Showing posts from February, 2016

Jessica Hagedorn's "Dogeaters"

Drawn from different sectors of Manila society in the 1950s, the characters in Dogeaters are so vividly drawn, so complexly animated, that they appear primed for the big screen that they love so much. Through their interactions, often indirect, Hagedorn lays bare the obsession with American glamor, the ruthless suppression of political dissent, the awkwardness of coming-of-age, the irrepressible yearning for love. The novel is artfully constructed with alternating points of views, supplemented with fabricated news reports and surrealistic dream sequences. The plot curves with great speed towards its denouement, a political assassination and its shattering consequences.

Roger Smith Annual Poetry Dinner

The Roger Smith Annual Poetry Dinner is held at the Roger Smith Hotel in Midtown East in the spirit of Scottish-American cultural exchange and in honor of a Scottish poet. The poet is usually returning from the Poetry Festival in Nicaragua, as I learned last night from the honored poet Gerrie Fellows. After the opening remarks by organizer Danika Druttman, Gerrie began the dinner by reading her lovely poems. The phrase "the grit and oil of matter" stayed with me. As the dinner continued, every guest read a poem he or she brought.

It was to be expected that the Scottish connection would be strong. One of the best poems of the evening was a witty parody of a Scottish ballad. More surprising was the international flavor of the evening. Two poets of Indian heritage read, as well as a woman from Mexico and a man from Peru, the latter two reading in Spanish. There was also a poet of African heritage; she did not say what part of Africa. Sitting across from me, as I discovered late…

HIV Here and Now

Michael Broder started the HIV Here and Now Project as a poem-a-day countdown to 35 years of AIDS on June 5, 2016. Yesterday I joined some contributors--Michael, Lonely Christopher, Guillermo Filice Castro, Debora Lidov and Sarah Sarai--to read our poems at the Bryant Park Word for Word poetry series in nearby Kinokuniya Bookstore. Michael suggested that I read a poem by John Humpstone from the project.

John Humpstone grew up on Long Island. After graduating from Pratt Institute, he became an interior designer and was one of the founders of Lexington Gardens, a design and garden store in Manhattan. A lifelong artist and writer and a lively conversationalist, he wrote this poem when he knew he was dying of AIDS, and left it behind unpublished. John died on June 23rd, 1996, a few days before his 40th birthday.


The fireflies who drifted on summer's evening
Warm and reassuring dark
And seemed to my young eyes a thousand
Tiny boats afloat on sunset's lapis sea
Called to us …

Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night"

How many literary epics are also page-turners? The Queen of the Night is one of the very few. Intricate plotting, unforgettable characters, marvelous coincidences: this is life writ large on a huge canvas, covering frontier and urban America in the late nineteenth century, France in the last days of her Second Empire, and Bismarck's Prussia. Under all the historical bustle, however, is a story about love, what we are willing to give up and what not, for the sake of love. And though our very being yearns for freedom, we give ourselves up at every turn to chains. Turgenev, who appears in the novel in a reverential light, is the presiding spirit. In its sympathetic insight into women, The Queen of the Night pays a handsome tribute to the Russian master.

Nabokov's "Pale Fire"

A Game of the highest sort, but still only a game. The characters remain cartoonish figments of a madcap imagination, and do not acquire flesh and blood. There is no Lolita at stake here, only the idea of exile and the chimera of fame.

Writing Prompt

An imaginative writing prompt taking off from "Broccoli" in my book!

"Our prompt this week comes from Jee Leong Koh’s collection of poetry, “Steep Tea.” We’ve been going around the room in groups, reading the poem five or six times before stopping to talk about it. By doing so we create the mundane that the poem refers to. Then the prompt is to open with, “I think, I am going to get out of bed, and I…” And somewhere in the writing include “I watch myself…” It can be just once, or a repetition. Whatever you need. 20 minutes, loves. Watch yourself. If you don’t like what you see, make some changes."

Image from Seema Reza's blog


In the grassy field
knocking about a golf ball
the fat homeless man

Theater Week

Tuesday night, WL and I watched Pan Asian Repertory Theater's production of A Dream of Red Pavilions, adapted by Jeremy Tiang from the classic Chinese novel by Cao Xueqin. The set was beautiful and the period costumes stunning, but I could not shake off the feeling that it was strange watching and hearing Asian American actors speak in English with a mixture of Asian and American accents as members of the upper-class Jia clan in the Qing Dynasty. Things were not helped by the weak acting, most unfortunate in the case of the actor playing the teenage protagonist Bao Yu (Precious Jade). It was hard to see what was adorable about this celestial being reborn on earth. The actor with the strongest stage presence was the one playing the Fairy, the seductive Aunt, and the Emperor's concubine. Bold yet subtle in her delineation of each character, she lit up the stage each time she appeared.

Wednesday night, I watched a cabaret show titled The Way We Were at Joe's Pub at The Public…