Saturday, April 30, 2016

Motherless Tongues and Haiku

Last night at Asian American Writers' Workshop, I heard Leila Chudori read from her newly translated novel Home, followed by Vicente Rafael reading from Benedict Anderson's memoir A Life Beyond Boundaries. The discussion was moderated by Gina Apostol. Rafael, a former student of Anderson's, and Professor of History at the University of Washington, was really sharp. In his reading, he put together a collage of extracts that focused on the role of luck in a life. According to Rafael, Anderson once noted that "luck" does not appear in the index at the back of any scholarly book: it is outside the boundaries of academic inquiry. If Benedict was not expelled from Indonesia for contradicting the Suharto regime's explanation of the 1965 massacre, he would not have lived in Thailand and the Philippines, and written his innovative comparative study on nationalism, Imagined Communities. During the Q&A, Rafael explained Anderson's ideas very succinctly in response to questions sometimes pedantic, sometimes vague. I'm now reading his book Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid the Wars of Translation. The Introduction, titled "The Aporia of Translation," is beautifully written, almost poetic.


With these four haiku, I conclude the NaPoWrMo.

The coffee maker
hissing like distant gunfire
end of the month

all the green growing
lush pigment

the police siren
the bird resists arrest

Spring 2016
a book of selected poems
or a brief history?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Forgery and Haiku

TLS March 4 2016

From Nick Groom's review of Oscar Wilde's Chatterton: Literary history, Romanticism and the art of forgery by Joseph Bristow and Rebecca Mitchell:

But it was [Theodore] Watt's model of immersive and untrammelled creativity that appealed most to Wilde: "by the artist's yearning to represent", Watts wrote, "if perfect representation seemed to him to demand forgery, he needs must forge". 
The "Chatterton" notebook is, then, a "crucible" in which Wilde explored the ideas that would shape his subsequent works and theory of the artist, serving as the epitome of the inextricability of life and work, and affirming the overriding important of Paterian "personality".... Among the first of Wilde's own comments is the claim that Chatterton's life and work are inseparable: "Without a full comprehension of his life the secret of his literature is not revealed". Wilde was attracted to Chatterton's exploitation of "the links between imagination, authenticity, and truth" that forged an "artistic originality ... in fabrications that conjured a literary past that historically never existed". He was super-creative, the ultimate artist, and enabled Wilde to show that "all artistic creation is an act of forgery". 
Similarly, "The Portrait of Mr. W. H." (1889), Wilde's fantasia on Shakespeare's Sonnets, extends forgery to the heart of the literary canon by drawing inspiration from the shenanigans of the "second Chatterton", William Henry Ireland, as well as the later Victorian editor-forger John Payne Collier. Bristow and Mitchell's impressively subtle reading of "The Portrait of Mr. W. H." reveals its criss-crossing layers of representation: an ekphrastic narrative of a forged portrait of the non-existent "Wille Hughes", supposed dedicatee of the Sonnets, who is conjured into being through a combination of textual criticism, historical scholarship and imaginative vision. Once traced in this way, the boy-actor Hughes then acts as the conductor of homoerotic desire in the text. The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 had made any sexual relations between men illegal, but in a teasing denial (or protraction) of homoeroticism the narrative of "The Portrait" repeatedly discloses that Willie Hughes, the male object of infatuation, is a fake.


Bright birdcall
unstitches every seam
the old woman looks up

Ice clinking in the water bottle
blood flows
blood clots

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Marlon James's A Brief History of Seven Killings

It should be impossible to understand and empathize with this frightening cast of monsters, but it is not. Herein lies Marlon James's brilliance. I was crushed when Weeper died. I was overwhelmed when Josey Wales self-destructed by shooting up a crack house.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Truth, Endeavor, and Haiku

I've not been recording the movies I had watched. Shame on me. Last weekend, two interesting ones, well worth recording. 2015 Truth, directed by James Vanderbilt, is, as imdb has it, "Newsroom drama detailing the 2004 CBS 60 Minutes report investigating then-President George W. Bush's military service, and the subsequent firestorm of criticism that cost anchor Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes their careers." Cate Blanchett was terrific as Mary Mapes, as was Robert Redford as Dan Rather. That was Friday, and on Sunday, we were completely charmed by Shaun Evans's cerebral and isolated Inspector Morse in made-for-TV Masterpiece Mystery's Endeavor, written by Inspector Lewis creator and Inspector Morse writer Russell Lewis.


Pale daffodils
poor wandering things
the souls of emperors

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Nothing Important Happened Today

Read for the New York Writers Workshop at the Red Room with Sudeep Sen, Ravi Shankar, and Claudia Serea last Thursday. Good turnout, thanks to the strong promotional efforts by the organizer Tim Tomlinson. Claudia Serea's poems, from Nothing Important Happened Today, were very appealing in their lyrical directness and imaginative shifts. Born in Romania, she fled the country after the only violent revolution in Communist Europe.

At a poetry reading—
ice melting
in a steel basin


Sweet sweet sweet
rises from the swamp
into a yellow warbler

Composing haiku
relieves the hemorrhoids
a happy waste of time

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Uprooted and Leafless

Uprooted by Naomi Novik is a fairy tale for adults, or very mature children. It describes terrible evil: the annual sacrifice of a girl by a village to its lord called Dragon; the corruption of people and animals by the nearby Wood; the entombment of a wife with her dead husband, war's bloody results; and genocide. It subjects ancient myths to modern scrutiny, and so achieves a voice that is both contemporary and timeless. The pacing of the story is relentless, with wonderful set pieces, such as a fight with a monster in the king's palace, and the siege of a wizard's tower. The ending tries to do too much, I think, torn between the marital and the sisterly stories. The origin of the Wood's evil requires too much explanation. Still, Uprooted is very worth reading. Novik is a born storyteller.


From a leafless tree
dangle five long seed pods
all uncircumcised

Monday, April 18, 2016

Monotypes, Moules, and Morning Light

On Sunday, GH and I went to the MoMA. He wanted to see the exhibition on Japanese architecture: "A Japanese Constellation: Toyo Ito, SANAA, and Beyond." I find architectural shows very unsatisfying. The models, plans, drawings, and projections cannot convey the sense of space that must be experienced on-site. I lack 3-D spatial imagination, I suppose. The only architectural show I really enjoyed was the one on Corbusier.

I really enjoyed the show on Degas's monotypes. Beautiful, striking surfaces achieved: the shimmer of water, the lushness of hair, the hatchings of curtains. The bathing nudes were spectacular. When two impressions are made, one directly after another, they are called cognates. Good name, that. Degas would make two impressions, instead of the usual one, and color the second one with pastel. He also experimented with dark field and light field printing. In the first, black ink was applied to the whole metal plate, and then removed, with a roll of sponge, a finger, the wooden tip of a brush, to create the image. The second is the opposite, in which the image is drawn in black ink on the clean plate. Degas used both techniques in some of his most ambitious print works.

We also saw the Marcel Broodthaers retrospective. Born a Belgian, he was a poet before he became an artist, and even after he turned to art, never left his fascination with text and wordplay. He drew inspiration from Magritte (This is not a pipe.) and from the French symbolists, such as Mallarmé. I liked his sculpture of a pot of mussels, the lid lifted by the abundance of the shellfish. The sculpture was repeated in various permutations and formats throughout his career, together with his use of eggshells. Moules means both mussels and molds. I also liked his mussel paintings, in which canvases in different shapes are covered with the emptied shells bearing a tint of green, blue or yellow. The work is limited in its aims and execution, but interesting, nevertheless.


Morning light
rich as an avocado
the earth a seed

Why drive? You will miss
the connotations of light

Friday, April 15, 2016

New York Writers Workshop Reading

Mark your NYC calendar. I'm reading with Ravi Shankar and Claudia Serea at Red Room (above KGB Bar), 85 East 4th Street, Thursday, April 21, 7:00 PM. The event is organized by the New York Writers Workshop. Its indefatigable leader Tim Tomlinson has put our poems on these beautiful images. Enjoy, and then come and enjoy more with us.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Delancey and Haiku

Last night I read for the "Writers with Drinks" variety show at the Delancey. Organized by Charlie Jane Anders, the show featured a comedian (Aparna Nancherla), a fabulist (Charlie Jane Anders), a futurist (Annalee Newitz), a fantasist (Naomi Novik), a novelist (Colson Whitehead), and me, the poet. It was enormously entertaining, and the audience lapped it all up. Charlie Jane gave such whacky and inventive introductions to everyone that I was encouraged to crack a couple of jokes during my reading, something I had never done before.


Unscrew the moon
and pour out from the sky
more moon

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Last night BV and I attended a talk at Jefferson Market Library to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of an early instance of gay activism in New York City.

"Fifty years ago a person could be refused service in a bar simply for being gay, and his or her mere presence there could result in the bar’s closure by the State Liquor Authority. On April 21, 1966, Dick Leitsch and other members of the Mattachine Society, an early LGBT rights organization, staged the now famous Sip-In at Julius’ bar in the Village to challenge this “legal” discrimination. After they announced to the bartender that they were homosexuals and wished to be served, they were refused service. The event generated publicity and was one of the earliest acts of organized LGBT civil disobedience in New York City. Scholars of LGBT history consider the Sip-In at Julius’ as a key event leading to the growth of legitimate LGBT bars and the development of the bar as the central social space for urban LGBT New Yorkers" (from the website of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, the organizer of the event).

One of the three men, Dick Leitsch, was present and spoke touchingly, and humorously, about the nearly accidental way in which he became an activist. Originally from Kentucky, all he wanted to do was to find love, sex, and domesticity, but was drawn into the Mattachine Society for its sociability. At some point, enough was enough, and as the 29-year-old President of the society masterminded the 'sip-in'. Also present were Andrew Dolkart, Ken Lustbader, and Jay Shockley of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project who talked about  their recent efforts to have the site, and others important to LGBT history, designated a NYC landmark. Only NYC Landmark Designation can ensure the preservation of the site and prevent demolition or inappropriate alterations.

You can support their efforts:

1. Send a letter calling for NYC Landmark Designation for Julius' - go to

2. Buy a high-quality glossy estate stamped silver gelatin print of the Julius' 'Sip-in' by Fred W. McDarrah, with proceeds supporting the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Monday, April 11, 2016


a small bar of soap
a rabbit's foot

as if I am not in the room
one thrush to another

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Diary and Haiku

Met Michelle Cahill last night, finally, after years of exchanging emails and following one another's work. With her, James Byrne and Sandeep, and their friends Samantha and her husband. Vivek completed the party at the NYU reading and afterwards dinner at Rasa.


Early Chinese Literature
the cover the patina
of a copper church steeple

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Suicide and Haiku

TLS February 19, 2016

from Amia Srinivasan's review of Simon Critchley's Notes on Suicide:

Most interesting is the suicide that heeds Seneca's dictum that the wise man "lives as long as he ought, not as long as he can". George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, shot himself in the heart, leaving behind the note: "To my friends: my work is done. Why wait?" Hunter S. Thompson apparently felt that late was better than never: "67. 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring . . . 67, you're getting greedy. Act your old sage. Relax. This won't hurt". Critchley admires this sort of end, sober and unentitled. But he is attracted most of all to suicide done for no apparent reason, as a leap into the absurd. He quotes approvingly from Edouard Levé's novel Suicide (Levé turned in the manuscript ten days before hanging himself): "Your death was scandalously beautiful".


Over the rocks
the fall of water froze
forsythia pours

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Saturday, April 02, 2016


Doing Poetry Writing Month again. Yesterday's and today's poems.

Birdcall in the spring--

Milk and blood
the cherry tree holds up
without dripping