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* Previous posts in this series: Kenji C. Liu - Craig Santos Perez - Ching-In Chen - Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha - Andre Yang - Barbara Jane Reyes As someone who was raised as a man, my gender is an incredibly slippery experience to write about. Attempts to explore the making of my gender through poetry is an ongoing and uneven unraveling of layers. For inspiration, I look to critical race studies and whiteness studies scholars who point out that whiteness is so normalized and taken for granted, white people have a remarkably hard time grasping its deep reach in their own lives. Those who spend the majority of their lives as the norm or ideal have little practice putting it under the microscope. Similarly, for me writing about being a man happens slowly in bits and pieces, with reliance on the work done by feminists and gender outlaws. As a man whose particular alignment of gender and sex has been generally affirmed since birth, my intersection with race and racism is an important and generative space to write from. I’m inspired by the Asian American feminist work of poet and scholar Margaret Rhee (recently featured in the Poetry Foundation’s blog... Continue reading
Posted May 26, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
* Previous posts in this series: Kenji C. Liu - Craig Santos Perez - Ching-In Chen - Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha - Andre Yang When Kenji Liu invited me here to write about APIA poetry communities, I confess, I wanted to rant about the criticisms I have with APIA poetry communities. Liu wrote in his introductory blog post, “The nationalist framework of Asian Pacific American is at times too parochial,” which is something I needed to read another APIA poet write. Community has always felt like a muddle to me, in which too much compromise, too much silencing and distancing of dissenters occurs. I posted on Facebook about this desire to rant about the parochialism of community, i.e. Its aesthetic restrictions, its fear of rocking the mainstream boat by producing work that is too confrontational or feminist/womanist/Pinayist or anti-imperialist, or on the community’s grassroots side, its disdain for the “academic,” the “intellectual,” the “experimental” poet. Lately, what I’ve been experiencing is old boys’ club misogyny, in which we women are expected and oftentimes explicitly instructed to withhold our opinions, to assist, to agree, to accommodate, to smile, to execute the unrecognized and uncredited labor for our male counterparts to garner the... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
* Previous posts in this series: Kenji C. Liu - Craig Santos Perez - Ching-In Chen - Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha A funny thing happened to me today. I walked into a nearly empty café and stood in line behind a woman who’d just finished giving her order to the barista. The two, both of whom were white, continued to have a conversation after the customer’s order was taken. Not wanting to be rude, I waited for them to finish what I thought to be a brief exchange. Shortly after, a young African American man entered the café and the barista immediately looked over to him and smiled (this man was obviously a regular) and began trying to guess his order. At that point I stepped forward and said, “Excuse me, I was here first.” I repeated myself three times before she heard me and looked over with a wide-eyed expression of shock, as if I were a ghost that appeared out of nowhere, and apologized profusely for not having noticed me sooner. There were no other customers in line and I was wearing a bright red T-shirt. How could I not have been noticed? How do I interpret this kind... Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
* Previous posts in this series: Kenji C. Liu - Craig Santos Perez - Ching-In Chen Friday, May 18 marked three years since the official end of Sri Lanka's civil war. I didn't realize this til today–I was in rural Northern California at a writer's residency with no phone or internet service. Once I came home to South Berkeley and recovered from my solo 7-hour drive home from the redwoods, I turned on Facebook and Al Jazeera. I was confronted with both the reality of the anniversary, and the question of what my options are–as a Sri Lankan writer and poet born in the United States, and in the face of the legacy of war, genocide, and forced exile that every Sri Lankan has to figure out what to do with. African American/Caribbean queer poet-warrior June Jordan entitled her last collection of essays, "Some of Us Did Not Die." Her words are an acknowledgment and a challenge to all of us fierce brown queer poets, who are alive when many of our people are not. Some of us did not die, June wrote, and followed it by asking, so what are we going to do about it? What are we... Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
* Previous posts in this series: Kenji C. Liu - Craig Santos Perez I write to you from Milwaukee, Midwest city, most segregated city in the United States. What it means to write and be in conversation with Asian Pacific Islander American poetry here (a mutated broken-city text, a choral rendering of the many iterations of bodies within this space) feels very different from the Southern California desert where I lived right before moving here or in Massachusetts where I grew up. * [Notes to self, locations to map: Grand Avenue: Lee Chung's where Wah Lee had complained of theft in fall of 1885, police detectives found little white girl hiding underneath bed] * These last few months in Milwaukee, I have been making poems about the 1889 anti-Chinese riots in Milwaukee. Admittedly, I was looking for traces of this community beyond the Pacific Produce Market or the American Chinese restaurants scattered throughout the city. There is a correlation between this singular event and x's on the map all along the West coast. * [Third Street: Chen Quen where the laundryman at 203 Third Street had 2 names, Superintendent Whitehead scouring Business District for Chinese laundries and saw at residence... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
* Previous posts in this series: Kenji C. Liu The first time I read "To 'P' or Not to 'P'? Marking the Territory Between Pacific Islander and Asian American Studies", by Vicente M. Diaz, I really had to "P." Badly. And by "P," I mean I had to "Pacific." I had recently completed an MFA in Poetry (the other stream of "P" in my life), and I was thirsty for Pacific literature. So I applied to a Ph.D. program in Ethnic Studies. I didn't get in. So I applied again the next year and they must have pitied me. As I walked the halls of my department, I realized there was nowhere I could "P." No Pacific faculty, no Pacific courses. I had no choice but to hold my "P" and take other courses. One course was "Asian American Literary Theory," taught by Sau-ling Wong. The creative sophistication of the field inspired me. I wrote my final essay on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's DICTEE because I saw myself in Cha's words: From another epic another history. From the missing narrative From the multitude of narratives. Missing. From the chronicles. For another telling another recitation. Those lines became an epigraph in... Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
I have the pleasure and honor to once again guest curate a week of blog posts here for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). Thank you very much to Best American Poetry for offering this space for thinking and writing. I consider myself active in Asian Pacific American (APA) arts and culture, but my allegiance isn’t to the identity–it’s to issues, histories, and lineages. The truth is, a lot of contemporary APA poetry is less an inspiration for me than is poetry and writing from other communities, past and present. Those who help me find new ways to think and write about our world, like Michel Foucault, Cherríe Moraga, Jacques Derrida, Edmond Jabes, and others, are those I consider my lineage and poetic community. Derrida has written: “By orienting and organizing the coherence of the system, the centre of a structure permits the play of its elements inside the total form… Nevertheless, the center also closes off the play which it opens up and makes possible.” One of the challenges of identity politics, which it inherits from classical European philosophy, is its underlying teleology. At some point it needs to call on essentialist thinking–a centre where we can safely rely... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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May 17, 2012