Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

NaPo 27 and 28

in the manila folder
the color of forsythia
a festival program

running into
a peck of pigeons

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Thinking Its Presence

As a poet, I'd be deeply grateful to any reader who reads my poetry as closely as Dorothy J. Wang does the writings of Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Pamela Lu. The quality of attention in Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry is strongly sympathetic, though never uncritical. Wang shows how the racialized formation of the poets' identity is, not a cause, but a determinant of the form and language of their poetry. To ignore such influence is to read them willfully with one eye closed. Whether the poet treats race thematically, as Li-Young Lee, Marilyn Chin and John Yau do, or through formal means and experimental strategies, as Wang argues for Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Pamela Lu, he or she has to confront the realities of American racial politics.

In her readings, Wang uncovers the complex deployment of the individual poet's dominant trope. She shows, for instance, that Li-Young Lee is a much more interesting poet than usually credited, by analyzing his slippery use of metaphor. Irony in Marilyn Chin and parody in John Yau are multi-directional, at once defensive and hostile. Even grammar bears the impression of race, in the participial phrases of Berssenbrugge, and the subjunctive subjects of Lu. Wang's analysis is informed by theorists such as Aristotle and Paul de Man on metaphor, Claire Colebrook and Linda Hutcheon on irony, Margaret Rose and Mikhail Bakhtin on parody, and Khachig Toloyan, William Safran and Paul Gilroy on diasporic writing, but she does not forget that poets have things to teach theorists too. So John Yau's poetry displays heteroglossia, a quality that Bakhtin reserves for the genre of novel.

Quite unusually too, in a book of literary criticism, Wang is fearless in calling out prejudice and bigotry in the pronouncements of white critics. Two important chapters deal with the separate involvement of Marilyn Chin and John Yau in two critical controversies over race and literature. The chapters show how avowedly liberal white writers and translators arrogate to themselves the power to decide what is racial, what is literary. These chapters are integral to the thesis of the book. They make concrete the alienating circumstances under which Asian American poets write. "Racialized formation" is a very abstract notion, until one reads what has been so openly said, and nastily implied, in letters to public journals.

As I read this volume, I hear echoes of the ideas that arose in my conversations with Dorothy, usually over brunch. Dorothy is a generous and exciting teacher, as her former students at the book party told me. I always leave her with new things to mull over. This book is the fruit of many years of thought. I will return often to it, and to the poetry that it celebrates.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014

Triangle Awards and NaPo 25

Invited by Charlie Bondhus to the Publishing Triangle Awards Ceremony, I decided to troop along. The evening was held in the auditorium of The New School, where I heard Marie Ponsot read some years ago. The big space was less than half-filled. I thought it a pity, since the event was free and open to the public. Don Weise, with whom I chatted during the reception, suggested that New Yorkers don't value what they can get for nothing. Steven Cordova and Walter Holland, who are in the same writing group as Charlie, came in support too. Sara Farizan made a dramatic entrance just as her win for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction was announced. She had been delayed at San Francisco airport for three hours. She received even greater applause when her novel If You Could be Mine won the Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian and Gay Fiction. It was the first time in the awards history that one book won in the two categories. I was very happy for Charlie when his book of poems All the Heat We Could Carry was announced as the winner of the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. So little did he expect to win that he had not prepared a speech, and, after thanking everyone, returned to his seat and collapsed half-weeping into his partner Kevin. The Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to playwright María Irene Fornés. The playwright and director Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, who accepted the award on Fornés’s behalf, gave a deeply felt tribute to the Latina lesbian trailblazer. I had not heard of her before, and had the impression that she was unknown to many in the audience too. I hope to make up for my ignorance soon, for she sounded, in Jorge's citation, like a truly innovative artiste.

distant stars
brighter than day

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Publication and NaPo 20

My poem "We will not pass this way again, my love" appears in The Raintown Review Volume #11 Issue #2, March 2014. Thanks, Anna Evans, for accepting the poem. The issue also includes a roundtable discussion of the legacy of Paul Christian Stevens, the beloved editor of The Shit Creek Review, The Chimaera, and The Flea. Paul was very supportive of my work, publishing several of my poems in his three journals, and a feature on my erotic poetry edited by Rose Kelleher. I miss his postings on Facebook, where he stood out for his humaneness.

Today's haiku does not refer to Paul, but to another friend. Its mood is, however, in remembrance of him too.

waking up
with hair falling out
on easter morning

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ilo Ilo and NaPo 18

Watched Ilo Ilo yesterday. It was a well-made film with good acting. A surprise to me that it wasn't better than competent. The plot was rather predictable. The symbolism a little forced. The camera angles, except for some nice close-ups, were familiar. The film could also do with tighter editing. It was a deft summary of the tropes of Singapore's Chinese TV dramas and multilingual stage plays, without the things that make them unique, the madcap comedy and the social criticism. Playing the father in the film, Chen Tianwen, the veteran TV actor, could stand for the same old same old.

hungry again
what good
are my neighbor's plums?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Departures and NaPo 15

Departures, directed by Yôjirô Takita, is somewhat sentimental, but I could not help but be moved by the home-coming story. Daigo Kobayashi (played by a lovable Masahiro Motoki) gives up a musical career playing the cello and returns to his hometown. There he stumbles into the job of preparing corpses for burial, a work called nokanshi, or "encoffineer." It soon emerges that he is a man wounded by his father's abandonment at the age of six. By sending off the dead in a tender and professional manner, and thus comforting the mourners, he finally achieves consolation for himself. There is a wonderfully comical scene when Daigo has to model as the corpse for a training video featuring his boss and teacher Ikuei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki). The symbolism of the scene becomes clear gradually as Daigo undergoes a form of rebirth.

spring wind
walking to work
no sweat!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Second Saturdays and NaPo13

The second edition of the Second Saturdays reading series was hosted last night by Paul and Al. It was a pleasure to hear Vijay Seshadri read from 3 Sections. Other readers were very good too. Ten readers, but the hour went by quickly. Colin Goh's rendition of the Lord's Prayer into Singlish was hilarious, without being disrespectful. He and Damon Chua each read an extract from their stories in the forthcoming collection Singapore Noir. Marcus Yi read a satirical piece and Teo Kiat Sing read a darker poem by Marcus. Eric Norris read two fine poems, one about Kyoto, and one after Horace. Kenneth Lim read his well-turned poems about love. Christine Chia read a couple of new poems that strongly linked political and romantic disunion. Halfway through, Teo Mei Ann led us in creating a piece of collaborative theater. Contributing one line each, we wrote a discontinuous narrative about coming together as a community.

spring wind
I can go left
or right

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Reading and NaPo 11

Read last night with Charlie Bondhus, Steven Cordova and Walter Holland at the Bureau of General Services--Queer Division. Greg, who works full-time at the Bureau, was lovely to talk to. Al and Paul Rozario-Falcone came, as did Eric Norris. I read "Profiles" and a couple of the ghazals from Seven Studies, "Eve's Fault" from the forthcoming book, and "The old Chinese poets" from The Pillow Book. Eric thought it was the best reading that I had done. I thought so too. I could hear myself relaxed into the music of the lines.

mute swan
a child's drawing
on blue paper

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Sunday, April 06, 2014

NaPo 6

Happening upon Matisse's Jazz cutouts at Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington

green shoots
the old magician
on a sax

Happening on Jazz was but one of the many happy incidents in Bloomington. The annual ALSCW conference ended last night with a banquet in the beautiful Tudor Room in Indiana Memorial Union, where the conference took place. The eating was followed by readings from the association's journal Literary Imagination. Jim McGregor paid a lovely tribute to his wife Sallie Spence, the founding editor of the journal, by reading a poem by Mark Strand published in the very first issue. Sallie read a poem by the Meringoff prize winner George Kologeris, a poem about his father blessing the house with a spring of basil. Archie Burnett, the current editor, read a non-fictional piece on the commas in the famous first sentence of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and the same punctuation mark in Milton's Paradise Lost. John Burt regaled our table with Civil War stories. It was lovely to talk more with Misha, Kevin and Dustin, with Helaine and Phil completing the table.

This is my third ALSCW conference. I was feeling terribly awkward and overawed at my first, in Philly. My second, in Athens, Georgia, last year, was better but still suffused with the anxiety of leading an academic panel for the first time in my life. I still feel woefully out of my depth at this third conference, but the colleagues here have been kind and supportive. I exchanged books with Greg Delanty. Many paid compliments to the panel on Asian American poetry. John Briggs, the President, again said last night that he was going to seek out Goh Poh Seng's Lines from Batu Ferringhi, even though it is out of print. This last is of special meaning to me. One reason for writing the essay on Lines was to bring greater notice to the wonderful poem. To do so at such a conference in the States is gratifying. It encourages me to do more research on Goh. John's interest also validates my belief about the ALSCW, that here is an bunch of people who genuinely and deeply care for imaginative literature.

So much to learn from these scholars and writers. I was very impressed by three panels in particular, one on literary translation from German and Slavic Languages, another on compassion in Renaissance Literature, and the third on the chorus in Athenian Tragedy. The presenters showed thorough and passionate mastery of their material and argued eloquently for their topic. The papers were also related in either theme or method, and so gave a ranging sense of the field. The imaginative sustenance for the three days came from the poet George Kologeris. His seriousness of purpose, sincerity of feeling, honesty in diction, made his poetry a wholesome and welcomed meal.

Friday, April 04, 2014

NaPo 3 and 4

green shoots
on a cutting board
for a winter soup

green shoots
new testament
of old roots

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Poetry Event at City College--CUNY

My friend Helen Dano organized a very interesting evening of poetry and discussion at City College--CUNY last night. She invited Rowan Ricardo Philips, Adam Fitzgerald and Bejan Matur not only to read, but to intersperse their reading with responses to questions from the moderator David Groff and City College MFA students. The three poets were very different in their styles and approaches to poetry. Philips was logically rigorous; his poetry showed a feeling for argument and form, and his answers a penchant for accuracy. Fitzgerald wrote much more associative verse, and his answers were more casual and personal. Bejan Matur was the most interesting of the three. The Turkish poet was genuinely and thoroughly mystical in her writing and poetics. There was no irony in her poetry, unless it was the deep irony of being alive in a deadly world.

I had not realized that City College-CUNY had such beautiful stone buildings, an actual campus. After the reading, KM and I went to an Italian restaurant, where I had a so-so seafood risotto. The chocolate cake was superb, however, slightly crusty on the outside, gooey on the inside. It made for a delicious belated birthday celebration.

NaPo 2

green shoots
from the rich loam
outside the condo

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


Gandhi (1982), the biopic by Richard Attenborough, was absorbing for all of its 191 minutes. It is to be expected that a film of such magnitude and with such backing would be hagiographic and would ignore all the controversies about the man, but once that reservation has been put aside, the film is an incredible piece of cinema, and well deserves its Oscar and Globe in best direction. Ben Kingsley is a very believable Gandhi, complete with Bapu's Indian-influenced English. Rohini Hattangadi is a very lovely Kasturba Gandhi. Roshan Seth brings some complexity to his portrayal of Pandit Nehru. He is the human working with the superhuman Mahatma.

Oh yes, we also watched Chef's Special (2008), an okay gay comedy directed by Nacho G. Velilla, starring Javier Cámara, Lola Dueñas, and Fernando Tejero, who plays a cute ex-footballer.

National Poetry Writing Month 2014

the rain changes
to snow then to rain
the bus is here