Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today, we’ll hear three poems read by the poet Derek N. Otsuji. The first two poems are from his 2021 book The Kitchen of Small Hours. The third poem he’ll read for us is “Virtue” by Geoge Herbert, which was published in 1633.Derek N. Otsuji:
"Among the More Innocent Touristic Amusements of the Old Waikiki"
Freakish as it sounds now, there was a time
when kids dove and swam in the Ala Wai,
launching from the lip of the concrete bridge
that arches over its languishing flow.
My father tells the story of tourists
who came to the bridge to amuse themselves,
tossing dimes into the canal, to watch
as he and bare-skinned cousins, brown as seals,
dove in to chase the winged heads down dim depths
—the flicked coins tumbling, tail over stamped face,
in minted showers, thin slivers of light,
before each plunked disc shivered and then sunk
—dry spectator and scurrying swimmer both
holding in their collective breath until
a clenched fist, hard as American cash,
smashed that cage of glass, and waved like a flag.
"Three Boys One Fish Two Eyes"
In a cast iron pan Grandma fried whole fish.
The skin crisped up gold brown, with salt and crust.
The eye popped white, a pearl. To eat one just
by myself — me, one fish — was all my wish.
But we were three brothers, and just one plate.
Kneeling on chairs, and ready to “go in,”
we scraped those flanks clean from the head to fin
to tail, till the cooked fish met its bare fate,
clean and lovely, skeletal as a lyre
or a venus comb with its spokes of bone.
Its popped white eye, how like a pearl it shone!
How we each eyed that pearly eye with desire.
We had to jan ken po for that gem’s prize:
We were three boys, and one fish with two eyes.
This short lyric is by the English poet George Herbert, titled "Virtue." What I love about this poem is the simplicity and purity of its diction.
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky;
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night,
For thou must die.
Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye;
Thy root is ever in its grave,
And thou must die.
Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
My music shows ye have your closes,
And all must die.
Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like season'd timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
Then chiefly lives.Alan May:
You just heard Derek N. Otsuji read his poems “Among the More Innocent Touristic Amusements of the Old Waikiki” and “Three Boys One Fish Two Eyes.” He followed by reading the poem “Virtue” by George Herbert. Otsuji was kind enough to record these poems for us at his home on the southern shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Derek N. Otsuji is the author of the book The Kitchen of Small Hours, which won the Crab Orchard Review Poetry Series Open Competition. He was also awarded the 2019 Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared in The Southern Poetry Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, The Threepenny Review, The Bennington Review, Missouri Review Online, and many others. He is an associate professor of English at Honolulu Community College.
George Herbert was born in fifteen ninety-three in Montgomery Castle, Wales. He attended Westminster School and then Trinity College, Cambridge. He was ordained as a priest and became the rector at Bemerton. He wrote poetry throughout his life, and on his deathbed, he sent a manuscript of his work to his friend Nicholas Ferrar. Hebert died in sixteen thirty-three of consumption at the age of forty. Ferrar had Herbert’s book published that same year. It was called The Temple. You can find books by Derek N. Otsuji and George Herbert in our online catalog. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.