Advance Reader Review:
I had the pleasure of reading the ebook of PUNATIC, by James Schwartz, author of THE LITERARY PARTY: GROWING UP GAY AND AMISH IN AMERICA 2011, a Lambda Literary Nominee for Poetry.
James Schwartz "used to be Amish, then he went English now he's Hawaiian (Islander humor)".
James's journey to Puna is a "mixed-media" collection of poetry with color photos of Pacific Meditations, a live literary mixtape from his readings at venues on the island (even a rainforest!)
The photos are stunning and quirky: A road through lush tropical foliage. A historical church. A Green Lake lost to lava in the 2018 eruption. A volcano!!
If the photos are meant to be symbolic than this represents his rebirth: rooting down / rising up. Resurrection / A Punatic Passion.
Not all poems are set in Hawaii.
Riverside Meditation (taken from Michigan Meditations, Dangerous Submissions anthology) is a startling scene of the Midwest meth epidemic (Schwartz was born in an Amish community in Michigan).
The Apostates, another Michigan Meditation, is a comedic meeting of gay ex-Amish men or Apostates, a satire on Amish tourism and Punatic Part 1 and 2 shows his comedic side and an homage to Mark Twain who famously visited the island.
In the introduction Schwartz writes about his Hawaiian spiritual transformation, citing The Bowl of Light by Hank Wesselman and Kahuna of Light by Moke Kupihea. I plan to read them. His first poem begins at LAX - "Bukowski Country"! LMAOROTF!
"Punatic" has a comedic tone through much of the book, especially the live material.
An exception is the show-stopping long duet poem, Gaia, flowing between Schwartz and Puna slam performer Seth Speaks (YouTube/KukuAuStudio) showcasing both unique talents beautifully. Under A Strange Occupation heralds the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, The Children of Sirius highlighting climate change.
Puna is on the Big Island, home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and an artsy boho fringe: here he has found his spiritual tribe. Think Nahko & Medicine for the People. Schwartz's poetic path from Amish to Aloha makes for a happy ending - almost! The end comes as a shock but I won't give away his surprise twist ending here!
My favorite poem may be the Hawaiian flavored love-song-poem Kapu. Schwartz takes the native Hawaiian man for his Adonis-David- Muse, in Pacific Meditation writes "piercing my heart with his shark-smile". Hawaiian culture is more accepting to LGBT than the Amish communities are which gives him the freedom to bare his heart in Ghost At the Coast and Kapu. These are his Sacred Meditations, A Lord Byron in Exile, sitting at the Kahuna's knee.
James Schwartz is a welcome poet I have read over the years in QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology and Our Happy Hours, LGBT VOICES FROM THE GAY BARS. I have added Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman, his other book release to my reading list!
I love this book, in the back of my mind I was calculating frequent flyer miles! I have never considered a volcano romantic but Schwartz clearly does in Kalapana Meditation, an adventurous trek to a lava flow - Pele the Volcano Goddess herself! and in the Introduction, Going With The Flow.
James Schwartz conjures Whitman, the Beats, Mark Twain, indigenous Pacific spirituality, Hawaiian "Punatic" politics with humor, heart and a rebel refrain.
Here is a poet inspired by a new land and culture and I was too.
Noted for his book "The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America"
James Schwartz has written another book of culture shock: when Amish meets Aloha.