2017 Asian American Literary Festival



>> From the Library of
Congress in Washington D.C. >> Rob Casper: On the head
of the Libraries and Poetry and Literature Center, let
me just say how thrilled and bewildered I am to kick
off the last day of the "Inaugural Asian-American
Literary Festival". What a wild three
days it has been! Most of you have probably
gotten not so much sleep and hopefully you'll recover
tonight after some more fun. I want to thank all the
organizations involved for making this a reality, specially the Smithsonian
Asian-Pacific-American Center, and I want to give a shout out
to Lawrence [inaudible] Dewis who has been — Lawrence! Come on! Come on! [ Audience cheering
and clapping ] I was going to say, officially
Lawrence has been my hero, for his efforts to
make this happen. We've had a lot of
meetings, done a lot of work, figuring all things out and you
know, I've worked with a lot of people in my live
in Literature events, and no one has been as calm and
as magnanimous, and as capable, and as [inaudible]
to figure things out as Laurence has, so, again. [ Audience cheering
and clapping ] Let me tell you a little
bit about the Poetry and Literature Center
here at the Library, we are home to the Poet Laureate
Consultant and Poetry and we put on 20 to 30 programs annually. To find out more about our
programming here in D.C, especially for those of you who
are native to the capital area, please go to [inaudible] which
is outside in the [inaudible] and visit our website
www.loc.gov/poetry. And now, to explain a little bit
about this morning's program, I'd like to welcome Lisa
Sasaki, she is the Director of the Smithsonian
Asian-Pacific-American Center. Thanks so much. [ Audience clapping ] >> Lisa Sasaki: Good morning
everyone, I just wanted to welcome all of you on behalf of the Smithsonian
Asian-Pacific-American Center. We are all a migratory Museum. That means we don't have
a physical space, or, a location currently
what we do is, we travel around the country,
doing what our mission is, which is to amplify the voice
of Asian Pacific American, to be able, to make
ensure, that we are a part of the American Story. And I think, there is no
better place that that happens, than in literature, and,
as represented by all of the amazing writers,
and poets, and authors who we've seen
over the last two days, and today as well, we see how
they're able to give voice. Often times, for the first time, and in ways that the average
person isn't always able to do. About some of the things we
are facing, Asian-Americans, which is: What does it
mean to be American? What does it mean to
be Asian-American? What does it mean when
you are "the other"? What does it mean when you
don't look like everybody else? What does it mean when
you're targeted simply because of the way you look? Or the religion that
you practice? Or the gender that
you identify with? These are some of the topics
that are super important, for us to be able to discuss
and I can thank the authors who are here, who have
helped us explore this through the last three days. I would be remised [phonetic] if
I didn't thank all of the people who have helped us,
[inaudible], of course, Library of Congress thank you so
much; one of our major partners. But we've had other supporters
as well, which includes AARP and the DC Commission
on Arts and Humanities, Phillips Collection,
Dupont Circle, they were our hosts
yesterday, as well as, other parts of the Smithsonian: like the National
Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian
American Art Museum, who all have hosted us
throughout the duration of the time. And of course, the
Poetry Foundation, for their support as well. But what I'm really
up here today to do, is to introduce our speaker
for today, as well as sort of the structure
for this morning. So, first we're going
to be having a lecture by Karen Tei Yamashita,
which is entitled "Literature as Community: The
Turtle, Imagination, and the Journey Home". Followed by that we're
going to have Cathy Che from Kundiman come up and
introduce "The Fiction Readers" and is going to be featuring
by three Kundiman fellas so, we are excited about that. But first, let me tell you a
little bit more about Karen, I know most of you already
know who she is, and somebody who rarely needs
introduction, but it's my honor to do that this morning. Karen Tei Yamashita is the
author of "Through the Arc of the Rainforest", "Brazil
Marrow", "Tropic of Orange", "Circle Case Cycles", "I Hotel
[inaudible]" and the forthcoming "Letters of Memory" which
I have the honor of holding in my hands this morning. All published by
Coffee House Press. I Hotel was selected
as a finalist for the National Book Award, an award that the
California Book Award, the American Book Award, the
Asian Pacify American Award for literature and Association for Asian American
Studies Book Award. She's been a US artist
for Foundation Fellow and the co-holder
of the University of California presidential chair and feminist critical
race and ethnic studies. She's currently the professor of
literature and creative writing at the University of
California, Santa Cruz. Please welcome, Karen. [ Applause ] ?? Karen Tei Yamashita:
So, is that going to start? There we go. Thank you so much, thank you for
the introduction and thank you to Lawrence [inaudible] Davis, the Asian American
[inaudible] Review, Smithsonian Asian American
Center and the Library of Congress and all of the
co-partners in this program and conference, it's been a
wonderful conference these past few days. And thank you to all
of you for coming from so far away
to be here today. Thank you for your
invitation, I am very honored. A while back [inaudible]
professor of literature interviewed
and asked me apologetically if I considered myself to
be an Asian American writer, and I didn't understand the
apology, and he explained that several of his interviewees
became somewhat in sensed at the question, remarking
that they were American writers who happened to be
Asian American. I asked myself, "Where
is Asian America?", and what is Asian America if it
is not a political construct? It is a naming of a category
to recognize the immigration and participation of Asia
and Pacific Islander peoples in American society
and political life over the past 150 years. Initially the literature
assorted is grounding with in the American Continental
history and geography, but it has always been
called referenceable to the necessary crossing
of the oceans, both, Pacific and Atlantic, without which
it cannot be fully read or understood. This navigation in
the relationship to the Americas has not
been necessarily pacific, but often a relationship
and result of colonialism, racism and war. As such, Asian American
literature is at heart, a literature of politics
and resistance. So, I guess, what I am, on apologetically an
Asian American writer. [ Applause ] So, with that question
out of the way [laughter], I want to begin with
what's been asked of me on intimate lecture
a way of thinking about Asian American
journey, particular to me. Of the exact day and year,
I cannot say, but I'm sure of that my aunt [inaudible] took
me on a drive form her then, home in Rosemont
[inaudible] California, to visit my cousin Ted
[inaudible] at his gift shop on Solano Avenue in Albany,
on the border with Berkeley. I'm pretty sure that my aunt
[inaudible] also came along, and perhaps we met [inaudible]
wife Barbara at the gift shop. The other purpose of that
trip was to climb the steps to a small apartment on
the same street to meet with the author [inaudible]. years later I would discover in Kate [inaudible] letters her
war time correspondence with one of her best friends Kate
Uchida, Yoshiko's sister. I took for granted
the connection of the Yamashta family to
the Uchida's connections through the church
and UC Berkley and to their war-time
incarceration at Topaz in Utah. These connections were part
of a tightly net association of Japanese immigrant
communities in San Francisco
and the East Bay. Now, years later, we descendants
can find ourselves tracing the weave of our relationships
and near encounters. Through the Nii Sei
[phonetic] conversation started, we often made fun of as kids. That conversation
started was always, "hey, what camp were you in?" We thought camp could've
been a tribal event of initiation or something. Why weren't we sent to camp? I realize I can't see. I know that choosing K
had planned this meeting with Yoshiko Uchida because
they were proud aunties who thought I was a writer. All these years later this
memory is both comical and sweet to me, and meanwhile
Yoshiko Uchida — who met an Ernest Sansey
[phonetic] kids just out of college had no idea. In those years, Uchida was the
most successfully published Japanese American
writer of her generation. I might name other Nii
sei writers, Isa Yamamoto, Toshio Mori, Wakako
Yamouchi [phonetic], Nitsue [phonetic] Yamada but all
these writers only Uchida lived by her craft. Not that she was
swimming in royalties, despite her many published books
she probably received a few cents on every copy sold. She lived alone and
very modestly. She was, I thought,
a real writer. I remember asking her why her
stories were not anthologized in recent collection's life
I.E. Perhaps there was a hint of bitterness in her answer, but her audience was
considered juvenile. Children's literature had
been a genre form she chosen to enter the publishing world,
but it was still writing gifted with sophistication; years later
she would publish her adult memoir, "Desert Exile,
the Uprooting of a Japanese American Family". In the 1950s my parents
relocated from Oakland to Los Angeles. My father, the pastor to Japanese American church
Centenary Methodist on 35th and Normandy Avenue, my folks and other young Nii sei couples
had returned from the war and camps to try to jumpstart
their lives in this old center of the Japanese American
community in Los Angeles. We lived on 5th avenue near
Jefferson, a street line with Japanese American
businesses, groceries, butcher shops, pharmacies,
dry cleaners, candy shops and restaurants. Every day my sister and I
walked past these storefronts on 6th Avenue elementary school. Our classmates and neighbors
were a mix of Japanese and African Americans, but
for the most part we lived an insular life within the church, its Japanese American
congregation and our center. In 1949, Uchida published
her first book, "The Dancing Tea Kettle" and
other Japanese folk tales. I assume that spoke to
have been the first book of Japanese folk tales
written in English. So, we learned to read with
"Dick and Jane" and "Dr. Seuss", we also grew up with
Uchida's stories. Of these tales the one story
that continues to puzzle and resonate for me is
"Urashima Taro [phonetic]". Uchida tells the story. "Long, long ago, in a
small village of Japan, there lived a fine young
man named Urashi Mataro. He lived with his
mother and father in a thatched grove house,
which over looked the sea. Every morning, he was up before
the sun and went out to sea in his little fishing boat. On the days when
his luck was good, he would bring back large
baskets of fish which he sold in the village market. One day as he was carrying
home his load of fish, he saw a group of
shouting children. They were gathered around
something on the beach, and were crying 'hit
him, poke him'. Turned around over to see
what was the matter and then on the sand he saw a
big brown tortoise. The children were poking
it with a long stick and throwing stones
at his hard shell." This is how Yoshiko
Uchida's version of the Japanese folk
tale begins. As the story goes,
Taro saves the tortoise from the bullying children,
returning it to the sea. "One day while Taro is
fishing, the tortoise appears, and as a return gift
of thanks, invites Taro to visit the princess
of the sea. Taro climbs onto the tortoise's
back and travels to the bottom of the sea to see Princess
fed Taro with food and music and dancing, in all the
seasons of the year. Taro lives in this luxury for
three years, which seems to him like three days, but at last
Taro feels he must return home to his parents and take
his lead, and as he leaves, the princess gives
him a small jewel box, stuttered with many precious
stones, and warns him that if he returns to
the palace of the sea — that if he wishes to return
to the palace of the sea, he must never open that box". Well, perhaps anyway,
you know the story. Sometime after the Watts
riot and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and
after my father's stroke and disability retirement,
my family moved to Gardena, an old on-clay but
Japanese American strawberry and flower farmers, turning
their land into the suburbs. By then I was in high school
and cynical enough to agree with my friends that Gardena
was the armpit of America. This brings me to speak of a few of my Gardena high
school friends — in particular, Kathy Yamamoto
and Garret Hunkle [phonetic]. Kathy was always writing,
she was the editor of the school newspaper, but
before that she was the editor of a fan letter for the Beatles. I figured Kathy was a writer
because it was in her genes. Her aunt was Hisaya
[phonetic] Yamamoto and Hisaya's best friend
was Wakako Yamouchi, who also lived in Gardena. Like the relationship of
my aunts to Yochiko Uchida, I never paid much attention
to Kathy's relationship with these two illustrious
Nii-sei writers. Some years after high school
I heard Garret complained to Kathy, why hadn't she told
him about Hisaya and Wakako? Introduced in sooner when
we were in high school. Kathy replied with
amusement, "Garrett, I didn't know you wanted
to become a writer. Hey, I thought you wanted
to blow up the world." He did. One Gardena
summer, Garrett lived in an apartment block,
a block away from Wakako Yamomuchi's
house, walking back and forth and forming a mentoring
and writer relationship that has lasted a lifetime. In 1982, Garrett published
this poem for Wakako Yamomuchi, in his first book of poetry
Yabbo light [phonetic]. The title to the poem is
"And your soul shall dance", honoring Wakako's short story,
a story she eventually crafted into the dramatic
play by the same name. "Walking to school beside fields
of tomatoes and summer squash, alone and humming a
Japanese love song, you've concealed a
copy of photoplay between your Algebra
and English texts. Your Niisak [phonetic] saddle
shoes, plaid dress and blouse, long sleeved in white, with
ruffles down the front, come from a Sears catalogue and neatly complement
your new tony curls. All of this sets you
apart from the landscape, flat valley grooved
with irrigation dishes of tractor grinding
through alkaline earth. The short stands of
windbreak eucalyptus, shuttering the dessert
wind from a small cluster of wooden tracks, where
your mother hangs the wash". "You want to go somewhere,
somewhere far away from all the dust and swerving
machines and acres of lettuce, somewhere where you might
be kissed by someone with smooth, artistic hands. When you turn into the
schoolyard, the flag pole gleans like a knife blade in the
sun, and classmates scatter like chickens, shoed by the
storm brooding in your horizon". I believe that what Garrett
captures here is the same desire both he and I shared for
something beyond the confinement of our provincial
roots and origins, even though we would
have to return again and again in order to leave. Leading the old armpit
of my California home, I went to school in
Minnesota, Carlton College, and one day Alex Hayley, the
author of the autobiography of Malcolm X, arrive to give
the convocation lecture. Though it seems an
impossible memory, I believe we were riveted to our
seats for the next three ours, while Hayley spoke of his
relationship in writing with Malcolm X. in
the first hour, and then for the next two hours
he told decadent storytelling of the transatlantic crossing of his named ancestor
Kunta Kinte [phonetic]. I've never forgotten
that day sitting up in the Skinner Memorial
Chapel filled to capacity. That we came and come from
somewhere had meaning. In the next few I will take
my transpacific crossing to do what my family
called "Katie's root swing". Figure out where we came
from and why but finding out my roots turned
out to be a mixed bag because I had thought it
would be the same thing as finding belonging. If I had not entirely belonged to my Japanese American
communities in LA and Gardena, I was a really bad fit in Japan. In my continued years
at Carlton, two professors there
were special mentors, American literature
professor Bob Tisdale and anthropologist Paul Riesman. Many years later I
realized that it was Tisdale who quietly believed in me,
despite my huge anxieties. He was behind small invitations
to meet writers at his home and supported my proposal
for the Watson fellowship, that would send me to Brazil. And it was Paul Riesman who
made me understand my role as a stranger, in the powers
of observation, empathy, that role might support. The lessons my teachers provided
took many years to understand. I was sent away with two odd and
desperate but now obvious books. Claude Levi Strauss'
"Tristes Tropiques" and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's
"100 years of solitude", and I would have to
travel to the other side of the hemisphere, a
time travel of sorts, to meet another community
of Japanese immigrants who had acculturated Brazilian. If these Japanese
immigrants were Brazilian, what did it mean to be American? This is the question I pondered
while researching the Japanese Brazilian community and writing and rewriting the novel
Brazil Modu [phonetic]. I arrived in Brazil at the
end of the American 60s, a period ripe with ideological,
racial and political turmoil, the Vietnam War,
hippie communalism and civil rights movements. I met a community of
Japanese Brazilians who lived through similar experiments,
idealizing a new civilization and practicing communalism
from the 1920s on. These people could've been my
grandparents — my parents. What had happened
to their community and how did they
survive the war years? What I learned were dozens of
resilience, hubris and failure. Over the many years since
I've maintained interest in scholarship and writing
about Asians in the Americas, I've only recently come across
maybe Asian American writing that haunts the psyche
of Brazilian discovery. Encounters of the indigenous and
civilized science and belief, sexuality and race
story and history, and while her story
resides in the pacific, in her novel "The
people in the trees", Hanya Yanagihara [phonetic]
binned these narratives in her writing with
complexity and danger. This segment from "The people
in the trees" reminds me of the folk tale
of Hurashima Taro, which kindly extends
darkly and magically to explore ideas of immortality. "As my father stood
near the shore very sad, he suddenly saw something
sliding beneath the water surface. To my father's great
astonishment, the thing rose, and my father saw that it
was an enormous turtle — the biggest he had ever seen. Both taller and wider
than he was, its fetus large has law-wide
spurs, paddling the water in brisk, forcible strokes,
and staring at my father with its slow, yellow eyes. My father was so amazed he
found himself unable to move. But then the turtle waggled the
top half of its body to the lent and my father understood
that he was to straddle the turtle's back
and the turtle will take him to Ibu-Ibu" [phonetic]. "My father had never
felt exhilaration like the kind he experienced
riding on top of the turtle. The turtle swam gingerly
through the shallows, careful not to scratch his feet
on the great oceans of coral. But once they were in open
water, his swimming became swift and powerful, and they passed
coups of sharks, pots of whales and once that magnificent flee
of other opaiba icas [phonetic]. Hundreds of them, he just
did, as the one he was riding, who lifted their heads from
the water and stared at him, as if in salute, with the
multiplicity of glowing eyes". Hara captures here the idea
of the turtle as a magical but also an inscrutable being
upon whose back we climb hoping to find our destiny. Perhaps what lies ahead is
an adventure or an escape, or the moment of our death. The turtle is the great
vehicle, on silence they ship. The responsibility of our journey is only
our own, real or imagined. About the time that the
Brazilian government — or military returned
the government to a civilian democracy, I
left with my Brazilian family to immigrate into Los Angeles. As predicted, LA had become a
diversely cosmopolitan city, it's growing majority
complexion turned Latino. And by the time the 1992 riots
burned across our landscape, we knew the media had completely
mischaracterized the conflicts as black and white
or black and Korean. As Brazilians, we were part
of the Latin American shift, and I saw to understand
that shift in a novel called
"Tropic of Orange". It was during this time
that I met and have ever since been inspired by
the east LA poet Sesshu [phonetic] Foster. Sesshu narrates as only Sesshu
can an alternative reality in his non-novel
"Atomic Aztec" — I'd better drink another glass. "Perhaps you are
familiar with this — with some world stupider
realities among an alternative universe is in which the Aztec
civilization was destroyed. That's the possibility — I mean, that's what the
Europeans thought they planned, genocide, wipe out our
civilization, build cathedrals on top of our pyramids,
hump our women — not just our women but
analyst people, designate them with small postesels
[phonetic] and shit pits. Welfare lines, workaholism
[phonetic], imbecility and slave them into silver
minds and Potosi, the gold minds in El Dorado and Disneylandia
[phonetic], on golf courses and country clubs —
chingados [phonetic]. All our brothers —
you get the picture". "The European figure,
they wipe us out. Planee [phonetic]
and slave our people down at Tacoma Liquor
Store, crush our resistance, then claim it was
all an accident. Just their luck, they pretend
they just happen on their way to India to buy some carom
and some nutmeg and spice; like you just accidently happen
to designate whole civilizations and worlds just to set a
nice breakfast table — hot coffee, cinnamon
toast, Chinese silverware. Did we care if they
had a plan B? Hell no, because in no way
does this fit our aesthetic conception of how the
universe is supposed to run. It's just plain ugly. The Spanish believed they
had superior fire powder — gun powder, crossbows, steel,
armor body, Arabian horses, gallions built on convoys". "All this was true, but we asked
to have our ways and means, we have access to the
meanest, nastiest, psycho [inaudible] voodoo. Jump blues, human sacrifices,
proletarian fam guard parties. Angry coffee house, poetry,
fantasy life intensified by the masturbation and comic
books on all our armies, flower warriors,
jaguar legions, jujitsu and of course, the
secret weapon. In a nutshell, the Spanish
didn't have a chance". The imagination sometimes
revealed itself intensely and vibrantly insane,
but it's only sane — but it's the only sane
sight where we can do war. Bloody hand to hand combat,
express grief and anger and find solace and
reconciliation. In the mid-90s I met Ryuta
Imafuku [phonetic] writers color and cultural critic, who invited and sponsored my family
a six-month stay in Japan to research the return migration of Japanese Brazilian
factory labors. During that period,
Ryuta invited me to write online monthly
installments about anatomy search
and travels, and those essays found their
way into circle case cycles. It was Ryuta's insistent
but always gentile prodding that encouraged me to see and explore the growing
Brazilian Dekasegi [phonetic] community and to see that
community in despotic movement, in the context of both
historic and contemporary japan. If I had learned my lesson, as
a young stranger in years past, I was given the confidence and
freedom of an old stranger. The twisting triangulations of
my world are constantly changing and flexible, although it's
possible to name other writers who live with such
mobility, I feel closest to the shifting homes of
Arizamora Linmap[phonetic] mark, moving about from Honolulu
to Manila to San Francisco, to Miami, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Tokyo and all these pursuing
the chaos of language with clay and dark humor. "A recurrent immigrant story is that laborists leave
their children behind with grandparents or
relatives and then send for their children years later, when they are able
to afford to do so. This is the last scene
of Zack's novel "Leche". The protagonist, Vince
returns from Kalili [phonetic], Honolulu to his childhood home
in the Philippines, San Vicente, where his grandfather has
died to find the empty of his family and
childhood passed. In the photograph, what happened
to the wall to wall photographs that show generation after
generation of the Lewis clan? Where are the hand
painted photographs of turn of the century relatives,
one who came to the tropics as a soldier to fight
the Philippinos and another to teach them? And the airport group shots
of himself, Alvin, Gene, Yaya Leti [phonetic] and Don
Alfonso in front of the fountain on the afternoon, they were
sent off to their parents. Whom do they belong to now?" "He reassures himself
that they're upstairs where the bedrooms are, the
runs up the wooden staircase, head straight forward
to the room as if he lived there all his
life — it too was empty, as empty as the succession
of closets and cabinet drawers he pulls
open, hoping to get assaulted by memorabilia, smelling
of moss balls, but nothing. No one dusty shelf of books
or issue of comics — empty". "Fighting off tears and with
a heart that doesn't know when to give up hope, he
searches room after room, wall after wall, for halls
punctured by nails upon which used to hang the guilt and picture frames he checks
the inside of doors for shadows of the photographs that
had once been tacked there. He took everything with him, to
his grave — he tells himself, he didn't want me to return
and reclaim what was mine. My family history, objects from
my childhood, nothing salvage, nothing, except this house,
smelling of mule waxed floors". Zack mourns here the loss of home while showing the
predicament of mobility of the transnational, as a stage
of new, global citizenship, often celebrated but also
for many, migrant labors, a state in limbo, and
great precarity [phonetic]. So, it seems that here the
great turtle with its shell as home has a different lesson. How we must also travel within
our bodies, even if marked by ethnicity, gender and color. In the late 90s I began
teaching at UC Santa Cruz. And along with learning
how to teach I made forays, into San Francisco to research
the Asian American movement as it is was birth in Chinatown,
Manila Town, Japan Town and then the universities,
the factories, culture and political institutions
spawned in that period. And I would have found — and I found the center
of that narrative in the international
or the I-Hotel. As with other projects, I sat
out to be a gathering machine, recording Marriott stories of
anyone willing to talk to me. I never recorded anyone
on a recording machine. My method has been to record
with my body, and to remember, well, everything, bodily
expression, insinuations, syntax, cadence and story. The most difficult recording was
the one I tried to accomplish with the poet Al Robles. I met with him at Vesuvian
[phonetic] North Beach next to city lights and sit
close with him for hours, while I tried to pin down the
most preposterous stories. By the time they grew dark, he
stood up and said, "hey Karen, let's get some dirty food",
which meant that we would go to Chinatown and slip into a
greasy diner for chop suey. I think I dropped him off
at home around midnight and headed back to Santa Cruz. I was exhausted, I've been
recording from maybe 12 hours, maybe I didn't get Al's
stories right, but he was, as his friend said, the
poet Monka [phonetic] that tendered a loin
and I miss him dearly. Al with the help of
Roselian [phonetic] at the UCLA Asian
American studies center, published one book of poetry,
"Wraping with 10,000 caravans in the dark" and this
is the first stanza of that signature poem. "International hotel in the
Mongol heart in east the mind of the Philippines where old
and young Philippinos live, hang and roam around on
daylight cutouts in the mud. Eating, sleeping and working,
Philippinos scattered all over, brown faces pile high,
moving like shadows on trees, concrete doorways, poohas
[phonetic], barber shops. Guitar music echoes
through down deep in your Mongol heart
and ease their mind. Chinatown across the way, 60,000
or more live in rooms the size of tea pots, searching,
stretching east, west, north and south. Thousands are crammed in damp
basements, alleyways behind, run down barrels of ancient
Chinese mountain wine, thousands of Chinese children
run, soy sauce streets, long black-haired
listening like a cool stream of quiet moon watches". "Short crop of hair,
morning spring faces, underneath fresh soaked clouds; all those tiny footsteps
keep the winter valley warm. Similar to the turtle algae, the old Philippino
batches the Mongol are kind of mythical stages as cut about. Watcher buffalo, roaming
so rarely in the halls and teapot rooms of the
international hotel, mud replaced by concrete
doorways, barbershops poohas,
soy sauce streets". In the past years I've
been forced to think about the future, probably
because many of my students want to write science
fiction and fantasy. What the academy has
rebranded as speculative. My colleague Nika
[phonetic] Perks pointed out that I've been a
speculative writer for years, I just didn't know
it, and with the help of Steven Honsong [phonetic]
I published "Anime Wong", fictions of performance. This work remembers
my collaborations with director Sushiko
Hoshi, ideographer, Karamaeda [phonetic]
and composers that kept Beabe [phonetic]
and Glen Horiuchi [phonetic]. And the dozens of actors,
dancers, designers, stage personnel and producers who joined our performance
projects presented at venues in Los Angeles for Asian
American audiences. Recently, more Asian American
writers have taken a turn to the speculative,
and I have followed with admiration the
work of Chang Ray Lee since his book "Native Speaker". Most recently his novel "On such a fool sea" imagines
the present future of vacated and bided cities and the
global exchange of labor in a completely secular society,
governed by class and capital. What follows are
edited selections that introduce the collective
narrator are the protagonists of Chang Ray's novel. "It is known where we came from,
it is known where we come from, but no one much cares
about these things, but things like that anymore. We think 'why bother?' Except for a lucky few,
everyone is from some place but that some place
it turns out is gone. You can search it, you
can find pits or bits that show what the
place last looked like. In our case they
gavel color shop town of stoop shouldered buildings
on a river bank in china, shore hills in the
distance, rooftops and nests of wires and junk. The river tea still,
a swath of black, and blunting it all is a
haze you can almost smell, a smell you think you
don't want to breathe in". "So, what does it matter if
the town was raised one day? After our people were
truffed [phonetic] out, what difference does it make that there's almost
nothing there now? It was on the other
side of the world, which might as well be
a light year away — though probably it was mourned
when they were thriving. People are funny that way,
even the most miserable kind of circumstance can inspire
a genuine throb of nostalgia. And then there is
the tale of Fan, a young woman whose
cause has been taken up by a startling number of us. She's now gone from here, and whether she's
enduring her suffering or dead is a metaphor
her household, whatever their disposition". "They're gone too. We can talk about her openly because hers is no grand
tragedy, no apocalypse of the soul or of our times,
yet there are those who would like to believe otherwise,
that each and every being in the realm is a mock
of micocosum [phonetic] of the realm, that we are
hardened and chastened and elevated by a
singular reflection. This is a fetching idea,
metaphorically and otherwise, most often would sit for
promoting the greater good. But more and more we can see that the question is not
whether we are individuals. We can't help but be, this
has been proved case by case. We are not drones or
robots and never will be, the question then is whether
being an individual makes a difference anymore." "That it can't matter at
all and if now whether in fact we care — to try
and care about such things. Let's suppose another
way of considering here, which was that she had a special
conviction of imagination. Few of us do to be honest. We wish and wish and often
we furiate [phonetic] but never very deeply, for if we
did we'd see how the world can sometimes be split open
in just the way we hope. That it and we, in
fact, are unbounded — free" Perhaps it's not obvious
but what I have attempted here to do is to weave a personal
history with encounters of community, remembered and
imagined as literary registry. Why I ended up writing? I'm not sure. It wasn't genes or
a passionate choice, it's probably the only thing
I'm really equipped to do. But in reflection of this
journey I have traveled within and been a part of
many communities, perhaps is the familiar
stranger, providentially there
and not there. An empathetic observer, wanting
to learn, carry to record — that has been my particular
role and contribution. There are many writers
whose names and words I might have
also shared today. But given the time, those
mentioned here are a few of those with whom I have
grown up and grown old. Immigrants, refugees, exiles
by the fortunes of life, have set forth on the
backs of immortal turtles to distant places or
perhaps not so distant, but alternates display bummed
out realities never again to return, or discover that
return is never possible. Asian American might
be an imagined island or an undersea palace. Perhaps it is Hania's
Ibu-bu, Sesshu's East LA or Al's I-Hotel, or it is Zach's
limbo, Garrett's somewhere, Chang Ray's unbounded world. As Yochiko Uchida has retold
the story of Urashima Taro, Taro returns from the sea palace
on the back of the gray tortoise to his village and finds
it completely changed. And where his batch for
home should've been, there is an empty lot
full of tall weeds. He quirs an old woman,
who he calls a story about a young fisherman
named Urashima Taru, who went out to fish
and never returned. This she uses must have
happened 300 years ago. Confused but thinking that
the jewel box gifted to him by the princess must hold
an answer, he opens the box. Suddenly there rose from
a cloud of white smoke, which wrapped itself around
Taro so he could see nothing, and when it disappeared,
Urashima Taro appeared into the empty box but he
could scarcely hear sea. He looked at his hands
and they were the hands of an old, old man. His face was wrinkled; his
hair was white as snow. This year coffee house press
will publish letters to memory, and while I'm unable to
characterize the book, my editor Carolyn
Casey has said, as I say "it is the
word based on an archive of family correspondence
documents and photographs, the center of which are letters
written between 1938 and 1948, capturing the family's
war time dispersal from Oakland California, to Topaz concentration
camp in Delta, Utah. And beyond the schools and work,
in the Midwest and east coast, and for a portion of the family, their eventual return
to California. The form my book has
taken is epistolary — that is fictional letters and
what follows is the first part of letter until after. "Dear Kohele [phonetic],
you're a preacher's kid. When we met we recognized
each other immediately that pique je ne se
qua, like we're supposed to be doing something
significant eventually or actually, like we were
raised with everyone looking on politely resentful,
assuming we knew — when we didn't and thus
perpetual strangers in a world of blessed woe, primed
by difference to serve. One day I heard your
lecture, and I turned to you after in marvel —
'you gave us sermon'. You answered 'all my
lectures are sermons'. I thought 'mine too, maybe'. Frustrate picas, but you must
have really been frustrated because finally you entered
the seminary and got a master at definity [phonetic]. I could never do this,
well you believe, which is kind of necessary. One day I came home from junior
high school and announced at dinner that I discovered
a philosopher named John Paul Sartre, and a great idea
caught existentialism. I can't remember what
my dad John said, but that was the beginning. I had been that kind of pique. Heading out in another
direction where turns out anyway to be the same. I figured you understand and that you'll know the
skinny and funny of it. Recently I saw yet another
staging of Shakespeare's "King Lear" and I wondered about
those good and bad daughters, silent tribute versus
false fanning and this reading
of love and honor. Do daughters naturally
aspire to be Cordelia? Or is this an impossible
and romantic notion of set-by-character
and circumstance? "No, no, no, no" cries Lear to
Cordelia, broken and unwilling to further challenge his fate. 'Come here' encourages
her 'let's away to prison' and then these last
words to his daughter, 'We too alone will sing
like birds of the cage. 'When bow does sassy
blessing, I'll kneel down and ask of thee forgiveness. So, we'll live and pray and sing
and tell old tales and laugh at gilded butterflies and hear
poor rogues talk of court news and we'll talk with
them too, who loses and who wins, who's
in, who's out. And take upon us the
mystery of things, as if we were God's
spies, and we'll wear out in a wall prison packs
and sex on great one that eve and flow by the moon'". I am drawn to memories in
which we live and pray and sing and tell old tales and laugh. But this was the laugh, oh but
to laugh at gilded butterflies, this must be the satirical
laughter that I am prone to. But John would say that
this is not truly laughter, not the laughter that
preoccupied his thinking. It is not laughter at,
but laughter within, I think, that concerned him. I am growing old, searching
for this kind of laughter, and where is he now that
this laughter is needed most? Meanwhile I have found myself
beholden to the lost possibility that we take upon us
the mystery of things as if we were God's spies. Perhaps this has been the
meaning of these letters, though surely no
mystery is revealed here. Simply we have been
together before time to try. Thank you. [ Applause ] >> Lisa Sasaki: Thank you so
much Karen, that was just — I was just sitting
there thinking and sort of contemplating this idea of
the legacies that we all stand on right now, the writers,
the family members, the letter writers, the heroes
that have come before us, who I think we're
constantly thinking of in — even as we move forward
into the future. So, now I'd like to go
into the future right now with our next part of our talk. But before I do that I wanted to just make a quick
invitation for this evening. The Asian-Pacific American
center would like to invite all of you — anybody here, who has
participated in the festival to join us this evening for
an informal closing gathering at "Ten Tigers Parlor",
this evening from 05:00p.m to 07:00p.m. We would
love to have you there, we're going to be remediating
on the festival and coming up with grand ideas
for the future. So, please join us. Kathy, if you could
join us up here to introduce our next leaders. >> Kathy Lin Che: Thank you
so much and thank you Karen for that intimate lecture. I was so — I feel like
all my neurons are on fire and I feel just so honored to
have that sense of history. So much of what we
do so, hi, I'm Kathy, I'm the executive director
at Kundiman [phonetic]. We are an organization that serves Asian American
writers specifically. Our mission is to — we're
dedicated to the creation, cultivation, motion of
Asian American literature but specifically I think what we
look to do is really to nurture and mentor and teach
the next generation of Asian American writers
and I think having a sense of our history is so
important so, thank you. Our next three — so, we have
three readers from Kundiman who will be presenting
their work. Each person has such
a different story to tell so, I'm very excited. And I had hold up
their bios on one of these devices
— here they are. OK so, I'm going to read all
of their bios in sixth session and they'll come up in the eight
so, our first reader is VT Hung. VT was born in Dorchester,
Massachusetts. His parents are both people who opened the first Vietnamese
grocery store in Boston. He received his education
from BC High — Boston College and the
Lynch School of Education, the Boston Public Library. And WGBH Channel 2. He's Kundiman fiction
fellow and Margin's fellow at the Asian American
writer's web shop in NYC and currently he's
completing his MFA in Creative Writing Syracuse
University in Fiction. I decided not to give — I changed my mind,
everybody welcome VT. [ Applause ] >> VT Hung: Hi, everyone. I am — my background's
an education so, I'm going to let you know that I'll be reading two
short pieces of fiction. The first one is one page, the second one is four pages
so, you know, get ready. When I told some of my friends
in the program that I was going to be reading today they said
"make sure you read something that has sex or violence,
because that sells. Like, that's going to
be really popular". I can't promise you all
that but I can tell you that there's going to be cats and sadness so, like,
just as good. Like, it'll be — it's fine. So, before I start, I want to
thank you Karen Tei Yamashita for her beautiful, important
lecture, and I can't believe I'm on the stage that you
were just standing on. I want to thank you Lauren
Smith Davis, Nydia Cook and all of the organizations
and staff involved in making this successful
reality, the Smithsonian A-pack and Lisa Sasaki, Kuni
[phonetic] Man, Kathy Linh Che, Ryan Lee Wong, the Asian
American writers workshop, Ken Cheng and Jyoti
Nadarajan [phonetic], and for all of you coming to support Asian American
artist and their work. And lastly shout out to
Balok and Tudiq [phonetic], the provinces where my
Vietnamese refugee parents were born and to Dorchester Mass,
where I was born and raised. I can't believe we're out here
in the library of Congress. What a Boston — all right. So, how I generated this piece
— this is the one-page piece. Last year I moved from
New York City to Syracuse to begin my MFA program and I
went through a very long breakup and had a lot of
trouble finding sleep. This piece is called
"2:16a.m.". "On my life, I waited to be kept up at night. And it finally happened. At first, I told myself it'd
been a mistake, but after a week of waking up in the
middle of the night, I took the red line teleport
to the sleep exchange center in the Floating Medical
District. I drew a number from
the ticketing machine and waited my turn to meet
with a dream official, who checked my records. Unfortunately, no one
had reported my presence in their dream. The official assured me that
records were up to date, with data gathered each
morning from dream monitors. 'It might have been that
you were just an extra in the background
of someone's dream. That happens more than you'd
expect' the dream official said. 'OK' I thought, So, maybe
I wasn't the lead role in someone's dream, fine but
my restlessness continued. It lasted another
two weeks, then three and after a month I resolved to
find out who was keeping me up. But how'd I go about it? If I asked them politely,
would they stop dreaming? Whoever they were,
they've been consistent. Maybe they were falling
in love with me, if they weren't already. In the end, I decided
it would be best to wait another week or so. For now, the routine
brought me some comfort. I fall asleep and
the night wakes me, the moon keeps me company
and then I remember that when you cannot sleep, it is because someone
is dreaming of you." All right, oh. All right so — [applause]. The next story, which is four
pages long, double spaced, is called "Tiger, Tiger". "The portal dropped the child
an unfamiliar ground" — that's right, there's a portal. "Against all decrees of
high science and witchcraft, her uncle had summoned it. Our world is finished', he said, 'you and what I had trust you
now will be the last reminisce of our civilization'. He opened the child's rug sack and placed inside
it a large parcel. 'Do with it what you wish'. The child adjusted the
straps on his shoulders to settle the weight
on her back. Outside the three-night
moons were falling from the sky toward her planet. If she felt distressed,
her face betrayed nothing. But her uncle sensed it, and
in these final moments he broke with social procedures
and attempted sympathy. 'While this is certainly not the
time to disorient my faculties with sentimentality' — he said
— then he paused 'my niece, what I mean to say is
if we should meet again in the next life, I hope'
— before he could finish, the white maids rode through the
gates and an explosion of smoke and lighting had struck
her uncle down dead. The force of the blow knocked
the child through the portal. The sound of rushing
water will care. She was in a clotted
forest surrounded by tall towers of limestone. She'd lost track of her rug
sack and searched for it, before locating it
by the riverbank. Streams lumps had formed inside
it and were shifting around, slowly, like an owl snake
uncoiling its feathers, the top of the rug
sack flew open and out tumbled two tiger cubs. The child was struck
by how small they were, how they lacked mastery
over their motor skills. But the most extraordinary
characteristic about them was they
emitted not a single sound. Not a meow, squeak nor purr
— they were silent tigers. After they shared a deep
drink from the river, the child scoot them up and secured them back
inside her rug sack. She found a road and
road it for many days. The tiger cubs were so
quiet, if it hadn't been for their intermittent
wrestling matches, she would've assumed
they expired. By the time she reached the
port town the tiger cubs were perpetually falling asleep. Every so often, she reached
behind her to scratch their ears and pet their bellies to
ensure they could still wake. They did not find the rest that they'd hoped
for in the port town. The citizens demanded payment
before they would provide the child with food and shelter. "Unfortunately, I have nothing",
she said, standing up straighter to keep her rucksack and
tiger cubs out of sight. Her stomach contracted with
hunger, and she felt the paws of the tiger cubs
kneading her back. She thought of her uncle's last
words, the world they lost, the difficult choice
she now had to make. She found the section of the
market where animals were sold, and lifted the two tiger
cubs out of her rucksack. Many collectors inquired
about them, but when the tigers' vocal
derangement was revealed, customers left. "Of what use are mute
tigers?", They said. The merchants were closing down
the market stalls for the night when a gust of wind blew through
the town, a woman shrouded in a tattered cloak limped
slowly toward the child and her silent tiger cubs. In exchange for one
of the tigers, she presented the
child with a machete. "It is enchanted", the cloaked
figure said before slipping away into memory. The child and the
remaining tiger continued on in this new world. When the child wielded
it, she could cut through the thickest tree truck,
the densest seal, but they kept to themselves and
focused on the mundane but peaceful task of living. The child collected firewood
while the tiger watched her from a tree. The tiger a into lakes
and rivers to catch fish, and the child cleaned
it with her machete. They raced across the forest
together, the child clinging to the back of the tiger. They played the way cats would,
pouncing, racing, fighting. They moved on when restless. They slept out on open fields
and watched shooting stars, tracing it with their
fingers and claws like they were the ones
tearing up the sky. Sometimes they wondered about
the lost member of their trio, but never discussed it in the
language that they shared. "Dwelling in the
past is not essential for surviving the present",
she could hear her uncle say. The child grew into a woman,
the cub into an adult tiger, but still they were hunted
by a lingering sense of loss. Consequently, they
never wandered too far from each other. Like the sun and the
moon, when one appeared, the other was not far behind. When they reached the city
between two mountains, an assembly of witches
and warriors approached. A white mage was wreaking havoc
at the edge of their world and they were going to stop him. Would the young woman warrior
and her battle tiger join them? The two conferred privately
before arriving at a decision. "Certainly!", the child
said to the assembly, "Our own home world is lost. We have grown accustomed to
this one and would prefer that it not end prematurely". The child and her tiger covered
many lands with the assembly of witches and warriors
and fought hard against the sorcerers and goblin
soldiers of the white mage. They rushed headlong into war,
clearing entire battalions with their combined ferocity. The tiger's sharp claws
and fearsome teeth, the child's strength and skill
with her enchanted machete, these helped to turn the
tide of crucial battles. In the final confrontation,
however, the warriors and witches were
thoroughly laid to waste, their contorted corpses
were scattered at the feet of the white mage
in his throne room. — I have destroyed countless
worlds, and will continue doing so — he said — Who are
you to suggest otherwise? — The child braced
her enchanted machete and struggled to her feet. Suddenly, she felt a touch on her shoulder beckoning
her to stay down. It was her tiger, whose fur
was covered in deep gashes and purple patches of blood. — The silent tiger from a
lost world — said the mage — How utterly useless — The
tiger lurched from the center of the throne room to
face the white mage. Then, it crouched
close to the ground, and exploded into a sprint. Just as it was about to pounce, the white mage conjured
a frost spell, and hurled a shard
of ice at the child. In an instant the tiger
changed course midair and leapt out in front of it. The ice tore into the
tiger's soft belly and remained there
until it melted. The child dragged herself over
to her tiger and turned her back to the white mage to shield
her wounded companion. She alternated between
scolding and thanking the tiger. Sensing this was the end,
she cried for her world, her uncle, and her tow tigers. She scratched behind the tiger's
ears and stroked its tail. The tiger nuzzled
her calloused hands. — Please, forgive me for
separating you from your sibling when you were merely
cubs — she said — I was immature and lacked the
requisite sources, material and intellectual, to
keep your bond intact — Looking at her, the tiger purred until the ground
trembled, and then died. In rage, she picked up
her enchanted machete and hurled it at the white mage. It pierced through
his magic defenses and struck him in the chest. The white mage burst
into flames, and his magical powers
dispersed, ripping open another portal. A voice called from beyond,
"Hold a time and place in your mind, and step through". The child picked up
her enchanted machete, and stepped toward the portal. — The white mage is dead, and
my tiger has deserted me — she said — Never did I
envision standing once again on the crimson shores
of my home planet to gaze upon the
three-night moons". Machete in hand, a
time and place held in her mind, she
stepped through. The portal deposited
her in a port town. She found a tattered
cloth in the ground and wrapped it around
her shoulders. She remembered where
she needed to go. The merchants were closing down
the market stalls for the night, and in the section where
animals are being sold, a child stood holding
out a rucksack. She limped slowly toward the
child and traded her machete for one of the two
silent tiger cubs. — It is enchanted — she
said before slipping away into memory. Thank you. [ Applause ] >> Lisa Sasaki: All I have to
say is Vt does have a kitty, and I just imagined that he
wrote that just like tumbling around with your kitty,
and that's very cute so thank you for that. Our next reader is Mark Keats. Mark Keats was adopted from
South Korea at the age of three. He earned his MFA in Fiction
at the University of Maryland and is a recipient of
a Kundiman Fellowship. His work has appeared or is
forthcoming in [inaudible] with Ron Corderly
[phonetic] and others, and he's currently a PhD
candidate in the English and Creative Writing Program
at Texas Tech University. I know he's currently
dissertating. So, please give Mark
a warm welcome in the middle of
his dissertation! [ Applause ] >> Mark Yeats: This is not
intimidating at all, right? [laughter] I would also like
to thank Karen Tei Yamashita for her lovely lecture, I
think it's very appropriate. It's very shocking to
me, a literary hero and also someone whose books
are on my reading list, it's sort of very interesting
to sort of accepting that continuity of Asian
American literature, to be part of that. I would like to thank
the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the
Asian American Literary Review, and especially Kundiman. I had not heard of Kundiman. I still don't know quite perhaps
who first told me about them, but [inaudible] if it was
worth, you know, applying again because I was not part of
the first fiction concord, and he said resoundingly
"Yes, apply. It will change your
life" And so, I did, and I participated last year, and it certainly
did change my life. I think the first thing it
did ultimately was to suggest that there's this community of
other Asian American writers out there that are
struggling and succeeding, and pursuing writing, not just
sort of as a side project, but for their career, and I
was just overwhelmed by that. I would also say that I've never
felt that comfortable in a group of people, and so it's
a lovely experience to fell just sort of yourself. I'm going to read
three short pieces. The first piece is called
"Adoptive Fragment number five". When you ask, they will
say, "Your birthmother, she made a tough decision". You'll think, "But she decided". When you ask your adoptive
mother, she will say, "I've always loved you. I've always known". She will kneel down and put her
arms around you, and look you in the eyes, "I choose you". You will think, "You decided" When you ask your
adoptive father, he will not speak right away. It has never been his way. Instead, he will hold his coffee
mug midair, purse his lips, consider his response. He will say, "Well, of course,
what your mother said is true. We saw your picture and knew". You will think, "Yes, of course" "You knew, and you decided". When you ask your adoptive
older brother, he will shrug, smile uneasily, say,
"What's it matter? You're my sister. "Yes", you will think,
"It was decided". When you ask your dog, she
will look at you calmly, her tail thumping lightly,
she will bark once and again, and you will know somehow that
the translation will be that, "it has always been decided". This next piece, and I do
want to give a shoot at, this piece was published in
[inaudible] and they're based out in Burke, Virginia,
which is pretty local here, and to their editor
Cara Lakowski [phonetic] who was a big part
of this story, and when they published
this, it really made me feel like a writer finally, right? When you publish something — "Lessons from Oregon"
The [inaudible] is rain. I don't have to tell
you about that, right? It doesn't reveal itself
until after October. Then, it rains a lot,
but during September, the month I was supposedly
born, the weatherman said that it would be
gray and menacing, the rain wouldn't happen
until Thursday this week. And I had trusted
him, his voice, his way of predicting
[inaudible]. As I walked to work on
Tuesday, wondering how I came to be teaching elementary
school children about parts of speech, it rained hard. Then, as if it wanted
to surprise me, show its capriciousness, stopped
once I reached the school's large glass door. Hair matted down
form the wetness, another teacher opened the
door, looked and said to me — Where's your umbrella? — The man said it wouldn't
rain until Thursday — She responded — Silly boy,
always bring your umbrella — Lesson one — always bring your
umbrella [inaudible] Assumption — you have an umbrella
[inaudible] Coffee is clearly better here, I think. It doesn't matter when
I drink coffee anymore. Sometimes after I
drink, I fall asleep, as if I drank to fall asleep. And when I dream, I
dream I have three cats, three brand new cats. I've always been a dog person, so I don't know what the
dream means [laughter]. It bothers me that I'd have
so many cats [laughter]. But now after a few
months, I can't sleep. So, I drink more and
think of those three cats, their names, their
personalities. I run on the apartment's
treadmills at two in the morning, and come up
with names like Larry, Louis, Leopold, all names that might
reflect where I was raised. Lesson two — adjusting to the time difference will
take longer than expected. Lesson 2.5 — get a cat, maybe two because the
apartment doesn't allow dogs. — Sure — I say to my
mother, who happened to forget about the three-hour
time difference, but I'm awake — the insomnia. I boil water to run
the French press. Does it really make a
difference if it's 3:30am here, 6:30am on the East Coast,
when your mother calls? — How's my favorite son doing? — She asks — I'm your
only son — I say — You didn't answer
the question — she says [laughter]
Lesson three — you can't hide from your mother, even on the West
Coast [laughter]. mom calls again early — Did
you check the top cabinet? — I say, looking out my window. I hear the cabinet door
ease open, then close shut. — Thank you — she says — I don't know what
I'd do without you — You seem to be doing OK — I
say — did you make a decision? — She says — are
you going to meet her? Oh, I almost forgot — she
adds — your cousin Laura, she's pregnant — Lesson four — be born or adopted into
a family with siblings. Lesson 4.5 — get mom a hobby, maybe a cat [laughter] Lesson
4.75 — when you're adopted, birthmothers will
find you [laughter]. The school where
I teach English, Fiona asked me why I talk funny. She has a large mole
near her bottom lip, with her hair pulled back
in pigtails, and the kind of earnest expression synonymous with first graders
and their questions. — Funny? — I repeat,
looking at her, unsure if I can really
hear what she hears. — Fiona — I say, about to
talk about regional dialects, before I realize I don't
know how to explain that to a first grader. Lesson five — stop talking
funny [laughter] Also, no more stickers for
Fiona [laughter]. It's fiction. It's OK, right? [Laughter]. I named my cats Louis
and Clark; the irony is that they're indoor cats and
I live in a studio [laughter]. When they follow me around, I pretend that I'm
the Columbia River, so I sneak around the
apartment with them in toe. Sometimes I create
an obstacle for them and say, "This won't easy. [Inaudible] and marking
new lands is never easy", but they just rub
against my leg, wait for me to bend
down and pet them. Lesson 6 — get a hobby
and/or get out more. A cannon beach on an unclear day
[inaudible] my house reminds me of one of my favorite painting
"Wanderer above the Sea of Fog". It's been six month since I was
laid off and move to the west from the East Coast, away
from family and friends, away from familiarity,
away from the letter that had arrived telling me
that she was looking for me, and I think as my shoes make
sets of impressions on the firm and sooty-looking sand, as
the strong wind fills my shoes with imperceptible pieces,
"I think all we needed was to keep pretending
that we didn't exist, that we didn't need each
other, that it was OK, that we forgave each other, that
that sometimes happens in life". But when that letter
came, the distance that the [inaudible] became a
momentary lapse, merely a delay between the things we had
meant to say, the things some of us hoped to say, and I hear
it in my head when I imagine and hope that she
will say, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" Lesson seven — there
are unforeseen consequences to everyone's actions. In this last piece — actually,
I wrote it for my wife, who is in the audience
struggling to have some sleep, she worked a night shift
as an ICU nurse last night, so I'm grateful that she's here. It's real brief, it's
called "Family Traits". It's an elusive thing,
one I assume we will see when the baby comes,
if the baby comes. So much depends on the baby,
I think, for us to see. In my friends' family photos,
it's almost always the eyes, and sometimes it's the
nose, the cheekbones, the way they all smile,
sometimes serious, sometimes, not so much, perhaps,
even caught in the moment. You can't hide that, I think, no matter how much my friend
tells me she'll never be like her mother or father. Even in my family I can see
it, though it's less genetic. The way we sometimes slide
our hands through our hair, raise our eyebrows
a little, exhale. It's in the way we eat,
and though I don't go to church anymore, the
way I fold my hands and bow my head a little. It's in the constant worrying
and unnecessary apologizing for the simplest thing. The dog, too, has
gotten in on the act, as if he's forgotten
his previous doggy life in West Texas and absorbed
[inaudible] East Coast. Sometimes, when he sits by the
slider and peers out, it's hard, you say, not to think about
me in the other room reading, looking at a window, and wondering also
what they look like, what they both look like. And, of course, I
find myself thinking about your parents too back
in Korea, and the face I fell in love with might be
separated into two. Thank you very much. [ Applause ] >> Lisa Sasaki: That's so great. Thank you, Mark. Actually, I just wanted to
just mention that Kundiman, we have for 14 years
sponsored a retreat. So, that's how everybody
knows each other. It is at Fordham University
in the Bronx, and people apply and 18 writers per genre,
poetry and prose come together, and study with like six
total, but three writer who are a bit more established. So, it is a community but we
also are very much looking to — programs like these help enable
us to reach a wider audience and to welcome more people in. It's an intimate program,
but we want to continue to welcome people into
the cult, so thank you. OK, our last and
final reader, our last and final last [laughter]
I'm a writer too, apparently. Our last reader is Sejal Shah. Sejal's essays have appeared in the Asian American
Literary Review, Brevity, The Kenian Review
online, Waxwing, and several anthologies,
including the just released "Mad Heart, Be Brave:
Essays on the Poetry of Agha Shahid Ali"
Recently, she has been sending out two manuscripts, "How to
Make Your Mother Cry: Stories", and "Things People Say: A
Book of Essays" She teaches at Writers and Books, a
community-based literary center in Rochester, New York,
and serves as the co-chair of Kundiman North East. Everybody welcome Sejal. [ Applause ] >> Sejal Shah: I always
have a lot of stuff. Can you hear me? OK, I'm going to be
reading from "Mad Heart, Be Brave" which is edited
by Kazim Ali, and its essays on the poetry of
Agha Shahid Ali. First, I wanted to thank
also the organizers of the conference, to Lawrence,
the Smithsonian, to Kundiman, to Sara and Cathy, especially. Kundiman welcomed me as a
fellow in poetry five years ago, even though I did
an MFA in fiction, but my background is also poet, so this was before there
was a fiction retreat, but Kundiman also
changed my life. To Kaya, and to Nila, to the
Asian American Writers Workshop and [inaudible] to the
Library of Congress and [inaudible] Casper, to the
Asian American Literary Review, and to the discipline of
Asian American Studies, which saved during my
MFA, and to Kundiman which has been a home for
me these past five years, and thanks to all of
you for being here. I'm going to take a picture
of you [laughter], smile! This is amazing [laughter]. So, a special shout-out to
[inaudible] from the Margins for editing and publishing
the original essay. And it's based on my remarks at Shahid's memorial,
[inaudible] in 2002. This is for my grandmother. Also, get your library
to order this [laughter]. The title's called "The
World is Full of Paper, Write to Me" You might recognize
those words from Shahid's poem "Stationery", and if you
haven't read it, you should. Shahid was the first and only
person to call me a yankee. I first met Shahid in 1996
at Harvard University. It was a winter evening,
in my memory, Shahid wears a narrowed
jacket, something pale in color, and he glows the ways snow
glows on certain winter nights. He read from his
collection, "The Country without A Post Office", which
held the political violence in Kashmir in its backdrop. Afterwards, I told Shahid I
had applied to the MFA program at [inaudible] and that I
hoped to study with him. — Come, come — he said. Shahid was warm,
charismatic, irreverent, I fell for him the way you fall
for someone across the room at a party and then feel
compelled to approach. As soon as I saw and heard him
in Cambridge, I was transfixed. My name was a part of his name, I decided it was
destiny [laughter]. Knowing almost nothing
about Kashmir and the Indian military
occupation, I thought of Shahid as simply an Indian
American writer. I hoped to find in him a mentor. At the time, I had met only
one other South Asian writer, Bharati Mukherjee, who declared
herself an American writer only, rejecting any hyphen
or descriptor such as Indian American
or South Asian, Bengali American,
or Asian American. She wished to be understood and
accepted as an American writer, as American as anyone else. I couldn't blame her. When I arrived in [inaudible]
in the fall of 1997, I immediately asked Shahid if I
could take his poetry workshop. Although I was a
fiction student, Shahid said — Sure, why not? — Don't worry, it's
only five pages. That was the first. Shahid often rewrote our poems,
starting from the bottom, working his way to the top. He suggested new
possibilities for each of us, reading his revisions
in a lilting voice. This rewriting occasionally
hurt my feelings [laughter], often bewildered me, and
mostly infuriated me [laughter] In my poem "Alexander Street", the first line became
"Instead the 28th". Shahid crossed out so many
lines in another poem that out of 25 lines only eight remained
[laughter] There are copies of his comments on my workshop
poems in the book, and yes, here's another that
got reordered. I never sent these out. Rob was in that workshop
with me. I've never read this with
someone else who was there too. I was horrified. In college, my poems have
received every literary prize awarded. No one had taken my
writing apart line by line, and dismantled their basic
architecture, what I thought of as the poem's
intention and integrity. Still, I could see that Shahid
was doing something interesting. I must've realized that I needed
to pay attention because even after 15 years, after almost
20 years, I had still held on to all of Shahid's
written comments on my work. One month into the semester,
Shahid delivered a piece of advice to me, announced
to our entire workshop, "Never use the word 'soul'
in a poem" [laughter], he declared and then grinned. He was both teasing
and completely serious. I winced, I had just brought in
a villanelle, "Onyx, Obsidian, Flocks, Coal", in
which "soul" was one of the repeating end words — [ Laughter ] 3 [Laughter] I have remembered
his dictum through the years and have heard myself saying
it to my own students. We want our poems and stories to
be soulful to possess qualities of the infinite in them, but
it's difficult for the word "soul" to do the
work of that desire. Though miff by his
handling of my poems, where was the unadulterated
praise? [Laughter] I was, like everyone
else, still taken by Shahid, admiring both his exquisite
poetry, and his generous nature. In workshop, he recited
each of our names as though it were a poem,
brilliant, somehow miraculous, and mysterious, complete
in and of itself. It's the wonderful Carry St
George Comer, Andrew Varnon, Robert M Casper, Daniel Hales. Twice that fall he invited
our class and other friends and admirers for sprawling
dinner parties, people spilled over from room to room. When I offered to cook,
Shahid laughed and said, "You American-born Indians
are the most terrible cooks" [laughter] I was taken
aback, but had to laugh. One evening when the stove
burners were not working, and the food had to be
warmed up somewhere else, Shahid charmed us for hours,
as only a good host could, playing Hindi film
music, and ABBA. Why not? The perfect
Shahidian combination. No one minded not
eating for a while, we may not have even noticed. He broke into songs. — Hey — I said —
I know that song — and began dancing the
Barathanatyam steps I had learned as a child. [ Sings ] [ Applause ] Shahid clapped his hands
in encouragement, — Bha, bha — he said finally. The subcontinental applause
I had sought [laughter] finally [laughter]. In my copy of "The Country
without A Post Office", he filled the entire front
page with his effusive script in blue fountain pen ink, "For
Sajel M. Shah, Shah of shahs. So royal, so princely. So regal, dash. So, she who couldn't go to
Spain is going to Italy, ah! He decorated this note with
long dashes flourishing on either side of the "ah!" spanning the width of the page. Later he continued
in another pen, "and now where is the lipstick? Purple of color. Sajel has the magic". Who else could have written
about the purple lipstick I wore that year in a way that
transformed my name, travel plans, and shade of
lipstick into near poetry? It was what we all wanted, what
anyone wants from someone he or she admires, and
certainly what I wanted, for them to see the
magic that is only you. As a professor and teacher
myself now for many years, I understand his rewriting,
as painful as it was for me, as another form of attention,
even as another kind of love. It is a strategy I use too
in the workshops I now teach. Shahid was trying to lessen
my dependence on narrative, my desire to tell a
story within a poem And to instead allow the
poem to unfold, to breathe, to live through the generation
of lyrics possibilities. During my first year of
graduate school I had reason to call Shahid once
or twice at home. His answering machine
message was simply, "I knew you'd call" [laughter]
The first time I heard it, I hung up [laughter] Shahid had,
as usual, caught me off guard. His voice left me
speechless and smiling. Shahid's message
was to-the-point and too short, like his life. We flocked to him, poets and
writers, ambitious dreamers. I see him in his
kitchen turning toward me in a royal blue sweater, his shirt sleeves
unbuttoned and pushed back. He is cooking for us. I've snapped a photo and caught
him off guard in the picture, but he's still posing,
still gesturing, still lovely, still young. He would probably
hate me saying so. He would hate me saying so, but I think his eyes
looked soulful [inaudible] "I knew you'd call" [ Laughter ] The first time I
heard it, I hang up. [ Laughter ] Shahid had as usual
caught me out of guard, his voice left me
speechless, and smiling. Shahid was to the point and
too short, like in his life, we [inaudible] poems and
writers, ambitious dreamers. I see him in his
kitchen turning toward me in a royal blue sweater, his
short sleeves unbuttoned, and pushed back,
he's cooking for us. I snapped a photo and caught
him unguard in the picture, but he still posing,
still gesturing, still lovely, still young. He would probably hate me saying
so, he would hate me saying so, but I think his eyes
looked so fool [phonetic]. I knew you'd call. [ Papers ] Thank you to all who mentor,
and to all who teach and to all of us who were students also. Thank you. [ Applause ] >> Rob Casper: For those
of you who weren't here for the amazing morning
event, my name is Rob Casper, and I'm the head of the
Poetry Literature Center here at the library. I could not be prouder to
host the last public even for the inaugural Asian
American Literary Festival here in Washington, D.C. It
has been a labor of love and hugely important
undertaking, and I want to thank
all the sponsors, especially the Smithsonian
Asian Pacific American Center, and Lawrence Min
Lee Davis [phonetic] for making this festival
a reality. We've spent many, many days
and nights talking about how to make this, and to see
you all here today is just beyond inspiring. First, let me ask
you to do what I did, which is to turn off
your electronic devices so that we don't have any
problem with interference. Take a second to that. Second, I'll tell you a
little bit about the Poetry and Literature Center. As the home of the
US Poet Laureate, we just announced Tracy K
Smith is our 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry! Yay, Tracy! [ Applause ] As the home of the Laureate,
we have a special place in our hearts for
poetry and we prove it through our annual series
of literary programs. To find out more about the
series and other events here at the library you can sing our
sing-up sheet which is outside in the foyer, and you can visit
our website, www.loc.gov/poetry. And now, on to this great,
wonderful, exciting event. This morning we honored
Kundiman, and featured a trio of their fellows which
was just incredible. This afternoon, we
turn to poetry, and just as we had acclaimed
writer Karen Tei Ymashita start things off this morning with a
beautiful and moving lecture, we have asked poet Kimiko Hahn
to set the stage this afternoon with a lecture titled "Angel
Island: The Roots and Branches of Asian American
Poetry" Following Kimiko, Poetry Magazine art director
Fred Sasaki, who has been at Poetry Magazine for 17 years, so let's give it
up for Fred Sasaki! [ Applause ] He'll hop up on stage to
introduce the final reading. The final three readings have
happened throughout the festival with contributors to Poetry
Magazine's blockbuster July issue, and he'll tell you
this, but I'll tell you too — there are copies of the issue
for sale for three bucks, you should get one, you should
check out the great contributors in print as you are
experiencing them on stage. Kimiko Hahn is the author of
nine books of poems including "Brain Fever" published
by W.W. Norton in 2014. Her many honors include
an American Book Award, the Shelly Memorial Prize,
the PEN/Voelcker Award, a Lila Wallace Reader's
Digest Writers' Award, the Theodore Roethke Memorial
Poetry Prize, and Association of Asian American
Studies Literature Award, as well as fellowships from the
National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Kimiko is a distinguishes
professor in the MFA program in Creative Writing and Literary
Translation at Queens College, the city university of New York. I've known and worked
with Kimiko, most recently at the poetry side of America
where she currently serves as president of the
ward of governors. Kimiko, for those of you
who don't know where, is a dream-big motivator with
a knack for bringing people and communities together. She is also a self-proclaimed
lover of science and behind the scenes
fan of McCobb. A scholar and writer who celebrates tradition
while reveling in play. A devotee to her students,
and one of my dearest and most cherished cohorts. After asking me, I
heard her present for the National Book
Festival when I first started at the Library of Congress,
back in 2011, I'm so happy to welcome her today
to this festival. Please join me in
welcoming Kimiko Hahn. [ Applause ] >> Kimiko Hahn: Oh, thank you. Thank you, Rob. Not just been a year. I think at least one decade,
if not one and a half, or so. Alone with everyone else who
has else spoken and read, I too feel honored, and
thankful, and especially to Lawrence and Lisa,
and Rob, and Hanya, let's all celebrate them. [ Applause ] And also thank you to
all the organizations and the other people
who made this a reality. It's just incredible,
and brilliant. What an urgent time
for a radical soul, what a time to reaffirm
that our histories are that of obedient Orientals, in
fact, not any kind of Oriental. We carved protect poems on the
walls of our detention center. We rebelled against the lunas in
a field of vulcanic back soil. We protested when forced to live
in a horse stall, we said, "No, and So" You also volunteered
for the Armed Services to prove patriotism forming the
42nd Infantery Regiment Combat Team, which I think
my uncle was in, the most decorated unit US
history is "go-for-broke". We embroil it, we were born
right here, we assimilate it, and we challenge the
assimilation as paradigm. What a radical moment
for us to be together. Over the past several elections,
candidates have either connected or missed grassroots movements. Yes, grassroot organizing
again, for the basics, from loading rights
to immigration rights to healthcare, I'm
so honored to be here at Smithsonian Asian
Pacific American Center, and also the Library of
Congress, the Apex mission is to be a cultural laboratory
envisioning [inaudible] as a form of community
organizing. That is so brilliant,
I love that. I'm going to say it again,
[inaudible] as a form of community organizing. Thank you. Our former Poet Laureate
Juan Felipe Herrera said of his own coming-of-age,
and offbeat education — "Listening to the
poets around and ahead of me, I was taking note. So, you know, society was our
workshop" I've been invited to give a sense of
our collective story from my personal, and
modest point of view. How unlikely that a little
Eurasian girl, you know, [inaudible] born and
isolated in Pleasantville, New York would be
here to address you. Thankfully, I came of age
in the 1960's and 70's. Thankfully, after a year
living in the Japan, my parents enrolled
my sister and me into Japanese language classes,
and Japanese dance lessons, at the New York Buddhist Church
on Riverside Drive in Manhattan. How could my parents have known that in dance class I'd meet
Aichi Kochiyama and come to know her radical family. Her mother, Yuri Kochiyama, well
known for her radical politics, held the dying Malcom X
in the Audubon Ballroom, Saturdays in the city
were my workshop. By high school, I was pretty
steep in Japanese culture, more than most Asian
Americans of my generation. My politics were
limited to rock and roll. Not too shabby if you consider
ten soldiers and Nixon coming for dead in Ohio, and we
don't need to escalate. You see, war is not the answer,
for only love can conquer hate, but how could my
parents have figured that after dance class I
would hang out in the dojo with the judo boys, or as
Grace Jones would purr, "checking out the race"
[laughter] And, by the way, I'm really envious that
Karen had photographs. Mei-mei and I were quite the
hotties back then [laughter] and I wish we had
had picture of us! So, I'm sorry, next time
[laughter][inaudible] So, thank you [laughter] I
was fishing, wasn't I? [Laughter] So, getting
back to checking out the race [laughter],
enter a young man, a Japanese American radical
whose mother had been incarcerated in the infamous
Topaz War Relocation camp. Dating him, I hung out at
Chinatown food co-op meetings with the likes of Peter
Quang [phonetic] and sat in on Marxist study groups,
and culture was never marginal. The city on Saturdays
is where I felt alive. In 1970, the basement workshop
on Elizabeth Street was opened by artists such as Tomie
Arai, a distant relative as it turned out, and
writers such as Fay Chiang. Here are the opening stanzas
from Fay's poem "Chinatown". "Mahjong and dice on the tables
upstairs, confusion of trucks, and cars, and calls, and
children, and cats, and dogs, and stream of people falling
off the mountain of gold. Eddie died yesterday, another
street kid shot his fucking brains out and Eddie's
in heaven east river. Did you know about Mrs. Tong
jumped off a building looking for peace six stories
above mott? And hey, old Louie just passed
away in his sleep, the fool, sleeping with the
gas pipes on, again. Did you hear about Lee? that he couldn't take
his henpecking wife, and screaming babies, and
rotten kids, and his waiter job, and promises that couldn't
be bought with pennies that he split before
his head did?" From these Asian American
circles, I became acquainted with those on the West Coast. Not surprisingly, their
militancy was ahead of the movement in New York. There were poets such
as Mitsuye Yamada who wrote this poem
"Evacuation". As we boarded the bus,
bags on both sides, they'd never packed
two bags before on a vacation lasting forever. The Seattle Times
photographer said — smile — so, obediently, I smiled. In the caption the next day read "Note smiling faces,
a lesson to Tokyo". And there was Nellie Wong,
here's an excerpt from "Away from The Blue Swans"
"Away, away from antlers, dried lizard necks hidden like
pearls in herbalist shells, women warbling Chinese
songs, their voices drifting out the hot summer air, hanging
onto men in grey felt hats with silver dollars dangling
in their pants' pockets. Crossing the boundaries to
the TMD on 11th in Broadway, past Jack's Footlong Hot Dogs,
smelling popcorn at the antics of Abbot and Costello. Arm in arm, our bravery slung
by our mother's warnings. Uptown to the paramount in
all it silver, and purple, and red velvet carpets
chewing spearmint through the double
feature and returning to Chinatown sucking preserved
plums, and agreeing to lie" And across the Pacific,
in the Hawaiian Islands of mother's birth, there was
burgeoning Asian American writer scene, and the group
"Bamboo Ridge", and here they are,
Bamboo Ridge, people. We love you! [ Applause ] One of the writers from the
same generation of poets who I just read was Juliet
Kono, and she's here. Juliet, I love you [laughter]. And she had her very
excellent collection "Hilo Rains" published
as a double issue of Bamboo Ridge Journal. Please listen to this excerpt
from "Smoke: An Apostrophe to The Speaker's Mother". "You were 13. Your father has made
you quit school. You can no longer play
with the other girls. You must now cut
cane like a man, and every day you watch the
lunas burn adjacent field where yellow flames
crackle and lift high into smoke, filling your coughs. Soot rains, the skies
look overcast as if someone has tossed a throw
net over you and hauled you in, a good day's catch for the
next day's work, and the next." You may have noticed that every
poet who I've been reading so far are women, and that's
because these are the ones that in effect became
my mentors, so I'm going to continue in that vein. In concert with community
organizing, writers and educators published
newsletters, mimeographed, journals and anthologies, the first one I'd ever held was
[inaudible] published in 1974 by [inaudible] and Sean Huang, I think Garrett called them
the gang of four yesterday. 10 years later, Native American
Joseph Bruchac published an anthology of Asian American
poetry, "Breaking Silence". These anthologies became the
start of my self-education in Asian American poetry. The legendary West Coast radical
Janice Mirikitani opens her poem "Breaking Silence" with
the executive order "Take only what you can
carry" and she uses quotes from her mother's testimony
before the Commission on Wartime Relocation
and Internment of Japanese American Civilians. Here's an excerpt from
"Breaking Silence". "And then, all was
hushed for announcements. Take only what you can carry. We were made to believe
our faces betrayed us, our bodies were loud with
yellow screaming flesh, needing to be silenced
behind barbed wire. 'Mr. Commissioner, it seems we
were singled out from others who are under suspicion. Our neighbors were of
German and Italian descent, some of whom were not citizens. It seems we were singled
out' She had worn her sweat like lemon leaves, shining
on the rough edges of work, removed the mirrors
from her room so she would not be
tempted by vanity. Her dreams honed the
blade of her plough. The land, the building
of food was noisy as the opening of irises. The sounds of work bolted
in barracks, silenced. 'Mr. Commissioner, so when
you tell me I must limit my testimony to five minutes,
when you tell me my time is up, I tell you this — pride has
kept my lips pinned by nails, my rage coffined, but I assume
my past, to claim this time, my youth is buried in [inaudible] ghost
visits Hamachi Gate, my niece haunts Tune Lake'
Words are better than tears, so I spilled on, I
killed this, the silence". No surprise that many in the movement didn't
consider a biracial poet truly Asian American. I wasn't completely at home in
those circles, not completely. So, determined to learn my
craft, I put in undergrad time at the University of Iowa. There I studied with
Marvin Bell, Louise Glück, Charles Wright, and the then
graduate student, Rita Dove. These were radiant
workshops, and they were also, except for Rita,
pretty darn white. From there, I returned to New
York to find more of myself. Poets were reciting poems
on the street and continuing to ally themselves
with social issues. Pedro Pietri, one of
the original founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café, handed out poems written
on condom wrappers. This is before the AIDS crisis. Louis Reyes Rivera told me
more than once, "Kimiko, take your palm off the damn
page" The city was again my workshop. I would also meet
radical feminists like Patricia Spears Jones, Sandra Esteves, and
Frances Chung. From Frances, posthumously
published, "Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple" a
poem, "Double Ten". "Early morning, the Sunday
sound of an accordion. A conversation with
two Ukrainian women about calling the plumber,
taking baths in our kitchens. You like the green
stone around my neck. Later on, the [inaudible], a black man struggling along
singing a Chinatown ballad as I sing one of Philly's songs. In her kitchen, warmer
than mine, a strong smell of black mushrooms" In
1981 I organized a panel of Asian American writers for
the National Writer's Congress, sponsored by the
Nation Institute, just the Nation Magazine, I believed those genuinely
liberal writers didn't truly comprehend the depth and
turbulence that would simmer up, especially by so-called
minority writers. Not only did I meet
Jessica Hagedorn, [inaudible] I connected with
poet comrades, Luis Rodriguez who would go on to
found Tia Chucha Press and Community Center, and
also Michael Ward who is now at the African Diaspora Museum. And later Jessica invited me
to read at Basement Workshop, yay [laughter] How could I
have known just how cool it was to be the warmup
act for [inaudible], who at that moment
became a fast friend? For starters, we organized
political cabaret in Harlem. Around this time too, there was
a changing aesthetic in the air. Jessica's pet foods and tropical
apparitions would present in print the kind of lyrics
she sassed out in the clubs. Her poetic voice
would later grow into characters from her novel. Here's the last two stanzas from
the poem "I Went All the Way Out Here Looking for You, Bob
Marley" [laughter] written with the endnote
"Kingston, Jamaica, 1977" "And this just isn't fair because you are the
only one I trust. I have to know. Were you shot in the
arm, like they said? And don't they know they
can't kill music like that? They should heed from
America and relegate you to the Sheraton Hotel's
Junkanoo Lounge as a malnourished [inaudible]. And this just isn't fair because
you are the only one I trust, and I haven't even met you yet, and I am waiting" There
was a continuing debate on whether one had to write
about Asian American issues to be an Asian American writer. Thank heaven for Mei-mei
and her innovative spirit. You will hear her later, but
meantime here's an excerpt from — a newer poem
than back in the day, it's an excerpt from, "Hello, the Roses" "The rose
communicates instantly with the woman by sight,
collapsing its boundaries, and the woman widens
her boundaries. Her rate of perception slows
down, because of its complexity. There's a feeling of touching
and being touched, the shadings of color she can
sense from touch. There's an affinity between
awareness and blossom." Thank the heavens too for lending us Theresa Hak Kyung
Cha whose Avant Gard polyphonic cross-genre "Dictee"
was published in 1982, the same year she was murdered. Here's an excerpt. "She would take on
their punctuation. She waits to service this. Theirs. Punctuation. She would become,
herself, demarcations. Absorb it. Spill it. Seize upon
the punctuation. Last air. Give her. Her. The relay. Voice. Assign. Hand it. Deliver it. Deliver." Cha was a
first-generation Korean. Of course, all along, different
waves of immigrants mixed into the Asian American groups
of 2nd, 3rd, 4th generations. Two of those brilliant writers,
[inaudible] who came here, who was born in Kerala, in
Southern India, and came here. And Miomi Kim, who of course
was born in Seoul, Korea. Myong and Mei-mei unlike some of
the other poets I've read broke through into the MFA scene. Then, along came Marilyn. "I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin. Oh, how I love the resoluteness of that first-person
singular followed by that stalwart
indicative of "be", without the uncertain
i-n-g of "becoming." Of course, the name had
been changed somewhere between Angel Island and
the sea, when my father, the paper son in the late 1950s,
obsessed with a bombshell blond, transliterated "Mei
Ling" to "Marilyn." And nobody dared question
his initial impulse, for we all know lust
drove men to greatness, not goodness, not decency. And there I was, a
wayward pink baby, named after some tragic
white woman swollen with gin and Nembutal. My mother couldn't
pronounce the "r." She dubbed me "Numba one
female offshoot" for brevity: henceforth, she will live
and die in sublime ignorance, flanked by loving children
and the "kitchen deity." That's the opening
to Marilyn's — probably one of her most
well-known early poems "How I Got That Name: An
Essay on Assimilation". Marily's poetics were
an exuberant mix, an elegant strictness learned
from classical Chinese poetry, and also apprenticing at Iowa with Donald Justice,
and Jane Cooper. It is with Marilyn that
I most share aesthetics, although where she calls on
the formal to be reckless, I could do the opposite. The first time I
made the acquaintance of Marilyn's work was when
I was co-poetry editor at Bridge Magazine in Chinatown. I was also studying Japanese
at Columbia University, which did not lead to a PhD,
mainly because I couldn't focus on learning my congee. I had one foot on campus,
and the other in the streets or more literally at the
Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam Avenue,
which is still there! [Laughter] Where I'd sit
with a yellow legal pad and pen writing what
would become "Air Pocket" and "Earshot". Although I did not
become fluent in Japanese, I did begin on awareness that
my incipient poetics were a part of my body. Classical Japanese aesthetics as
much as William Carlos Williams. In fact, as an aside,
even my new work prompted by science abides by a Japanese
aesthetic, which I write about in Brain Fever,
in an essay. During this time too,
there were several growing political-cultural movements. Artists called against U.S.
intervention in Central America, anti-apartheid organizations and
several allied with organizing around issue about homelessness. We organized greetings,
publications, went to Nicaragua, danced, had babies,
looked for teaching jobs, hung out with Adrienne
Rich and June Jordan. Curating pushes one to widen
circles of people and aesthetics and that is just
were I found myself. When Basement Workshop shut its
doors, I open "Word of mouth", a series that found a home in the Chatham Square
Public Library. Curating allows one to meet
much admired writers, for me, I was pleased to have a full
house for Trinh T. Minh-ha, who was born in Hanoi in 1952. The innovative filmmaker
and poet who wrote the groundbreaking
book of theory, Woman, Native, Other: Writing post
coloniality and feminism. Also, my contemporary,
Cathy Song, one a 1992 yield younger
poet award for Picture Bride. Here are the closing
lines from a later poem: "Don't talk like you came
from the pineapple fields, meant we couldn't
tall with our mouths, full of broken sentences,
couldn't shove "yuh?" Like food heaped onto spoons. Don't talk like you just came
from the pineapple fields, meant we had to speak
proper English. We remained silent instead,
our tongues harnessed by the foreign shoelaces
of syntax, restrictive as the new
shoes Father brought home for us to wear. But, you may wonder,
"what happened to the whole roots
theme in my title?". You know, who knows
what the roots are, until someone has the courage to
dig or someone notices something that seems out of place". Back in 1991, the first
edition of Island was edited and translated by Him Lai,
Genny Lim and Judy Yung. This in exception
of the anthology, The Big Aiiieeeee [phonetic]! literally brought to life
both original Cantonese and translated poems that
were carved onto the walls of Angel Island Detention Center
by Chinese hoping to immigrate between 1910 and 1940. Here is one of the many
poems, wish we had more. From the book Island: "Instead
of remaining a citizen of China, I willingly became an ox. I intended to come to
America to earn a living. The Western styled
buildings are lofty; but I have not the
luck to live in them. How was anyone to know that
my dwelling place would be a prison?" Going back a few years
from the 1991 publication, in 1988 financial redress
was awarded to 82,000 of the 120,000 detainees
of Japanese ancestry who had been incarcerated in
war time detention centers. They're followed a renewed
focus on those who struggled to survive and because
of what poetry can do, give song to protest and
passion, we have books such as Poets Behind
Barbed wire, here is one of the translated
poems: "Fifty and more of us prisoners gather
here to burn incense on an empty sardine can. For the repose of
a departed soul." These are poems that were
written in the detention centers and then later translated. Karen mentioned Yoshiko
Uchida, the memoir Desert Exile, in that memoir there are poems by her mother whose
pen name was Yukari: "Four months have passed,
and at last I learn to call this horse
stall my family's home". Rereading the work of Violet
Kazue de Cristoforo was surely one of the most exhilarant. I was stunned to
recognize a literary root that hadn't struck me when the
collection came out in 1991. Here is one of the pieces: "Strong sunrays barracks are
all low and dark, sun rays. The arrival of spring and
summer is typically late in the high plains of Tule Lake, the largest of the ten
internment camps built to house more than 18,000
detainees on about six miles of black volcanic ash. After the long, gloomy
winter days the intense glare of summer creates a strong
contrast and makes the low, dark, tar-papered barracks
seem even more dismal and disheartening
for the internees." The section in which
appears a Poetic Reflections of the Tule Lake
Internment Camp, 1944, sorry, this section appears
on this section of the [inaudible]
titled Poetic Reflections of the Tule Lake
Internment Camp, 1944. What may not be apparent
by this title is that poetic reflections are a
form in Japanese literature. You may know it as
Haibun, a mixed genre that typically combines
prose and Haiku. Here is another one
of her pieces. It's a little bit longer. So, we start with the Haiku
and it looks like a title but it's a Haiku:
"Flowers on Tule Reeds and Sandy Flats Brother
Confined over 200 Days, Brother's Imprisonment". The November 4, 1943, warehouse
incident, caused by reports of thefts of food
for the internees by War Relocation
Authority (WRA) personnel, resulted in confrontations
and disturbances at Tule Lake. Brother Tokyo, an innocent
bystander, had been asked to help restore order
among the agitators. As he was about to do
so, he was arrested by WRA Internal Security
Personnel and accused of taking part in the disorder. During a night of brutal
interrogation he was cruelly beaten and, not only was
he denied medical treatment for his injury, but he was
a prisoner in the "Bull Pen" of the camp stockade — a
place for maximum punishment for serious offenders. Following the occurrence,
army troops took over control of the camp and martial law
was declared at Tule Lake. Then came spring,
the snow melted and the Tule leaves
sprouted and grew. By July the reeds
even had blossoms. Brother Tokio was still
confined in the 'Bull Pen' after nine months
of imprisonment without trial or a hearing. Fall was about to come again
and, under those conditions of dark uncertainty
and desperation, everything was measured
in terms of the growth and death of the Tule reeds." I have been writing in a
form known as the zuihitsu, a classical Japanese form that is neither poetry nor prose
although a piece can resemble either or a combination. Haibun, for example,
is considered zuihitsu. Also, Bash?'s The Narrow
Road to the Interior, which is a title I stole
for my collections. For me, to find a
writer, to rediscover her, who expressed herself
in this form, was a shock of recognition. Again, I feel deeply connected
to a literary heritage that includes cross genre work. I recognize this
foremother for what she is. A writer, a pioneer, and
an Asian American woman who defiantly gave her name as Violet Kazue Matsuda
de Cristoforo, formerly Kazue Matsuda,
Internee ID No. 29001 I want to thank the
organizers for asking me, inviting me to write
this, this summer. Half over has been my workshop. Just as Juan Felipe continued in
the comment that I began with, society was our workshop, it is always our workshop
whether we write alone or whether we write out in
the open it is not possible without social combustion,
social change, social human beings with voices
and hearts, and struggles and conflicts and
happiness and joy and riding on horses in full regalia. In closing, I have
a gift for you, and you may have copies
of it, is a Cento. This is a form where you
swipe lines by other writers. I have taken a line from
every poet in the anthology, and it's all in the same order
of the anthology: "Angel Island: A Cento" Thank you poetry
magazine [laughter] — Angel Island: A Cento. "Let the walls hiss/and
smoke when/I return to shore. Someone is scolding a dog,
barking now for/decades — I don't have emotions right now,
I like that he expresses himself to me as a kind of
witness in transition — by "women," he meant
Arab and Muslim women. A cop arrested her, trapped her
in the back of the police van. — hope wrapped in old
newspapers and thrown away like offal, cleaned from
a fish the size of a man. This place in which I dream the
new body, whole and abiding, all the girls go suzie. Dance is a body's
refusal to die — as foretold by the Muslim
woman from Hornachos, shutters over the eyes, (the
CD: Converge, Jane Doe). Once, I was afraid
of being changed. Now that is done. To be an artist, you
must not blunt your, troubling vision,
no matter how queer. [Speaking French],
where do we come from? When the rains arrive,
we should be delighted to be taken/in drowning,
in devotion. The car radio plays
its one song. The song, therefore,
is important. Where are we going, Wayne
Kaumualii [phonetic] Westlake? Can't they hear kalapani
in my voice — I am trying to be marvelous. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, ¡wow! The trick of the model
minority, walk away. I try to imitate them at home,
mira mamá, but my mother yells at me, says they
didn't come here so I could speak
some beggar language. Now that the hillbilly
whisper guides me which way to turn how far up the
turn is for the bird, everything hangs in the air. 'Ay Dios', she exclaimed,
surrounded by photos, niños and nietos, where
I'm the only chino — You speak of a very good
sort of Englishness, who are you to mix up languages? Grouse, crow, craven,
or have in the past — His tongue tingled ripely. To make you a noun forever. A cunning rabbit
needs three holes, but I have never seen the field. All my life I hid in
the library reading about Greek heroes
smiting their enemies. Mother died a refugee, she thought the status
was a promise of return. Tonight, spring infuses
fall, and memory's wick — observatories rise above
the snow, militarized. I think I could wrap
my arms all the way around the 24,901 miles
circumferenced Earth. And circle and contain. I worry that when I love
him he will die too. The radio in the kitchen is
stuck in the year I was born. The capitals of the
world are burning." Thank you so much. [ Applause ] ?? Fred Sasaki: Thank
you so much, Kimiko. Let's have another round
of applauses for Kimiko. Thank you, that was beautiful. [ Applause ] So, wow, what an especial
few days these have been. I want to say how
marvelous it's been to see so many Asian-American writers
and readers in one space, so good job everybody. So, I am Fred Sasaki, the art
director for Poetry Magazine. And, Poetry Magazine, if you
don't know was found in 1912 by Harriet Monroe,
coming out of Chicago. And also, I want to say a
quick hello to our friends on the internet, I understand
this is also a webcast, and so, after the show today you can
click on poetryfoundation.org and check our newly
redesigned website and subscribe to the magazine. You can purchase the issue
that we are talking about and we will enjoy
readings from in a moment, but you probably be even
happier if you subscribe to a full year of
Poetry Magazine. So, pardon the cliché, but in
poetry we continuously strive to make it new and, so, this July/August issue debut
is a brand-new cover program created by pentagram and
along with the website, and also online you
can check out a suit of podcast and other features. So, like it was said early, I have been with Poetry
Magazine for 17 years. Believe it or not. Along with Stephen
Young we started off in the Newberry Library,
kind of talked our way in the stacks building,
in a small room with a window probably
about this wide. It's been such a great
journey to go from there to now free-standing building in
the Superior Street in Chicago, a building made of windows
essentially, and then to be here at the Library of the
Congress with you all. It is such a pleasure,
and I want to say that within those 17
years, and I'm biased, this is my favorite issue that I've seen published
during that time. [ Applause ] I would actually go so far as to say this is the
best issue [laughter] that I've seen so far. But, without further due, I will
introduce to you our readers who will be reading work
that is in this issue. I won't read their bios, for
that you will have to spend $3 after the show and
pick up the issue of your own, which
you will love. So, in this order coming to
stage is Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau, Paisley Rekdal, Kazim
Ali, Khaty Xiong, Sally Wen Mao, Rajiv Mohabir, and Gerald Maa. Thank you so much,
thank you for coming. [ Applause ] ??Mei-mei Berssenbrugge:
I'm very happy to be here, thank you everyone. My poem "The new boy", was
written in New Mexico and it's in four sections: "You may find at the market a casual comment
swerves into?conversation that's deeply metaphysical with
a young man by produce. He wears a white T and
jeans, ordinary yet careful about his food —
Every time I meditate, I begin in space among
the stars — he says — Many of these being
— he continues — are not physically 3-D, so it's
frustrating to describe them. I have the impression their
silver color comes from within. They look at me with tremendous
love from almond-shaped eyes. There's no sunlight. The whole cloud structure
is luminous and the ground crystalline. A lot of purple and
blue, like twilight — It's a complex, partly
inarticulate narrative, perhaps because he feels
I won't believe him, yet he's spontaneous. I don't need to question
the reality of his story. He's sincere. There's more energy now as heat,
connectivity, radio waves, data, X-rays, and all kinds
of interactions. We operate with higher
electrical current inside, which can?rejuvenate you
physically by the nature of connectivity,
moving?freely around the body. The next week, smiling,
mid-sentence, 'seeing Earth from deep space, blue and
alive' More often now, ETs are discussed at the
co-op, also, coincidence, spirit molecules, time tunnels,
and quantum uncertainty, since we're close
to The Institute. I like that he expresses
himself to me as a kind of witness in transition. He's read my work, and thinks
me more knowledgeable than I am, since my poems aren't true. — Pleiadians create new visuals
through which I can imagine — he says — My care is
required for witness to resonate energetically
with listener, however nonchalant I appear. The more compassion one has
for non-normal experiences of others, the sooner
consciousness will shift toward the stars. To him, this means shifting
the ethical structure of communicating a narrative. 'I think of myself in
a service capacity'". "One silvery insect
was seven feet tall; I shook his claw
and we conversed. Sometimes reptiles
hoard crystals to send and receive information. Lipids in a membrane behave like
that, channeling the atmosphere. At home I write,
'The membrane is like a liquid crystal
to the sky'. Next week, in line, he's
with a beautiful woman with a worn face who knows me. — She's not well,
and she wants me to visit them and their animals. They know they don't end
when they die — she says — It's sad they're leaving,
but it's voluntary, they've relatives on other
planets, sentient beings with the right to vote. Have you ever watched an animal
and suddenly it disappears? He chips in. Witness involves a significance
equivalent to truth. The whole idea of visiting
another planet, communicating with a being from another
world, to me that's spiritual. When they speak, they
subtly vary certain sounds; I hear words, but their sound
carries different meaning to my body. Some words I read weren't
there when I began. Use these new words,
enhanced by your imagining, to allow our dimension to
emerge — they told me — Imagination stabilizes the shift
— In Santa Fe, in Tucson, Lima, La Paz, people see
extraterrestrials. When I step outside, a velvety
multitude of moths and insects, transparencies, on
my screen door whirls up to the porch light. Milky Way shines 3-D with
white clottings and dark rifts, covering the ground and
trees with phosphorescence. Comets, asteroids from deep
space, planets moving at will, contribute to this
glamour of wonder. He shows me how to pull
frequency, starlight, down through his
body into the ground, and I try it; I'm more open now. I can carry more light, which
fuses with similar energies in mass consciousness. Earth will radiate this
consciousness as a star or a sun on horizons of his other worlds. — Let us hold that
portal open for you, in the form of your little crush
on him, of light streaming down, and feel a surrounding new
ideal — they say to me — Now, imagine yourself
in the Pleiades. You wish to give a present to
the source, like compassion or rainwater from home — Early on, I divined that
this book already exists in the future. After all, I'd thought of
it; it's a probability, somewhere, complete, on a shelf. My intention is to seek that
future edition and consult it to create this one,
the original, for you." Thank you. [ Applause ] ?? John Yau: I'd like to
thank everyone who invited me but especially, Timothy, you
sent me an email inviting me to contribute to this issue. At first, I thought he was
playing an April fool's joke but then I realized
it wasn't April. I'm going to read two pantuns,
"Something to Look Forward To", I imagine this is written
by a man about my age but perhaps not: "A
blue and green city, with the sun rising behind
it, just not swiftly enough. Don't worry about being perfect. Just make sure you have
some juice left in the pump. I have many other
remedies on hand, not just history's
bags of sumptuous soot. Hello, I am beauty's
representative; I work in the self-improvement
sector. Don't worry about being perfect. Just make sure you have
some juice left in the pump. How do you see yourself
on the material plane of observed phenomena. Hello, I am beauty's
representative; I work in the self-improvement
sector. Have you ever been sideswiped
by a bad investment in love.? How do you see yourself
on the material plane of observed?phenomena? You might need a reevaluation, an estimate, or an
era to expire. Have you ever been sideswiped
by a bad investment in love? Before you decide that you
are nothing more than a clump or splatter, you might
need a reevaluation, an estimate, or an
era to expire. Have you learned how
to remove yourself from every mirror you pass? Before you decide that you
are nothing more than a clump or splatter, let me tell
you about the palm trees on the horizon of your future. Have you learned how
to remove yourself from every mirror you pass? A blue and green city, with
the sun rising behind it, just not swiftly enough. Let me tell you about
the palm trees on the horizon of your future. I have many other
remedies on hand, not just history's bags
of sumptuous soot". And this is called
First Language Lesson: "As you may have inferred, Ka
Pow is not a spicy chicken dish. Meanwhile, you are an accident
waiting to repurpose yourself Who are you to mix up languages? This is not a smorgasbord,
you have to remember that you are a cylinder,
a form of fodder. Meanwhile, you are an accident
waiting to repurpose yourself. Why do you need an
expensive phone? It won't help you in the future. You have to remember
that you are a cylinder, a form of fodder, our company
motto: 'other than you, no waste shall go to waste'. Why do you need an
expensive phone? It won't help you in the future. Have you ever thought
of joining the circus? You might find a home there. Our company motto:
'other than you, no waste shall go to waste'. Choosing suitable punishments
is an unavoidable necessity. Have you ever thought
of joining the circus? You might find a home there. If you are speaking about
my place in the universe, that's not right, choosing
suitable punishments is an unavoidable necessity. Hasn't the sky repeatedly proven to be the most excellent
manager? If you are speaking
about my place in the universe,
that's not right. Memories are iridescent insects
infiltrating your dreams. Hasn't the sky repeatedly proven to be the most excellent
manager? Little sphinxes, I
have instructed you to the best of my ability. Memories are iridescent insects
infiltrating your dreams, as you may have inferred, Ka
Pow is not a spicy chicken dish. Little sphinxes, I
have instructed you to the best of my ability. Who are you to mix up languages? This is not a smorgasbord". Thank you. [ Applause ] ?? Paisley Rekdal: It's true, the phone doesn't actually
help you in the future. [Laughter]. Thank you everyone who's
been organizing this, it's just been a
fantastic event. I was going to read the poem
that appears in Poetry Magazine, Driving down to Santa Fe: "Quick
swim up through my headlights: gold eye, a startle in black:
green swift glance raking mine. A full second, we
held each other, gone. Gone. And how did I
know what to call it? Lynx, the only possible reply
though I'd never seen one. The car filling with
it: moonlight, piñon: a cat's acrid smell of terror. How quickly the gray body fled,
swerving to avoid my light. And how often that
sight returns to me, shames me to know how much
more this fragment matters. More than the broad
back of a man I loved. More than the image
of my friend, cancer-struck, curled
by her toilet. More than my regret for
the child I did not have which I thought once
would pierce me, utterly. Nothing beside that
dense muscle, faint gold guard hairs
stirring the dark. And if I keep these scraps of
it, what did it keep of me? A flight, a thunder. A shield of light dropped
before the eyes, pinned inside that magnificent skull
only time would release. Split back, fade and reveal. Wind would open him. Sun would turn him
commonplace: a knot of flies, a rib cage of shredded
tendon, wasp-nest fragile. The treasure of him,
like anything, gone. Even now, I thumb that face
like a coin I cannot spend. If something in me
lived, it lived in him, fishing the cold trout-thick
streams, waking to snow, dying when he died,
which is a comfort. I must say this. Otherwise, I myself
do not exist. It looked at me a moment. A flash of green,
of gold and white. Then the dark came
down again, between us. Once, I was afraid
of being changed. Now that is done. The lynx has me in its eye. I am already diminished." Thank you. [ Applause ] ?? Kazim Ali: Hi, everyone. It's really wonderful to be here
with all of you in this room, and after that amazing two
lectures, and such a privilege to be in this amazing journal. I'm afraid that I'm going to go
rogue but I'm up here already, there's nothing you can do. And just read you a poem
that I've been working on and it's not in this
journal, but it's available. It's called Golden Boy. I went on a run through all
the monuments the other day down here, so I just been
thinking about monuments and came to me that I wanted
to read this poem to you, so I hope that's OK actually. OK. Golden Boy. "Almost afraid I am in the
annals of history to speak and by speaking be
seen by man or god such and that in light be paid. I talked the Manitoba
Parliament Building in Winnipeg where I grew up what beacon to
dollars food or god does shine. I hollow halo starvation
this nation beneath the body hollowing its stomach
to emptiness, and in breath the river empties. Who's so spoke to craft, born
a long, long echo and echelon in grains of light and space. We with one and other wait
the soul, not the spirit. Breathe through spirited wet,
or when, why, true, we've, woe, we've woving a dozen, a
tent, these tents pitched on the dead be made biped by pedant may purge atop
the temple pool proving what's proven. These riches we eat,
and cherries and prunes what washes
over woven ocean. Afraid I'm most sere desired
Sired in winds, seared in warn. Once in wild [inaudible] sworn. We parley to man be
[inaudible], be bent, come now to document your meant
intent your indented mind hall, oh, start you'll wait eons
there in prayer, money, morrow, more you owe and in overtime
God spends the spent rivers melt into summer. Sound out the window,
sound out the spender. Where does the river road end? And in what language can
prayer or commerce be offered? Ender of senses, expensive
atop, plural spirals be spoken or mended, broken and meant
for splendor, my mentor." Thank you. [ Applause ] ?? Khaty Xiong: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much
for being here. It is an especially especial day
because it's also my birthday. [ Applause ] So, thank you again,
everybody, organizers, Poetry. What an honor to be in the
same room as the readers who have been here today,
and the last two days, three days of the festival. I'll be reading two poems. I lost my mother about a
year ago on May 16th, 2016, to a very violent car crash. She was on her way to
actually visit my late brother and his widow, and his
children and she never made it. And my family, they're
in California, and I have been residing in Ohio
the last decade, combined years. So, it was very odd to
receive this phone call in the middle of the night. It felt like a dream. And the first thing
I immediately thought of was my mother's
spirit, and her garden, she was a shaman,
a medicine woman. She healed people. So, actually the week
leading up to the weekend of her funeral I was home and
I made my way through the house and found myself in her garden and already immediately
the garden had started to wither and die. And California summers
are so brutal, and so hot. So, I found myself there
and I was accompanied by a little mouse that
decided to join me for just a few seconds
before I scared it away. So, this poem is called
"In mother's garden": Quietly now a mouse in the
garden that has come to mourn with me or bite at every
insect twisting in this heat as you lie close and uncaring in
the army of the common housefly. Let it be known that in
death you harrowed in love & in so doing traded your
ears for blackened ones, your crown the shade
of a new moon. Let this spell be known as the
fortune of a missing tortoise, brutal limbs and
wounds of multiples. Then, to soften alongside
the watermelon rinds on this blighted day, your body
presently absent including the mouse I have startled
into darkness. Who will help me love
the castor bean tree now? Which of these plants
will speak for you? Ignore me while I
weave between rows, swatting at the light I
have chased into the corner of your makeshift shed
still full of your fortune, the abundant secret
of mouse droppings. Meanwhile, stay dressed
help me be decent. Come away from dreams, far from streets quick,
arise in one piece! There is shade. Even the sun could
not spoil you." And then I'll be closing with
a poem that I brought shortly after returning from her
funeral, I currently live in Columbus, Ohio, and they
have a beautiful conservatory and botanical garden, if you ever been there
it's really beautiful. And, I weirdly just found
myself kind of wandering through the space
because the monks believed that the deceased may often
visit you in the form of flora and fauna, and I knew it
was soon to be visiting and hoping to see her. But it was a healing
moment for me to have found myself
in this space. "On Visiting the
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens". "I have come to collect the
various species of America: ruby-spotted, tigers, kites
and pipevines??an armory of wings & two-week bodies. The room swells openly
and I ascend to the top?? I am separate from the boy
who swats persistently. Tucked in the corner of
a window, a white morpho, the only kind to perch
long enough for me to satisfy my collecting??its
lunar afterglow still hanging as I pulse and pace
to get a closer look. I am separate from the boy
who climbs a nearby tower and shouts for his father. Perhaps I am half of
this?a set of dots for eyes, spine for spine, my
insides half my father's? half my mother's. Kuv tus ntsuj plig [phonetic]
unlike the fate of quick bodies, sovereign cavities, mother
whose torso fell early in harvest??a bed of muscle
to hold her from splitting in two??and do we hear it? As in a fever the boy runs back
& does not see the white morpho the way I must see it: my
personal moon stone-ripe in this foreign corner, mother as fauna
forever,??inhuman and gazing. Then my body, a chariot,
pulled by a pair of orange helicons sweeping
towards the main water feature, complete with koi. This place in which I
dream the new body?whole and abiding??I am reaching
for the boy now as warden to both the living and the
after living, the privilege in every gesture??like
mother's first gifts: name and citizenship,
poetry always in departure, the song about the moon
falling over, fast in flames." Thank you. [ Applause ] ?? Sally Wen Mao: Hi, I'm Sally. I just want to thank everyone that has organized this
incredible festival. And I also want to acknowledge
that it's really strange to be standing on
this fancy podium and reading this poem
called "Inauguration Poem". So, close to the inauguration. And in this poem, I
took all the words — well there was a newspaper that published all the
words never before spoken in an inauguration until this
year, and I took all those words and I put them in this poem. And, I just want to say
that it feels so radical to create this space in this
location, to create this space that asserts on how important
language is and how words are, and how words and language is
related to power, and how words and language can exploit power
but also kind of reclaim it. And I hope we come away
from this weekend with that in our hearts, like
that idea that our words and our language
can reclaim that. OK, so, this poem is
called "Inauguration Poem". "A girl stalked a
sheep in a field. The sheep began to bleed
and the whole field smelled like carnage. A butcher had moved in
and slaughtered the sheep. Red, the stain on her dress. Empty, her basket. The depletion of resources
winter sowed??the house on the hill in disrepair. In the vacated house, the
girl tried to flush the blood down the toilet but the
infrastructure couldn't completely erase the
evidence of life. The girl studied
Islamic history, the origin of arithmetic. The stain turned
the girl into a lady in her country's blighted
first-world landscape. History's pages were open,
one by one they ripped. When she asked the spout
for water, it rusted. She grew cold. She grew weary. She grew sad. If only she could ban
the butcher in solidarity with the bad children,
the refugees and outcasts. Instead she drove into the city,
the urban sprawl swallowing her. She went into a store, got
caught stealing a candy bar. Surveillance footage
showed she had no remorse. She justified: We all
live on stolen land. Why not one bar of
chocolate, subsidized? Then she remembered prisoners,
their tombstones unmarked. A cop arrested her, trapped her
in the back of the police van. Trillions of atoms
spinning inside her body, an unrealized commodity
for strange men's agendas. Order, dystopia, blueprint
of urban catastrophe. The streets, without
strangers, all barren. The trees, without
protection, all windswept." Thank you. [ Applause ] ?? Rajiv Mohabir: I kind of wanted just take the
microphone cap so I can keep it in my pocket at night and have
all of your wonderful saliva and words in my life forever. This is so fantastic. Thank you everybody
for coming here, thank you for the
wonderful talks, thank you for the
wonderful poems, my goodness. Thank you for this
wonderful issue, holy god. And to be in Poetry
Magazine with such names like I don't even know what
to say other than, Holy shit! But I definitely want to
thank the organizers for sure, to Lawrence, and Mimi,
you're both wonderful light and thank you, I'm appreciative. And then also I want to thank
Timothy, you, Lawrence again and [inaudible] for selecting
my little poem to live in this issue, and
it's called "Coolie". I am from a community of south
Asians taken to the Caribbean in the 1800s to cut cane,
and so, this poem is written in a form that I developed
while I worked with Kimiko at Queens College, I'm
calling it a [inaudible] poem, it's based on kind of folk
music that if you have gone down to Queens, any place,
you've probably heard it, like on streets,
coming from cars. And I developed the form
based on the song Kaise Banie by Sundar Popo, a
Trinitarian singer. And thinking about form carrying
history, this is a kind of form that carries my history. And it's written in
three different kind of movements, such languages. The verse is plantation
Hindi or Caribbean Bhojpuri which it's a language
that I come from. The next is Creole
or Guyanese English, that I come from as well, and then the other one
of course is English. So, it starts with a chorus in
Caribbean Hindi, what I'll do is that I'll read it in the verse and then I'll read
the translation, but since it is a chorus,
at the very end of the poem, I'll read it again
in translation. Coolie, which is a bad, bad,
slur for Hindu-Caribbean people. So, please, yes, don't repeat. [ Laughter ] [ Speaking foreign language ] "They made us hold
of the name coolie, like a cut-glass it bit
us coming to Guyana. With this whip-scar iron
shackle name Aja [phonetic] contract-bound, whole day cut
cane; come night he drink up rum for so until he wine-up
and pitch in the trench's black water
and cries, "Oh [inaudible]!" until sugar and pressure
claim his two eyes. The backra manager laugh
at we??so come so done. I was born a crab-dog devotee of
the silent god, the jungle god, the god crosser-of-seas. White tongues licked the
sweet Demerara of my sores. Now Stateside, Americans erase
my slave story; call me Indian. Can't they hear kalapani
[phonetic] in my voice, my breath's marine
layer when I say? They made us hold
of the name coolie, like a cut-glass it bit
us coming to Guyana." Thank you. [ Applause ] ?? Gerald Maa: It's
good to be here. So, when Lawrence told me to
read from this issue I turned to Emily Dickinson, because
for the longest time the poem in here, its title was
an appropriated lines from Emily Dickinson. Wanted to consult these lines
again just, touching the base of a poem I wrote years ago. And after that I played a
little sortilege with Dickinson, you know, flipping at
random for guidance, you know like Methodist do. So, if I'm a Methodist,
I'm a Dickinson Methodist. And it is just astounding how
consistently I get profound, it is. And I chance upon a
poem that could exist, you know it just broke all
the expectations that I had for Dickinson of
the Dickinson poem. In a large part, because of
its historical timeliness which I thought which
everybody thinks is anathema of a Dickinson poem, right? And, so, the poem goes:
"The mob within the heart. Police cannot suppress. The riot given at the first. Is sanctified as peace. Uncertified of scene
or signified as sound. But growing like a hurricane
in a congenial ground." And, so, I mean, I
should have stopped there, really [laughter] But, you
know, as deeply cynical as I am these days, as I can be
these days, I do have to admit to myself that often
times I have the privilege of crossing congenial ground. And I think that kind of the key
to that poem is taking genial of the roof for one of
my most loathed words, one of the words I
hate the most: Genius. Genial is the root for genius. And prefixing it with a word
that attributes that to a crowd. And, so, one of the takeaways from these three days is these
words not only in the podium but words that I heard across
tables, you know, overdrinks, small talk in the
hallway that does a lot of "ethics in work", you know. This is on tape so it's on
to perpetuity so I'm glad, this is the only thing
that people ten years from now will remember
or can find of me. I'm happy. But one of the things I
learned from these three days is that any form of politics
imaginable that I know that I want to be a part of
would be congenial in that way. And, so, it's a certain
bit of authority but please let's applause the
crowd and the host before I — [ Applause ] OK, now to the lesser work, my poem here it's
a three-part poem. I'm going to read, just
stick with the last part. In a service of time, and
is a little bit longer. It's a travel poem to a place
in Thailand, a city called Pai. I learned from Adrienne Rich
that dates are important, so, you know, I made
these travels in 2005. Wrote this poem, you know, a
couple of years after that. Now let me find the poem. I'm only reading
the last section. Yes? Takes time. You're my elder and I
review you on the page. [Laughter] The first words
he has ever spoke to me as a command, so I must hear it. [Laughter] I've been hearing
your commands in the page for so long, it's weird
to have it in person. OK, well [inaudible] OK,
I'll read it in whole. Thank you. It's called "The
Blighted Star Fruit": "To pass through astonishment
and know much too late. And because habit makes us
strange, I find myself searching on a landscape that generates
questions beyond its ability to solve. That dark post out there
might be this poem standing as you would?lead in the 4th
grade play??under theater lights and your shadows that
petal around you. And what should be
most memorable isn't. So, I recall those prolonged
moments of silence, incongruous. And revealing as
metaphor, most frequently. For instance, waiting
at the bus stop in Pai in a midmorning the hue
of the roadside guardrails that dot the cliff's
side like Morse code. Before leaving with trees, those
felled, ones half-painted white, the burnt trunks — That passed
by like the so many phenomena of our days blurred
together into a motion. At times, convincing
as a nickelodeon's, I waited under the thatched roof of the station with
other travelers. With each in our
common solitude risen around like that Haydn piece. In the tunnel I descended into
on my way out onto Broadway from the 1 train some months
ago, it seemed of Hopper. Star fruit on the ground
discolored, withering, blighted. Three of the town's
strays hobbled by before midday's
heat stalled the town like some lost Stephano,
Trinculo, and their lamed, Dark sycophant?– ?at least
that's what they were for me. It wasn't comfort, never
comfort, but something else. And when each moment with
expectations for more Than it can hold leads to the
next, and soon??as then — expectation fills up the day
as does your breath a balloon, the day floats with such
care and strange hours. And both pleasure and pain
are motions of the soul — plato wrote, ?poetry's
banisher, beauty's guard." Two. "My hands grow
differently used. While one hand thumbs pages, the other hand steadies
open the book. It's the other hand that rests
on the desk, forearm paralleled to the table's edge,
all the fingers, except the thumb
holding the blank field. One hand's mole a gnat flattened
between pinky and ring finger. The other hand's palm-side, below the skin enough it's
likely a splinter left for years. Just one hand fits my Discman, plugged in while
watching those around, no news-as-white-noise
here to occupy my sight. Kids who bus to school hours
away tooth picking slivers of chili-dappled
mango slices in. A triple-sweatered lady
palming back her hair in a thick Thai pre-dawn June;
the one foreigner other than us, earphone couched; and
her shape, dozed slack, coat-blanketed, neck
against my side. One hand rests. Half a day ago, under
a mosquito net, flushed with the desk fan
sitting on the rattan floor, one hand kept on the steady act of beckoning behind the
tongue-swelled clit, uncreasing the ridged roof,
almost like the mouth's roof as it slopes down toward teeth, like rubbing the dampened
cave wall, finger-darkened, as the guide turns
his back to us. The other hand traced
its crook?– that delta-creased pad set
between thumb and fingers, hand's most fleshy zone? — ?on the torso. The other hand then stilled her
hip, mosquito net, weighted, walling out stitches of ants,
from its hook, a viscous drape like that through one
hand's two fingers. Oddly, only one hand drums along
the CD, Converge, Jane Doe, as the crowd would rupture
outward into a circle pit?– ?a vortex in reverse —
if this were a concert. The other hand just
bides its time. Milton's clumsy other
hand, God's other hand that lessing chose, and that
Spaniard's other hand riddled useless at Lepanto,
a bullet lodged into that scurvied poet's chest, the other hand remembers
and betrays. The other hand cries out,
which was Keats's living one? Neither hand scarred yet, even after thumb-knuckle
tempted a sander in shop class, impulse from imagining too much. One hand's cushion
bears the pencil, my friend whose tasks are
split between his hands, "I eat with my left hand,
punch with the other"?– says we whack off with
the hand we write. Each hand on different
shaded denim thighs, The unclipped nails crude
halos of sun-blocking hills. One hand lets forth words;
the other hand holds it back." Three. Chased by a three-legged
dog to the temple stairs, past all the fallen star
fruit, the veined tips the last to wither, the through-light
flesh sun- and bug-eaten. We crossed paths with
a one-legged man?– ?wordless sounds, in
that permanent wild gaze, crutching down the stairs, 400! As we stopped to catch
a break mid-flight. Our breath would last us a
run-through of the temple, and, in the first hallway?–
him?!, his phatic calls, tics and unwilled smile facing
the morning that just passed, the sun no longer in front of
his propped body, but above it, the valley overabundant with the
real light that stole our day. The fog too lifted
against my sight. We paused. Having just climbed the hill,
we agreed to leave our shoes on despite sandals
stationed on the stoop, and then we turned
towards that hall. — Let's go — he
ends, befriended, prayer Phaedrus-empty. ?The driver gases the bus off
the parking brakes to idle back out the station; the attendants
scoop up the wood wedges and clatter the door shut. The passengers all shift. In the chapter among the
deformed and footless, Zhuangzi [phonetic] ends,
arguing for the greatest of men, a man void of feelings:
'The Way gave him a face, Heaven gave him a form,
can't you call him a man?' Yet there are things I
love: The sun, you, travel. And back again, the
thick fog parts us from the obliterating
Turner sun. Pretty soon, come
day, the motorbikes, The Rough Guide says, 'all
tourists should try will buzz by those three dogs',
all lethargic, the largest too tired
to dry-hump. His red tip unsheathing,
there's no neutering here. The black one, bald in spots,
wouldn't even fight it off. The mottled one coiled
back like the dog that badgers Bosch's wayfarer,
andaged, poor bastard, with his gnarled stick,
not looking at us, but rather caught looking back,
And above his head a doorway — ?no, the gallows??– The same
one Brueghel's final peasants romped beneath? My turn now to sleep. I can dab off from my jeans, your drool just reaching my
thigh as you do, with care, from our sheets when?– yet
that stuff, all that stuff of ours still spots
our many beds with different aged salt-rings,
each gasp less a sound than a failure at silence. Before us another strange town,
while for others school, home, maybe work, a field,
someplace normal, there, someplace beyond sight
from its roadside stop. Abroad a month, toward a year
in another country, Anne?– ? Anacrusis: these days I'm lost
in, reminded of my presence as if catching a stranger's wave to the yet-to-be-seen
man behind you as yours." [ Applause ] ?? This has been a presentation from the Library
of the Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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