James Fujinami Moore read several poems from his book, Indecent Hours, on Tuesday in an event sponsored by the Robert P. Hubbard Professorship, the English department and the Kenyon Review. Throughout his reading, Moore showcased a marvelous poetic voice and a broad range of themes.
In his introduction to the reading, Robert P. Hubbard Assistant Professor of Poetry Michael Leong said, “The three words that come to mind when I think of the poetry of James Fujinami Moore are specters, spectatorship and speculation.” Moore stood and walked to the stand, smiling widely and waving as he took a sip from his sticker-adorned water bottle. His clothing suggested an impressive mix of artist and academic, wearing pinstripe dress pants, a loose tie and a shiny black coat embroidered with cherry blossoms.
Moore’s voice was clear: humorous but dark, sensitive but honest, emotional but matter-of-fact. Getting to hear a poet read their own work is a rare but powerful experience; there is something in the poet’s voice that changes a piece and makes it stronger. Moore warned the audience before he began reading that his work deals with violence, intimacy and the intersection of the two. His take on these themes created truly exceptional poetry.
“This is a spectral book,” Leong said of Indecent Hours, referencing the theme of ghosts in Moore’s work. Ghosts appear in the form of dead wrestlers and sons in “American Myth, Duk-koo Kim.” Before he read it aloud, Moore explained that the poem was written about the true story of the 1982 boxing match that left three people dead, found while browsing Wikipedia. He felt an instant connection to the story because of his own experience with boxing: “There’s this deep, physical intimacy in boxing that’s not as common in men. It’s not sexual and it’s totally anonymous, because you don’t even know their last name or what their parents’ jobs are. Boxing both fills me with peace and serenity and troubles me politically, because it can’t be something that’s good for people.” He puts the mother of the dead boxer in conversation with his own mother, who also suffered the loss of a son. Moore questions certain dilemmas: the effect of memory, the grief and shame of boxing and whether there is glory to be found in boxing. Although the poem is written about an event that Moore never personally witnessed, he makes it his own.
Leong argued that Moore’s poems show the limitations of desire. In the poem “Of the Future Based on the Flight Patterns of Certain Birds,” Moore questions false information and lying political leaders. He talks about his own family and how his father compared the American experience to joy and the flu. This conflation of his personal experiences with world events continues in the poem “Notes on the New Year,” which, in 88 numbered lines, wrestles with Asian identity and culture alongside xenophobia in America and the poet’s experiences in a ballroom dance lesson. Themes of guns, death and violence are present throughout the poem, which, when coupled with the slow-but-steady countdown, lend the poem a suspenseful — even nerve-wracking — mood. Moore embraces the societal problems that he faces in his everyday life.
As Leong said at the beginning of the reading, Moore turns his observations of daily life into insights on gender, race and society. The final poem he read, “All That I Couldn’t Make Beautiful,” tells the story of his first job at 10 years old: painting miniature Virgin of Guadalupe statues. He juxtaposes his imperfect Virgins with the poster of a naked woman on the wall of the factory and the indecency with which the manager treated the poster. In writing about his own observations, he calls out, above all, the hypocrisy in ruling bodies.
The event ended with a Q&A session with the audience. Moore shared that he has been writing since he was a kid, but he didn’t decide to be a professional writer until he was in college. He considers poetry to be most similar to how he thinks and tells stories, making it a natural medium. He joked that his attention span is not long enough to write an entire short story, as he gets distracted four or five paragraphs in. Poetry enables him to examine contradiction without resolution, which he considers to be part of its beauty as a medium.
Leong told the reading’s attendees, “We are the fortunate auditors of Moore’s poetry.” As an audience member, I would argue that we are more than merely fortunate. James Fujinami Moore is a truly exceptional poet.