Event Coverage: Reflections on AWP 2012

Detail of AWP 2012 Exhibit
Close-up of our AWP 2012 table display

In past years, our experiences at AWP have been a flurry of panels and events. In Denver, we soaked up readings from Kundiman and Cave Canem, From the Fishhouse, and Split this Rock, attended discussions on hybrid and transnational poetry, and had fun introducing LR by word of mouth. In D.C., we spent a little time in the bookfair, hosted a joint off-site reading with Boxcar Poetry Review, were interviewed by APA Compass Radio, and attended a plethora of Asian-American-specific panels that inspired us to probe our own editorial vision more deeply. This year’s conference, however, was different.  For the first time, we’d purchased and registered for a spot in the bookfair, and so I spent most of my time down in the exhibition area, manning the table that we were sharing with the lovely folks from Kartika Review.  The experience, while exhausting, was wonderfully exhilarating.  It was gratifying to get to meet the contributors who stopped by, life-giving to get to share resources with other young Asian American writers who were searching for community.  I was encouraged after meeting the handful of teachers who came by in search of resources for particular Asian American students of theirs, and was ecstatic about having the chance to strike up conversations with the many strangers who, in spite of having little familiarity with (or even interest in) Asian American literature, stopped by the table out of sheer curiosity.

LR mini-books (featuring past Friday Prompts) on display

In large part, I think we had our joint Pocket Broadsides project to thank for drawing many of those unlikely visitors to our table. (For a brief explanation of the project, see this post). Throughout the weekend, a surprising number of passers-by stopped to examine our colorful display of business-card sized poetry and prose, and ended up staying to chat.  As a result, Jennifer Derilo (Kartika‘s nonfiction editor) and I had many fruitful beginnings of conversations about what Asian American literature is, and had the opportunity to talk about and recommend the work of our contributors to people who were relatively unfamiliar with Asian American writing and writers. We were amazed by the ability the Broadsides seemed to have to attract people who might not otherwise have looked at our table.  Last year, when Boxcar had been kind enough to allot us some space on their table, Mia and I had noticed that many of the people who’d paused in front of our materials had responded to our attempts at conversation with, “No, thanks, I’m not Asian American,” before beating a rapid retreat.  So it was incredibly encouraging this year to see people not only stop to look, but actually talk about, the pieces that we had out on the table. I very much enjoyed getting to hear some of the stories behind why people chose particular Pocket Broadsides (one person selected a micro-prose piece based on the fact that it featured halo-halo—apparently a favorite dessert of hers, while the individual who took home Tamiko Beyer’s poem about teeth said they were going to give it to a friend who was a dentist), and it was equally encouraging to hear the stories behind the pieces that people created for us in exchange, and to see some of them return with friends in tow.  By lunchtime on Saturday, all 50 broadsides were gone; Jennifer and I were floored by how rapidly they’d disappeared.

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Friday Prompt: Poetry & Action

Molly Gaudry at Page Turner
Molly Gaudry reads during the Poetry Showcase at the AAWW's 2011 Page Turner Festival

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.

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.

* * *

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.

Continue reading “Event Coverage: Kundiman Retreat 2011”

Event Coverage/Weekly Prompt: Angel Island

Angel Island Immigration Station

Last May, the LR Blog featured the Angel Island poems in our APIA Heritage Month “Poetry in History” series.  In the post, Iris explains:

Often called the “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island served as the site for processing as many as 175,000 Chinese immigrants from 1910-1940.

Detainees were separated by gender [and ethnicity!] and locked up in crowded barracks while they awaited questioning, for weeks or months — sometimes, for years — at a time. To pass the time, many immigrants wrote or carved poems into the soft wood of the barrack walls.

The poems vary in theme, form, and in level of polish, and serve as a testimony to the experience of detention, chronicling everything from hope to anger to loneliness, to a sense of adventure.

At the time, I had never visited Angel Island or read any of the poems inscribed on the walls of the immigration station, but last week I made the pilgrimage: flew to San Francisco, drove to Tiburon, took the ferry, made the hike, etc.  It was an odd experience—I arrived at the dock at the same time as two groups of fifth grade history students, meaning that I toured the immigration station with them and heard all sorts of hilarious comments: “Who fought who during the Civil War?  China and America?” as well as some not-so hilarious ones: “Chinese, Japanese, itchy knees, money please…” a sing-song chant I remember hearing about from the mid-twentieth century, around the time the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed.  Amazing, really, what little impact four decades of activism have had on prevailing attitudes about who is/n’t included in “America” and why.

Continue reading “Event Coverage/Weekly Prompt: Angel Island”

Event Coverage: AWP 2011 Off-Site Reading

JoAnn Balingit
JoAnn Balingit

It’s been a little over a month now since AWP 2011 in Washington DC — and this post is more than a little overdue!  Nonetheless, here it is: our reflection on the very first gathering of Lantern Review contributors, readers, and editors.  Our off-site reading, co-hosted by Boxcar Poetry Reviewin celebration of the little online magazine,” took place on Friday, February 4th at Go Mama Go!, a lovely, eclectic art supply & gift shop (ceramics, antique soda bottles, shot glasses, bright paper umbrellas) whose owner greeted us with a warm, “Are you here for the Chinese poetry?” when we first walked into the door.  “Well… yes?” we said, though really we were there for so much more.

Rapt Audience
Friends and contributors of LANTERN REVIEW and BOXCAR POETRY REVIEW.

Realizing that a gathering of people interested in Asian American poetry could perhaps be mistaken for enthusiasts of Chinese verse, we decided that this was an appropriate place for our reading to begin: with an assumption that would, as the night progressed, be stretched and proliferated across a variety of subjects, styles, personalities, and identities.  We heard from lovers, from daughters and sons, from fighters and artists, ethnic selves, queer selves, and — at times — just plain selves confronted with the complex reality of living in the twenty-first century.

We had the pleasure of hearing seven different Lantern Review contributors, all of whom read poems published in either Issue 1 or Issue 2 alongside other pieces prepared for the event.  Though most of us had never met before, there was a wonderful camaraderie in the room — after tipping the microphone down a few inches, Issue 2 contributor Kathleen Hellen joked that, being a little-ish person, she loved little-ish poems and planned to share a few with us.

Kathleen Hellen
Kathleen Hellen

Contributor Rajiv Mohabir impressed us with his unexplained passion for whales, even pulling off his fleece to show the back of his t-shirt.  Sure enough: whale.

To be perfectly honest, in preparing for this event I had no idea what — or who, rather — to expect.  Sure, we had a list of readers and printed programs, but in curating the poems for our two issues, I’d developed certain notions of “who” our contributors were: Poet X, author of Poem Y, was surely this kind of person, or at least that’s what I thought after spending so much time with their persona on the page.  But would I be proved mistaken when I met them in real life?

Kimberly Alidio
Kimberly Alidio

Seeing the men and women “behind the issues,” however, playing the wonderful game of matching poet face to poetic voice, was a fabulous experience.  At this event, a community that had previously existed only as a textual (and virtual!) reality became, for the first time, embodied in flesh: jeans and scarves, breath and lungs and vocal chords.  Hearing these contributors’ voices for the first time, particularly when each poet read their LR piece, was phenomenal.  Personas that previously existed only as textual markings on a computer screen became live presences, embodied on stage before our very eyes.

W. Todd Kaneko
W. Todd Kaneko

This could be an overreaction — the online magazine, and indeed the publishing world itself, has been around a long time, and “meeting your editor/contributors for the first time” is terribly old news.  For us, however, newly minted and only in our second year, the event was a wonderful success.  A true celebration of the little online magazine.  We’re grateful to our contributors, particularly those who were there with us at Go Mama Go! on the 4th, and to all the other readers and writers who make this virtual and literary community a living network of flesh-and-bone people around the nation.  Thank you for your support, and for joining us in exploring the open-ended question of Asian American poetry.

LR Readers & Editors
LR Readers & Editors

Also, thanks to Iris’ foresight and inner documentary filmmaker, you can hear clips of their readings below:

Continue reading “Event Coverage: AWP 2011 Off-Site Reading”

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.

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Event Coverage: VONA Voices Workshop 2010

This post is a little belated because I’ve been busy traveling, but here are some reflections on my experience last month at the Voices of Our Nations (VONA) Workshop 2010, hosted at the University of San Francisco.

The program website pretty much says it all: “The VONA Voices Workshop is dedicated to nurturing developing writers of color [who] come from around the globe to work with renowned writers of color.”  Essentially, VONA is where you go to work with people like Junot Diaz, Chris Abani, and Suheir Hammad.  Where you discover for yourself that there’s a rich and vibrant tradition of writers of color in the United States and that you can situate yourself in that incredible wealth of a heritage.  It’s where you go to learn that you’re not the only one asking the question, “Where am I from, where are my people from, and why does that matter to my writing?”

Basically, VONA is the place where you walk into a workshop, sit down and your instructor says, “So what are your ancestors telling you today?”  You sit awestruck as your classmates go around the room channeling these incredibly powerful, angry voices from our nation(s)’ untold histories, and what you end up with once everyone has spoken is a room of not just eleven poets, but generations of voices echoed through the sensibilities of your peers.

University of San Francisco
Lone Mountain Campus

I attended VONA’s second session, which meant that I was in LA-based poet Ruth Forman’s poetry workshop, along with ten other women from around the country.  Represented in our class was a wide diversity of cultural, and ethnic, and professional backgrounds — including a med student, an African Diaspora Studies Ph.D candidate, an art therapist, and a non-profit consultant… only to mention a few!  Ruth fostered a warm culture of dialogue and collaboration, while advocating fiercely that we stick to June Jordan’s (one of her mentors) Poetry for the People guidelines for discussing poetry.

I learned so much from Ruth, particularly in our one-on-one conference where she shared with me her understanding of what it means to be an African American poet, following in a tradition that — as she sees it — has sought always to speak against injustice, bring hope to the community, and capture the musicality of spoken (and sung) language.  To hear some of Ruth’s work, watch this clip of the VONA faculty reading, where she read several poems from her most recent collection, Prayers Like Shoes (Whit Press, 2009).  You can also hear her on NPR, talking about her children’s book Young Cornrows Callin out the Moon (Children’s Book Press, 2007).

Each of VONA’s two sessions featured a mid-week faculty reading.  Ours was sensational – we heard from Diem Jones with musician Len Wood, Tananarive Due, Ruth Forman, M. Evelina Galang, Chris Abani, Andrew X. Pham, Willie Perdomo, and Elmaz Abinader, each of whom are incredibly accomplished artists and writers.  The auditorium was packed, and because so many in the audience were VONA participants, cries of “Hey, that’s my teacher!” echoed continually throughout the hall.  For many of us, this was the first time we’d heard our instructors read — and the effect was magical.  There they were, our workshop leaders — enacting, performing, embodying all they had been talking about in class.

Tananarive Due reading at the VONA faculty event

On the final evening of the workshop, every VONA participant (about 80 poets and writers in all) shared 300 words of their writing.  Some of it was newly written, read right off of people’s laptops – or Blackberrys.  Some of it was freshly revised after workshop that afternoon.  All of it was raw, real, and bore witness to the tremendous weight of cultural Story represented in the room.  Cave Canem fellow Tara Betts finished the evening off with a powerful, lyrical response to Wallace Stevens’ infamous comment, “Who let the coon in?” when Gwendolyn Brooks arrived at the 1950 Drew-Phalen Awards banquet.

The title of Betts’ poem?  “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Woman.”  Rock on, Tara.

VONA 2010

To Consider…

For a complete list of VONA 2010 faculty, click here.  Read these writers’ books, follow their blogs and, if you can, by all means study with them – or at least hear them read.

Apply to next year’s Voices Workshop!  The application probably won’t be open for another few months, but check the website periodically if this is something you think you may enjoy participating in.

Lastly, the workshop offers limited scholarships to seminar participants, which is made possible only through the generosity of its donors.  If you’d like to help support this initiative, consider donating through the program website.

Event Coverage: Reflections on AWP 2010, Part 2

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]

Several of the editors and poets of INDIVISIBLE celebrate its (very!) recent publication.

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

Transnational Identities Panel Participants

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.

Event Coverage: Reflections on AWP 2010, Part 1

Morning in Denver from our hotel window

Waking up to bright sun and brisk, springy weather every morning was just one of the many small points of brilliance that characterized AWP for Mia and me this year.  Having just come off winter (we both live in places that are not known for their sunshine during the first few months of the year), it was a treat to look outside our hotel room in the morning and see sun, blue skies, and mountains in the distance.  Denver was beautiful.  Even the snow that had been forecast for Wednesday held off for us.  But not even the gorgeous weather or the lure of spring fever proved powerful enough to distract us from the activity going on inside the harshly-lit interior of the Convention Center this weekend.  When I say that it was a wonderful AWP, I really mean it.  After last year’s conference in Chicago (I met Nick Flynn!  I heard Sun Yung Shin read! Lan Samantha Chang complimented my sweater! Poetry played in the elevators all day!) I was prepared for this year to be pretty darn awesome.  But my experience this year totally blew me away.  Part of it was the fantastic panels and readings that I attended.  Part of it was the excitement of walking around the bookfair and getting to talk about LR and hand out our bookmarks and mini-books. Part of it was the great hotel, great food, and Mia’s great company (I’ll admit that we took at least one night off towards the end of the conference just to spend some catching up and discussing each other’s poems over styrofoam cups of Ramen).  But a large part of what made the experience so great was the amazing generosity of the people that we met there, and the passion with which we heard them speak of their work and their involvement with communities of other writers.

Over the course of the four days, Mia and I went to panels and readings galore and spent lots of time in the bookfair.  In this two-part series, we’ll be reflecting on just a few of our favorite events.  For my post, I’ll be focusing on one off-site reading and three panels/readings that I particularly enjoyed.  For more about our experience, look through our Flickr gallery of photos from the weekend, and check back here at the blog for Mia’s followup later this week.

Follow the jump below to read my reflections on the Kundiman/Cave Canem Joint Reading on Wednesday, Thursday’s Kundiman Panel, Friday’s From the Fishouse reading, and Saturday’s Split This Rock’s panel.

Continue reading “Event Coverage: Reflections on AWP 2010, Part 1”

Event Coverage: Breaking English

Larissa Min reading a creative nonfiction manuscript at Halo, in the Capitol HIll neighborhood of Seattle.
Larissa Min, reading from an account of her family's journey from Korea to Brazil and the United States. Photo courtesy of Maya Li.

I mentioned in my last post that I was planning to check out an event on December 4th called Breaking English, hosted by Korean-Brazilian writer Larissa Min.  Larissa moved to Seattle in 2000, where she got her M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Washington.  Since then, she has taught at local community colleges and begun work on a family history project mapping her parents’ journey from Korea to Brazil, and several decades later, to New York City.  Her research, sponsored by the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, has taken her back to Brazil, down the streets of her hometown, and into the archives of her childhood library.  

I arrived at the event a little late, but found a great seat as Larissa assured the audience that she was running on “Latino time” and would be ready in a few minutes.  I felt immediately gratified to be in the company of what seemed to me a different crowd than the one that usually frequents Seattle literary events (where I am often the only person of color present!)  The unusual venue, a darkened second-floor dance studio in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district (known for its arts community), was a lovely event space: floor-length mirrors, wood pillars, votive candles flickering on the hardwood, white paper bags glowing luminously along the back wall of the studio…   Continue reading “Event Coverage: Breaking English”