In his review of Bao Phi’s book, which we posted yesterday, guest contributor Greg Choy made some particularly intriguing observations about shifting trends in Asian American poetry, especially with regards to its relationship with community-based activism. The discussion about how best to engage with politics (and specifically, about whether to engage with identitarian politics) in our work is broad and ongoing, and in light of that, I thought I would follow up on Prof. Choy’s thoughts by pointing you towards a few insightful write-ups that provide additional perspectives on the matter.
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1. “CON-VERSE-SATIONS” (Hyphen Magazine Roundtable with Timothy Yu, Victoria Chang, and Nick Carbo)
I appreciate the thoughtful dialogue to be had in this article with regard to Asian American poetry’s stylistic diversity, its audiences, its status both inside and outside of academia, and its current relationship to its activist roots. In particular, I think Tim Yu makes a spot-on observation that while, in the wave that immediately followed the 70’s, poets were more interested in the confessional mode than in political rhetoric, poets are now coming back towards the political, some through the overt expression of activist “creeds,” as is true in the spoken word scene, and others more quietly, by infusing their approaches to craft and subject matter with strong political undertones (Yu points to Ken Chen as an example of one such poet). “We’ve had two decades of Li-Young Lee and Marilyn Chin and these writers who really risk prominence writing about their own personal experience,” he says, but “that’s not where we are anymore.” His claim is exemplified by the list of recommended titles the editors provide at the end of the article: from Cathy Park Hong to Barbara Jane Reyes to Ronaldo V. Wilson, the body of contemporary Asian American poets who are again engaging with the political (particularly through experimental forms) is strong, and seems to be growing.
This week’s prompt is inspired by the Asian American Writers Workshop’s 2011 Page Turner Festival, which I attended two weekends ago in Brooklyn, NY.
An unexpected winter storm swept into town on the morning of the festival, pummeling Brooklyn with high winds and dumping snow and sleet all over the streets, but despite the merciless weather, a surprisingly large crowd of attendees bundled up and came out to watch panel after panel of writers light up the interiors of Powerhouse Arena and Melville House. All through the morning and afternoon, each event was packed; by the time I arrived at Melville House to catch the Poetry Showcase (my favorite, and last event of the day before I had to rush home to snow-covered NJ), the colorful, cozy performance space was standing-room only.
I’ve been to plenty of readings and conferences before, but never to a literary festival that felt this driven by a searingly-clear, single vision. Throughout the day, the one theme that continued to impress itself upon me again and again was the AAWW’s deep, active commitment to the political—from the reflections of the poets on the Occupy Wall Street panel about the critical and aesthetic possibilities of poetry shared by “human mic” to the powerful photographs and testimonies shared by the CultureStrike participants who visited Arizona in the wake of SB 1070—I was continually struck by AAWW’s unique vision for how the work of the artist can simultaneously inhabit the page and reach beyond it into world in a very physical, practical way.
Today’s prompt comes from that same sense of vision, and invites you to play with figurations of craft that “break” from the construct of the page-bound poem in order to tangibly evoke discussion and action within your immediate community.
Prompt: Construct, organize, present, and/or distribute a political “act of poetry” whose craft and form reaches beyond the written page to invite others to physically and verbally interact with, respond to, and share in its promulgation and completion.
(A note: this post is a reflection on some of the on-site events that we attended during AWP this year. Mia will write more about our off-site reading in a later post).
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since AWP 2011 ended, and here we are—as usual—egregiously late with the update. Nevertheless, this year’s conference was a colorful and thought-provoking experience for us, and we would be amiss if we did not share at least a taste of what we took away from it with you. At last year’s AWP, we got our feet wet, so to speak, meeting and connecting with a host of amazing poets, and soaking in every bit of Asian American poetry that we could. It was an exciting and effervescent time for us—we were just starting to get LR off the ground, and we were looking ahead at how our project might find its space amidst the community that was already out there.