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For this seventh and final post for APA Heritage Month, I posed a couple of prompts to all the guest bloggers from this past week–Patricia Y. Ikeda, Iris A. Law, Barbara Jane Reyes, Gerald Maa, and myself. As a way to provide readers some way to explore on their own, the first prompt was to list their personal top five APIA poets. From Iris A. Law (Lantern Review): 1. Kimiko Hahn I had studied the poem "The Artist's Daughter" as an undergrad, but it wasn't until last year that I finally read the eponymous collection (W.W. Norton 2004)–and I was blown away by its beautiful, but unflinching treatment of the human body. I recently read Hahn's most recent collection, Toxic Flora (W.W. Norton 2010)--which juxtaposes human experience with alternately lovely and bizarre tidbits drawn from the New York Times' science section–and absolutely loved it, too (what is there not to love about a speaker who imagines herself into the roles of a giant squid and a female praying mantis?). 2. Li-Young Lee I would be amiss not to mention Lee in my list. He is the first Asian American poet whose work that I really came to know and love in college (even before I knew that there was a whole community of actively-producing Asian American poets out there). The very first signed book of poetry that I ever owned was a copy of Rose (BOA Editions 1986), which Lee inscribed for me with a few improvisational lines of verse about my first name. Though my critical and aesthetic interests, craft, and repertoire have fluctuated as I have grown as a poet, the tenderness and liquid clarity of Lee's work continues to move me. His most recent collection, Behind my Eyes (W.W. Norton 2009), is marvelously expansive in vision, and is worth buying in hardcover for the accompanying CD recording of him reading poems from the collection (Lee has a surprisingly soothing reading voice; as he confesses in one poem, his wife regularly falls asleep while he's talking to her). 3. Sarah Gambito I've recently found myself very turned onto Sarah Gambito's work. I love the strangeness of it: the way her images float and lightly inhabit the space of each poem; and I love her sonics (which are soft and sensual, but slippery–like silk sliding off a bed). There's a strategic resonance to the stillness that pervades her work–it's like being in what musicians like to call a "live" room. I love something that she said about her process in an interview with the Fordham Observer: "I try to just be as still as I can in the city. If you can do that, it's almost impossible for poems not to come to you." I highly recommend both of her collections: Delivered (Persea 2009) and Matadora (Alice James Books 2004) 4. Oliver de la Paz I love the searing sense of vision that inhabits de la Paz's work, as well as the arc and music of his voice–his poems... Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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“If my freedom were not in the book, where would it be? If my book were not my freedom, what would it be? Truth cannot but be violent. There is no peaceable truth. [...] The violence of the book is turned against the book: battle without mercy.” from The Book of Margins, Edmond Jabes In The Book of Margins, Edmond Jabes instigates a deep questioning of writing by writing. He comes to this through a practice of Jewishness that lives through a deeply dialogical relationship with the book. In this practice, what is written is not Truth, but something to be wrestled with. What posits itself as Truth is violent because it sets itself up as unquestionable and one-size-fits-all. So he sets about digging holes into writing with his writing. I believe it is useful to think about Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) poetry in this way. In my view, many APIA poets cross lines and challenge truths about what is American, Asian, and Pacific Islander. I believe many of us, consciously or not, have to confront at some point the idea that we are not fully any of these things, because the default position of each, the Truth, has no room for those who exceed the categories. Recently, Barbara Jane Reyes posted on her blog in "Writing Culture in Diwata (y Poeta)" about an incident where a colleague questioned her use of non-English words in her poetry–“There has to be a reason for it.” I think the same must be said of English. Yes, we are in the United States. But why should everyone write in English? There are plenty of historical and political reasons–racialization, sexual violence, homophobia, nationalism, and more, that have made English the unquestioned default and relegate millions to monolingualism. Once we ask why, once we question the (English) book, we raise the specter of the Truth and how it got to be that way. I think of the APIA activist slogan in response to the racism of “go back to where you came from” – “We’re here because you were there.” APIA poets have always written in many native languages–English, Creole, Pidgin, the multitudes of languages and dialects that somehow fit under the designation of Asian and Pacific Islander, and some that don’t. (See for example, Rajiv Mohabir’s poem examined in my first post in this series.) Personally, I find inspiration in Adrienne Rich when she writes in the context of patriarchy, “This is the oppressor's language // yet I need it to talk to you”. One’s “natural” relationship to a language should not be taken for granted, especially if it’s the dominant language. A poem forthcoming in Issue 9 of Kartika Review is “Everything Glows in Tsukuba” by Gina Barnard: "Celebrities scream words in punctuated / colors as a man living in a bubble on the beach spears a baby octopus—purpled and / heavy: yatta! Sushi-grade tuna—lucent—teases me to poke its glimmer through / cellophane, to become the obaachan in Tampopo, squeezing fruit flesh... Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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James Baldwin starts off a masterful essay called “A Fly in Buttermilk” by saying, “I found myself, willy-nilly, alchemized into an American the moment I touched French soil.” When approached with this prompt, I immediately wondered, “forget being an American, what does it mean to become an American?” Here are two poets from the Americas, well-laurelled and vastly popular in other countries, but virtually unknown in the United States. José Watanabe (1946-2007) is Japanese Peruvian poet, one of Peru’s most celebrated writers. He spent his early life on a sugar plantation, but moved to Trujilo in time for his schooling. In addition to poetry, Watanabe has written children’s books and screenplays. In a poem titled “Grandson,” he describes himself as “furiously decomposing,” a phrase that seems appropriate in describing the craft and sensibility that guides his poems: “when the scrutinizing certainty of science / is insufferable, / I, furiously decomposing, insist the doctors/ believe me, we cannot die of a failing organ / unless it sparks a secret metamorphosis / until it matures into an animal ready to abandon us.” That animal, a haunting one that populates many of Watanabe’s poems in different shapes, reminds me of Kafka’s. A poem titled “The Sole” starts off: “My life depends on the tireless mimicry of sand hues, but this subtle trick that lets me eat and frustrate enemies has deformed me.” The deforming, decomposing after-effect of the human imagination drives these poems, in both content and craft, dissolving to recreate as the only possibility for preserving this organic life, one autonomous of us, and always on the verge of departing. Born in Tokyo, Hiromi Itō now divides her time between Encinatas, California and Kumamoto, Japan. Throughout the 1980s she wrote collections of poetry about sexuality, childbirth, and the female body with such urgency and care that she’s often credited with changing the shape of contemporary Japanese poetry, i.e. sexing it. “A Poem for Ueno-San” starts with Hiromi Itō noting, “This is when I think of Ueno-san / Her language, her territory, her culture.” Her poetry persistently prods and enacts the process through which language, territory, and culture constitute an individual. Shocking, frank, and revelatory—shocking and frank for nothing but the revelatory—her work reminds me of one of my favorites, Emily Dickinson’s “They shut me up in Prose.” Each of Hiromi’s poems gives us a glimpse of a mind going round and round, a mind incisive, subversive, obsessive, and generous. In another poem, she presses, “More than through skin, more than through sex / Unease is something that becomes clear through language.” Here language and body are synonymous. The words we use are a growing, changing corpus; our limbs, skeleton, and faculties are meaning making mediums that render the world for ourselves and for others. It’s not enough to say that Hiromi’s words are alive; her poems startle us into our own bodies the way an accidental shoulder-brush does, a longed-for touch, one of those glances you catch across a crowd. I confess... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks Fredken! Hope to see your comments on the other posts in this series.
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I have been an admirer of Watsonville poet Shirley Ancheta for many years. I came to her poems when I was a wee undergrad; she became known to me as one of the formative poets of the Kearny Street Workshop and 1970’s Flips. She’s one of our most talented Filipina poets who have not yet seen publication of a full-length poetry book. I should provide some context here. In Northern California, the generations of Filipino American poets previous to mine are predominantly male, writing what I read as very masculine narratives. The prevalent theme of the work is the Manongs, which is an Ilocano term for a male elder, possibly a Filipinization of the Spanish “hermano.” The now elderly, surviving Manongs first came to the West Coast in the early twentieth century. They were laborers in agriculture, in fisheries and canneries, in the service industry. They became objects of racial and class violence. They became activists. Some went on to co-found the United Farm Workers. They’ve been quietly erased from American History, despite their labor majorly contributing to the building of California’s economy. Much of the earlier literature of Filipino Americans focused on previous decades’ tumult, and current twilight. This is particularly apt to mention now; as I write this, it’s International Workers’ Day. In the 1980’s, Kearny Street Workshop published volumes of poetry, some authored by the descendants of these Manongs, American-born Filipinos, for whom the Philippines was a distant, mythic place. The anthology Without Names, the poetry collection edited by the Bay Area Pilipino American Writers (1985), includes three women among a total of 15 writers. Only one of these women found full-length book publication; this is not Shirley Ancheta. Lucky for us, her poems are anthologized and therefore not forgotten. Within this lengthy context, I present her layered and intensely feminine poetry to you. Her poem, “Stairs,” from Without Names, tells us something of her poetics: Now she steps out of her shoes And divides herself in two. She watches Herself standing in a black dress, [...] This is the moment a slipping woman deepens In her pale turning toward herself. The prose poem, “Kristine,” from Going Home to a Landscape, balances adeptly the contrasts and confluences of intense sexual desire, earthy pork blood stew, and pineapple fields, in the memory of Kristine, who slips in and out of consciousness in a San Francisco street, just struck by a car: She thought she was kissing a boy in the dark, in the back of the house near the pineapple field. His hands could hold down a pig for the killing. They were caught by her grandmother who threw her slipper across the yard... In “Tryptich,” from Babaylan, the Tagalog creation story is rearticulated from the point of view of the first woman, emerging from the bamboo, together with the first man: Whoever I am I am the same, Carrying in my mind and body The darkness I am from -- Worthy of reflection In the dark green... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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One of the joys of editing Lantern Review is that Mia (our Associate Editor) and I get to work with contributors from a wide variety of backgrounds. We’ve published work by people who are just venturing out into the world of poetry, as well as work by veterans who have many books and awards to their names. We also work with artists who are invested in many different career paths: some are academics—students or teachers by day; others are publishers, community organizers, nonprofit administrators, designers, engineers, computer programmers, ceramists. Some of our contributors have graduate degrees in creative writing; others have degrees in non-literary fields; still others have taken an entirely different, nonacademic path. There’s a beautifully dizzying array of interests and experiences that populates each issue, and every time Mia and I sit down for one of our Skype editorial meetings, mugs of tea in hand and a new batch of poems queued up on our respective computer screens, we’re blown away by the diversity of perspectives that our contributors have to offer. As an editor, I love thinking about the conversation between the different voices in each issue. And I love the way that each contributor’s unique experiences sometimes produce subtle, but wonderfully resonant nuances within his or her work. In my own academic experience, I didn’t start out wanting to be a poet. In fact, I spent a lot of time in college investing in a deep fascination with biology. But even when I eventually bailed on that interest to pursue the literary arts, the science didn’t disappear. Instead, it tagged along with me to the humanities, where xylem and phloem, equations and electrons, carrying capacities, helices, and wavelengths continue to populate my creative work. And so, in my work as an editor—while I ultimately believe that it is not the route that one takes, but the poems themselves, that matter—I’m always deeply interested in the work of poets who have non-humanities or interdisciplinary backgrounds. Take, for example, one of my favorite poems from our second issue, “honeycomb scriptures :: world granulated,” which was contributed by Aryanil Mukherjee, a Cincinnati-based engineering mathematician who has published nine books of poetry and edits the interlingual publication KAURAB. The poems in Mukherjee’s “honeycomb scriptures” series engage with encapsulation, compartmentalization, refraction, bifurcation . . . and it’s the lovely strangeness of this lens which permeates and enlivens “. . . world granulated.” In entering the poem, the reader is presented with an array of images that act like tiny mirrors—some planar, some concave or convex—which reflect and translate, fragment, distort, split and twin the bodies that pass before them: “two gloved men carrying a sheet of factory glass childhood. pivoted on two mobile / corners. i remember the cityscape across and thru it. and then comes a 1-800- / bluevan-with-no-strings-attached to any kind of shenanigans. brake-failed and time- / spilled.” The “sheet of factory glass” carried by gloved workers, its “mobile” corners (which recur later in the poem, catching themselves softly... Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks Oscar. I hope the Sith will forgive me when I say that Sith poetry is rather dry and uninteresting. ;-)
Thanks to you Stacey, and to everyone at Best American Poetry for this opportunity.
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You old-timers like fo’ complain. No mo’ moi nowadays, no mo’ papio No mo’ nothin’. from “No Mo’ Fish on Maui,” Barry Masuda My mom grew up in Hawai’i, a Nisei (second generation Japanese American) whose first languages were Japanese and English. She remembered being outside the morning that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, people screaming and running for cover when the airplanes banked and the morning sun illuminated the red disc of the rising sun on their wings. After marrying a Hoosier Nisei, she raised her children in Ohio. Long-distance phone calls were special occasions in those days; late at night, I remember her talking to family members in Hawai’i, the soft inflections of her speech shifting slightly, moving into Japanese, into Pidgin English. For most people, home is not only a place, it’s a manner of speech. The poetry of home, or leaving home, or not knowing one’s home, then, is also a way of speaking, and the deep listening in the night for familiar voices. so we talk into the night until the star spangled banner fades from view and a white blip burns the heart of the tube from “living in the world,” Alan Chong Lau Familiar sounds. Smells. The invocation and evocation of hands, faces, voices of people who don’t appear in American magazines, on television, who aren’t the ones who come to mind when we say “American.” Where is Asian North America except for here in the US and Canada? The Pacific Islander Americans, navigating impossibly long distances in open canoes, arriving later by boat and airplane, raising their kids, working, arriving. Asian immigrants, arriving, planting familiar foods. Your hands that understand taro learn limits whose gestures become far islands from “Taro,” Shirley Ancheta There’s been plenty of suffering to go around, of course, but poetry and art is okay with all that. The stereotype of the silent and submissive Asian is, like all stereotypes, only as real as is allowed by lack of examination. But I exhume my past to claim this time. My youth is buried in Rohwer, Obachan’s ghost visits Amache Gate. My niece haunts Tule Lake. Words are better than tears, so I spill them. from “Breaking Silence,” Janice Mirikitani And Hawai’i, we discover, is a lot more than surfboards and tiki torches. Ho'opuka e ka la ma ka hikina Me ka huaka`i hele no Kumukahi Ha'a mai na 'iwa me Hi'iaka Me Kapo-Laka i ka uluwehiwehi Ne'e mai na 'iwa ma ku'u alo Me ke alo kapu o ka aiwaiwa Rise, O sun in the east With a procession going to Kumukahi Dancing are the beautiful ones with Hi'iaka And Kapo-Laka in the verdant grove Moving ahead are the dancers toward me And to the sacred presence of the divine from Ho'opuka E Ka La (Rise, O Sun), 17th century, anonymous When I began publishing poems under the name “Patricia Y. Ikeda” in the late seventies, I’d never heard of “APIA poetry.” I was fortunate in having mentors when I... Continue reading
Posted May 2, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
May is Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) Heritage Month, and I'm happy to have been given the opportunity to take this week to introduce the Best American Poetry audience to some worthy American poets and journals they may not be familiar with. When I've taught Asian American Studies courses, one of my initial assignments has always been to ask students to define “Asia” or “Asian.” Without fail, there is never any single definition that everyone can agree on. This is “Asia” as geopolitical successor to the colonialist idea of the “Orient,” American imperialism in the Pacific, and Asian exclusion by Congressional order (1) (2). On the other hand, a label such as Asian American or APIA has provided great political strength and focus when needed for our communities. It has also been the base for much important cultural production–exploring, among other things, our common experiences. Several notable anthologies already exist on what can be categorized as APIA poetry. For example, there is Quiet Fire: A Historical Anthology of Asian American Poetry 1892-1970, edited by Juliana Chang, Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New North American Poetry, edited by Walter Lew, and Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation edited by Victoria M. Chang. There are also more specialized poetry collections highlighting particular APIA ethnic, cultural or regional groups. This week, it's with great pleasure that I bring you blog posts from several facilitators and writers of APIA poetry–Patricia Ikeda, Barbara Jane Reyes, Gerald Maa (Asian American Literary Review), Iris Law (Lantern Review), and myself (Kartika Review). Each contributor has had free rein to discuss whatever draws them, although with the exception of Patricia Ikeda, they have been given one guideline–that they highlight poets that come from outside the MFA path. This is not to diminish the MFA's value, but to recognize that a formal graduate education in creative writing often provides resources and networking opportunities that may not be as easily accessible for others. So in highlighting non-MFA poets, I hope to bring some of these others to greater attention. As a poet and poetry editor for Kartika Review, my personal approach to “APIA” is to see it as a valuable launching point into areas that overlap, challenge, or perhaps just barely graze it. I'm interested in how gender, class, sexual identity, nationality, religion, and other issues intersect it. For example, take Rajiv Mohabir's “Holi Lovesport Stains (Krishna-Lila)”, which was published in issue 8 of Kartika Review. In it, Mohabir takes stories of the god Krishna and deftly makes them his own. The poem pulls the reader from line to line through kaleidoscopic micro-vignettes, a kind of fragmentary devotional song: “two full moons ring his ears. // the cowlord rumbles, / sapphire hurricane of yaduvansh. // the cowherds dandiya lovesport / pichkarya, vermilion drama. // a ballad map back / to that sacred forest.” The reader is enmeshed in a space where the mythological gives meaning to the contemporary, or perhaps the other way around: “we two drunken roses / chests in... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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May 1, 2011