2 Poets, 4 Questions: Q&A with Neil Aitken and Rumit Pancholi

Neil Aitken and Rumit Pancholi
Neil Aitken (L) and Rumit Pancholi (R)

Today, we’re sharing the final installment in our mini series “2 Poets, 4 Questions.” Each week in this series, we’ve been pairing up two different emerging APIA poets and asking them to answer a set of four identical questions. Today’s post features a pair of poet-editors, Neil Aitken (author of  The Lost Country of Sight) and Rumit Pancholi (author of the chapbook Anatomy of a Ghost), who reflect on the things that haunt their poetry, putting together their first manuscripts, and the joys and challenges of editorial work

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LR: What ghosts haunt your poetry? What are the voices and stories that dog you, the specters that find their way into your writing again and again?

NA: Landscapes, mostly. I hold fast to memories of Saskatchewan and the childhood I spent there working in the sun, or wandering through vast fields of grain in the summer, staring up at a sky that refused number or name. I carry all sorts of things with me in my work and in my life. Behind every new city lies an array of the ones I have left behind, large and small—but it’s always the prairies that end up dominating that view: the abandoned farmhouses, the forgotten roads, the fences that run the length of the horizon, everything speaks to something out of time, yet grounded to earth and sensation.

There are people that linger at the edges of my writing as well. My father, for one, now seven years gone into silence, and his voice, which I’ve kept preserved on a little tape recorder, stored in a drawer, waiting for the day I can bring myself to listen to it again. He was my first mentor—the first to encourage me to write, to draw, to imagine things beyond the world around me—and to value the power of language as a means of transformation and possibility. When I teach I find myself falling back on not just on what he taught me, but how—the ways in which he refused easy answers, but equipped me to search out my own.

As a programmer turned poet, I’m haunted the memory of my first encounter with contemporary American poetry, of standing in the aisle of a used bookstore and thumbing through a copy of Philip Levine’s New Selected Poems, and the way “Letters for the Dead” rose from the page and took over my entire imagination. How is it possible, I remember thinking at that time, that one can create so much longing, beauty, and music out of such plain speech? I wanted to write like that—and that yearning has carried me on a remarkable journey, page after page, through the minds and worlds of other great poets.

Lastly, I’m haunted by something the artist Kandinsky once wrote:

“Everything that is dead quivers. Not only the things of poetry, stars, moon, wood, flowers, but even a white trouser button glittering out of a puddle in the street… Everything has a secret soul, which is silent more often than it speaks.”

I love the notion of a secret soul that lurks in even the most mundane and forgettable of things and the way it opens up the space for wonder and surprise, even gratitude.

RP: I’m haunted by the inexorable draws of expectation, especially of Speaker = Poet. Often I feel that creative writers are expected to write, and do write, as I have in my work, about the issues that concern their race/ethnicity, gender, and sexuality—an innocuous trifecta that intersects with love, pain, grief, and other sentiments in modern poetry. Past scholars, instructors, and mentors have given valuable guidance in steering me toward more about my lived experiences as a young, gay non-White writer and to tap into those avenues for creative writing fodder, to dig deep and wide. I have, and the result has been forced, uncooked, and unsatisfying poems that are eventually stashed in a folder on my computer labeled “Pending” only to be sheepishly dropped into the Recycle Bin months later. What was inhibiting me from reaching poems that I could read and reread without sounding standard and cliché? Over the years, I’ve begun to learn and identify that simply writing about those themes doesn’t create the spark I seek. After having written and destroyed hundreds of poems about an unrequited love or a jilted lover or the nuances of growing up constantly responding to gayness, otherness, non-Whiteness, I’m haunted by the “I” Rumit voice versus the “I” speaker voice that has to grapple with being within the poem and apart from the poem while simultaneously being inviting, charming, sexy, relevant to a reader. When I return to those common themes as a springboard, and when I do gain admirable momentum, I ask myself how this poem is different from other same-theme poems written by another “young, gay non-White writer.” That harangues me the most whenever I think I see the Finish Line.

Continue reading “2 Poets, 4 Questions: Q&A with Neil Aitken and Rumit Pancholi”

Event Coverage: Reflections on AWP 2011

Ken Chen speaks at the AAWW's Friday Panel

(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.

Continue reading “Event Coverage: Reflections on AWP 2011”


LR/BOXCAR Reading: Friday at 7:30

Yesterday evening, Mia gave you some suggestions of panels that might be of interest to you at AWP 2011.  Today, I’ll be giving you a more detailed overview of some of the ways that you can connect with us at this year’s AWP.


We’ve talked about it before, but it deserves another mention here—the best way to show your support for Lantern Review at this year’s conference would be to come out to the joint, off-site  reading that we’re hosting with Boxcar Poetry Review on Friday night (the 4th) at 7:30 pm, at Go Mama Go! (1809 14th St. NW).  Entrance is pay-as-you-wish ($5 suggested donation, but we won’t turn anyone away for lack of funds).  We have a great lineup of about 16 readers (from both journals) planned, and will provide light refreshments afterward.  You don’t have to be a registered conference attender to come to this event, so even if you’re not going to AWP but live in the DC area, please consider coming out to show your support.  More information, and the option to RSVP (not required, but it helps us to get an approximate headcount) are available at the event’s Facebook invitation page.

2. AWP Bookfair: The LANTERN REVIEW Postcard Project 2011

LR Postcard Project 2011

Last year, we gave out bookmarks and a special edition run of mini-books at the AWP bookfair.  This year, we are trying something different—and it requires your participation!  We’ve made a set of 116 numbered postcards, each of which displays either a unique quote from a poem that’s appeared in an issue of Lantern Review, or a blank front for you to fill in with your own favorite line from an LR poem, and will be distributing stacks of them between the tables that have kindly agreed to display some of our materials (Boxcar Poetry Review and Notre Dame Review).  We would love for you to stop by and sign out a postcard (or postcards) that appeals to you—and then to take your selection(s) home, respond to the content on the front by writing a poem on the reverse side, and mail your creation back to us by April 15, 2011.   We’ll post most of the responses on the blog as they come in, and will publish any that we particularly like in a special section of a future issue.  Not to fret if you can’t make it to the conference, though; if we have postcards left over after the conference, we’ll be opening up the project to blog readers, too.

3. Panels and Readings (Follow us on Twitter)

As Mia mentioned yesterday, we plan to be at the Kundiman panel and would love for you to look us up there.  But we’ll be also attending other panels and events sporadically throughout the conference and will try to Tweet about our plans for the next day each evening before we go to bed.  So if you’re not already following us on Twitter (@LanternReview), please do so!

Friends & Neighbors: Calls for Submission (AALR, Cha, Kartika Review, and others)

As we prepare to head into our late summer blog hiatus, we’re aware of the fact that several of our friends have recently put out new calls for submission.  We thought we would put together a little list of interesting opportunities for submission that have recently come to our attention:

The Asian American Literary Review is calling for electronic submissions for its third issue, to be published in Spring 2011.  Deadline is September 1st.  See their online guidelines for more details.

Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is calling both for regular submissions to be included in its 13th Issue, and for submissions to its special themed 14th issue, which will focus on China.  Submissions are accepted electronically only. Deadline is December 15th for Issue 13, April 14th for the China Issue.  Complete guidelines for Issue 13 here; details about the China Issue here.

Kweli Journal, a publication that focuses on promoting the work of writers of color, is calling for submissions to its Fall/Winter 2010 issue.  Submissions are to be sent by postal mail.  Deadline is September 16th.  Guidelines here.

Kartika Review is calling for submissions in anticipation of future issues.  Kartika, which has a rolling policy for screening work, is now accepting submissions both via email and through its online submissions manager.  See their guidelines here.

BOXCAR Poetry Review and Cerise Press, which are edited by Asian American poets Neil Aitken and Fiona Sze-Lorrain, respectively, also have rolling submissions policies: look for BOXCAR‘s guidelines here, and Cerise‘s here.

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Finally, be on the lookout for the reopening of our own submissions period (in anticipation of our second issue), when we return in September.

Good luck, and see you on the other side of August!