A Conversation with Kundiman Co-founders Joseph O. Legaspi & Sarah Gambito

Kundiman co-founders
Kundiman co-founders Sarah Gambito and Joseph O. Legaspi

To round off our APIA Heritage Month celebration, we sat down with Joseph O. Legaspi and Sarah Gambito, the co-founders of Kundiman—a nonprofit that serves young and emerging Asian American poets through its retreats, reading series, and community resources—to ask about their thoughts as the organization approaches its tenth year.

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LR: Kundiman is coming up on its tenth anniversary this year. How are you feeling about its turning a decade old? What have been some of your favorite moments from your involvement with it over the last ten years?

JL:  Kundiman going on 10 years is astounding to me. Wow! My feelings are overwhelmingly mixed, all strong emotions: for the most part I feel elation and pride, partially with dread and anxiety because there is still so much to do. The question is where do we go from here? We have a decade worth of accomplishments—most prominently, nearly 60 books and chapbooks published by Kundiman fellows—but how do we get to the next level where we are more stable and branch out and empower more Asian American writers. Oh, it is a celebration, of course, but now we’re working on how to sustain Kundiman for the next 10 years, and the next . . . As for my favorite moments, there are just too many. Lawson Inada at the Chinese buffet. Marilyn Chin dancing. The fellows’ sandwich-making contest. All closing circles. The singing, the camaraderie, the poems. The poems. The whole roller coaster [of] experience[s] as some of the most joyous in my life.

SG:  I agree. It overwhelms me that it has been 10 years. We’ve now seen an arc of fellows coming into their own—literally growing up before our eyes. We’ve read their poems, their books, attended their weddings, celebrated the births of children. It has been such a privilege to be able to witness fellows mentor each other, to become each other’s best and most trusted readers. What I love is that we’ve become a family in ways that are mysterious and then not mysterious. (This past winter, I hosted around 15 fellows at my apartment and cooked huge pots of ma po tofu and fried rice.) As for favorite moments, there are so many. I loved the Kundiman reading where Bei Dao and a fellow who had never read in public before and was just finishing college, Yael Villafranca, read together. I was thunderstruck because I realized that I was witnessing something that was so hard-worn, rare and precious: the knitting of generations of Asian and Asian American poets. I love the fellow toasts at graduation where we get to see how fellows have been so aware of each other and are praising each other.  I loved Kimiko Hahn saying “I give myself permission to be a writer. I’ve worked too hard to not do this” and then watching the fellows invoke this throughout the retreat in their own ways, both literary and personal. I loved having Tan Lin at Kundiman and watching him blow workshops out of the water and seeing fellows reorient their relationship to what words can do.

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Event Coverage: Kundiman Retreat 2011

2011 Kundiman Faculty Jon Pineda, Kimiko Hahn, and Karen An-hwei Lee
2011 Kundiman Faculty Jon Pineda, Kimiko Hahn, and Karen An-hwei Lee

From June 15th-19th, two Lantern Review staff members (Editor Iris A. Law and Staff Writer Henry W. Leung) attended the 2011 Kundiman Poetry Retreat at Fordham University in New York City.  What follows are our reflections on our experiences there.

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I. Iris

A few weeks ago, I stepped out of a D train in the Bronx and trundled my suitcase up the hill toward my very first Kundiman Retreat. Fordham Road greeted me with its jumble and racket: taxis honked their way down the street; motorcycles revved; teenagers laughed over the tinkling of a Mr. Softee van; shop owners shouted from behind racks of merchandise that spilled colorfully onto the sidewalk; a child descended uneasily from a bus and promptly vomited on the pavement. It felt strange to enter the gated, manicured space of the Rose Hill campus—ostrich-like; irresponsible, almost. But once swaddled into this beautifully (even eerily) verdant setting, it was also difficult not to feel that this was a space that in some way enacted the purpose of Kundiman: a place in which the creative soul could clear space within itself so that new patches of greenness could be sown and take root—not in isolation from the world, but in juxtaposition with, and in the context of, the world. I was reminded of something that I’d read in an interview Sarah Gambito gave to The Fordham Observer. In order to write in New York, she remarks, she tries “to be as still as [she] can in the city.” Indeed, to be a writer is to live in a position of simultaneous privilege and responsibility. As participants in social communities, we hold a responsibility to live fully in the world, so that we can write into, for, and from those communities. But at the same time, the work of the writer cannot be completed without the ability to occasionally take a step back: to be a still, small, open receptacle to the world, but a simultaneous processor of that world. And the lens with which we process—with which we must enact our craft—requires, from time to time, the ability to allow ourselves space to wrestle with the work itself, and with the world surrounding the work.

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LR News: April 2011 Happenings (National Poetry Month Edition!)

It’s National Poetry Month! T.S. Eliot may have famously proclaimed April to be “the cruelest month,” but here at LR, plenty of exciting things are happening (yes, even despite the giant, fat snowflakes that I woke up to this morning here on the East Coast):

National Poetry Month Contest Prompts (sponsored by Kaya Press)

In celebration of the urge to translate idea and image into line and stanza, we will be posting a prompt submitted by one winner of our National Poetry Month Prompt Contest on each successive Friday of a full week in April, beginning with the 3rd runner-up on the 8th, and leading up to the Grand Prize winner on the 29th.  Our big winner will receive a copy of Lisa Chen’s Mouth, thanks to the kind generosity of Kaya Press.  Many thanks to all those who submitted a prompt!  Please check back every Friday to see whether your submission has been chosen!

Reading Period for Issue 3

Looking for something to do with your responses to the contest-winners’ prompts?  You’re in luck, because we will be reopening our reading period to submissions for Issue 3, starting next week.  Time to dust off the poetry hat and get your revising on!

Continued Postcard Project Posts (Postmark Deadline: April 15th)

If you took home a postcard from AWP or received one in the mail, now is the time to send it in! Please don’t forget, our postmark deadline is April 15th.  We will continue to post cards as we receive them.  (A reminder that we also plan to choose a couple of postcards to feature in Issue 3, and participating in the Postcard Project does not preclude your submitting through our regular reading period, so if you’re hoping for an extra chance of your work being noticed this time around, sending in your postcard poem in addition to submitting through our electronic system is one way to go!)

Interviews with Oliver de la Paz and Sarah Gambito

We are very excited to have the honor of being able to publish interviews with two Asian American literary luminaries, Oliver de la Paz and Sarah Gambito, on our blog later this April. Be on the lookout for our staff writers’ interviews with these two distinguished poets.

. . . and More.

As always, we’ve got our regular columns (Sulu DC, Becoming Realer), but we’ve also got a few surprises up our sleeves, so keep your eyes peeled!

Happy Poetry Month,

Iris & Mia.