Yesterday at the Poetry Center: Rigoberto González and Bhanu Kapil

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.