Special Issue: Commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of Sept. 11, guest edited by Rajini Srikanth and Parag Khandhar | The Asian American Literary Review, Volume 2, Issue 1.5: Fall 2011 | $12.00


In the selective memory of America’s pop tart psyche, 9/11 is a day—a montage of proud flag-waving, “God Bless!” and baseball. In this sense, 9/11 is a memorial that never meant anything to me. But a decade ago, before I had formulated my political consciousness as a queer person of color, I knew what it meant to live in fear, to be a “Transsexual Militant,” as Amir Rabiyah writes, in the anxiety-inducing nightmare of airport security, to move through public spaces as suspect. The exclusive “land of the free” 9/11 did not remember people like me.

AALR’s Special Issue attempts to rupture the dominant narrative of 9/11 by examining, as Rajini Srikanth states in the introduction, the not-so-innocent act of remembering. The voices and visual art in this book and the companion DVD—from youth, students, teachers, social workers, lawyers, DJs, community organizers, neuroscientists and poets in the South Asian, Asian, Arab and Muslim American communities—fight America’s obsession with 9/11 as a fixed tragedy, as a single event after which everything changed.

Their remembrances counteract the ways we are being told to frame 9/11 by contextualizing it as a continuation of historical patterns systemic of broader structures of US imperialism. In these crucial and courageous testimonies, essays, interviews and discussions, 9/11 is framed as a non-event, as a decade of war, [1] as an “American Century,” [2] as “homeland security” since 1492. Sunaina Maira writes, “9/11 was not a moment of exception but an ongoing state of emergency.”


Review: AALR, VOL. 2, ISSUE 1

The Asian American Literary Review | Volume 2, Issue 1 | Winter/Spring 2011

In Gerald Maa’s interview with Arthur Sze in this issue of the Asian American Literary Review, Maa quotes from Auden: “Many things can be said against anthologies, but for an adolescent to whom even the names of most of the poets are unknown, a good [anthology] can be an invaluable instructor.” The same can be said of this 300-page journal, with its wide range of material including: a forum discussion with some of the editors about the “check all that apply” race option on the 2010 Census, an enclosed DVD of Kip Fulbeck’s video short Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids, and a complete bibliography of Carlos Bulosan provided by the Library of Congress’s Asian American Pacific Islander Collection. This is all in addition to fiction, memoir, poetry, interviews with Arthur Sze (on editing Chinese Writers on Writing) and Chang-rae Lee (on his most recent novel, The Surrendered), book reviews, documentary photography, and a short graphic piece.

This issue’s theme is “Counting Citizens” and begins with a discussion about the question of multiracial self-representation on the Census. Jeffrey Yang takes a stance against the very structures of any representation and rejects claims for a ‘post-racial’ present: “not representation but transmutation, alchemy. . . . Representation is the impossible ideal of our democracy, where influence rules.” Srikanth Reddy uses the development of Walt Whitman’s poetry as a model, charting his expansive ownership of multitudes to his subjective position as an individual: “This progression—from the poet as a vatic representative of everybody to the poet as a specimen capable only of registering her own experience—might in some ways be a natural progression, from the exuberance of youth to the epistemological modesty of old age.” He suggests an alternative perspective: that of the Other. Yang riffs on this and together they broach the aesthetic of language arts and “the problem of form—the ‘logic and order’ of an artwork” which seems to find friction between the canon and the margin. A different take on Bloom’s “anxiety of influence,” perhaps, in which the artist is in constant tension between the codified mastery of forebears and the yet unnamed mystery of the present/future individual. Linguistic and cultural transplantation complicate loyalties, heritage, assumptions about audience, and formal considerations. Reddy writes:

To write a haiku or a ghazal in English does not bring us any closer to shifting the grounds of literary representation. In Yang’s memorable formulation, such a literary gesture would fail to “reposition the frame structure.” Rather, our formal labor [as Asian American writers] has to occur beyond the frame, in the abstract conceptual space where form is given particular shapes suited to the particular historical moment.

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Review: KARTIKA REVIEW, Issue 8

Kartika Review | Issue 8 | Winter 2010

In this emotive issue of Kartika, the primacy of the first person is immediately apparent, and the “I” spotlights the issue’s family theme. Except for one second-person narrated story (which perhaps entreats the reader’s I), all the pieces here are borne from their speakers’ personal narratives. Fiction editor Christina Lee Zilka says her goodbye to the journal by telling a memory of goodbye. Matthew Salesses in “Slowed Time, Normal Time” develops a first-person fiction so deft and sincere it reads like memoir. David Mura’s memoir piece, “My Daughter At 18: Leaving Home,” uses first-person texts as a set of resonances: Mura narrates, and quotes from his daughter’s personal statement for college, in which she quotes not just her past self from a journal but also Mura’s description of her from thirteen years ago—all the I’s of which give an illusory choral effect. Like when you strike a guitar’s middle E and the other E strings hum sympathetically. The issue ends on an email interview with Sumeir Hammad (Woan was right in her editorial to guess, “Like me, you will probably turn to read her interview first”), and Hammad’s insights are given us by a characteristically uncapitalized i.

The two poems of this issue are also told from the first-person, and both pieces are occasions of identity. Rajiv Mohabir’s “holi lovesport stains (krishna-lila)” takes its stylistic theme from the Holi festival tradition of throwing colored powder at one another. From the first, syntactically blurred stanza, disparate bodies are conjoined and selves are multiplied:

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Cerise Press | Vol. 2 Issue 5 | Fall/Winter 2010-11

Nietzsche once wrote: “That for which we find words is something already dead in our hearts. There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.” This dilemma poses a particular challenge to new poetry: can one ever speak truly—much less write?, much less sing?—when language is a prejudice of precedent, when there is nihil sub sole novum and all sayable things seem already said? This question is also poetry’s great virtue, for no other medium is so self-aware and self-justifying. Successful poems are their own apologia, and, by exhausting the fecundity of words, strike at the experience of mystery that lies behind words. I want to keep this in mind while examining some of the poems in Cerise Press‘s fall/winter issue. Every poem published in this issue is written with a mature handle on craft, which means each is already pushing the limits of the medium and approaching quiddity. The poems are of high quality, and for me to select one over another will be merely a matter of taste. For this reason, rather than praise what is already self-evidently praiseworthy, I want to approach this review with rhetoric in mind, with the goal of evincing how my favorite poems from this issue work and what they have to say about their own process.

Retelling the Expected

Patty Seyburn’s “A Year on Mars” is a kind of model of the conflict I’m describing. Seyburn takes up a tired theme—disillusioned love—and makes it linguistically new. Thematically, the human world is narrated with a vernacular of astrology: “I orbited you,” “this igneous adventure,” “everyone . . . bumping into the sun,” “lass stranded on that mythic isthmus,” “Mission Control // is still giving orders,” and so on. This naturalization of metaphor is a conceit of modern poetry, a fantastical irony: we know that people do not orbit one another, but the poem’s liveliness convinces us that indeed they do. The poem’s speaker narrates her courtship and breaking-up, which we can generally deduce, and makes it vivid precisely by depicting what it is not. Each time we ‘get it’ and connect metaphor to perspective, we undergo a constructive experience that brings the poem to life. The language of the poem (at its most distancing when “stranding a preposition, / widowing a noun”) is regulated and balanced by the speaker’s playfulness. The opening fact about Mars stretches into a metaphor—“as I orbited you / before I began to degenerate”—which would be hard to take if not for the next line, which is cute and colloquial and grounds us in the speaker’s personality: “You must be awfully affable . . .” Thus the language keeps us straddling what we may call the common and the poetical. Alone, either would be prolix; juxtaposed, we synchronically experience both a relationship and a cosmos. Metaphor functions on a physical level, as studies have long shown; when we think of ‘hot’ as in ‘sunny,’ we are activating the same part of the brain that thinks of ‘hot’ as in ‘spicy.’ So, when the red color-theme emerges in this poem, our perception is adjusted to include all that it encompasses, not merely that which it refers to.

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Cha: An Asian Literary Journal | Issue 12 | September 2010

Let’s dive straight in, examining three of the issue’s first poems and their wrestle with words and meanings.

Phill Provance’s interlace poem “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches,” is perhaps the most abstruse, though its diction remains commonplace. The poem’s charm lies not in its form but in its unself-conscious vernacular. Its colloquial voice, inconsistent in a way typical to modern speech, uses contractions here but not there, and lumbers along monosyllabic platforms (many its, thats, and ises). The loftiest word is “ellipticizing,” but this neologism, rather than conjugating the Latinate directly (“ellipsing”), invokes the urban by conjugating gym ellipticals as root. All this results in the naturalization of the poem’s anfractuous form, such that it flows with incidental ease. This is hard to achieve. Provance himself comments that the poem is designed to be accessible despite its layered meanings, which makes it an appropriate gateway poem to the journal. Yet: why is a poem about St. Petersburg, or his second poem remembering lost love, placed as the opening of an “Asian Literary Journal”? The third stanza of “St. Petersburg” describes a vaguely Zen mode of seeing, but the other poem has nothing culturally comparable. We’ll return to this.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s “A Talk With Mao Tze-tung,” though also colloquial, achieves a much steadier voice. This poem addresses the quondam Chairman’s mortal absence, because “you are nowhere / until a Swedish journalist recites your poetry / and wonders . . .” Living, and dead, and revived, Mao’s core vitality resides in his words and ideas, which become corporeal by revolutions. Thoughts march, words poison, books are buried. And along the way, vituperation must question itself: “why am I talking to you, dead man?” It seems language persists even when we don’t desire it, and since “history has no last word,” this poem ends in questions, and the talk with Mao must pause until an answer comes alive again.

Kim-An Lieberman’s two poems are among my favorites for their adroitness. “After Ten Years,” a loose-octameter poem, turns list into narrative. The “Because” reiteration chants and expiates, swelling to crescendo; the final line hits the kind of poetic denouement that evokes quiet “hm”s from audiences at readings. In “Harvest,” we begin in miniatures (“single beads, stray buttons, broken twigs”) and end in nature’s enormity. The sound of children’s jubilance masks the tone and the suffocating fish onshore, until the ending when the ominous “sudden true hand” comes forth unveiled. Lieberman distinguishes herself in poetic brevity with truncated phrases like “This is not to sing / a strange-eyed child, some oracular pure . . .” and doesn’t sacrifice clarity for linguistic decoration, or vice versa.

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