It seems Oscar and I are a smack talking luchador tag team. I say this, given our many conversations about open discourse and e-places. His recent blog post is here, thoughts in response to the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog’s recent change to a news feed format. They have ceased to be what they call a “discursive blog,” in favor of the popular linking to others. Oscar raises many good points there, so I won’t rehash. I’ll just encourage you to go read his post, as well as excellent comments from Sheryl Luna and Reb Livingston. Sheryl discusses gated e-communities in which people can selectively block others from participating in discussions. Reb discusses the kinds of blogs which have easily transitioned into gated e-spaces.
Craig Santos Perez has drawn up a flier (below) for our upcoming emerging writers panel at SFPL. I blogged about this a while back (read original post, which is really part of an ongoing series regarding the MFA Industrial Complex), that information and guidance about writing programs should be free and accessible to emerging writers of color, and that there are many of us in our communities with experiential knowledge to share and be a resource.
In yesterday’s blog post I wrote that the point of our literature and arts movements and orgs, from where I am standing, is not to replicate existing institutions but to build formidable institutions based upon alternative visions. I believe hardcore in literatures of resistance, communities of resistance, and cultures of resistance, and I have to believe all of my individual and collaborative work contributes to these.
Here is the 12/06/09 event information:
Yesterday evening, Oscar was one of the feature readers for the Poetry for the People Open Mic Summer Series at Berkeley City College. I’m glad I went, especially because I actually feel pretty cut off from this particular segment of the poetry population. I am accustomed to literary readings featuring mostly authors presenting books of very polished work, almost in recitation mode (this is the term I used in my response to Dwayne’s comment on performance). Certainly, this is my bad, for apparently limiting myself to the authorial presentation. I say “recitation” because of my own belief that when the book is published is when (for me) the editing and tweaking of the poem officially ends. And so we recite. Prior to book publication, no matter how many journals and anthologies the poem has been published in, it’s still fair game for editing, and the poetry reading is/can be a helpful editing tool.
[Some edits below]
My current threads:
I’ve just submitted my selections to Didi Menendez for the Best of MiPOesias 2000 to 2010 anthology, from OCHO #16. Debbie Yee’s “Cinderella’s Last Will and Testament,” included in this issue, is already included in the anthology as it’s been selected for Best American Poetry 2009. That said, my selections for Best of MiPOesias are Dillon Westbrook’s long poem excerpt from “long life,” and Jaime Jacinto’s “World’s Fair.” I’d already previously nominated Jaime’s poem, “Manong’s Gift” for a Pushcart Prize; biased as I am, I believe very much that he is an exceptional poet.
Eileen Tabios has written on her blog this morning something I find myself really very much agreeing with: “…if you believe poetry is marginalized in today’s (U.S.) culture and want to know why poetry is marginalized, it’s NOT BECAUSE POETS ARE WRITING IRRELEVANTLY. It’s not because poets aren’t writing about what’s ‘important’ to write about like politics (what’s ‘important’ is subjective, yah?). It’s not because poets are writing ‘elliptically.’ It’s not because poets are writing ‘narcissistically.’ It’s not because poets are ‘writing to each other.’ It’s not because poets are flarf-in’. It’s not because they’re too ‘quiet’ or too ‘avant.’ It’s not because too many poets write ‘academically’ or got their MFAs. It’s not because poets aren’t doing their job — anyone who feels they can define a poet’s ‘job’ is generally just arrogant or looking for a way to grab attention for himself (yes, it’s usually a him). // If you believe poetry is marginalized (and that is an ‘if’), then poetry is marginalized today in large part because K-12 (Kindergarten to 12th grade) education has, in too many cases, eliminated the relevance of the arts….including any notion that a particular art form can be expanded beyond what is inherited by an artist.”
Well, lookee who’s blogging manifestos and missives this lovely weekend: Rich Villar shouts me out (Salamats, ‘Pare) before launching into his post, “A Defining Line: Plato, Performance, Poems, and Points (Ten of ‘em).” Oscar has written his response, some rebuttal, and his own missive, borrowing lyrics from A Tribe Called Quest, “If knowledge is the key then just show me the lock.”
My own questions to Rich revolve around “Spoken Word Artist,” and “Academia.”
He writes: 1) Spoken Word is a category of recorded sound, traditionally defined by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, refined and changed over the years to reflect the realities of certain artistic shifts and their resultant record sales. It does not constitute a genre of poetry. There are no such things as “spoken word poetry,” or “spoken word poets.” There is only poetry. There are only poets.
Poetry reading by Camille Dungy, Oscar Bermeo, and DeWayne Dickerson
FREE! (Please BYOB)
Wednesday, December 3rd, 7:30pm
Books & Bookshelves
99 Sanchez Street, SF
Camille T. Dungy is the author of What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006), a finalist for the PEN Center USA 2007 Literary Award and the Library of Virginia 2007 Literary Award. She is assistant editor of Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade (University of Michigan Press, 2006). Dungy has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Virginia Commission for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Cave Canem, the Dana Award, and the American Antiquarian Society. A graduate of Stanford University and the MFA program at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, her work has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, The Crab Orchard Review, Poetry Daily, and other publications. She lives in San Francisco, Calif., where she serves as an associate professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. A co-founder of From the Fishouse, she is currently president of the board of directors, and co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great (forthcoming in spring 2009 from Persea Books), edited with Jeffrey Thomson and Matt O’Donnell.
Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is a BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) award winning poet, educator and literary events coordinator who now makes his home in Oakland, where he is the poetry editor for Tea Party magazine and lives with his wife, poeta Barbara Jane Reyes. He is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue and Palimpsest. Full bio here.
DeWayne Dickerson was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. His first collection of poetry, chunky, was published by v52 press. His unique blend of spoken word and blues fusion became the subject of a B-Roll Films documentary, Incursions in Chunk, which was selected for the 2005 Boston International Film Festival. “A powerhouse performer!” – Molotov Mouths, San Francisco
The UCSB Filipino American student organization, Kapatirang Pilipino (KP), were such awesome young folks who took such good care of me. And I actually worried I wouldn’t be able to offer them anything valuable for all their time and effort. There really is only so much you can do in one hour of poetry workshop. I tend to want to give so much background that it really does take ~15 weeks to unravel everything I mean to say.
I’ve been told by some that in poetry workshops taught by poets of some level of renown, you wish for more engagement with texts rather than abundant time to free write. Anyway, I do try to have space for both. That said, I was able to discuss to some extent the music of the poetic line, and the orality of a good musical line, and how poetic form is a container for this music and a way to organize “expression” in order to commit to memory, and in order to drive the narrative forward.
And since the term, “spoken word” was coming up everywhere I was speaking at UCSB, I got to the point that I was saying to students:
That line between spoken word and poetry – erase it. It’s the same thing.
Poetry has always existed in human cultures, and its many musics are culturally and geographically specific, and based upon orality and performance. I know folks also make the distinction between orature and literature, but I am not going to make that distinction because some measure of value invariably gets attached to either term.
We discussed Nellie Wong’s pantoum, “Grandmother’s Song,” for what the progression and repetition of lines accomplishes within this metrically consistent poem. We discussed the shift from the golden pomelo days to peeling shrimp for pennies a day, working in the mud and the erosion of tradition, etc. That shift just kind of sneaks up on us, and so as readers, what do we do with this? As poets, especially poets wanting to write politically relevant work, how can we make these devices useful to us?
What I asked the students to write was based off Huu Thinh’s “Asking,” and Oscar Bermeo’s “I’m Jus Askin”; questions that they want answered, questions whose answers they haven’t been satisfied with hearing, rearticulations of these questions aimed at/indicting different parties, each question its own line. And then to go about either answering those questions, or to write lines that are reasons why they are asking those questions. Given that each of the sample poems are written from culturally, historically, geographically specific spaces, what are our specifics? I told them to throw conventional grammar to the curb and just write lines. What came out of this free write was defiant, pointed, philosophical/lofty as well as concrete and practical.
We ended with a pretty hefty conversation regarding R. Zamora Linmark’s “They Like You Because You Eat Dog,” which, even when fully aware of the poet’s use of irony, is still a tough read: worshipers of blue passports, machine gunning your own kind, unable to fill out an application form. It elicits all kinds of questions of colonial mentality, self-hatred, economic necessity, and perceived cultural and moral deficiency, given the power relationship between the “they,” those of the dominant American culture, and the “you,” the allegedly colonized Filipino. Even the sentences’ grammar places the “they” in the power position (the viewer and doer) and the “you” in the viewed, receiving position. “They like you because,” “They like you because,” over and over again is relentless, until the final line when the refrain ends and the, “when the time comes [that you are more and more like them], will they like you more?”
I asked the students what their poetic responses would be to this poem. Some possibilities they brought up: Changing the sentences’ grammar so that the “you” is no longer in the viewed, receiving position. Responding to each indictment without irony but with a pointed message of we do these things to survive and you don’t have to like me/us. In this way too, I see how “they” become “you,” and the Filipino becomes the “we/us,” taking front and center.
OK. That’s what I got for now, and I do hope that the students have gotten the message that thoughtfully composed poetry with structural integrity can be a very pointed weapon.
I haven’t listened to them yet, but you can here. Thanks to Tim Kahl of the Sacramento Poetry Center for recording our reading, and for making these audio clips available.
Yeah, despite my being almost literally a block of ice, I think I enjoyed the reading. A couple of things I’m observing about Oscar’s poetry (you can read his write-up here), as he’s sharing much newer work, that is newer than the poems in Anywhere Avenue — whereas in Anywhere Avenue he provides us with some macro-scale backdrop of Bronx urban blight and arson, leading up to and the aftermath of the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway, and during which we see the ruins of the city around his “I,” we hear in his more recent work the voice of an “I” in manners which go right at the idiosyncrasies of these various “I” personae —