Having competed as a spoken word poet for more than a decade, Sterling Higa knows his way around a rhyme. As a competitive debater, poet and educator, Higa—despite his youthful looks—has competed at the collegiate and adult levels, while also teaching kids across Oahu. He was selected in the Spring of 2014 to represent the State of Hawaii in the national Slam Poetry “Grand Slam” competition in Oakland, Calif., this past summer.
Prior to his departure east, where he’ll gain a master’s degree in education at prestigious Harvard, THE MODERN HONOLULU commissioned Higa to write a poem that focused on the nature of life in the most urban climate within The Pacific. A literal melting pot of cultures, food, mixology, art, nightlife and hospitality, Hawaii’s capital is brimming with raw, edgy talent that is impossible for most brochures or travel ads to capture. We asked Higa to spin his wheels and put to paper the contrasts that make Honolulu so alluring for travelers (watch the video to hear Higa perform the poem).
Honolulu, place of shelter
A city exoticized and characterized by hula hands, Mai Tais, and palm trees
Mistaken for Jimmy Buffett's island escape
But more than escape
Honolulu is home
To Pacific Tongues reinvigorating an oral tradition
Aerosol art on corrugated steel
And artists inking canvases of skin
This city rides waves, yes
From the Duke to the youngest grom in the lineup
But it also makes waves
Emanating pulses of energy
Presidents study here
Musicians practice their crafts
Incubated by the Pacific
While nightlife is lit by still visible stars, cooled by trade winds
This city sits at the intersection of east and west,
Tropical and urban,
Colonial past and cosmopolitan future
Languages mix here and birth pidgin
While history lingers in the air like Ehu Kai, salty breath of the ocean
So breathe deep
For this gentle breeze carries with it both an echo of indigenous chanting
And a preview of the music to come
Prior to heading to Harvard, he taught poetry at ‘Iolani School and Kawananakoa Middle School, as well as coached debate at Punahou, the alma mater of President Barack Obama.
“In every classroom I visit, there’s a real hunger for literary arts and poetry, as well as civic engagement. The youth I work with really want to get involved with current issues—and through the arts is a great way to do so,” says Higa.
“My goal is to come back here and work with kids,” says Higa. “Showing how art relates to concrete historical issues… poetry that came out of third wave feminism, the civil rights movement and how it shaped the values we hold, showing them how it’s cool and can be utilized… that’s my goal.”