Here are a few exciting tidbits of news from the LR community to round out our last day of posts before hiatus (which takes effect tonight, along with the submissions deadline for Issue 4! Don’t forget to send your work in—the system will be open until 11:59 pm EST).
Videopoem for Kenji C. Liu’s “A Son Writes Back”
LR contributor Kenji C. Liu sent us a link to this awesome video he created for his poem “A Son Writes Back” (the most recent version of which appeared in Issue 2). The video combines an audio performance of Kenji’s poem with musical accompaniment by Jason Jong. According to its caption on Vimeo, the visuals in the piece are footage from “a US Air Force propaganda film portraying aerial attacks on Imperial Japan during World War II.” Watch the embedded version below, or follow the links beneath it to watch on Vimeo.
Not only does Issue 3 contributor W. Todd Kaneko’s work appear in the 10th issue of the Los Angeles Review, but the magazine recently featured his poem “Remembering Minidoka” online as one of the issue’s “highlights”! To read the piece, click here. Many congrats to Todd on this honor.
Bao Phi’s Sông I Sing Reviewed in the New York Times
Issue 3 contributor Melissa R. Sipin was inspired enough by Wendy’s interview with Kimiko Hahn (and by the APR interview that Wendy references) that she wrote a poem in response! She’s shared it on her blog. Thanks, Melissa, for your thoughtful engagement with Kimiko’s words!
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.
After reading Bao Phi’s remarkable collection of poems, Sông I Sing, I was reminded of an incident that occurred about ten years ago when I was an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. I was attending a panel discussion at UMinn entitled, simply, “Asian American Poetry,” sponsored in large part by Minnesota Poets Society, and was greatly looking forward to listening to two acclaimed Asian American poets speak on the topic. Disappointingly, the only thing the Society members, through their persistent questions about it, seemed interested in was the “poetic process”—and more particularly a process devoid of those nattering issues about race, identity, or politics. Toward the end of the discussion, an elderly white woman, clearly a senior member of the eminent Society, raised her hand and said, “Well, after listening to you both talk about your poetry, I’m wondering why we need to apply the name ‘Asian American’ to your poetry at all.” To my astonishment, at the time, both poets—both award-winning Asian American poets—agreed that the term “Asian American” as it’s applied to their poetry or to them as poets, felt limiting if not downright debilitating.
Such a response has its precedent. It’s reflective of the conundrum of the ethnic writer: how to keep from falling into the binary of either writing to a prescribed aesthetic steeped in a history of political ideology or writing as a fully realized individual shaped by an accumulation of discrete, personal experiences. It ‘s a false binary, of course, as a number of Asian American poetry anthologies have already shown, from The Open Boat: Poems From Asian America, edited by Garrett Hongo, to Premonition:The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry, edited by Walter Lew, and Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation edited by Victoria Chang. All three anthologies rally around the diversity of themes and poets as opposed to a unifying call to some singular identity and community. Though anchored from a historical perspective to linear coordinates such as identity construction and political ideology, Asian American poetry is not bound to those coordinates. It is a fluid, changing body of work in time and space.
“Pretense is not allowed here.”
~ Taiyo Na, Artistic Director, The Sulu Series
To call The Last Sulu Series at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City (which took place on September 19, 2010) anything other than an electric family reunion would be a grave understatement. A quick scan of the packed house revealed shaved heads, piercings and tattoos, women with hijabs, children, hip-hop/funk-and-punked out rockers and tastemakers, not to mention classy nerds, aunties and students. We were at the basement art gathering of the century. The Sulu Series’ Artistic Director, Taiyo Na, began with a brief history of the event, fighting back tears welling up his eyes (a common occurrence throughout the evening). He shared the story of Sulu’s loyal photographer, Derek Srisaranard, whose first words after a near-fatal accident were something to the effect of: “Sulu. I need to be there and see it again. I have to capture it.”
Derek’s images have constituted an unparalleled photo archival project documenting AAPI artists who have traversed the Sulu Series stage. Through cycles of tears and joy, the reverence for spoken word poetry legend—or “community celebrity” as my Sulu DC co-director, Jenny C. Lares, and I like to call him—Regie Cabico and his life’s work was palpable.
The artists, who exposed their most vulnerable selves on stage, paid homage to Taiyo Na, DJ Boo and the many other forces who’ve kept The Sulu Series vibrant throughout its five-year history. What began as a benefit that raised $10,000 for the forgotten AAPIs affected by Hurricane Katrina emerged as a legacy that will be remembered fondly by all who were fortunate enough to perform there or attend. But artistic director, Taiyo Na, says the New York Sulu Series has “graduated.”
Among the performers at The Last Sulu Series, emcee Koba launched the show with a vocal quality much improved since the last time I saw him perform. His style now reminds me of Aesop Rock, a white, Jewish rapper from New York whose narratives walk the line between the abstract and the intensely personal, much like Koba’s. Next up was Vinh Hua, a poet who confessed to having “grown up with Sulu Series,” and lamented:
“24 million people [in New York City] and still you can feel horribly lonely.”
The intensity rose with Michelle Myers, one-half of the well-known spoken word duo, Yellow Rage, as she read a new poem called “Take it Back,” a charged love letter to South Philly High School students whose race relations deteriorated into violence and alienation. She called on the listener to “take back” the hurtful words and deeds, and stop fighting an “Oppression Olympics.” A bit more light-hearted, although equally political, was John-Flor Sisante’s “A Love Song During the Third Term of the Palin Presidency,” a surreal fabricated universe in which the ukelele-playing, violently stomping singer freely belted out:
“You looked at me like a cigarette that burns through my skin.”
This quintessential geek with his suspenders and thick, rectangular black frames was also reflecting a new Asian cool. A cool that says, “You don’t have to like it, but I dare you to tell me I don’t rock on this little wooden instrument.”
To add to Iris’ reflections on our recent trip to Denver and this year’s AWP conference, here are a few additional thoughts, as well as some slightly more “reportorial” reflections on several of the panels that I most enjoyed. As this was my first time at AWP, I anticipated feeling completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of panels, readings, and discussions going on at all hours of the day, ranging from the future of M.F.A. programs in the United States to the apparent (or perhaps not-so-apparent) war between “hybrid” and traditional aesthetics in contemporary poetry. What I found, however, was that in the midst of these many conversations, a few distinctive threads began to emerge. Central to each of these threads was the question of community: how communities form around shared cultural, national, or transnational consciousnesses; how communities develop through shared aesthetics and/or poetic sensibilities; how communities emerge out of a drive to engage similar ethical and/or political concerns. My sense of poetry—or perhaps more accurately, my sense of those of us in the United States (and elsewhere!) who “do” poetry—as forming one large and vibrant community that extends across forms, aesthetics, cultural affiliations, and even national boundaries was deepened by all that I saw and heard while in Denver. Thanks so much to all those who welcomed us into their community at AWP.
Bollywood, Bullets, and Beyond: The Poetry of South Asian America
[Readings from Indivisible: An Anthology of South Asian American Poetry]
We were extremely lucky to attend this panel, which featured a stellar lineup of poets published in the brand new anthology of Asian American poetry Indivisible: An Anthology of South Asian American Poetry(University of Arkansas Press, 2010). We were thrilled to learn that the anthology, the first of its kind, had literally just been published and, hot off the press, was ready for purchase at the AWP bookfair. It was probably because of this that “Bollywood, Bullets, and Beyond” felt a little like a release party: poets gathering to celebrate the publication of this groundbreaking new collection, some of the editors and authors meeting for the very first time, voices coming to life from freshly minted pages . The presentation of this anthology featured readings by poets like Ravi Shankar and Monica Ferrell, to name just a few. As mentioned in reviews of the collection, Indivisible showcases “emerging and established poets who can trace their ethnic heritages to Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka,” and represents a truly impressive range of voices and aesthetic styles. Keep an eye out for upcoming reviews!
Transnational Identities: Asian American Writers & Asia
Though not all the original panelists were able to make it, at this panel we heard writers David Mura, Wang Ping, and Ed Bok Lee offer their reflections on what it means to engage transnational Asian and Asian American prose/poetry as subjects with complex relationships to both Asia (ie. China, Japan, Korea) and the United States. Each writer shared not only from their personal experience of navigating the terms of transnational selves, or American ethnic selves, but from their writing as well, which pointed to many of the same questions addressed in their presentations. Toward the end of the session, we were especially grateful for the intimate feel of the panel as moderator Bao Phi encouraged audience members to actively participate in constructing a conversation around the questions of what it means to be Asian and/or Asian American, and how to explore the linguistic, aesthetic, and cultural complexities of this transnational identity… not to mention this transnational literary identity.
Before, After, Under, Over, Inside, and Beyond the Anti-War Poem
Easily one of my favorite panels at AWP this year, this discussion of the “Anti-War Poem” was moderated by Fred Marchant and featured poets Brenda Hillman, Nick Flynn, and Shanee Stepakoff, each of whom chose a different preposition (“inside,” “under,” “before,” or “after”), which they used to focus their reflections on the anti-war poem. Their high level of engagement—artistically, personally, and professionally—in examining issues of violence, torture, and the wide-ranging effects of the American war on terror led me to reconsider the role of the contemporary poet in what I now understand to be an America-at-war. Nick Flynn in particular drove home the point that because we are now writing in a nation at war, we are all writing war poems, whether we are aware of it or not, and are all affected by our country’s involvement in international warfare. What I most appreciated was the breadth of the conversation that took place at this panel; in addition to discussing the larger trends and exigencies of anti-war poetry today, the panelists also took time to reflect on salient features of their craft: techniques of redaction, the use of repetition and ordering in the amplification of found texts (ie. courtroom transcripts and the narratives of torture victims), the ethics of using testimonials and court transcripts as the raw material for poetry.