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Nā Wahi Kapu o Maui

Kapulani Landgraff. ‘Ai Pōhaku Press, 2003

This is a book of extraordinary photographs, mostly of stone and water, or of stone and the absence of water. This is also a book of extraordinarily stone-like poems that refuse to yield their meaning to cursory readings and casual thumbings. Kapulani Landgraf’s photographs are of Maui’s storied places; her poems are inspired by those same places. The book is arranged as follows: one large, black and white photo on the right page; two small poems on the left page—mele Hawai‘i on top, mele Pelekane underneath. The three elements speak to each other. Indeed, they are locked in intensely personal conversations to which we—if we lack patience and reverence—are not privy. Landgraf refuses to make the going easy. She refuses to translate, explain, or provide direction. Instead, hers is a vision characterized by the hold-fast ‘au‘a of Keaulumoku’s “‘Au‘a ‘ia e kama i kona moku – Hold fast, child, to your land, your heritage.” Some may find this off-putting, an expression of distrust and inhospitality. Others will take it as profoundly trusting and hospitable, as an offer to drink the bitter waters and caress the obdurate stones of aloha ‘āina.

In the final analysis, this is a wonderfully subversive work. Barbara Pope Book Design invests it with the heft and dignity of the finest of fine-art publications. Which it is. It is a collector’s item. A consummately crafted Trojan Horse of a coffee table book. As such, it should find its way into the homes of the very people for whom its aloha ‘āina sentiments may prove discomforting. Once there, it will prove too heavy for glass table tops and designer koa bookcases. It will crash to the floor, find its place in the soil, and dig down like Pōhaku o Lēkia into the stubborn intransigence of “‘Onia a pa‘a” (Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Ōlelo No‘eau #334). It will whisper, on quiet nights, of stone and water. In this holiday season, it will serve as the perfect gift for friends and ‘enemi alike.