Curated Prompt: Aimee Nezhukumatathil – “The World is Full of Paper: Writing Epistolary Poems (Epistles)”

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Aimee Nezhukumatathil

In celebration of APIA Heritage Month, we’re continuing our annual tradition of asking respected teachers and writers of Asian American poetry to share favorite writing exercises with us on successive Fridays during May. This week’s installment was contributed by Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

Stationery
by Agha Shahid Ali

The moon did not become the sun.
It just fell on the desert
in great sheets, reams
of silver handmade by you.
The night is your cottage industry now,
the day is your brisk emporium.
The world is full of paper.
Write to me.

The Context

The hand-lettered envelope. The canceled stamp. The tooth of the paper that nibbles the ink. The epistle is a type of poem that underscores the best intimacies that can arise from a letter: the measured and focused address to a specific recipient. In a world that values the addictive glow of a screen, the speedy text message, the quick hello and check-in—much can be gained and admired in a poem that follows the ancient and simple form of a letter.

The word epistle comes from the Latin word (espistula) for letter. In the Middle Ages, the art of letter writing was often taught as a necessity for building community and encouraging discourse. In fact, the writing of epistles was actually amplified as old road structures began to decay and crumble. Travel became increasingly difficult—people soon relied on letter writing to conduct and negotiate business in place of making a claim in person. Another variation of the epistle is one that Ovid himself employed—epistles as a way to explore persona. In his Heroides, he imagines letters written by neglected or abandoned heroines of Greek mythology: writing as Penelope to Odysseus, writing as Helen to Paris, as Medea to Jason.

When is the last time you opened your mailbox and found a bona fide hand-written letter? So much of mail these days is ‘sad mail’—coupon flyers, missing children notices, bills, sweepstakes packets. But oh the joy and delight when you find your name written by a friend or loved one’s hand! Or the surprise and mysterious architecture of a handwriting you’ve never seen before! When was the last time you wrote a letter?

The Exercise

Feel free to mimic the relationship uncovered within most epistles—the letter poem is addressed to someone ‘you’ can’t talk to for whatever reason—the person is far away or deceased or famous, or even someone you know well, but you can’t say what needs to be said in real life. It should be clear to the reader who is being addressed within the title or the first few lines. There are no meter or rhyme rules for this form. This type of poem is more of a vehicle to explore persona and voice.

Still stuck? Write an epistle to any of the following: 1) an animal or plant, 2) yourself, ten years ago, 3) yourself, twenty years ago 4) your beloved, twenty years ago, 5) a future version of you, even if the future you imagine is simply ‘tomorrow’ 6) a company or corporation 7) one of the seven deadly sins or virtues (ie. Dear Lust,… or Dear Patience,…) 8) your zodiac or birthstone 9) your favorite “guilty pleasure” food or 10) the city you call ‘home’ in all its complicated and wondrous glory.

The Why

I’ve found that writing a poem TO someone (or some-thing!) makes the edges of imagery focus crisper into view. And in that focused state, the epistle begins to tighten up the rest of the poem’s language so that a distinct persona emerges and establishes a clear and immediate tone and mood in ways that other poems might not. And yet, writing a letter to a stranger takes the innate intimacy of an epistle a step further: it requires the invention of an imagined other (even if the person exists, he/she is still being imagined), and it fashions a sort of detailed handiwork about why we might find ourselves wishing to talk to them. And isn’t that such a good and necessary occupation, a welcome slowing down and stepping away from a handheld device or screen? I like to think of writing epistles as a writing towards—and attempting to love, or at least recognize—the strangers that live inside each of us.

For More Inspiration:

“Frame, an Epistle,” by Claudia Emerson

“note, passed to superman,” by Lucille Clifton

“Letter to Simic from Boulder,” by Richard Hugo

“As Children Together,” by Carolyn Forché

* * *

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is professor of English at State University of New York–Fredonia, where she teaches creative writing and environmental literature. She is the author of three poetry collections: Lucky Fish (2011), winner of the gold medal in poetry from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize for Independent Books; At the Drive-In Volcano (2007), winner of the Balcones Prize; and Miracle Fruit (2003), winner of the Tupelo Press Prize, ForeWord magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the Global Filipino Award. Poems and essays are widely published in venues such as Tin House, Ploughshares, Orion, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, and noted in Best American Essays. Other honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Western New York in the middle of berry country with her husband and young sons.

Curated Prompt: Oliver de la Paz – “The Fourteen-Hour Sonnet”

Oliver de la Paz
Oliver de la Paz

In celebration of APIA Heritage Month, we’re continuing our annual tradition of asking respected teachers and writers of Asian American poetry to share favorite writing exercises with us on successive Fridays during May. This week’s installment was contributed by Oliver de la Paz.

When you’re a parent of three children under the age of 6, you have to be very deliberate in finding time for yourself to commit to the page. My family lives in the country, and it’s a 40-minute commute from my house to the doorstep of my workplace. In addition, all my children are in daycare. You’d think that having the kids in daycare would afford me some time, but it doesn’t. When they’re in daycare, I’m either teaching, thinking about teaching, preparing to teach, or administrating on some committee that has to do with teaching. Needless to say, my writing time comes in pockets. Slivers. Little flares. My relationship with the page is no longer routinized. I used to have ample time to dedicate to writing, but that was before children. Now my writing time is broken down into excursions. Mini-trips. Little rendezvous. I understand that this is my life and rather than succumb to long silences, I challenge myself everyday, to think about a poem. In order to cope with my hectic schedule, I developed a process that fosters obsession.

An obsession is not a terrible thing to have when you’re a writer. It can be a motivator—generative beacon. I try to dedicate increments of five to ten minutes throughout the day to the composition of a line. I also attempt to write a line every hour for fourteen hours, so by the end of the day I have a sonnet-length collection of lines. My poem “Requiem for the Orchard” was composed under these particular conditions. During the hectic weeks of Christmas vacation (who’d have thought Christmas vacation would be hectic?) I had a sense that I needed to craft a “spinal” poem for a collection of poems I had nearly completed.

During the Kundiman Retreat in 2007, I assigned the Kundiman Fellow cohort the following assignment. I give it to you now:

1) Write a single line every hour. Write no more than a line. Even if you feel you wish to write a second line, restrain yourself from doing so.

2) Set an alarm to go off every hour.

3) At the top of every hour, write a new line, adding to the collection of lines you have written throughout the day.

4) Do this for fourteen hours.

Here’s what happens, at least to me, when you set up these particular circumstances—you wind up thinking about the poem all day. Sure, you’ve spaced out the time you get to the page, but in the interstices of an hour, a poem begins to take shape from its first line to its next line to the line that follows. Of course, you’re going to want to be sure that you are in a safe locale for this. One Kundiman fellow was driving when the fellow’s writing alarm went off and she nearly sideswiped a car. Don’t do that.

* * *

Oliver de la Paz is the author of four books of poetry: Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, Requiem for the Orchard, and Post Subject: A Fable, forthcoming from the University of Akron Press in 2014. He is the co-editor of A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poems and the co-chair of Kundiman’s advisory board. He teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Western Washington University.

Editors’ Corner: What is the Landscape of APIA Literature?

Our crowd-sourced map at AWP 2013.
Our crowd-sourced map at AWP 2013.

“What is the Landscape of APIA Literature?” reads the poster board map of the United States that I’ve stuck up on my bedroom wall. Red, green, and blue dots cluster over the black sharpie outlines of its borders, clotting layer upon layer in some locations (e.g. NYC, LA, SF, New England), and scattering more sparsely across others (there’s two lonely blue dots huddled together in the southeastern-most corner of South Dakota; while several states—such as Alaska, Idaho, Oklahoma, and New Mexico—remain blank). A key in the right hand corner provides some interpretation: green dots stand for people who identify as writers and readers (and/or publishers) of Asian/Pacific Islander American (APIA) literature, red for those who identify as readers (but not writers) of APIA lit, and blue for those who identify as neither a reader nor a writer of APIA lit, but are curious to learn more.

The information on this map was “crowd-sourced” a few months ago at our the AWP bookfair table, where we and three other APIA lit mags (Kartika Review, TAYO Magazine, and Hyphen) invited passers-by to add dots representing themselves to the map according to the place of origin with which they most identified and their relationship to APIA literature. One of the things that struck us immediately was how very open people were to our invitation to “map” themselves. The act of adding oneself to a map carries its own particular appeal. To place yourself on a map is to make a statement about one’s identity; to declare one’s origins; to make one’s mark on a place; to speak for and represent oneself amidst a larger community. In the context of a conference as bewilderingly large and far-flung as AWP, especially, that seemed particularly important.

Continue reading “Editors’ Corner: What is the Landscape of APIA Literature?”

LR News: National Poetry Month 2013 Giveaway Results

AprilGiveawayBanner

Thank you so much to all of you who entered our 2013 National Poetry Month giveaway!  This weekend, we put the total number of entries (comments) received through a random number generator, and let it choose the number of the winning comment for us:

NPM2013GiveawayResult

And the winner is  . . .

Noel Mariano (comment #13), who writes that he is currently in the midst of reading Barbara Jane Reyes’s Diwata and re-reading Bino Realuyo’s The Gods We Worship Live Next Door.

Here’s a screenshot of his comment:

NPM2013GiveawayWinningComment

Noel will receive a 1-year subscription to the Asian American Literary Review (courtesy of AALR), a copy of Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut’s Magnetic Refrain (courtesy of Kaya Press), and a copy of Henry W. Leung’s Paradise Hunger (courtesy of the author). Congratulations, Noel!  We hope you’ll enjoy your prize!

Also as promised, each of the first ten commentors to have entered the contest will receive a bundle of five of our poetry starter packs. These lucky ten people are, in the order in which their comments were received:

  1. Rumit Pancholi, who’s reading Li-Young Lee and Garrett Hongo.
  2. Cathy Linh Che, who adores Srikanth Reddy’s Facts for Visitors.
  3. R., who has Myung Mi Kim and Barbara Jane Reyes on the top of their list.
  4. Roberto Ascalon, who’s reading Jon Pineda and looking forward to Jason Bayani’s Amulet.
  5. Michelle Penaloza, who recommends both Eugene Gloria and Luisa Igloria.
  6. Luisa Igloria, who wrote of her love for Paisley Rekdal’s work.
  7. Michelle Lin, who’s enjoying Kimiko Hahn’s The Narrow Road to the Interioat the moment.
  8. Rachelle, who’s reading Brynn Saito and Jason Bayani, and is waiting for Manila Noir (ed. Jessica Hagedorn)
  9. Jane Wong, who recently finished (and loved) Lynn Xu’s Debts and Lessons and also recommends the work of Cathy Park Hong (having recently read Engine Empire) and Myung Mi Kim.
  10. Kristen Eliason, who says she visits and revisits For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Takashi Hiraide, Mad Science in Imperial City by Shanxing Wang, and Incubation: A Space for Monsters by Bhanu Kapil.

We were thrilled to see everyone’s responses. There was a wide range of names mentioned in the thirty-four comments that were left on the original post; Ching-In Chen, Kimiko Hahn, and Li-Young Lee topped the list at 4, 3, and 3 mentions each, while a number of other poets (Jason Bayani, Tarfia Faizullah, Bhanu Kapil, Myung Mi Kim, Karen Llagas, Barbara Jane Reyes, Ocean Vuong, Lynn Xu, and Andre Yang) were mentioned twice. Other writers who showed up on people’s lists included: Arthur Sze, Karen An-Hwei Lee, Dilruba Ahmed, Angie Chuang, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Kenji Liu, David Maduli, Pos L. Moua, Soul Choj Vang, Ka Vang, Sesshu Foster, Angela Torres, Matthew Olzmann, Koon Woon, Allen Qing Yuan, Beau Sia, Amy Uyematsu, Russell Leong, Mitsuye Yamada, Joel Tan, Tsering Wangmo, Lee Herrick, Hiroshi Kashiwagi, David S. Cho, Bao Phi, Ed Bok Lee, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Sasha Pimental Chacon, Burlee Vang, Ishle Yi Park, Sally Wen Mao, Lo Kwa Mei-En, and Hoa Nguyen. (To read about these recommendations  in more detail, click here to see the original post). Many commentors also took the time to leave detailed remarks about the work of the poets they’d mentioned. Their recommendations have definitely nudged us to add several names and  titles to our reading lists, and we hope they’ve inspired you, too!

Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you so much again to everyone who entered, as well as to our generous sponsors, AALR, Kaya, and Henry Leung. A very happy tail end of National Poetry Month to you all!  We’ll see you on the flip side, in May, when we’ll continue our celebration of Asian American poetry with more special content for APIA Heritage Month.

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.

*  *  *

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.

Review: Koon Woon’s WATER CHASING WATER

Water Chasing Water by Koon Woon | Kaya Press 2013 | $14.95

WATER CHASING WATER
WATER CHASING WATER

In Koon Woon’s Water Chasing Water, a river appears in one poem and flows into the next, appearing there as rain, turning up in one place as an ocean and in yet another as a damp and soggy sadness. I was immediately reminded of lê thi diem thúy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For, and there on thúy’s first page: “Ba and I were connected to the four uncles, not by blood but by water” (3).

Woon’s text gestures toward the meanings of water—as life-giving force, as connective tissue, as that which carries us. lê thi diem thúy explains that “In Vietnamese, the word for water and the word for a nation, a country, and a homeland are one and the same: nu’ó’c.” In Thai, the word for river (แม่น้ำ) is made up of the word for mother (แม่) and the word for water (น้ำ). For the diasporic fish/ghost/dish-washer in Woon’s poems, water connects places to other places, traveling from person to person and washing up memories and other debris.

As if glazed in the afternoon heat,
the blackberry brambles are still and
quiet, the steel rail expanding,
and once the roar of a rumbling freight
passes and dies, the slough,
quiet again with its currents,
becomes water moving on
in my unregulated childhood.

[. . .]

In the waters between us are
the gurgling sounds of childhood empires
and paper boats, and in the parcels of land
that sustain us, the memories of stickers
and hand-staining berries;
in nights of sleep,
a child’s reworking of paradise. (“As If,” 5)

Continue reading “Review: Koon Woon’s WATER CHASING WATER”

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.

*  *  *

(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”

A Conversation with Kazim Ali

Kazim Ali
Kazim Ali

Kazim Ali is a poet, essayist, fiction writer and translator.

His books include several volumes of poetry, including Sky Ward (Wesleyan University Press, 2013), The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award, The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions, 2008), and the cross-genre text Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). He has also published a translation of Water’s Footfall by Sohrab Sepehri (Omnidawn Press, 2011). His novels include Quinn’s Passage (blazeVox books), named one of “The Best Books of 2005” by Chronogram magazine and The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009), and his books of essays include Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence (University of Michigan Press, 2010), and Fasting for Ramadan (Tupelo Press, 2011).

In addition to co-editing Jean Valentine: This-World Company (University of Michigan Press, 2012), he is a contributing editor for AWP Writers Chronicle and associate editor of the literary magazine FIELD and founding editor of the small press Nightboat Books.

He is an associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College.

* * *

LR: As a writer, you have the unusual ability to move seamlessly between genres—poetry, fiction, and essays. Can you describe what it’s like to make those transitions? Does your creative process change between genres and if so, how?

KA: I always liked a musical, lyrical, rhythmic kind of prose. Anais Nin’s book The House of Incest was one of my favorite books growing up. I found myself attracted to brief prose forms, ones that could be taken in at a single setting, that acted nearly as music. I like transporting the shape of a lyric poem into prose, whether an essay or fiction.

The form of the “prose poem” per se has never been very interesting to me. First of all because I love the sentence more than the paragraph. And secondly because what prose—the novel or the essay—really offered was time. So I am not interested in brief prose forms, flash fiction or whatever.

There are times when the question of genre doesn’t matter. My book Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities, for example—does it matter if it is prose-poetry or lyric memoir or whatever? I’ve often thought it should be taught in Urban Studies classes. It is about “cities” after all!

Does the category matter? Only if you are trying to sell the book, not for the reader or for the writer. It was written as a “book;” that’s pretty much what I have to say about it. Of course it’s prefigured by texts like “Event,” “Train Ride,” “The Journey,” and “Travel,” all published as poems in my first collection The Far Mosque.

I am not sure I think about genre as I am writing, but many times as I work on poems (I have been working on one about Varanasi for a long time) I will think: this needs to be in prose because I need more time.

Poems happen in a moment, like music, while prose creates an architecture of experience, like dance? Is that it?

LR: Your prose is often infused with poetry, and you sometimes work with prose poetry. What inspires you about crossing genres?

SKY WARD
SKY WARD

KA: Well, language is itself, queer, revelatory and unsettling. So it’s the “poetry” or the non-normative, the performative and oral, that I privilege always. Bringing the resources of poetry in the novel or the essay is my path. I barely write traditional narrative poetry, though some comes in here and there (for example, in my recent book Sky Ward there are many narrative poems, including “Fairy Tale,” but this is a new development! Who knows how long it will last).

LR: How has your background in music and dance informed your poetry?

KA: Sound and silence have always been critical to me in constructing a poem, often times coming before sense or leading me to some kind of sense. (Though I am still suspicious of nonsense, I confess). Dance (and yoga) helped me to learned the physical capabilities of the body and the length of a breath. Choreographing on a stage gives you lots to think about in terms of the shape of a poem and the shape of the page.

Do you know that reading series “Page Meets Stage”? I have never (yet) been invited to participate but I think I am both Page and Stage. In fact the page is a stage, isn’t it? I feel a lot of kinship with writers who work in both senses.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Kazim Ali”

LR News: A Giveaway for National Poetry Month 2013

April 2103 Giveaway Post

Happy April! It’s national poetry month, and as usual, we’re celebrating both this month and next (APIA heritage month) on the LR blog with lots of Asian American poetry goodness. This year, for April, we’ll be running an installment of our annual Process Profiles series, and we’ve also teamed up with our friends at the Asian American Literary Review and Kaya Press to offer a giveaway that includes some truly awesome prizes.

First, though, we want to hear from you: what Asian American poets are on your reading list for this April, or what’s one poet whom you’d recommend to people who want to read more Asian American poetry this month? Leave a comment on this post by April 22nd with the name of at least one Asian American poet whose work you love, and you’ll be entered in a random drawing to win a 1-year subscription to AALR, a copy of Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut’s Magnetic Refrain (reviewed on our blog here), and a copy of our very own Henry W. Leung’s chapbook, Paradise Hunger.

But the APIA poetry love doesn’t stop there! Those of you who follow us on Facebook might remember seeing pictures of the “Poetry Starter Packs” from our AWP display this year—little envelopes containing prompts and ekphrastic/found inspiration that we handed out to passers-by in the bookfair. Well, if you weren’t able to make AWP (or even if you picked up a starter pack there, but want more to share), here is your chance: we’ll be giving away bundles of 5 poetry starter packs—some to keep, and some to share—to each of the first ten (10) people to enter!

To help get you thinking, we thought we’d ask some of our Issue 5 contributors what Asian American poets they’ve been reading or whose work they’d recommend to others this month. Here’s what a couple of them said.

From Ching-In Chen:

 I adore Larissa Lai’s Eggs in the Basement because she generated/mutated the whole body of language/the story from the actual language that she is playing with: “I generated a body of source text in a ten-minute automatic exercise, separated it as neatly as possible into subjects and predicates and wrote the poem by repeating first all the subjects and and cycling through the predicates in the first half, and then reversing the procedure for the second. Strangely, the result is loosely the story of Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, in which two murders are committed by a collective: an initial one, which traumatizes the collective, and a second, which covers over the first and consolidates an violent and violated melancholy from which the group cannot escape.”  Next on my reading list is Paolo Javier’s The Feeling is Actual.  I witnessed Paolo’s live film narration of “Monty and Turtle,” on the Feminism Meets Neo-Benshi: Movietelling Talks Back panel at AWP recently, which explores the story of an Asian American artist couple, and loved what I saw!  After some discussion about the question about appropriation within neo/benshi practice, Paolo said that he dealt with this question by creating his own film clips to narrate to.  Though the film clips aren’t part of the book, his script is published in this book.

From Desmond Kon:

For a lecture I’m giving, I’m rereading Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, edited by Timothy Liu and published by Talisman House in 2000. In my research, I discovered Liu’s lovely essay titled, “Making the Case for Asian-American Poetry”, on Poets.org. I also just received Iris A. Law’s chapbook of wildly intelligent poems: Periodicity. These are lyric gems, some persona poems, that thread the imagined voices of great women scientists like Marie Curie, Rachel Carson and Anna Atkins. Finally, to throw in some fiction, I’m reading Tash Aw’s newest novel, Five Star Billionaire. The book intertwines the lives of migrant Malaysian workers, trying to eke out a living in Shanghai – this “Paris of the East” is at once bright lights and dog-eat-dog. In fact, Tash Aw is doing a reading at this awesome and intimate bookstore BooksActually, and I’m really looking forward to hearing him talk about the writing of his novel.

Our National Poetry Month giveaway will end at 11:59 PM EST on Monday, April 22nd. Winners will be announced the following week. Many thanks to our partners, Kaya Press and AALR, for their generous sponsorship, as well as to LR staff writer Henry Leung for donating a copy of his chapbook. We look forward to hearing from you, and hope that the comments that others leave in this thread will inspire you to read more Asian American poetry this April!

Best,

Iris & Mia

Panax Ginseng: Toward a Semiotics of the Body

Panax Ginseng is a bi-monthly column by Henry W. Leung exploring linguistic and geographic borders in Asian American literature, especially those with hybrid genres, forms, vernaculars, and visions. The column title suggests the English language’s congenital borrowings and derives from the Greek panax, meaning “all-heal,” together with the Cantonese jansam, meaning “man-root.” This perhaps troubling image of one’s roots as panacea informs the column’s readings.

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sharonleeSharon Lee reading one of her father’s poems,
from the eulogistic Bruce Lee VLOG Series.

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Bruce Lee wrote a considerable number of poems, most of which were compiled for the first time in Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (Tuttle, 1999), and I’ve only seen two critical writings on them, both published in The Rumpus a year apart from each other. The first is Dave Landsberger’s “Poetry Kung Fu” from October 2011, and the second is David Biespiel’s “Bruce Lee’s Advice to Poets” from his “Poetry Wire” column in November 2012. Landsberger provides a generous reading of several of Lee’s poems with the intention of expanding the public image of the martial arts superstar, of using Lee as a model of artistic sincerity over artificial self-image, and of expressing his own enthusiasm for his layered portrait of Lee. Landsberger’s readings of the poems’ influences are astute, though his presentation is perhaps overly sentimental, and his exclamatory rhetoric (ironic though it may be) belies the sensationalism he cannot separate from Bruce Lee’s public image even in a treatment of his quieter poetry, as when he concludes an analysis by saying: “Poetry Kung-fu!” Indeed, the essay as a whole—with its demotic reiterations of Bruce Lee not just as a film star, but as a studious “dude who sat on a hood of a car with Steve McQueen eating cylindrical meats,” and sensitive husband to Linda Lee Caldwell—is more of a re-portraiture than a close analysis of poetry, a marveling at more than a study.

What concerns me about Landsberger’s reading, however, is its binary representation of cultural difference. He tells us early on that the above portrait of Lee eating hot dogs with Steve McQueen is “quite possibly the most American image this article will see.” Later, he must preface an explanation of Lee’s themes of longing with, “In Eastern thought . . .” and I’m not entirely sure whether to read this as the same application of aesthetic imperialism common to Lee’s time (merely replacing the word Oriental with Eastern), or as a more modern Orientalism in which the distancing of Lee’s work comes out of praise rather than discredit. In any case, Landsberger feels the need to justify Lee’s longing by noting, inaccurately: “to Western audiences this often reads as insecurity . . .” And he concludes the same section with a line beginning: “Perhaps the only thing Lee traditionally shares with some famous Western poets . . .” The imprecision of his readings aside, these statements are curious to me because even after all this time, even in a modern re-portraiture which addresses the literary sophistication of Bruce Lee’s character, Lee is still a shopworn image representing vast cultural differences and misunderstandings.

Landsberger doesn’t consider the fact that Lee’s poems are written in English, or that born in San Francisco but with a life split between America and Hong Kong, Lee had his choice of languages. That he translated Chinese dynastic poems into English and that his own poems played with Daoist sensibilities doesn’t necessarily place Lee in a position of representing “Eastern thought,” especially in an America which had already seen the popularization of Buddhist Modernism. It may be more apposite to read Lee’s linguistic proclivities as hybrid, not merely on an East/West scale but in the friction of the natural and the urban, a common theme in his early films. Landsberger fixates on the pastoral beauty of Lee’s poems, but neglects to notice the urbanity from which they arise, as in his Seattle poems set on Lake Washington, and especially in “The Surroundings Utter No Sound,” a goodbye poem in which the speaker says, “Anxiously I stopped the car by the roadside,” winding toward a beautiful ending situated somewhere between nature and city:

Like mountain streams, we part and meet again,
Everything is still,
Except the occasional lonely bark of a dog.

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