Process Profile: Christopher Santiago Discusses “Tam”

Christopher Santiago
Christopher Santiago

Chris Santiago is a poet, fiction writer, critic, and teacher. His writing has appeared in FIELD, Pleiades, The Asian American Literary Review, Canteen, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and elsewhere. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and has been a finalist for both the Stony Brook Short Fiction Contest and the Kundiman Poetry Prize (for his manuscript Tula). Chris is completing his Ph.D. in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, where he is a Provost’s Ph.D. Fellow and ACE-Nikaido Fellow, and teaches literature & writing in the Thematic Option Program.

This April, we are returning to our Process Profiles series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their writing process for an individual poem or poetic sequence of theirs. As in the past, we’ve asked Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a piece of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Christopher Santiago writes about his poem “Tam,” which appeared in Issue 5.

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I wrote the first draft of “Tam,” I think, out of anger. It’s an older poem, and I was in my early twenties and mad about a lot of things, but one of the things that really got under my skin was pop culture, and portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans in particular. Miss Saigon, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil’s Vietnam War redux of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, was the kind of cultural object that really drove me up the wall. The tale of Kim, a Vietnamese bargirl who commits suicide so that her son, Tam, can grow up in the States with his American ex-GI father, didn’t bother me when I first saw it as a teenager. But over the years, the memory festered—I won’t waste time explaining why—and only after I began to try to write seriously did it occur to me that this anger might be something I could use.

I was just starting out, and writing a lot of persona poems, partly because I felt that trying to get in someone else’s head allowed me to get outside of myself, and partly because I was (and still am) deeply interested in voice. My anger toward Miss Saigon—and texts that were like it—gave me energy, but it also made me inarticulate. As the poem unfolded, then, I felt the impulse to deflect, to approach the subject obliquely—from the point of view of Tam, who I imagined growing up haunted by the memory of his mother’s voice. That way, I reasoned, I could really poke holes in the musical’s phony premise, its false catharsis. I could build further into its world in a way that would, I hoped, reveal its glib and hollow heart.

After I wrote a few drafts, the poem sat on the back burner for years, until I started working a couple of years ago on a manuscript I’m tentatively calling Tula. I was happy to find “Tam” on an old hard drive, and happier still to find that one of my current obsessions had begun to take shape in “Tam” years before: my obsession with the way that unlearned languages haunt us. I never learned to speak Tagalog, or Ilonggo, or Bicolano—my mother tongues, or heritage languages—and I’m fascinated by the bits and pieces that I do know, the bodily traces of certain rhythms and intonations in the ears of 1.5 and 2nd generation folks like me. I’ve been reading these fascinating fMRI studies on the subject: the science, as far as I can tell, supports the intuition that Kim—her singular way of speaking—remains a part of Tam even after he can no longer recall (at least consciously) a single phrase of Vietnamese.

As for the poem, I still liked its bones, but thought perhaps it over-explained itself. I decided to strip it back, to let the silences bleed more, and to break the suite of episodes into shorter and more irregular fragments. I also hoped that reordering them might quiet some of the melodrama. I’d given Tam my anger, and think he deserved to feel it; some of it, I think, still bubbles up under the lid. But instead of belting his anger out under the spotlights, Tam mutters it under his breath. I hope that gives the poem at least a bit more bite and plaintiveness.

Process Profile: Esther Lee Discusses DAUGHTERS OF CELLULOID

Esther Lee
Esther Lee

Esther Lee has written Spit, a poetry collection selected for the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011) and her chapbook, The Blank Missives (Trafficker Press, 2007). Her poems and articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Lantern Review, Ploughshares, Verse Daily, Salt Hill, Good Foot, Swink, Hyphen, Born Magazine, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow, she received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Indiana University where she served as Editor-in-Chief for Indiana Review. She has been awarded the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize and Utah Writer’s Contest Award for Poetry selected by Brenda Shaughnessy, as well as having been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and AWP Intro Journals Project. Currently, she pursues a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Utah and lives with her fiancé, Michael, and their dog and three cats in Salt Lake. Starting this fall, she will begin teaching as an assistant professor at Agnes Scott College.

This April, we are returning to our Process Profiles series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their writing process for an individual poem or poetic sequence of theirs. As in the past, we’ve asked Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a piece of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Esther Lee reflects upon the excerpt of her project Daughters of Celluloid that appeared in Issue 5.

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(if his plate would not record the clouds, he could point his camera down and eliminate the sky)

—John Szarkowski

If there is a hegemonic familial gaze, imposing rigid familial ideologies, then mothers are most cruelly subjected to its scrutiny.

—Marianne Hirsch

HandsExcerpts of this Process Profile are pulled from a craft talk titled, “Double Exposures: Photographic Fictions and Traumatic Memories” given at Virginia Tech. All photographic images are ones I’ve taken or borrowed from family albums.

My hope is to invite you into a constellation of influences—and mostly questions—I’m working with and exploring in this work-in-progress, tentatively titled Daughters of Celluloid. This constellation includes the works of writers and artists who meditate on, thematize, and/or employ photography, as well as those whose works investigate the complexities of trauma and representations, in particular, of trauma not directly experienced first-hand. So a kind of assemblage, if you will, one that is part wax, part string, part etched glass.

In Daughters of Celluloid, the narrator finds that her mother’s enigmatic past is pocked with speech, presented as fragmented anecdotes, suggesting recessed narratives of trauma and dislocation. To borrow a phrase from the French novelist and Holocaust writer, Henri Raczymow, memory is “shot through with holes” and underscored by potential absences of family photographs wherein large swaths of time and space have seemingly vanished, losing any semblance of continuity. As a result, the narrator finds herself attempting to photograph the mother, grappling with how the camera can both fix and unfix them. In doing so, they disrupt their unspoken ways of looking, complicating the myths of familial memory and, ultimately, searching for what Alison Bechdel describes in her graphic novel, Are You My Mother?, as a “mutual cathexis” between mother and daughter, wherein they can recognize each other’s invisible wounds.

Continue reading “Process Profile: Esther Lee Discusses DAUGHTERS OF CELLULOID”

Process Profile: Purvi Shah Discusses “Some didn’t make it. Some did.” and “This is MY NY.”

Purvi Shah at "Together We Are New York" (Photo by Preston Merchant)
Purvi Shah at "Together We Are New York" (Photo by Preston Merchant)

Purvi Shah’s Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), which explores migration as potential and loss, won the Many Voices Project prize and was nominated for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award. Her work fighting violence against women earned her the inaugural SONY South Asian Social Services Award in 2008. In 2011, she served as Artistic Director for Together We Are New York, a community-based poetry project to highlight the voices of Asian Americans during the 10th anniversary of 9/11. She believes in the miracle of poetry and the beauty of change. Check out more of her work at http://purvipoets.net or @PurviPoets on Twitter.

For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a poem (or group of poems) from inception to publication. As in the past, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Purvi Shah discusses her poems, “’Some didn’t make it. Some did.’” and “’This is MY NY.’”, which appeared in Issue 4.

Some say this is woman’s territory: to know what is unspoken in the midst of what is spoken.

It is also territory of the poet, who in lyric enacts what is said, what we fear to say, and yet what we must make known without it ever being said.

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Conversation 6: Split This Rock

We were asked, when dialoguing after sharing excerpts of Together We Are New Yorka community-based project with Kundiman poets honoring the voices of Asian Americans as part of the 10th anniversary of 9/11whether it was difficult to write poems in response to conversations with community members. After all, to capture an individual’s story or fullness of experience is a mighty task. Even many biographers fail. So how does a poet approach someone’s horizon?

Zohra Saed, who had interviewed her charming father for the project, astutely responded how she realized in the process of this writing that her poems had always been in conversationpreviously, she had just been talking to herself. As the audience chuckled, I marveled at the truth of Zohra’s humor-filled revelation and thought about the layers of conversation embedded in my poems, including these I had written for Together We Are New York.

We often think about the buzz poems create but not the buzz that creates poems. Then again, flightor fallis rarely one way.

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Continue reading “Process Profile: Purvi Shah Discusses “Some didn’t make it. Some did.” and “This is MY NY.””

Process Profile: Margaret Rhee Discusses “Materials”

Martha Kenney, Amy Shen, Margaret Rhee, Jennifer Beth and Tania Pérez-Bustos

Margaret Rhee is the author of the chapbooks Yellow (Tinfish Press, 2011) and University Dreams (Forthcoming 2012). She is the managing editor of Mixed Blood, a literary journal centered on race and innovative poetics edited by C.S. Giscombe. In April, she curated the literary reading, “Body Maps: A Digital/Real Asian American Feminist Poetics” for the Asian American Women Artists Association. As a new media artist, she works on feminist participatory digital storytelling supporting issues of HIV/AIDS awareness for women incarcerated in the San Francisco Jail. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in Ethnic Studies and New Media Studies at UC Berkeley. She is a Kundiman fellow. 

For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. As in the past, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Margaret Rhee reflects upon her new media piece “Materials,” which appeared in Issue 4.
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It begins with a drive.  The road up to Santa Cruz from Berkeley is a winding one. Largely known as one of the most dangerous highways in the state, Highway 17 wraps around the Santa Cruz Mountains with sharp pretzel turns and dense traffic on weekday afternoons.  It’s my first trip to Santa Cruz.  And I am driving a big, used silver Volvo station wagon, one bought just a few weeks before. My dear friend and colleague Kate Darling is in the passenger seat helping with Mapquest directions.  We finally arrive safely at our destination, the first ever Science Studies creative writing workshop, organized by Martha Kenney and held at the University of Santa Cruz.

Soon after arriving at the workshop space, we found ourselves having lunch with much admired feminist scholar Donna Harraway.  It was beyond lovely.  Kate and I shared about our drive up.  Donna joked that people in Santa Cruz often say that the road keeps those they don’t want out of Santa Cruz!  In between bites of salad I laughed, not only because this was funny, but because it was probably true.  I laughed out of relief as well, not believing we actually made it up that long winding road.

Our assignment prior to the workshop was to write a creative piece inspired by our scholarship. I was thrilled by the possibility of combining, intersecting, and interweaving theoretical questions I had with poetry/poetic form.  At lunch I wondered what the feedback process would be like for the cross-genre works written for the prompt.

I’m a doctoral candidate in Ethnic Studies and New Media Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and my interests includes the intersections of science, technology, and race.  But I’m also a poet and new media artist with similar concerns.  I like intersections, interventions, and mutations.

Continue reading “Process Profile: Margaret Rhee Discusses “Materials””

Process Profile: Tarfia Faizullah Discusses “At Zahra’s Salon for Ladies”

Tarfia Faizullah (Photo by Amanda Abel)
Tarfia Faizullah (Photo by Amanda Abel)

Tarfia Faizullah’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, New Ohio Review, Passages North, Poetry Daily, Crab Orchard Review, Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow, she received her MFA in poetry from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she served as the associate editor of Blackbird. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, a Bread Loaf Writers Conference Margaret Bridgman Scholarship, a Kenyon Review Writers Workshop Peter Taylor Fellowship, a Ploughshares Cohen Award, a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and other honors. She lives in Washington, DC, where she helps edit the Asian American Literary Review and Trans-Portal.

For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. As in the past, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Tarfia Faizullah reflects upon her poem “At Zahra’s Salon for Ladies,” which appeared in Issue 4.

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  1. It actually did begin at Zahra’s Salon, with my head tilted back.
  2. Auntie Neelam and I never spoke, though she has always been gentle with me and I have never gone to another stylist.
  3. That day at the salon, Ghulam Ali’s song Chupke, Chupke began to play.
  4. It had been many, many summers since I had last heard that song.
  5. My younger self rose up.
  6. I went home and began to try to affix the atmosphere of the salon, the deft, elegant movements of Auntie Neelam’s fingers.
  7. I listened to Chupke, Chupke over and over again.
  8. I called my mother, cradled the phone against my shoulder to take notes while she translated Chupke, Chupke for me.
  9. I began to remember that other, younger summer.
  10. The summer I had started growing out of my swimsuit.
  11. How bewildered I was, how frightened by all that dark hair shadowing across me.
  12.  “I can feel that other day running underneath this one,” Anne Carson wrote, and similarly, I strongly felt the summer of my youth below that present one.
  13.  As adults, we take for granted the agency we have to strip our bodies of their darkness.
  14. The poem has always been in second person. It had to be so that I could clearly see both my younger and adult selves as I was addressing them.
  15. “At Zahra’s Salon” took me two years to write.
  16. I am interested in the possibilities of collage, of braiding together multiple elements.
  17. I love David Shields’s assertion of collage as “a demonstration of the many becoming the one, with the one never fully resolved because of the many that continue to impinge on it.”
  18. It took two years to try to weave together the salon, the song, and those other summers while ensuring each element remained singular and intact.
  19. One day, I asked Auntie Neelam about her life.
  20. She was born and raised in India, and is married and has a child.
  21. I think she was as startled as I was.
  22. She started telling me about her wedding day.
  23. I remembered my own wedding, the way my body was purified, decorated, posed.
  24. She gave me a mishti.
  25. I left the salon, my face smarting.
  26. One of the red brick walls was covered in clematis vine.
  27. The sky was so blue.
  28. I wanted to write a poem that could dwell in nostalgia, that could dwell in those first feelings of hunger without fully leaving the present.
  29. I wanted to write a poem that acknowledged the beauty and terror of solitude.
  30. Don’t we all long for a lifetime of sweetness?

Process Profile: Andre Yang Discusses “Why I Feel the Way I Do About SB 1070”

Andre Yang | Photo by Mary Yang

Andre Yang is a Hmong American poet from Fresno, California. He is a founding member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle (HAWC), where he actively conducts and participates in public writing workshops. He completed the Creative Writing (Poetry) MFA program at California State University, Fresno, where he was a Philip Levine Scholar, recipient of the Academy of American Poets-sponsored Ernesto Trejo Prize, and the Graduate Dean’s Medalist of the College of Arts and Humanities.  Andre is a Kundiman Asian American Poetry Fellow, and has attended the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and recently completed an artist residency at the Ucross Foundation.  He co-edited How Do I Begin – A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday, 2011), and his poetry has appeared in Paj Ntaub Voice, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and the chapbook anthology ‘Here is a Pen’ (Achiote Press).

For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem that we’ve published. In this installment, Andre Yang discusses his poem “Why I Feel the Way I Do About SB 1070,” which appeared in Issue 3 of Lantern Review.

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In a way, I have been writing this poem all my life, and considering all the things I discuss in the poem, it really does span my life.  The poem was written to express my feelings about the inception and implementation Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, though I also wanted it to capture my thoughts on the interconnectedness of humanity.

I might not have written “Why I Feel The Way I Do About SB 1070” had I not met Francisco Xavier Alarcón at his Ce Uno One book launch in Sacramento, California.   I overheard Francisco saying he was attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference later that year in Washington D.C. (2011), and since I too was planning to attend the conference, I used that as a conversation starter and approached him.  He mentioned that while in D.C., he would be organizing two off-site Floricanto readings based on his Facebook page, “Poets Responding to SB 1070,” and that well-established poets like Martín Espada would be taking part in the reading.  Five minutes into the conversation, he asked, to my complete surprise, if I wanted to participate in the readings. I said I’d be honored, and told him I’d contact him when I felt I had a poem worthy of the purpose.

Continue reading “Process Profile: Andre Yang Discusses “Why I Feel the Way I Do About SB 1070””

Process Profile: Vikas K. Menon Discusses “Othertongue”

Vikas K. Menon

Vikas K. Menon is a poet and playwright whose poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as burntdistrict, diode, and The Literary Review, among others.  His poetry manuscript godflesh was a finalist for the 2010 Kinereth Gensler Award and a semifinalist for the Beatrice Hawley award, both from Alice James Books.   His poetry has been featured in Indivisible:  An Anthology of South Asian American Poetry and is forthcoming in The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry by Indians.  He is a board member of Kundiman, the first organization of its kind dedicated to supporting Asian-American poetry and is the Resident Playwright of Ruffled Feathers Theater company. 

For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem that we’ve published. In this installment, Vikas K. Menon discusses his poem “Othertongue,” which appeared in Issue 3 of Lantern Review.

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My writing process is both fitful and fickle:  at the beginning of a writing session, I tend to move quickly among drafts to see which pieces pull me into further play.  This method has allowed me to elude the blocks that used to plague my writing life.  “Other Tongue” started in quick sketches; in this case, with a freewrite about my struggles with my parents’ ancestral tongue, Malayalam.  Malayalam is a Dravidian language that is outside of the Indo-European family of languages, and it is primarily spoken in the South Indian state of Kerala.  While I can comprehend Malayalam when it is spoken colloquially, I am otherwise illiterate in the language.  Since it was the language of intimacy used by my elders during my childhood, I am ashamed by my inability to speak it fluently.  But I can still revel in its aural pleasures and rolling cadences, its stark contrasts with English.  So I began writing into the texture of it, exploring the strangeness of its syllables in my mouth.  At the same time, I was working on a separate poem that explored my mother’s English, which is heavily inflected by Malayalam.  Finally, I realized that the two poems were linked by their exploration of the difficulties of articulation.  Despite that theme, paradoxically, the poem works quite well at readings: there is initial laughter at my mother’s malapropism that quickly turns to silent discomfort.  I like that sudden turn, something the poet and performer Regie Cabico does beautifully.

Process Profile: Aimee Suzara Discusses “My Mother’s Watch”

Aimee Suzara
Aimee Suzara

Aimee Suzara is a Filipino-American writer, cultural worker and educator who has been writing and performing in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1999. Her first play, Pagbabalik (Return) was produced in 2006-7 and featured at several Bay Area festivals, and she is developing her second, A History of the Body, both supported by the Zellerbach Arts Fund. Her poems can be found in several journals and anthologies, including Walang Hiya (No Shame): literature taking risks towards liberatory practice, Kartika Review , Konch Magazine, Lantern Review and her chapbook, the space between. She has been a featured poet and educator at schools, universities and arts venues nationally.  Suzara has a Mills College M.F.A. and teaches English at Bay Area colleges. She has been a Hedgebrook Resident Artist and will be an Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in 2011.

For APIA Heritage Month 2011, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve been asking several Lantern Review contributors whose work gestures back toward history or legacy to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Aimee Suzara discusses her poem “My Mother’s Watch,” which appeared in Issue 2 of Lantern Review.

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Though I began writing it in 2008, three years after my parents’ return to the Philippines, this poem began on my first visit “home” in 1991. In the opening moment at the bustling palengke (market), my mother insisted that she keep on her beloved Rolex, despite the attention I felt it drew. Through the poem, I sought to gain empathy for her attachment to the watch and what it symbolized. At this crossroads where goods are sold and money exchanged, the watch became the entry point to my family’s journey as immigrants.

And so I traced back the genesis of this watch—more accurately, the events leading to the desire for the watch. I had been piecing together my parents’ story and was fascinated with their uprooting from the slow-paced life of their childhood, to the full-color Technicolor dream of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Elvis songs and surround-sound systems.  I was interested in this proverbial upward mobility, how it swept these newlyweds, not more than a few dollars in tow, into a life of shiny hyper-Americana.  We were an unusual Filipino family living up the nuclear-family dream, moving frequently, cut off from anything Pinoy. Racism was thick in the small desert town where I spent much of my childhood, and we were taught not to trust anyone.  In the age of credit cards and microwaves, we were right up in it, and at times it seemed we lived on an island stocked, as if our ammunition against the world, with Betamax videos, Jiffy pop and Lean Cuisines.

In peer feedback, it was suggested that this was a poem about privilege and its contradictions. What had been lost, and what could possibly be gained in its place, when a sense of genuine status or acceptance would always be denied? In the attempt to return to our beginnings, what do we cling to? Now came the questions befit for memoir. Was I treating our story with enough compassion? I felt I had to ask permission; my mother read it, and she did not mind my candidness. In the writing of the poem, the roots of my parents’ desire for the “flashy” began to unravel.  Images that pushed through marked my parents’ coming of age in America, and then mine.

The first draft of the poem was in three parts, but it was suggested that I separate it into more, that it was too rushed and condensed.  This made sense for what I wished to convey about time. The watch, like a heartbeat, like our lives, ticked on its own time. In its final version, in five parts, the poem spans at least twenty-five years. In the remembering, and in the writing, time stands still.

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Excerpt from “My Mother’s Watch”

IV.

They do not yet miss their left-behind lives:
Lolo’s rule in the house with the green metal gate where
nine kids left for the West,one by one by one
movie house in the little town by the sea
popcorn sold out of recycled coffee cans

Sine del Sol burns to the ground:
fatherless tensibling grudges

tsinellas shuf shuf shuffle across aged wooden floors
timemeasured in sunrise and sunset

The ones left behind keep time in slow
tick tock the clocks not turning digital

send us some Tang, cigarettes, M&Ms
medicine, a change of the curtains

From “My Mother’s Watch” | Aimee Suzara | Issue 2, Lantern Review | pp 17-24.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Process Profile: Barbara Jane Reyes Discusses “13. Black Jesus” [from “The City That Nearly Broke Me”]

Barbara Jane Reyes

Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010), recently noted as a finalist for the California Book Award. She was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books, 2003) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. She is co-editor with her husband, poet Oscar Bermeo, of Doveglion Press, and an adjunct professor in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco.

For APIA Heritage Month 2011, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve been asking several Lantern Review contributors whose work gestures back toward history or legacy to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Barbara Jane Reyes discusses her piece “13. Black Jesus” [an excerpt of her longer project “The City That Nearly Broke Me”], which appeared in Issue 1 of Lantern Review.

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I love my Black Jesus persona.

He emerged in my “For the City That Nearly Broke Me” series, which I started writing after this prompt: “Write about the city that saved you. Write about one that nearly broke you.” Rachelle Cruz posted this prompt on her blog while she was a PEN Emerging Voices fellow.

I’ve never excavated Manila, my birthplace; it eludes my understanding, it’s always spitting me out. That’s how I see it, and so I wanted to find a thwart-proof way in.

I’ve spoken on Black Jesus and the galleon trade at Jacket2, in an interview conducted by Craig Santos Perez.

There is a general disdain Filipinos have for dark skin; we claim those precious few drops of Spanish blood. In this desire for whiteness, it’s ignored that much Spanish blood entered the Filipino via colonial rape.

The term “Buffalo Solider” has been around since the 1860’s, and refers to US cavalry and infantry regiments of African American soldiers. There are legends about the term’s origin, but I can’t get over the historical significance of African American men as animals. Moreover, these Buffalo Soldiers fought against Native Americans in the “Indian Wars,” and against the Filipinos in the Philippine American War. People of color pitted against one another in America’s formative wars of conquest.  Some defected from the US military, became Katipunan/Philippine freedom fighters, as “posters and leaflets addressed to ‘The Colored American Soldier’ described the lynching and discrimination against Blacks in the US and discouraged them from being the instrument of their white masters’ ambitions to oppress another ‘people of color’.”

And of course, “Buffalo Soldier” is a Bob Marley song, whose form the poem borrows. It’s a narrative of transnational displacement, an anthem of survival and resistance:

And he was taken from Africa,
brought to America.
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.
Say it was a buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta.
Buffalo soldier, in the heart of America.

It’s all of these displacements and reorientations that have allowed me to start the excavation.

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Excerpt from “13. Black Jesus”

After Bob Marley

The indio who carved me   knew the drum and the heart are one.
He knew the song for hunting,   the waiting song, the calling song.
He knew the song for planting,   the song of earth’s open hand.
He knew the song for walking,   the river water song.

Buffalo Soldier,   Carabao Brother,
Stolen from the Americas,   brought to the islands,
Sharpening machete,   crouching in the jungle,
Born into slavery,   son of revolution.

From “13. Black Jesus” | Barbara Jane Reyes | Issue 1, Lantern Review | p 65.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Process Profile: Marc Vincenz discusses “Taishan Mountain”

Marc Vincenz

Marc Vincenz was born in Hong Kong to Swiss-British parents during the height of the Cultural Revolution. Later, he lived and worked in Shanghai for many years running an industrial design company. More recently, he moved to Iceland where he now works as a freelance journalist, poet, translator and literary critic. He is Poetry and Non-Fiction Editor for the international webzine Mad Hatters’ Review, Managing Editor of MadHat Press, and a member of the editorial board of the Boston-based Open Letters Monthly.

Marc’s recent poems have appeared in, or are forthcoming in Spillway, Poetry Salzburg Review, Poets/Artists, Nth Position, Möbius The Poetry Magazine, MiPOesias, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, FRiGG, the nervous breakdown, elimae and Inertia. A chapbook, Upholding Half the Sky, was published as part of the MiPOesias Chapbook Series by GOSS183: Casa Menendez (2010). A new chapbook, The Propaganda Factory, is forthcoming from Argotist ebooks later this year.

His poems are featured weekly on October Babies.

In this year’s May Process Profile series, we’ve been asking several Lantern Review contributors whose work gestures back toward history or legacy to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment,  Marc Vincenz discusses his poem “Taishan Mountain,” which appeared in Issue 2.

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It happens sometimes, particularly if I am sitting up late at night attacking a blank sheaf of paper, I’ll suddenly hit upon a line, probably something totally unrelated to the piece I’m attempting, but a line that seems to ring true of its own volition. In “Taishan Mountain,” the particular line that arrived was: “It’s here, hovering on China’s precipice, / the Chairman proclaims the East is Red, / deems himself ruler of all he beholds.” When I’ve captured what I think may be at the heart of a poem, or narrative, I leave it for a day or two. I let it sit there, all alone on the page, occasionally going back to it, staring at it, meditating upon it. Quite often what I consider my better lines “arrive” when I’m dozing—not quite in sleep—but falling towards it; to quote my own poem, “hovering on the precipice.”

In this fashion, while considering the event on Taishan Mountain, this shadow appeared. At first I thought it might be a woman—perhaps Jiang Qing (Mao’s last wife and leader of the so-called Gang of Four)—standing beside the little-big man as he conquered the world atop China’s fabled Taishan Mountain. I soon realized that this persona, and consequently the narrator, was actually an unknown man. I’m not sure how; perhaps it had something to do with his posture. And this man was not even Chinese. (Actually, during the course of the Communist accession to power, numerous foreigners advised Mao). I wondered, of course: what if Mao’s most trusted advisor had been an unknown da bizi, and what if this person had been his secret lover? Now, it’s a fact that Mao liked the ladies, and had innumerable affairs during the course of his reign; but much of his cult of personality is still steeped in mystery—as it is, of course, with many fated or fateful leaders. There is this incessant need to expose something as yet undiscovered, that one might better grasp his actions. On Taishan Mountain, a foreign man with a moustache changes our perception of everything we’ve held true until now.

Finally, “Taishan Mountain” is a poem within a collection based on my own real and imagined experiences in China: an attempt at a deeper conversation with a country where I spent much of my life. At some stage I realized that you can only start to “understand” the Middle Kingdom by breaking down Western notions of its foreignness. In reality, love in China is as any love affair might be: passionate probably, heartbreaking maybe, but surely as potentially hard—or fertile—as any red earth anywhere in the known universe. And, of course, it too has the potential to change our perceptions of the world.

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Excerpt from “Taishan Mountain”

On Revolution: You must not move with excessive haste, nor use excessive
ruthlessness against the people.
– the I-Ching, The Book of Changes

On Taishan Mountain behind the fog
we wait for first glimpses of dawn.

It’s here, hovering on China’s precipice,
the Chairman proclaims the East is Red,

deems himself ruler of all he beholds.
I’m standing right beside him.

We’ve just fought a war, he’s so thin,
and he has this steely glint

as if he’s stumbled across some great illumination.
It’s a moment of connection with the universe,

a revelation beyond normal human comprehension,
something to make history, like Einstein

unravelling the universal laws
of energy and mass and motion.

From “Taishan Mountain” | Marc Vincenz | Issue 2, Lantern Review | pp 45-46.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.