OK, this is giving me more insight into my ideas about Filipino Americans within or in relation to the existing publishing industry. Local activist and graduate student Jack Stephens discusses the shift in Asian American Studies from the original radical, working class, anti-imperialist stance into more middle class, identity politics based thinking. (I found this link via Jean Vengua’s Commonwealth Cafe blog, where I see her also grappling with what to do next). The other day, I blogged about the need to control our own means of production and distribution in publishing, to be the ones in editorial decision making positions, to know our communities of readers. It isn’t enough for “some of us” to find success within the larger publishing industry because this does not change the structure of this industry. To reiterate some of my points from yesterday’s blog post, the mainstream publishing industry isn’t set up with my community’s interests incorporated anywhere in their ideologies, and I believe this even when cries for diversity pop up as trendy bits and fetish objects when they do.
[Note: I am not linking to Arkipelago Books's website because it's apparently got malicious software installed.]
As many of you know, before Poeta en San Francisco and Diwata, my very hard to find first book, Gravities of Center, was published by SF-based, Filipino American owned Arkipelago Books, in 2003. Gravities of Center is a collection of what I can best describe as juvenalia, as many poets’ first books are. What I remember most about my first book’s impending and actual publication was the tremendous energy, support, and even love, I felt the local community gave me. So much support, so much effervescent, “you did so good, sister!” or “way to go, little sister!”
I bring this up now, because while I am sure that had to do with the accomplishment of first book, I am now more certain this had to do with who published my first book, far beyond the margins of the American poetry industry. Having grown up in the Bay Area Filipino American community, I believed in Arkipelago’s importance to our community. We know whom they are there to serve; that’s us. Nowhere else in the country is there a Filipino American owned bookstore and independent press invested in, directed specifically toward the local community. Hence, the importance of my first book for the local community (addendum: and the host of local Filipino American educators so enthusiastic about teaching my work). And now, I don’t think I will ever feel that sense of energy and support from the local community again, given my publishing trajectory outward and elsewhere, despite my continued insistence — since my very first DIY chapbook and even before this as a Maganda editor — upon multilingual, politicized, Filipina-centric poetics.
I have been peeking in on Anthem Salgado’s posts over at the Art of Hustle website. Anthem’s posting up some helpful and practical stuff there. I was going to say it’s helpful stuff to emerging artists, but I think also a good, healthy reminder to more established artists about the hustle. This is good for me to revisit; I tend to wonder how effective my shameless self-promotion is. Is it? How do we measure effectiveness?
So, rather than stump myself on these questions, I wanted to go back to the basics of professionalism Anthem’s outlined in his most recent post, materials to have on hand at all times — a straight forward bio, CV, work samples, et al., and proper wording and formatting of these. I think these are things we do take for granted; a fellow Pinoy author once told me he regretted some of his old bios/contributor notes, for their lack of professionalism or lack of relevance to his art. I thought about some of these old contributor notes of his and it dawned on me how clever he’d tried to be in those. Made me think, well, that’s what the actual work is for, no? Or if not the art work, then the non-fiction, critical essay work.
I still really don’t have a presentation down for the AWP panel in which we’re supposed to discuss diversity and publishing, which sounds really open ended, but I suppose that’s the point. So I was thinking about this on the bus this morning, starting to get anxious that I have nothing organized to contribute, especially as my various editing projects are not getting off the ground the way I’d love for them to be getting off the ground.
This comes up now, as I’ve just been informed that one of our panelists, Craig Santos Perez, will not be able to make it to AWP, and I was really looking forward to hearing him speak. As well, Lyle Daggett has left me a much needed comment, gently checking me on my current negativity about being online. This blog is where I work out for myself my ideas, however nebulous or disorganized, in hopes that my ideas will become more fully formed. Ultimately, if I am to put any of my ideas into action or activism, then I need to work them out somewhere. Why not here.
Remember in the film, Amadeus, in which Emperor Joseph says, upon hearing Mozart’s newly composed opera, there are simply “too many notes.” There are only so many notes the ear can hear, Emperor Joseph explains, to which Mozart responds, well then, which notes would His Excellency like me to remove?
I say this all now, having perused some recent e-complaints and e-defenses regarding, once again, the über-proliferation of MFA programs, and hence, of poets, of poetry publishers, and of poets’ books. Some interesting reads:
- Joyelle McSweeney at Montevidayo, “Lay off the Motherf$%ing MFA Students,” here, and which I appreciate for her fierce defense of students who have prioritized in their lives their further education as writers, despite our USAmerican society’s emphasis on profit and narrowly defined usefulness.
- Charles Jensen at his Kinemapoetics blog, “Further Considerations of the MFA/Not to MFA soliloquy,” here, which is all around a well-considered post.
I am pointing to these two thoughtful responses to the recent e-complaints, and thinking, as Jensen writes, how these e-complaints resurface every now and then, often, frequently. I often write about MFA-ing here as well. I want to think about the Creative Writing, specifically Poetry MFA, as regards Poets of Color in the USA, and as regards Poets of Color and our access to publication in the USA and North America. I want to think about these things in relation to grassroots cultural movements of Poets, Artists, Activists of Color; I am interested in what that relationship is.
From Eduardo Corral’s blog:
michael luis medrano: to think about the last decade of Chicano Literature is really a question about how I came into writing and why I’ve continued on this path. I can say the last ten years has brought many fine writers who could’ve had publishing careers if they would have stuck with learning the craft.
huh? michael, you are telling me if we chicano/a poets “learned” our craft then the publishing houses would beg to publish our work? you got to be kidding. often it’s not a question of craft. it’s about timing, good luck, and connections. look at you, craftmaster, your second ms is still looking for a publisher.
So, I actually agree to some extent with Medrano, not specific to Chicano literature, but to writers of color. Once, a writer I know told me, upon publication of my second book, that I’d broken that “first book curse.” How many perfectly good poets, this writer asked me, have we just never heard from again after their first book. Why is that? What’s happened there? Sometimes writers gradually fall out of the rigor or discipline needed to see a book manuscript to completion. Sometimes it’s just real life that takes writers away from writing.
My Mills students are officially awesome. We’ve been discussing historical and ongoing USA American poet of color experiences, being expected to represent our communities in their poetry, and always positively. Both academic institutions and community exert pressures on the writer/author, impose aesthetic and political standards upon the author and her work. We talked about Toi Derricotte’s anecdote of being a MFA student in the 1980′s, told by a professor of hers that they do not study African American poetry because they “don’t go down that low.” Certainly this derision underscores the importance of spaces such as Cave Canem, in which African American poets may develop the critical vocabulary with which to discuss their poetry.
We’ve tried our best to discuss the poetry not only for its social, political, historical, and cultural concerns, but as poems, what’s happening on the page with space and line break, as well as the poet’s specific word choices. Of course, even discussions of poetic form, page, diction/register become discussions of a poet’s social, political, historical, and cultural concerns. Moreover, within one circumscribed community, experiences are manifold, i.e. there is no singular authentic “black experience,” “Filipino American experience,” and so on.
One of my students is asking who has access to the poets and poems we are privileged to be reading and discussing in our Poets of Color class. This question, and many other excellent questions she asks are an extension of the questions Meta DuEwa Jones asks in her “Descent and Transcendence…” essay.
So, first, back to my question in yesterday’s blog post about how we as educators perpetuate the racial profiling of “WWB,” “writing while black,” “writing while brown.” I remember being asked by a student at USF during last semester’s Asian American Women Authors event, how to cope, how to handle ourselves when we are the minority in an English Lit classroom, being presented the one or two token writings by someone of color. When, in this situation, we students of color are called upon to be the authority on writers of color and their “ethnic” content. I told this student that the very premise of a class like that is faulty. When studying “American Literature,” why only one or two writers of color? Why only Li-Young Lee or whoever is the go to Asian American author? American Literature is truly much more diverse than a solitary token writer or two, and a curriculum should represent this diversity — ethnic, aesthetic, formalistic, etc.
So then I see how in any college or university, a Writers of Color course in an English Department is meant to correct the imbalance and under-representation, but then again, let’s think about how this is a flawed premise. This tells me that decision makers don’t think there is anything necessitating change with the individual classes within the existing department curriculum.
Looks like I’ll be at AWP next year. Sounds like an interesting panel. Maybe we’ll make a ruckus.
Poet/Editors on Inclusivity and Race
Rich Villar, Dan Chiasson, Don Share, Carmen Giménez Smith, Craig Santos Perez, Barbara Jane Reyes
Poet/editors present discuss inclusiveness (and lack thereof) of minority voices in literary publications. Representing both mainstream and more community-based projects, the panelists consider the challenges of inclusiveness, and how successful (and unsuccessful) they have been. Throughout, they consider how, in an atmosphere of perceived mistrust, constructive dialogue can be forged towards the goal of better presenting the broad spectrum of American poetry.
We’re back from Albuquerque, where Oscar participated as a writing fellow at the inaugural Canto Mundo writing workshops. He has a series of very good write-up’s at his blog. I did my best to be scarce, spent a couple of days viewing art exhibits and reading a lot of poetry, and so I thank the organizers and fellows for opening up their space to me. I was fortunate to attend Rigoberto González‘s talk on publishing, community and literary activism. I don’t know where I’d be in this po-biz web without him as a role model. He gives the much needed straight talk about what responsibilities we have as writers of color, as individuals and as communities. It boiled down to these three items, which I am constantly negotiating:
- Be an activist, however you define the term.
- Be generous; share your networks and resources with community. There is nothing worse than an artist who is stingy and territorial. [Addendum: he also said there is nothing worse than the artist who takes and takes from others without giving anything back.]
- Be better writers, and better readers. Read outside of the community. I interpret this as taking risks, not hiding in our cozy little safe circles.