Hawaii’s Poet Laureate Don Blanding.
Don Blanding ~ American Poet 1894-1957.
My daughter gave me a copy of Donald Blanding’s poetry called “In An Old Hawaiian Garden”, and it piqued my curosity, so I began doing research on the author. Blanding, who was sometimes called the “Poet Laureate of Hawaii,” was born on November 7, 1894 in the territory of Oklahoma, in the small town of Kingfisher. He moved to Chicago, Illinois from 1913 to 1915 for training at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Blanding was an artist and poet who fell in love with and moved to Hawaii, beginning a life-long love affair with the land and its people and beauty. He worked for a year as a cartoonist for The Honolulu Advertiser, before joining the United States Army and shipping back to the states for Officer Training School in Illinois.
After his discharge, he studied art in Paris and London, then spent some years traveling through Central America and the Yucatan. But Hawaii was where his heart lay, and he returned there in 1923. His subsequent work as a commercial artist and copy writer for an advertising agency gave him the freedom to write about the things he loved, and his first publication was self-published, “Leaves From a Grass House.”
Lei Day Celebration and Parade
Blanding Was Founder of Lei Day. Celebrated Annually on May 1st
In 1927, Don Blanding suggested and founded the Hawaiian national holiday, Lei Day, which is still celebrated each year on May Day. He wanted the tradition of lei giving and the emotion it represented to be recognized with its own day beginning with the first celebration on May 1, 1928. It is celebrated each year as a festival when everybody is encouraged to wear leis, and there are lei making demonstrations, exhibits and contests, music, food and fun. There is also a new Lei Day Queen and her court chosen each year. Surely, Blanding would have been touched that the holiday is thriving after all these years.
My First Book By Don Blanding
This book is copyrighted 1947 and has lovely flower illustrations by T.J. Mundorff and “word pictures” by Don Blanding. My daughter found this at a yard sale in Oklahoma, and thought I’d like it.
She was right, I do and it’s a book I treasure.
“When I have my house~ as I sometime may~ I’ll suit my fancy in every way
It’s just a dream house anyway.” — Blanding’s Vagabond’s House
In 1921, Blanding began two years of writing commercially in the Honolulu Star for Aji-No-Moto brand of MSG (which none of us want in our food these days). These poems featured local people and events, and became well-known and popular. This popularity led him to follow the advice of newspaper colleagues to publish “Leaves From a Grass House” in 1923. When his privately published 2,000 copies quickly sold, he followed with a commercially published edition the same year. He followed this with “Paradise Loot” in 1925, “Flowers of the Rainbow” in 1926, and the “The Virgin of Waikiki” also in 1926.
His fifth book, “Vagabond’s House”, in 1928 was published by New York publisher Dodd, Mead & Company, was subsequently reviewed by the New York Times and became a great commercial success. Vagabond’s House is also his longest poem wherein he describes the exotic mementos he has collected or dreamed of collecting, all placed “just so” in the house he built in his mind.
Vernon Kilns was an American ceramic company from 1931 to 1958. They produced tableware, artware, giftware and figurines. One of their 1930s designers was Don Benson Blanding, who designed a line of Hawaii flower themed pieces. The photo shown here is one of his pieces and I’m sure there are others just as beautiful.
Don Blanding shown in 1934 movie
The Virgin of Waikiki
Don Blanding had a quirky sense of humor, and one of the books of poetry he authored, last copyrighted in 1933, is known as “The Virgin of Waikiki: A Torrid Tragedy of the Tropics.” This book was given to me by my dear friend, another writer, Virginia Allain. She read this lens and one day coincidentally found his book “The Virgin,” and immediately thought of this story. Next thing I know, I received a package from her, and it’s this hilarious little book. NOTE: The book doesn’t get graphic, but don’t read this it if you are uncomfortable with a few saucy, double meanings.
It begins, “In a banyan’s shade lived a virgin maid, Who was just this side of forty,” and the genteel but riotous story of her determination to be deflowered. Still, the rhyme makes you laugh, and at the time she sent it to me, I sorely needed laughter. Thank you Virginia, for this gift and for being my friend. You can see her list of pages at Vallain
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