Showing posts from May, 2011

Again, the Question of Identity

Another reading weekend, but this one combined with a vacation. The Circle for Asian American Literary Studies organized the reading at the conference of the American Literature Association, a coalition of author societies. Chaired by Nicky Schildkraut (University of Southern California), Meena Alexander and I read for a small but attentive audience. It was a pleasure to meet Meena and hear her read. She has an alluring voice, riverine. Born in Allahabad, India, she traveled extensively as a child and an adult, and has finally settled down in New York City, and become an American citizen. I hear in her poetry the unceasing question of what to adopt and what to let go.

This metamorphic self-making was nicely captured by two different papers on her poetry, presented in the panel before our reading. Stephanie Han (City University of Hong Kong) wanted to define her as American. The other paper, by Trevor Lee (City University of New York--The Graduate Center) whose thesis advisor is Alexan…

BookExpo America Opening Night Party

WCT invited me to join her at the party thrown by Electric Literature and Flavorpill, with special guest Harper Perennial. We had a bite at Standard Grill to soak up the anticipated alcohol, then made our way to Le Bain on the rooftop of Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District.

The crowd was mostly younger folks, many dressed casually in jeans. I had on a suit jacket and tailored trousers. WCT looked smashing in pumpkin orange, with a matching orange-red crescent-shaped handbag. She introduced me to a Facebook friend, a poet who teaches at Marymount Community College, and is the colleague of S whom I got to know at AAAS and with whom I shared a cab from LaGuardia back home. WCT's friend had a male friend with her, a French guy who is writing a book on the paranoid style in the McCarthy era.

WCT talked with one or two other people, but otherwise we made up our company that night. Conversation was stimulating and easy, just the way I like it. WCT has a fascinating family history.…

Consuming Asian Americans

The blog-post title is also the theme of this year's conference of the Association of Asian American Studies in New Orleans. Four days, from May 18 to 21, with 132 panels and roundtables, covering multiple disciplines such as history, literature, media, sociology, geography, performance and fine arts, ethnic studies, gender studies and women's studies.

Many papers referred to the transnational turn that has taken place in Asian American studies. The field has moved from recovery of buried pasts to looking beyond the boundaries of the nation-state. The turn involves expanding the term "American" to cover the hemisphere, linking the States to the countries of immigrant origins, studying diasporas and analyzing globalization.

Most of the papers I heard were informed by social constructionist theory, primarily Marxist, feminist, postcolonial and poststructuralist. These papers, speaking the same language, seemed like ingenious applications of one theory or another. An in…

Shipping, Poetry and Art at Salem

Accepted to read at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, wanting to spend a whole day in Salem, I took the overnight Megabus, arriving at South Station, Boston, at 6.00 AM. Then I realized that the first commuter train from North Station to Salem does not leave until 8:30 on weekends. I had The Nibelungenlied with me, and so read How Siegfried Came to Worms, and How Siegfried Fought with the Saxons, and How Siegfried First Set Eyes on Kriemhild. The epic reminds me much more of Arthurian romances than of the Iliad. Love plays as big a part as War.

Arriving at Salem finally, I checked in with the Festival HQ, and then wandered down sleeping streets. I had eggs and hash in a diner run by Mexicans, before finding my way to Hawthorne's Custom House, where he wrote The Scarlet Letter while pacing back and forth from his office to the front door. Under the seaward gaze of the House, I walked out on Derby Wharf, which stuck out into Salem Harbor like a very long finger. Men on The Friendsh…

Poem: "On Watching "Die Walküre" for the First Time"

With LW, I watched on Monday Robert Lepage's Met production of Die Walküre, with James Levine in the conductor stand. My first Wagner music drama. Act One was gripping. Siegmund and Sieglinde, sung affectingly by Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek, fell in love as fate decreed for the long-lost brother and sister.

Act Two suffered from too much exposition, exposing Wagner's weakness as a dramatist. Bryn Terfel sang Wotan and Deborah Voigt sang Brünnhilde but neither could save the narrative pace from sagging badly. Stephanie Blythe was a compelling Fricka, Wotan's wife who forced him to keep the sanctity of marriage, and so withdraw his protection from the adulterous (and incestuous) Siegmund when he fought against Sieglinde's husband, Hunding (Hans-Peter König).

Act Three opened with the famous "Flight of the Valkyries." The war goddesses provoked laughter instead of awe, when they rode the cumbersome planks of the rotating platform. The scene looked com…

Poem: "Randall's Island"

Randall’s Island

On the brow of a lonely hill kneeling
I saw the brown heath growing there.
—Emily Brontë, “Loud without the wind was roaring”

As Emily, far away
from her flat home,

saw on the hill
a sign of home,

so, on this island
that is not the right island,

by this river that is
not the right river,

this artificial turf
is a sign of home.

This artificial turf
is my heath.

Poem: "Pilgrim Flask" (Revised)

(Image from the Peabody Essex Museum)

Pilgrim Flask

Here we have thirst
And patience, from the first
—Marianne Moore, “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish”

Ming Dynasty export to Catholic Spain,
which rode the longest overland trade route
to come to rest on its one spreading foot,
the floral sprays ringed by a dotted chain,
the coat of arms a country’s bold motive—
ferrying spices from the Philippines,
harvesting silver from Peruvian mines—
this bottle makes a bloody wedding gift.

Take it, my sister, take it. Marriage
has traded what is here for what will be
amidst the fears of crooks and banditry,
and molded, for a few, a golden age
with massacre, disease, prison and rape,
yet keeps a promise intact in full view.
A dream of milky white and cobalt blue,
this old dispenser gives an older shape.

Inflated goatskin on a twist of twine,
it saved a restless man dying of thirst.
For the faithful, the clay ampulla nursed
the holy olive from the healing shrine.
Please take …

Grandage's "Lear" and Balanchine's Dances

Last Thursday I watched the Donmar Warehouse production of King Lear at the BAM. Derek Jacobi played Lear as a childish old man, an interpretation that robbed the play of some of its pathos, I think. He was electrifying, however, in the mad scene, in which he and blinded Gloucester (played by Paul Jesson) became ironic pastoral figures. The final scene, in which he entered carrying the dead Cordelia (played by a lackluster Pippa Bennett-Warner), was extremely moving.

Michael Hadley was a negligible Kent. Alec Newman was a shabby Edmund who did not look capable of seducing tortoises, let alone queens. As Goneril, Gina McKee had an interesting voice, somewhat metallic. Justine Mitchell was always on the verge of tears, if not actually crying, as Regan. Tom Beard was a convincingly ineffectual Albany. Gideon Turner looked too young and wild to be Cornwall. Gwilym Lee was fine as Edgar, solid but not revelatory. The most charismatic presence on stage was Ron Cook as the Fool. He was brill…

Poem: "Pleasures and Praise and Plenty"

Pleasures and Praise and Plenty

If they’re denied, I on myself can live
—Annie Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, “On Myself”

Plenty I can do without, having dined with less.
If truth be told, a cast-off jacket suits me best.
Praise is harder to surrender, the sweet reply,
the world’s applause, but recognition is not I.
Most sore it is to be denied, most sorry be,
the morning sun that filters through the locust tree
and so is altered as it alters everywhere
the Baptist church, the balding head, the baby chair.

Poem: "Pilgrim Flask"

For the Massachusetts Poetry Festival (next Saturday, people, in Salem), I have been asked to write an ekphrastic on an artefact from the Peabody Essex Museum. I wrote on this blue and white porcelain flask.

(Image from the Peabody Essex Museum website)

Pilgrim Flask

Here we have thirst
And patience, from the first
—Marianne Moore, “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish”

Ming Dynasty export to Spain, which sailed
or rode the longest overland trade route
to come to rest on its one spreading foot,
on a sideboard or centre mantelpiece,
the coat of arms a country’s golden age,
silver harvested from deep American mines,
spices ferried back from the Philippines,
this bottle makes a beautiful wedding gift.

Please take it, sister, though it’s eight years late.
I could not give it earlier. Away
from home, I was studying to be a poet.
Angry, too, when your faith didn’t accept
the fact that I am gay. Time has returned
material fact back to a means of faith.
A thing of cobalt bl…

Reading Tea with Ocean Vuong

Read on Sunday night with Ocean Vuong at JujoMukti Tea Lounge in the East Village, at a reading series curated by David Lawton. We read a poem each in turns, and the poems played off each other wonderfully. An electrifying moment happened when Ocean read his self-portrait as Jeffrey Dahmer, and then I read my self-portrait after Frida Kahlo. The body broken and eaten becomes the body put back together and giving nourishment. A number of friends came for the reading, Linda Lerner, Miriam Stanley, Jackie Sheeler, and Brant Lyon. GH was there too. Rachael Briggs also came, and read two witty poems written during NaPoWriMo. She, GH and I had dinner afterwards at the Polish diner, Odessa. I sold two books at the reading and traded with Ocean.

The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater

I watched The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater on April 6, but was too caught up with NaPo to record the event. Grandparents of the conductor and narrator of the evening, Michael Tilson Thomas, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky were pioneers of Yiddish Theater in New York City. The program gives the historical origins of the art:

European Yiddish theater was officially born only five years before Boris Thomashefsky emigrated to America. Abraham Goldfaden (1840-1908), generally regarded as the "Father of Yiddish Theater," wrote and presented the first productions in Jassy, Romania, in 1876.... Having himself been a badkhen (an Askenazic traveling minstrel) for many years, he now set out to create a type of Jewish opera or operetta, for which he interwove music from synagogue chants, religious hymns, holiday songs, Hasidic tunes, Yiddish folk songs, Slavic melodies, and European grand opera arias....

Boris Thomashefsky writes in his Autobiography t…

National Poetry Month

Wrote my last poem for NaPoWriMo yesterday, a small poem about LB's reading on Friday. I enjoyed her inventiveness and admired her risk-taking. The poem about two stags in rut, with the scent in the air but not the presence of the doe, was very striking. Her mole poem gave me the idea for my poem. Marie Ponsot sat at the next table. It was a pleasure to speak with her for a while, though distressing to learn that she had a stroke, which rendered her for sometime speechless. We spoke a little about asking the stroke to speak.

I think "Eve's Fault" is the best poem I wrote this month. It is not faultless, but it stretched me to write it. I love how the poem enters the garden, and then leaves it. It is not strictly biographical, but it melds several biographical elements with a revision of the myth. The Norton Anthology has whet my appetite for the writing of Renaissance and Restoration women poets. They are feisty, they had to be, and their daring is extremely attracti…

Poem: "What Do I Want"

What Do I Want

well I want to
get better

—Marie Ponsot, “Simples”

The oldest living woman poet in the country
is listening to a youthful edition of herself
talk about illness in a poem about the mole.

Its dark abnormality. Its busy digging to fit
its body into the ground. Star-shaped nose.

And she whose poems are musical and easy
is hacking and hacking into bunched tissues.
She is allergic to spring, the old poet explains,

after you end with Survival is a bitter malady.

for LB