From 03/23/2009, stuff I’ve been thinking about and talking about for a while now:
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.
My first post just went up on the Hyphen magazine blog.
I now officially blog at four blogs:
- PAWA, Inc.
- International Exchange for Poetic Invention.
- Poeta y Diwata (AKA this here blog).
I’d actually been stressing a little bit about blogging for Hyphen magazine, because I realized so many of my blogging concerns were not specifically Asian American. This concern never really applied to my blogging at PAWA, where I mostly post event and publication announcements, and link to online book reviews, interviews, submissions calls which would apply to Filipino American artists, and other people’s blog posts.
Additionally, I am not the only Hyphen blogger concerned with American popular culture and where Asian Americans place or find themselves within it, nor am I the only literary person there. I stressed over how to differentiate myself and my contributions. So in the spirit of poet thievery, I’ve decided to try my best to emulate Rigoberto González and his Small Press Spotlights over at the National Book Critics Circle blog. In my case, for purposes of the Hyphen blog, this would be focused on API authors on independent presses. In my first post, I feature Maiana Minahal’s Legend Sondayo.
Thank you to Rigoberto González for recommending this here blog at the National Book Critics Circle Blog’s “Spotlight on Blogs.” He tells us that he “attended a forum recently in which MFA graduate students impressed upon the audience the importance of reading blogs as a way to stay in the loop and keep abreast of the goings-on in the literary world,” with which he agreed, and then was asked which blogs he recommended. He’s compiled a list of eight blogs, a few of which I have yet to check out: Practicing Writing, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ploughshares, Silliman’s Blog, Poeta y Diwata, Tayari’s Blog, Maud Newton, and Galleycat.
Again, this makes me think about the usefulness of blog, to the reader, but definitely to the writer, keeper, and/or curator of blog. I started blogging towards the end-ish of grad school, and only because Professor Jeffery Paul Chan had asked us to keep a writing journal for his weekly writing prompts. He then gave us the option of either submitting printed out pages, or just giving him the URL. The latter turned out to be more useful, in that our classmates were also able to “peek in” on our work in progress.
So I am still processing yesterday’s reading and talk with Rigoberto González and Bhanu Kapil at the SFSU Poetry Center. This is just to say there was a lot of strong presentation of work, and really good process talk.
Some partially formed notes and thoughts:
It’s interesting that one of the Creative Writing classes in attendance was reading Bhanu’s first book, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, which was published in 2001, and which I think shows the beginning stages of Bhanu’s ongoing concern for body, women’s bodies, human bodies that are animal bodies. This is both deeply intimate and impersonal; how we desire, discussing how we desire, the more “dangerous” elements of desire, and the flipside, I suppose, of denying the body’s desires. And how these desiring or desirous bodies occupy social spaces, behave and interact (or fail to interact?) in social spaces.
Of course, the above description of desire also comes from a discussion of Rigoberto’s work in Other Fugitives and Other Strangers, where desire and sexuality are very much tied to violence, sadomasochism, tenderness, power dynamics. So given that his work is dense with these themes, we feel the energy it takes for him to read these poems to an audience. He is such a great reader, no fat, no additives, no fillers in the work or in the performance of them. There are these really select words and their corresponding musics/meters, internal rhymes, and he ploughs right through them.
Same is true with Bhanu; her work is very literal and very specific, and her reading of it very steady and assured. And I think this comes from how focused her projects are. Disease in diaspora — schizophrenia as psychological disease and domestic violence as perhaps “social” disease — and the healing that takes place in certain sectors of these diasporic communities. I believe she discussed the breaking down of the body in order to reconstruct it anew.
I think it’s interesting too, that as she discussed The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, she told us that she did not think of the project as poetry, but as a document, like a compilation and polishing/finishing of a “notebook life.” It’s invariably become labeled as poetry as it’s entered the literary industry. Her second book, Incubation: A Space for Monsters, is labeled “experimental fiction,” so it’s unclear who’s decided to call it that.
Rigoberto also discussed working between genres, in response to a question from D.A. Powell, who was in attendance. Rigoberto discussed how his concerns shift between genres, that when working in prose, he is concerned with plot, whereas in poetry, even though poems also “tell stories” or “forward narratives,” he is more concerned with language, and presumably the way language forwards the narrative. Then there is that in between poetry and prose place, as he discussed his 300 word or less poetic prose pieces, not sure really what to call them. I think maybe some of us get stuck with that flash fiction versus prose poem distinction. I know I’ve stopped trying to figure out what to call them.
So that’s what I’ve got. Good times hanging out with Rigoberto, Camille Dungy, Craig Santos Perez, and Oscar afterward at the Filipino restaurant Palencia between the Mission and the Castro, SF. Oh, what we ate, you are wondering? Ginataang sitaw, kalabasa at hipon, kare kare, two kinds of lumpia (vegatable and Shanghai), sisig na baboy, palabok, pan de sal, sinangag, and a round of San Miguels. Oscar had dalandan juice.
This evening, Junot Diaz will be at Barnes and Noble at Jack London Square, and a bunch of us will be there.
Congratulations to Rigoberto González, who is one of the highest energy, hardest working, and most prolific activist poets, or poet activists, I know. His book, Other Fugitives and Other Strangers, has just won the San Francisco State University Poetry Center Book Award.
From the National Book Critics Circle blog:
The judge was Bhanu Kapil, who writes:
“I was incredibly interested in the combination of structural coherence and a content that kept transgressing/distending–through the force of what was being said, of the physical moment being opened up–the conceptual membranes of the writer’s identity, a figuration linked with cross-cultural trajectories. Inside the poems, for example, a body is “pierced,” “dilate[d],” “burst like an appendix,” and overwhelmed by a “passion so dangerous it’s fatal.” Yet, the book does not break. The formal constraint of a lyric mode, whether Gonzalez selects for prose or a progression of a traditional ode verse structure, does not break. Gonzalez is asking us to imagine a body that remains intact. Why? The answer, at least in my reading, comes on the last page, when the book’s language selects for the body’s futurity, a survival that’s both ephemeral and strongly marked.”
[Some additions and revisions made below.]
This morning on the Poetry Foundation blog, Rigoberto González shouts out two literary journals/publishing projects, Achiote Press and Palabra, both of which I’d like to call grassroots, or from the ground up, and both of which feature the works of writers of color, not as in “when liberal-minded literary journals try to be down with the brown and put out ‘all-Latino issues,’ an effort akin to a migra raid, if I’ve ever seen one. The well-meaning editors round up la raza for one-time only party.”
“One-time only party,” in which, I’d add, only the work of the most mainstream writers of color in American letters and their sanctioned mainstream protégés make it past the mean lookin doorman, down the red carpet, and into the VIP room. Which is not to say that the work is not technically adept or lovely; it’s just that the work is not so varied or presents variations within a strict set of parameters, imposed from the outside. And then when the special ethnic issue of said journal is said and done, no one has learned anything new about the literary, linguistic, and even political concerns of the majority of writers of color in American letters, and in so many alternative spaces, in community arts centers, urban parks, indie bookstores, political rallies.
The special ethnic issue model is therefore a mere reinforcement of the establishment, a non-examination of the existing monolingual standard American English white middle America erroneously assumed to be universal parameters by which literary work must be read, a circumscribing of marginal space charitably given to us writers of color, ultimately conveying the message that writers of color cannot withstand editorial rigor, and that our work is not worthy of publication without this half-assed charitable gesture. This, I consider the opposite of grassroots. And let me be clear that grassroots also entails editorial rigor. That said, I appreciate Rigoberto calling the editorial work of Achiote and Palabra “activism.”
Just figuring out stuff as I work on hammering out the organizational and administrative details for a forthcoming editorial and publication project we’re going to get going on from our Oakland homebase.
As well, on a total “me” tip, Rigoberto has made my morning:
Past [Achiote Press] projects include works by three of my favorite writers: Javier Huerta, Barbara Jane Reyes and Francisco X. Alarcón.
Check out Achiote Press here: most recent issues include Javier O. Huerta’s “American Copia,” and Across and Between the Void, with writings by Padcha Tuntha-Obas and Alysha Wood.
This picture of Maxine Hong Kingston was taken last month at City Lights Books by Oscar. We were there for the NBCC Awards Finalists Announcements at City Lights Books on January 12th. Actually, I think we were really there to say hi to Rigoberto Gonzalez, who’d blasted in and out of town so fast, that we’d have otherwise missed him.
Anyway, I bring this all up now because I realize that I had no connection otherwise to what was going on in the place, no connection to the NBCC, and few if any connections to any of the finalists or presenters. Seeing Kingston speak, however, reminded me of being a teenager and undergrad at Berkeley, routinely seeing her on campus while I was on my way to class, and getting giddy every time this would happen.
When I was 18, I wanted to be like Kingston, as much as I wanted to be like Amy Tan. Certainly, this has changed since then. But at the time, how big a deal was it for me to actually have these women’s books on my formative bookshelves, and reading them for English literature classes in 1989. It was a really big deal.