Tuesday, May 31, 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 Alexander, saw her as a transnational poet who crosses borders and changes shapes. Alexander's response to Han's paper was gracious but I thought I detected a hint of resistance. As a poet, I would hate to be fixed by critics as only one thing. If I have to be one thing, I would be the gay Singaporean poet, I think. The term possesses to the utmost that such terms can hold the quality of paradox.

At the conference I also heard a stimulating panel on Jhumpa Lahiri and her (lack of) spiciness, a thought-provoking one on Henry James and form, and a less than enlightening one on Wallace Stevens that showed the limits of identifying the poet with the philosophy of pragmatism.

GH and I had a good time in Provincetown. Our first trip of the season to the beach. It was lovely to wake up to the loud slapping of the sea outside the French windows of our hotel room.

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