My idea of “poet” is someone who loves words.  The dictionary (preferably unabridged) is this kind of poet’s Bible.

The etymology of words — how they began, how they change in meaning and develop nuances over time, and how they die when they’re neglected — that’s a fascination for this kind of poet.

Why one word or phrase works and another doesn’t…the TASTE of words…their music and the rhythm of strings of them, their “prosody” — that stuff’s exciting to my kind of poet.


That word “prosody” is an anglicized form of the Latin word “prosodia,” which comes from the Greek “prosoide,” which means, “a song with accompaniment.”  To the Greeks, at least, poems were supposed to be set to music.  (Willy Nelson and Bob Dylan would certainly agree.)

Oops!  Sorry…I do tend to get carried away….

For several years, I wrote at least one poem a day.  All of it was just playing with words and trying to find the music.

During this time, I tried bunches of formal and informal poetic forms until I realized that I tend to get obsessive-compulsive about all the syllable-counting and rhyming schemes and such.  All that counting and measuring sure got in the way of the music of it all.


Then I hit on the notion of making poems using the cadences and rhythms of beloved old songs.  Because I have a fondness for Hawaiian music, which seems to encapsulate the feeling and the rhythms of this place I love, I began playing with the old Hawaiian traditional songs.

I made word-for-word translations of these songs that I remembered from the luau and parties in my youth, when all the aunties, uncles, and cousins broke out instruments and sang together. The Pukui-Elbert Hawaiian-English dictionary in hand, I’d go through a song, putting down all the possible English meanings of each Hawaiian word.  I kept the structure of the song intact.

I listened to the music and cadence of the syntax and word patterns.  Then I constructed a poem (which usually had nothing to do with the subject of the song).

Later, I shared some of these poems with a kumu hula, a hula teacher, who told me she could hear the “seed-song” under my words.  It was a cool exercise, but terribly labor-intensive and time-consuming.

Here’s one of those poems.  It was written in the style of an old traditional Hawaiian song, “Hilo March.”  For those who don’t know this old standard, I’m sharing a YouTube clip of the Hawaii County Band playing the Hilo March at the March, 2010 concert at Mo’oheau Bandstand in Hilo, Hawaii.

Hawaii County Band playing “Hilo March” at the March, 2010 concert at Mo’oheau Bandstand in Hilo, Hawaii [via YouTube; uploaded by Tyty Videos on March 15, 2010]

The band is still going strong after more than 130 years.  It is the second-oldest publicly supported band in the state.  The concert where this clip was filmed was held to highlight the plight of the all-volunteer, part-time band when Hawaii Country tried to balance the budget by eliminating the historic group.  There was such a protest that the idea died.

The poem, “Breaking Line,” is partly written in pidgin because that was the language of my youth when I was growing up on the island of Molokai.  (I’ll try and explain what the unfamiliar terms mean.)  Like all of the poems that grew out of this style of writing, it is meant to be read aloud.

I’ve noticed that using and playing with words from a different language evokes another place and sometimes another time.


Early morning

Boom machine clacking.

Luna’s yelling.

What’s he say?

Ai-yah!  Breaking line!

Making contract not going happen.

Some junk…breaking line.

Think they like keep us down or what?

Aw man…Breaking line!

Go easy-easy, bum-bye pau.


First crop, row on row,

Strong green spears weave walls between.

Push, push…haul your body.

Hang on the boom…break on through.

Auwe!  Breaking line.

Easy-easy, bum-bye pau.


Cold and wet the heavy dew

Soaks through chaps and Levi jeans.

Shoes turn squishy, legs get soggy.

Hurry up, sun, climb up higher….

Go easy-easy, bum-bye pau.


Pull on through…pull on through…

No “monsoon;”  Driver won’t listen.

Just keeps on clacking slowly down the road.

Big garoot must be grinning.

Knows we hate to go slow.

Best pine-picking school gang, us.

Beating contract real good fun.

Us, we get the bes’ school record.

Easy-easy, bum-bye pau.


The boom arm sweeps above the green leaves,

Clacking, clacking, chaka-lacking.

Conveyor belt churns, never stopping.

Hang on, hang on…pull on through.

Go easy-easy, bum-bye pau.


Grab the ripe pine as you pass it.

Twist the top off…good girl.

Place fruit nicely on the belt,

Up and over…there it goes.

Thunking ripe fruit slow-slow-slowly

Fills the crate on the big old trailer.

Luna must be really happy.

Us not throwing fruit around.

Haul on through, haul on through.

Easy-easy, bum-bye pau.


No more charging down the long rows,

No fruit-flipping, no wrists swelling.

No big grins and wild, high laughter.

No more yells:  “Monsoon!  Monsoon!”

Pull on through, breaking line.

Auwe!  Breaking line.

Easy-easy, bum-bye pau.


Slow, slow, the gang’s all slow,

What the heck do we care?

No more helping, reaching, grabbing.

No more scoldings, we’re not flying

Prime fruit in a “monsoon” race.

Slow to fill up crates this way.

Beating contract?

Not today.

No need hurry, just not going….

Easy-easy, bum-bye pau.


Sun’s getting higher, day’s getting hotter.

Shirt’s all soaking, headband’s wet.

Stupid field goes on forever.

Where’s the end so we can rest?

Go easy-easy, bum-bye pau.

When I was growing up on Molokai, there were two pineapple plantations still running: Libby-McNeil and Del Monte (CPC).  The summer I worked the fields was the first year they tried using youngsters to harvest the crops.  In the past, the jobs for the youngsters was limited to hoe-hana (hoeing and weeding work) along the edges of the lines of the plants.

  • The pineapple harvesting machine is called a “boom.” A long conveyor belt carried the fruits up and dropped them into the crates on the back of the trailers.
  • Luna is the crew supervisor. We called ours “Manini” (small and stingy) because he kept trying to keep us all from breaking out wild.
  • Breaking line” is what the first crew to go through the tangled leaves of the lines of the first-crop pineapple plants has to do. The clear, clean lines between the fruits aren’t there yet.  All the plants are tangled together, reaching across the spaces where you put your feet.   You have to use your body and hang on to the machine to drive yourself through the line as you’re picking up the ripe fruit.  Since the work starts just as the sun is coming up, the dew is heavy on the plant leaves and soaks into your work pants, chaps and long-sleeved shirts.  It is tiring and frustrating work.
  • Ai-yah! was a common exclamation of dismay. It probably came from the Asian immigrants.
  • Some junk” is disgustingly-stupid junk.
  • Auwe! is another exclamation of dismay.  It’s a Hawaiian lament.
  • Garoot is pidgin for “galoot” and the “r” is rolled. (Our rebel teenaged crew was not often on good terms with our support crew.)
  • Easy-easy, bum-bye pau. Very old style pidgin, it means “Take it easy.  It will eventually be done.”  We heard that a lot from the older workers.
  • Fruit-flipping was done by grabbing a large ripe fruit by the crown and twisting your wrist, letting the heavy fruit break off and fall from the crown onto the always-moving conveyor belt. It was discouraged by the grown-ups and practiced assiduously by all the young ones.  (We held seminars and critiqued each other’s techniques….)  The proper way to remove a crown from the ripe fruit was to hold the fruit and twist off each crown and then place it on the belt gently.
  • Monsoon” is a tropical storm. It was our war-cry when we were racing another crew in an adjoining field.  It was how we asked the machine driver to go faster.
  • Crews that filled a certain number of the big trailer container-crates in the backs of the trucks with the booms attached were paid at a higher rate for the day’s work.  We called it “making contract.”
  • Jus’ not going” is really, really slo-o-o-w.
By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  First Crop Pineapple Field by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you….)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below.

22 thoughts on “POEMS THAT SING

  1. This was an interesting piece of art work. I say art work because I was a liberal arts minor in college.

    I also studied music from the time I was 10 years old up through my first 2 year if college. So, I found myself reminiscing while reading your foundation, as well as the poem.

    Thank you for taking me back to a time I am very fond of.

    1. Thanks for the visit, Greer, and for your kind words. Please come again….

  2. This post impacted me in a peculiar way. As I followed your discourse I was taken back to my youth. I played the bass violin in the youth symphony orchestra at the age of 10.

    So, as I continued reading I began to feel sort of melancholy. I enjoyed that period in my life because playing a stringed instrument was quite an accomplishment, or at least I felt it was.

    I did appreciate the fact that you committed to explaining the meaning of the poem for those of us who were not familiar with the language and the fact that you kept your word and at the end you provided insight. Nice work!

    1. Hey Greer:

      I’m glad the poem had meaning for you. You’re right…playing the bass violin when you were ten was quite an accomplishment. I bet all of your talented young friends had a grand time with it.

      What’s interesting for me is that this poem took you back to your youth…that, even though picking pineapple was not a familiar experience you were still able to connect with it.

      Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. Please come again….

  3. O wow!! I find it rather very educational. I never knew Hawaiians had their own language. Now I know.

    The Youtube insert was perfectly done and drove home the point. The pic of the pineapple plantation opening the page heightens anticipation of what might this post is about.

    I think it is well presented. I grew up in west Africa and around plantations and old form workers. This post reminds me of my youthful days back home.

    The only thing missing was that I did not hear you sing a song from the poem you wrote.

    1. Thanks for the visit Odikro. It made me laugh. I don’t think my singing would add to the thing! Hee! Please come again….

  4. This site has been built with a lot of passion for poetry as the contents of the site speaks it all. Really got carried away going through the pages as it is very unique in the way the feelings of the poet is expressed.

    The layout of the site, the color choice and the related pictures all blend in well and is very classic.

    Navigating through the pages was easy without any hitches.The relevant videos put together gives this site that added touch of depth in the subject.

    It will be a very interesting site for poetry lovers to explore, learn and enjoy.It is well presented.

    1. Achuthan, thank you. Please come visit again….

  5. Linus Udochukwu Marvellous says:

    I love poems a lot and they bring life to my soul and I have so much respect for poets because I have discovered that being a poet is not easy.

    To me, poems carry a lot of meaning to both the reader and the writer and to many it brings healing to their wondrous soul.

    Thanks for making this poem known

    1. Leon, thank you for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  6. YU-SIANG LIN says:

    The poem is very artistic stuff. 

    It is hard to see poems in this generation, but also we know a great song is just like a poem.  You will find the meaning and walk with you through the low tide or get inspired. 

    The song is like modern day poem, but of course, sometimes the simple way is to listen about a poem.  After all, a poem is like a great song, and poem is the most original song!

    1. Yu-siang Lin, thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I love your phrase, “You will find the meaning and walk with you through the low tide or get inspired.”  It really does work like that.

      Please do come again….

  7. Olalekan Taliat says:

    This poem and the article as a whole reminds me of how I was once in love with writing poetry. My major concern changed when I had to fend for myself and make a living at a very tender age, ( I was just 13) 

    Where I come, there is not excuse for failure and I took that to heart.  It became my song and hence my repeating poem.

    I ended up taking to poetry in my leisure time , but this time around I write only about life, death and love. Maybe because I was exposed to many unforgettable and unpleasant experiences and at a young age.

    1. Olalekan, I do thank you for the visit and for sharing your story.  You are right.  Your exposure to hardships at a young age has probably affected the poems you write.  

      This is a good thing.  Perhaps you can make them into a way to express yourself and your heart.  Perhaps they will help other people find their own way through their troubles, as I am sure you are trying to do.

      Please do come again….

  8. I quite enjoyed this piece of art. I always like reading people’s art work because it’s a doorway into the mind of the writer, and subsequently, an avenue to see a different culture.

    In my community, we speak some language we call pidgin English. I never knew Hawaii has a language like this too.

    Keep up the passion, I love your art.

    Warm regards

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Louis.

      I think every place that has seen an influx of immigrants has some sort of pidgin.  When the sugar and pineapple plantations were the biggest economic forces on the islands, the plantation owners experimented with importing field workers from different parts of the world.  Everybody had to figure out a way to talk to each other.  

      Our Hawaiian-style local pidgin is still going strong and continues to evolve (despite the efforts of standard-English educators who do try to discourage its use).  

      Please do come again.

  9. Wonderful writeup and great post. I love poems not in the way everybody does

    but it has a way of reflecting my innermost personalities even if it sounds like dung

    it speaks to me and because of that I dedicated a little time

    Once in a week to write some and get my thoughts out like chime 

    Through the most beautiful ways I could express it even if sour than lime. 

    1. Thanks for the visit, Ayodeji, and for your poem.  Cool!

      Please do come again….

  10. That’s really cool. I would never have imagined a poem/song that goes with the marching music. I’m still having a hard time putting the two together in my mind’s ear – as it were. 

    I thought the reference to the Monsoon was that you were trying to harvest the fruit before a storm came. But then I thought Monsoon was a term only used in South East Asia. But as you say it is a word that found its way into Hawaiian pidgin somehow or other. I got the sense of much of it even before I read your explanations. 

    I didn’t get Breaking Line though which is kind of essential to the whole piece. 

    The edges of those pineapple leaves look very sharp. That must be really hot, tiring, and unpleasant work. 

    All we had when I was a kid was newspaper rounds and caddying on golf courses. Which has to be really tame in comparison! 

    Best regards, 


    1. Andy, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      I realized, after reading your comment, that what is missing in the video clip are the words to the traditional song.  The poem matches the cadences of the words of the song rather than the rhythms of the music.  Sorry.  I couldn’t find one with the words (and, anyway, the band story was pretty cool.)

      “Monsoooooon” (for us at least) was a call to action. We were encouraging our luna to allow us to become as powerful as a tropical storm.  Usually the call went up when a rival work-gang was picking the field next to us and we were also issuing a challenge to the other guys.  (We were a contentious lot…and a headache for our luna, probably.)

      And, as I explained in my notes, “breaking line” was what the first crew through a field did.  First crew always had to break through the tangle of spiky leaves that stretched across the straight lines of pineapple plants.  The fruit, for the most part, weren’t really ripe enough to pick yet and the job was the suckiest part of the whole thing (except for the weeding, which was just plain boring). 

      The leaves had sharp edges and spiky thorns as well.  Scratches often turned red and sometimes got infected when the acid from the pineapples irritated the skin or if we got a staph infection.  We wore multiple layers of heavy denim as protection and we needed it.  

      We had to be careful not to get our eyes scratched or poked, but nobody wore goggles.  

      It was hard, dirty, physical labor.  We were wet and chilly in the early morning and hot, steamy and melting by mid-day. We also had a great deal of fun.  It could be as exciting as a mudder race obstacle course, I suppose.  

      The one thing I will remember forever was the day I was assigned to work with a gang of old pineapple pickers.  Those guys never went fast, never went slow, never stopped — just kept picking and picking and picking pineapple like machines.  

      (They took pity on me and put me on the roadside position so I only had to worry about picking the pine from one row of plants.  I thought I was going to die for sure from the humiliation of having the guy next to me deal with the fruit from his two rows of plants and at least half of my one row as well.)

      It taught me a lot of respect for those guys.  They were awesome in their way.

      And, then, of course, every kid got The Speech from at least one parent:  “So, now you know what is hard work.  If you don’t want to do that kind of work for the rest of your life, go school…study…learn.  Be smart, my baby, go school.”

      Some of us actually listened.

      Please come again.

  11. This all-volunteer, part-time band is a wonderful idea. I wanted to just peek into the video and I had to watch it all through. It reminded me of my youth. The cultural aspect of life is so rich.

    Thank you for sharing this poem that was born on the island of Molokai. There are terms I already knew, but others were interesting for me to guess and even accurately interpret their meaning.

    1. Abel, I do agree that the ways people come together to celebrate life and the community they live in is always a treasure.  It adds such richness to our living, I say.

      I’m glad you had fun with the Hawaiian-style local pidgin.  Creole and place-specific languages are a lovely way that people with only a little bit of common languages teach each other how to communicate and get along with day-to-day living.  So cool, that!

      Please do come again.

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