Hawaii's first Poet Laureate, Kealoha, speaks of his journey. Photo by Ronen Zilberman
Kealoha speaks of his poetic journey
By Simplicio Paragas
At 35 years old, Steven Kealohapa‘ole Hong-Ming Wong is just starting to find his voice. Better known nowadays as Kealoha, the one-named artist was crowned as Hawaii’s first ever Poet Laureate in May. It’s an official appointment that the one-time nuclear engineer relishes, not only because of the distinction, but also because it gives him access to a greater audience.
“I want to use this platform to reach the nooks and crannies of Hawaii, as well as the rest of the world,” Kealoha says. “I want to continue to work on my craft and share it with anyone willing to listen.”
The world of poetry slams is the antipode of where Kealoha first started his career: corporate USA. After graduating with honors from MIT with a degree in nuclear physics, he served as a business consultant in San Francisco, and played around as a surf instructor prior to becoming a professional poet in 2002.
However, the path to poetry was painful; after all, the nuclear scientist was more accustomed to writing papers about the “Proliferation Issues Associated With the Transmutation and Stabilization of Plutonium” — the title of his thesis — than he was penning verses about his natural surroundings.
“After leaving college, my creative juices were turned on and that opened a floodgate of ideas,” Kealoha says. “The right side of my brain had atrophied and I needed to flex and exercise it; it wasn’t easy.”
Admitting that his first few pieces weren’t that “great” — even to a point he says he’s a little embarrassed by them — Kealoha persisted at his “craft,” establishing a weekly group called ‘The Think,” which brought together a diverse group of intellectuals to explore various fields of study, from architecture and philosophy, to music and politics, to economics and moral dilemmas.
“Each session was like doing mental steroids,” Kealoha quips. “There were so many ideas and so many stories.”
Some of discussions from those sessions inspired his poetry, which has evolved much like the artist himself. In April 2003, Kealoha founded HawaiiSlam, a monthly gathering of poets, visual artists and DJs. The event takes place every first Thursday of the month, at 8:30 p.m, at Fresh Cafe (831 Queen St.).
In his role as Poet Laureate, Kealoha will appear at state functions, as well as visit libraries and schools to promote poetry and reading.
“This is a great career,” Kealoha beams. “Nuclear physics will always creep into my writing; there’s a logical deduction, scientific method that’s a part of me that I’ll never be able to squelch. But at least now it’s more balanced with the right side of my brain.”