Posts Tagged ‘Frances Kakugawa’

May 23, 2011
Waiakea Elem
Hilo, Hawaii

I wish this day on you. It was that kind of a day.
I spent 7 hours at a school, speaking to 800 students, one grade level at a time in their auditorium. Was met with a thermos filled with hot coffee, thermos was mine to keep. Only in Hawaii, I’m greeted by beautiful floral leis with a kiss and hug.

Wordsworth the Poet was selected their May book-of -the- month. I read the book to grades K, 1, 2 and discussed writing and authoring to 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

Enjoy some of their comments.My responses in ( ).


“You have a pretty face.” ( smart kid)
“How old are you?” ( Old, very old, I said.)
“Why did you write this book?”

1st Grade:

“What’s a poet?”
( I asked the classes to answer it and one child said, “A poet writes poems.”
I added, “Yes, and a person who paints or draws is an artist, a person who writes music is called
a musician,etc.)

“Are poems rhymes?”

2nd Grade:

“How did you think of those beautiful words in the book?”
( I read, read, read a lot and wrote as much to see how language works, etc.)

3rd Grade:

You must be very rich.

What’s your favorite book?

4th Grade (Publishers, please read this twice)

“You must be very rich. Do you get all the money from your book?”
( No, when you publish a book like this, the artist and the publisher get a certain percentage and I get paid a certain percentage.)

“ Oh no, the publisher should give you all the money because you write good books.”

Fifth Grade:

Before I began, a boy raised his hand and asked:

“Can you read your books without looking at it since you wrote it?”

“How many books have you written?”
“What is the point of view of WW the Poet?”
“How old were you when you wrote your first book?”

( I published my lst book, Sand Grains, while teaching at this very school. I was very old.)

“Do you have other books about Wordsworth?”

“Where can I buy WW books?”
“Are you writing more books?”

How did you name the characters?
( They gave a loud groan and moan when I told them why WW’s best friend Emily will be gone
In the 3rd book. One child asked me not to get rid of her)

I have a title for another book. Call it “Wordsworth Makes a Difference.”

Why don’t you let Wordsworth marry Akiko, the new character?

Are you going to write until…you know, the end?

( Good question, yes,I hope I can still be holding a pen as I take my last breath)

One of the things I spoke about was the process of writing…how imagination gives us permission to be as honest as possible in our writing, how only the author knows his or her source of writing. They said yes, they censor a lot because they don’t want teachers and parents to think they actually experienced some of the things they write.

“Just having a dream and wishing for it to happen,” I told them, “doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. We need to work to make it happen.”

A Chicken Skin story:

A woman called to say her granddaughter heard me in school today. The 8 year old told her “An author spoke to us today” and handed her my business card. The woman (Leiko) called me and what a magical moment. Her family, a very generous Hawaiian family, and we were extended families in Kapoho. They were my source of learning about ancient Hawaiian culture. We spent all holidays together and slept at each other’s homes. Her brother Sonny and I were the best of friends. We made a pact that he would marry me if by age 25, no man married me.

I told Leiko, I had spoken to over 800 children today and only one child came to ask me for a business card. What are the chances that this 8 year old kid would be her grand daughter. Leiko thought my card was given to each child.

Another poignant interaction:

A fifth grader came to see me after the session. She asked, “You talked about how you kept your dream of becoming a writer since you were in the lst grade. How did you do that?”

She left with tears glistening in her eyes and said,” I understand. I’m going to keep my dream just like you.”

(I told her my dream became a tool for forgiveness when people treated me unfairly and were mean to me…and when there was nothing I could do. I merely told myself, “That’s okay. Someday I’m going to be an author and you’ll be buying my books. She thanked me saying she will work on becoming a singer/musician and will not let her dream go. That she understands about being treated with meanness but her dream will help her, etc.”)

Walking to the parking area at 2:30, kids began running to hug me from the back, from the side and front. They stood there just holding on without a word. I understood. This happens with poetry and writing, even with adults.

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Kakugawa to give lecture workshop in Hilo on Thursday

Discussion focus is on aging, Alzheimer’s and her new book, ‘Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver’s Voice’

Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 9:19 AM HST

Kapoho-born Frances Kakugawa, educator, poet and published author, has a new published book titled “Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver’s Voice.”

“Breaking the Silence” is her third book on caregiving and the elderly. Her other books on this subject are “Mosaic Moon: Caregiving Through Poetry” and an illustrated children’s book called “Wordsworth Dances the Waltz” that won Best Children’s Book from the Northern California Publishers/Authors.

Kakugawa will be at the Aging and Disability Resource Center at 1055 Kinoole St., on Thursday, presenting a lecture workshop, “Dignity in Aging: A Caregiver’s Voice.”

To register as a participant and find out program details, please call Services For Seniors at 935-1144.

Kakugawa will take participants on her own personal journey through poetry and experiences, on how she rose above the burden of care while caregiving for her mother who had Alzheimer’s disease.

She will discuss lessons learned, and the choices confronting caregivers to either succumb to the realities of caregiving or “to live with that small light of our own humanity by offering our loved ones the dignity in living.” She will work with participants who are interested in bringing dignity and understanding in caregiving through writing.

Kakugawa was named one of the outstanding women of the 20th century in Hawaii and received the Hawaii Pacific Gerontology Society Award for her work with the elderly.

She lectures and gives workshops throughout the United States.

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I’m off to Hawaii for a lecture/book signing tour but before I leave, a last minute word of support to caregivers who often have no alternative but to “divorce” siblings during caregiving.

During the past two weeks, I consoled four caregivers whose grief came more from their sibs than from caring for the their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease.

When we say family, we think of oneness, support, and love. But families are made of individuals, each with their own set of values, relationships and character. To expect every family member to rise to the occasion of caregiving may not be a reality. To expect equal participation may not be a reality. Caregiving is long term and many may choose not to participate. It may be more beneficial to the loved ones if these family members did not become caregivers.

From past experiences, I have seen siblings communicating through their attorneys. I’ve seen siblings filing suit to break their parents’ living trust. I’ve seen siblings quarreling over finances. I’ve heard siblings insinuate, “Since I don’t want to become a caregiver, none of my sibs should be one…they only make me look bad…”

I have seen greed, lack of compassion, and fear. This is just top of the iceberg when it comes to families breaking apart when caregiving is needed.

I posed the following suggestion to four caregivers recently. If you took away the label “brother” or “sister”, would you still want a relationship with that person? We are very selective when we hire professional caregivers for our loved ones. Shouldn’t we do the same with family members? Sometimes, we have no alternative but to cut ties with siblings who, through reasons of their own, destroy relationships during caregiving.

Caregivers need support and understanding; they need respite care for themselves, they need to be surrounded by people like themselves, who believe in preserving dignity in their loved ones. They deserve to be among people who do not see a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as a death sentence or a burden. There is still time for living, re-establishing relationships and caring. Caregivers have a choice to have such an environment for their loved one and for ourselves.

And if it means to cut ties with siblings or other members of the family, so the best of care can be given, so be it.

My focus on my lectures in Hawaii will be on preserving dignity in our loved ones and in ourselves for whatever we do to our loved ones, we do to ourselves.

I’m about packed. It’s a good thing I’m not an octopus because with only two feet, I’m packing 4 pairs of shoes. That kid who ran around bare-footed in the isles, now lives next to DSW ( Designer Shoes Warehouse) near Arden Faire Mall. I’ll be posting from Hawaii…stayed tuned. Aloha.

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Review of Breaking the Silence Published Internationally

Anyone read Chinese? This is perfect for Poetry Month.

Professor R.K. Singh’s insightful article on my most recently published Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver’s Voice has just been published in Research (Vol. 10, No.2, Autumn 2010), a respected journal published from Patna, India.

His article was also translated into Chinese to appear in The World Poets Quarterly (Vol. 061, February 8, 2011), a journal based in Chongqing, P.R. China.

Professor Singh is a noted Indian scholar and poet who has authored over 150 articles, 165 book reviews and 34 books. His article on Breaking the Silence provides a thoughtful critical analysis of the poetry and themes in Breaking the Silence:
Read Professor Singh’s article at:


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Poetry to Music

UBerDavid of Oregon
set my Dangerous Women to music.

Check this out…wow…

Just click here and play!
Dangerous Women

Here are the lyrics – You can Sing Along!

(or Karaoke good, too!)

Dangerous Women

We are the dangerous women…
Who never say no to sunsets, sunrises,
Evening strolls or double martinis.

We are the women who speak to you
In supermarkets over apples and cabbages.
Making you wish you could follow us home.

We are the women taught by mothers,
To make you feel we could be yours
No matter what your age, color or size.

We are the women who seek
Extraordinary days out of the ordinary
Leaving aches and joy and empty spaces.

We are the women who write poems
And send you copies without permission
Capturing moonbeams in your name.

We are the gatherers of dreams,
Fantasizing scenes
In private places where secrets live.

We are not easy to be with
After sad movies, romantic novels,
And on Sunday afternoons.

We are so damn demanding
You wish we had never met,
Yet you know, we are the poetry of life.

Yes, we are the dangerous women: vulnerable,
Ageless, poetic, passionate, living life with two feet
Slightly off the ground.

We are the women you should avoid
If you don’t believe in Peter Pan, Never Never Land
And the first star of the evening skies.

But pour us wine, as the sun sets low
And we will hand you the key
To our inner souls.

– fhk

(UBERDAVID is a techno-acoustic music duo. They are David Rolin…(drums, percussion and vocals) and David White…(keyboard/synth).”*

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My Name is Me

Sometimes a  poem patiently waits to  be written from the most ordinary places.  A few days ago I sat in my office,  staring at the bookshelves, reading book titles and names of authors. My eyes stopped at one of those black and white composition notebooks tucked somewhere in the mess.

That notebook reminded me of something my mother did after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

How could I have missed the significance of what she did?  Why did it take me nine years to become aware of this? The following poem easily flowed out of my pen:

Matsue Kakugawa

How could I have missed this?

Soon after she was diagnosed,

She began to fill a composition notebook

With her signature.

“So shame,” she said, ” if I can’t sign my name

nicely at the bank.”

It became her favorite pastime:

Matsue Kakugawa, carefully written

Page after page after page.

As her disease progressed, Matsue Kakugawa

Began to lose a letter or two, and soon,

She was reduced to scribbles and lines.

Five notebooks, one hundred sheets,

Two hundred pages, twenty two lines per page.

Twenty two thousand Matsue Kakugawa.

How could I have missed her

Twenty two thousand attempts

To save herself from the thief?

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A Poet’s Declaration on Editing

This  poem has a special place in my heart. I wrote this while I was teaching third graders.

I had a special Editor’s Chair, a plush, red velvet, ornate arm chair that was used only  by writers who wanted their work edited by the class. This chair had quite a history but to shorten its history, it was donated to our class by Wayne Harada, the then Entertainment Editor of the Honolulu Advertiser  because we were both deeply involved in the state Children As Authors* program which was created by Dr Vi Harada. Whenever students wanted editors, they  would ask to sit in the Editor’s chair and we gathered at their feet to listen and critique.  We did a lot of writing in all subject areas and the reason might have been an opportunity to sit in the Editor’s Chair.

I took the chair one day to read my poem.  I expected an  unanimous nod because wasn’t I the teacher,  but one student said, “I like the poem to end at “I am! I am!” I would suggest that you drop the last four lines?” What???

(We were not allowed to use “ought” and “should” during our editing process because the final decision was the writers’ and we were not to impose our  ideas on any writer. We could only suggest.)

“Okay,” I said rather defensively, ” Let me read this again without the last four  lines. Then I’ll read the poem as I wrote it and let’s see what you think.”

I wasn’t play acting at this point. I was fighting tooth and nail for my poem. I read the original with expression and drama and sort of read the edited version without much flair.

“How many of you think I need to drop the last four lines?”

Without looking at each other, the majority of the class raised their hands. What? I have over- taught these kids!.  A couple of  loyal Kakugawa fans kept their hands  clasped on their laps.

“Okay,” I said, “Let me think about your suggestion and I’ll get back to you.”

I later showed  the poem to a professor friend and he said, “The kids are right. You’re over talking.”  I still tend to over talk today, thinking I need to hold the reader’s hand a bit closer to my work. Mark Arax of “West of the West” asked me once, of my short story, “Do you need that last line?”

So here is that poem without the last four  lines

A Poet’s Declaration

I am a star

In the Milky Way.

I am the crest

On emerald waves.

I am a dewdrop, crystal clear,

Capturing moonbeams in the morning mist.

I am that dust

On butter fly wings.

I am that song

Of a thousand strings.

I am that teardrop

You have kissed.

I am a poet!

I am! I am!

I am that rage

In the thunderstorm.

I am that image

Of a thousand forms.

I am magic on each page.

I am a poet!

I am! I am!

(this poem appears in two of my books: Mosaic Moon: Caregiving Through Poetry and Teacher, You Look Like a Horse.)

*Children as Authors Program:

I took my students through the entire writing process.

1.Rough drafts

2.Editing and Revising

3.Final editing by Publisher ( teacher)

4.Final copy ( text, cover, dedication page, about the author, illustrations)

5.Book release at Authors’ Autograph party. Special invitation to parents, administrators, press.)

6.These books were added to the school library and put into the system. All were available to be borrowed as any other book in the library.

I also used this program in all subject areas so their books covered all parts of the curriculum. I miss those years.

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Images from Japan                                    

Man-made clouds hover

Over rice fields, paper cranes,

Green tea, once again.


Half a rice ball,wrapped in seaweed,

Is shared; steam from a tea cup

Rises to the cloud.

She lifts her chopsticks

To the hungry, while her stomach

Growls in hunger.


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Double, Double, Toil of Trouble


I saw something a few cars ahead of me this morning  that took me back to my youth. I didn’t think such things existed any more, especially in the city of Sacramento. In Hawaii, yes, where we’re pretty isolated in the rural areas.


No, it wasn’t a bird, it wasn’t a plane. Not even Superman.  It was the Bookmobile!!!


The Bookmobile was my savior in Kapoho where I grew up because  libraries and bookshops we nonexistent.  In high school, our school library was sparsely filled with dictionaries and the Encyclopedia. Remember those? When I was an eight grader, I borrowed a book called “Office Wife.” My Social Studies teacher confiscated the book saying it was too advanced for me. I shouted to her, ” I got this from the Bookmobile. I can borrow any book from that bookmobile. Otherwise, they shouldn’t have these books on the shelves.”


A few days later the PE teacher called me in for counseling. That Social Studies teacher had taken “Office Wife”  to their faculty meeting and it was decided that I had too advanced interest in sex and needed counseling. I was embarrassed and mad.


Thereafter, whenever the bookmobile drove up to our school, a teacher tailed me to censor my selections. I was not allowed to borrow books from the very top shelves. No one had bothered to read the book. It was a Hallmark type of story of a secretary falling in love with her boss. There were no sexual scenes. Just a reference to a kiss. So during high school,  I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover at home and played the censorship game in school.


Because of that incident, I became a better teacher. I defied a school librarian when she told my third graders, they were limited to two shelves of books designated as third  grade level of reading. My 3rd graders read books designated as 6th grade reading levels and beyond. I taught Shakespeare in 3rd and 6th grade. They loved it when I said, “This is usually taught in high school or college.” They dramatized Caesar’s “Et tu Brute?” and memorized the witches’ brew from Macbeth at Halloween:


Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.



The best feedback was from a parent whose 3rd grader nonchalantly asked during dinner time: Would anyone care to hear Shakespeare?


It has always amazed me how we put age levels to books and once we leave high school, that age level disappears. We don’t have books designated for  20 year old or 40 year old reading levels.


So you know my stance of censorship. And I’m NOT a sex maniac.








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The Art of Caregiving Begins in Kindergarten

I must be getting old. My mother never said she was old, it was always, “I must be getting old.” She said this  right into her late 80’s. We eventually turn into our parents and I’ve arrived. I’m not 80 yet, but I’m quoting her. I must be getting old to be reminiscing my early years of teaching.

I was thinking of caregivers and how my Kindergarten classroom would have been a good training center for caregivers. No, stay with me,  I’m not hallucinating.

Each morning, when my Kindergarteners entered my classroom, they greeted me,  (one even told me I looked like a horse*),  put their school bags away, then went to the Activity Chart to select two activities for the day.

During Activity Period,  you would have seen the following:

Doll Corner: Both boys and girls cooking make-believe food, setting the table, doing dishes,  dressing dolls, burping them on their backs,  caring for the sick, taking dolls for a ride around the classroom and if a House Doctor was in the house, surgery right there in the Doll Corner. Doctors and firemen went off  to work, both males and females.

Woodwork Center: Children using hammers and nails, building things with lumber, painting their airplanes and boats. I did the sawing to avoid missing fingers. ( The Doll Corner Doctor was not quite up to reattaching fingers.)

Blocks Corner: Future engineers and architects building skyscrapers, barns and trains and anything imaginable.

Art Corner: Children painting on easels, drawing , or doing finger painting or collage.

Library Corner: Children lying on soft carpet looking at books or  writing their own at their desks.

It was a gender-free environment.

Caregiving  is gender free.

Imagine this: If my Kindergarten classroom became the environment for all of us, we would not be separated into doing male and female chores or be taking on female and male roles. The kitchen, the bathrooms, the living rooms, bedrooms, yard, garden, and every part of our household would be  gender free. Feelings and thoughts would be openly expressed. They would not be categorized as a man or female thing. And when we are all called upon to become caregivers, many of the present obstacles would be non-existent.

“Hey,” a male caregiver might be heard to say, “Cooking is no problem. I’ve been doing this since Kindergarten. Hey, I have no problem dressing my mother or giving her a bath. I’ve been doing this all of my life. I know how a male and female anatomy works.”

“Hey yes,” a female caregiver might be heard to say.”I may not have the physical strength at times, but I’ve installed all those safety bars and  have changed door locks.”

They both weep with grief and joy, fill the house with laughter over the inane, revel over the self-discoveries of what it means to be human,  and feel deeply about the new role given them as caregivers. They would become a community of the best of caregivers, don’t you think?

(*Teacher, You Look Like a Horse is the title of one of my books on how children best learn. The French braid was in vogue that one year so I woke up early to French braid my hair. Feeling very Parisian, I walked into my classroom and sat at my desk. One youngster ran in, stopped abruptly before me and exclaimed, “Why Teacher, you look like a horse!”  I was a  24 year old teacher  then and had the wisdom to burst out laughing.)

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