Poetry
10:20 pm
Sun March 23, 2014

Last Hula: Poems of a Father's Final Aloha

Elizabeth Kerlikowske in the WMUK studio
Elizabeth Kerlikowske in the WMUK studio
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Kellogg Community College professor and local poet Elizabeth Kerlikowske will be reading from her chapbook Last Hula on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Parchment Community Library. It’s a look back at the last few months of her father's life.

Kerlikowske says the title of the chapbook comes from the sort of hand motions her dad would act out while lying in his bed.

"Like he would be stringing Christmas lights, you could just tell that was what he was doing. Or he would be shaping things or cleaning things," she says.

"So his hands were moving all the time and it seemed like the most dancing he could do at that moment."

Kerlikowske's poetry is grounded in the grit of real life, no outlandish embellishments here.

She compares her style of writing in Last Hula to that famous line from Jack Webb from Dragnet, "Just the facts, Ma'am." 

"I felt like I wanted to present things with...definitely without being pretty," Kerlikowske says.

"My goal in writing this was not to even present a balanced view of my father's life. It was strictly about the last month of his life."

Kerlikowske says her father wasn't like a TV sitcom dad. In fact, she compares him to Bob Cummings, a playboy photographer in Love That Bob

"He was kind of an amazing partier father," she says. "And he always had a check for you if you needed it and he was always there in a crisis. But he was a much better grandfather than he was I father, I think he was great at that."

Kerlikowske's shoes reflect her vibrant personality
Kerlikowske's shoes reflect her vibrant personality
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Growing up many kids get intimidated by poetry. As an educator and poet, Kerlikowske says this is because they're reading the wrong poems at the wrong time in their lives. 

"I mean I was being shown all poems by white, middle-aged guys from the 1400's and 1500's.  And to little hippie Elizabeth in Grand Rapids, that was just not cutting it," Kerlikowske says.

"I was not getting what I needed from there, so I sought out my own people. But I think a lot of the people who teach poetry feel insecure about it themselves and pass that on to the students."