Tribe, Poetry, Politics, Praxis

“Say Flip, you is so funky…” — Vince Reyes, “For My Stylin’ Brothers.”

[Photo credit: Tony Remington, Liwanag (1975)]

Some things I am thinking about today: I am thrilled to have found some poetics essays by Al Robles (1930-2009), and Serafin Malay Syquia (1943-1973)*. I am also thrilled to have found an article by Ninotchka Rosca on Asian American artists and the Asian American audience (I will talk about this Rosca article another time). These things I’ve found while on my usual scour of academic e-archives, and my bookshelves, for my USF Filipino Literature syllabus.

Al Robles wrote “Hanging on to the Carabao’s Tail,” a creative essay published in Amerasia in 1989. It’s very critical of the Asian American poet, or of the poet in general, of the work we are to do, and of the alliances we are to form. He references Russell Leong’s essay on Asian American poets 1968-1978, also in Amerasia, Leong’s discussions of Third World reorientation, and the enacting of Tribe: “We read as we wrote — not in isolation — but in the company of our neighbors in Manilatown pool halls, barrio parks, Chinatown basements.”

I understand why this mode of poetic creation and creativity is the preferred mode; in order to write about community and tribe, we must practice and embody community and tribe.

I therefore also understand why those who engage in the solitary act of writing and reading are viewed with suspicion, even contempt, by the tribe.

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Poetry Foundation: Fifth Post

My fifth post, “Russell Leong, ‘The Country of Dreams and Dust’ (West End Press, 1993),” is up at the Poetry Foundation blog. Here’s an excerpt:

This is what I expect to find in a collection of Asian American poetry — conventional immigration and immigrant narratives which give us a clean delineation between “there” (homeland) and “here” (host country), translating into a neatly packaged conflict. In this conventional Asian American “identity politics” poetry, the poet’s ethnic identity is the thing driving forth the narrative, the reason for the conflict, and the primary if not sole lens through which the poet views his “there” and “here” world.

That said, Leong’s book, which received the PEN Josephine Miles Award in 1993, is not at all what I expected; it isn’t at all “clean” in terms of the breach between “there” and “here,” home and host. Instead, Leong writes Los Angeles in the early 1990’s, San Francisco and California post-Gold Rush, Southeast Asia circa 1960’s-1970’s American wars, Tiananmen Square and its aftermath, a modern day free enterprise China, Buddhism, queer identity, and AIDS.

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Quick Thoughts on Russell Leong: Country of Dreams and Dust

leong.jpgRussell Leong’s The Country of Dreams and Dust is one of those books of poetry I wonder why I am only reading now, and then in many ways I am glad I am only reading it now. I’d recently picked it up used at Half Price Books in Downtown Berkeley for $4.98, and really was drawn to it because of the publisher, West End Press, who’s published Arlene Biala, Paula Gunn Allen, Nellie Wong, among other writers I admire much.

I think I have many (perhaps justified) preconceived notions of what I expect to find in a collection of Asian American poetry, what so-called conventional immigration and immigrant narratives, what clean delineation between “there” (homeland) and “here” (host country), and how this translates into a neatly packaged conflict the speaker experiences and articulates. Perhaps this is my derisive way of saying I was thinking I’d be reading conventional “identity politics” poetry, and I mean “identity politics” in the simplest, most commonly understood way, that the poet’s (ethnic) identity is the thing driving forth the narrative, the reason for the conflict, and the primary if not sole lens through which he views his “there” and “here” world.

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