Sulu Spotlight: The Last Sulu Series, New York City

“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.”

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Editors’ Picks: Pop-Up Poets in NYC

The following YouTube clip of a group of NYC poets surprising subway riders with guerrilla-style readings came to our attention via Issue 1 contributor Tamiko Beyer yesterday.  I thought it was so absolutely freaking cool that I had to share it here:

These poets are part of a project called PUP, “Poets in Unexpected Places” or “Pop-Up Poets.” They do exactly what their name implies: pop up in unexpected public locations (like the subway, the Botanic Gardens, a supermarket) to read poetry.  You can read about some of their experiences on their blog, in which they detail stories of people’s reactions to their performances.  My favorite, I think, is their most recent post about a Q-train ride in which one of the riders got up and started dancing, while the rest of the car clapped and cheered!  Such unexpected joy in the middle of a city that is known for its public mask of anonymity (the summer that I worked in Manhattan, we were distinctly advised by our HR trainers to put on a confident, stand-offish “subway face” while riding public transit in order to avoid sticking out).  I love the idea of bringing poetry to public spaces at unexpected times, of incorporating it into the everyday rhythms of life in playful and soul-filled ways.  PUP thrives on the idea that poetry is (and may at any time) be all around us, and that its wild spontaneity and beauty is something to be celebrated, all day, every day.

I love the idea of bringing PUP-style projects to other parts of the nation, too.  Watching the video got me all revved up imagining what it would be like to have a PUP style group in quiet little South Bend, IN, or in my parents’ tiny hometown in NJ—wouldn’t it be cool if  poets popped up in the middle of  a bank lobby, or on the South Shore line or Riverline, or in front of the public library, or in the middle of a mall or a cafe or bar?  Or even in the grocery lines at Costco or Meijer?  Or in the different departments?  You could have poets in all the aisles!  Have you ever participated in a guerilla-style poetry project?  If so, please do share your experience with us; we’d love to hear your stories!

Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Feb. 24-28, 2010)

Of note this weekend: Sandra Lim in Chicago, Jason Koo in Cleveland, Marilyn Chin in San Jose, Fay Chiang in NYC.  Also: Hyphen #19 release party in SF.  Please note that this weekend’s roundup only covers through February 28th — as we’ll be transitioning into a new format for our events listings starting on March 1st.  Look out for an announcement at the beginning of next week!

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Feb 19-24, 2010)

We’re posting slightly later than usual this week, but still in time to let you know about some really interesting events!  Of especial note: two AAWW events (Purvi Shah Workshop and Jason Koo Book Party) and the SULU series in NYC, Flamenco-Inspired Poetry Reading by PAWA Arkipelago in SF, Marilyn Chin in San Jose, Smithsonian Annual Day of Remembrance for Japanese Internment (marking the anniversary of Executive Order 9066) in DC.  Also: don’t forget about the open mic series going on (Family Style in Philly and *SPARKLE* Queer-Friendly Open Mic in DC), and that in many cities, Lunar New Year festivities are not yet over. Check out your city’s newspaper or Chinatown web site to find out if festivities are still going on!

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Feb. 11-17, 2010)

LOTS of holidays being marked this weekend: Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, and, as our Twitter followers have reminded us, the start of Carnival festivities (Mardi Gras for those of us in the States).  Of particular significance to the Asian American community: check out MOCA’s lists of Lunar New Year events in NYC, and in Boston, DC, LA, San Francisco, and Honolulu.  Philadelphia readers can read this helpful article for more info; Seattle residents can look here; Chicago peeps can look here.  Know of Lunar New Year Festivities in a city that we’re missing?  Comment below to tell us about it.

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Feb 4-10, 2010)

Lots going on this week. Especially interesting this week: Kundiman & Verlaine Reading Series in NYC, Vincent Who? Documentary Screening at the AAWW, poet Truong Tran’s “Lost & Found” exhibit opening. Don’t forget to also check out the beginnings of Lunar New Year festivities, which are starting in some cities this week (The New Year itself is on Feb. 14th).  The Museum of Chinese in America has a great list of New Year’s events going on in NYC and in Boston, DC, San Francisco, and Honolulu.

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Jan 28-Feb 3, 2010)

A couple of  readings, 2 ASL Open Mic’s, some book release events, a panel, plays — this week’s roundup is really quite a mix.  Of particular interest: poet Michael Leong at Dartmouth, Diane DiPrima’s Inaugural Address as SF Poet Laureate, and the BECOMING AMERICANS Anthology reading in NYC.  And of course, don’t forget to tune in to President Obama’s first State of the Union Address tonight at 9 PM EST.

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Editors’ Picks: Opportunities for Writing in Community

Here at LR, we value community as a space for growth and artistic exploration.  The mentorship that we receive when we work with older writers, and the camaraderie we experience when working with our peers can both be particularly important in encouraging us to push forward with our strengths and in challenging us to reach for new heights in our work.  Writing and creating alongside other members of the Asian American community can also be a incredibly transformative experience: on the individual level, it can help us to wrestle with our personal senses of vision and identity, while on a larger scale, it can help us to mobilize ourselves as a community.   There are many opportunities to participate in community writing workshops that happen throughout the year, but in this post we’d like to focus on three whose deadlines are coming up in the next few months.

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Jan 21-27, 2010)

Lots of readings going on this week.  Of note: Patrick Rosal at Cornell College; Monica Ferrell and SULU series in support of Haiti (respectively) at Bowery in NYC, Lawson Inada in Oregon, performace poetry workshop at Stanford University’s Listen to the Silence Conference.  Also worth checking out: KSW/Kaya’s SF Thomassons Performance Tour.

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Friends & Neighbors: Weekend Roundup (Jan. 12-20, 2010)

It’s the first Weekend Events Roundup of the New Year! (And of the decade, we might add). There’s a lot of things going on this weekend in the literary arts world.  Monday (January 18th) is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  We hope that, in addition to considering what arts events you’d like to check out, you’ll also consider attending a celebratory event or participating in service or activism this weekend in honor of his work and legacy.

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