman. I couldn't identify with them very much. It wasn't my background, culture, my time period, or the way I "talked".
I would have probably lost interest in poetry, if I didn't come across the writing of Robinson Jeffers, an American poet from the 1930's. He wrote about the beauty of nature, the inhumanity of man, environmental themes, and philosophical topics that were a bit more "interesting" to me. So, he's probably a poetic influence in the back of my mind somewhere.
In the late 80's and early 90's, I became involved in Asian American student organizations and activities at Ohio State University. I read some great poetry by people like Janice Mirikitani and Garrett Hongo. I realized there were actually many Asian American and Japanese American writers out there who were expressing themselves, and it was quite inspiring to me -- as a "minority American".
Anyway, I would say for everyone to tell your own stories, and write what's meaningful from one's own background, and it's mostly what I try to do.
-- Judy Tseng for ModelMinority.com
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