Monday, April 14, 2014

Poem/Translation: Hagiwara Sakutaro

So busy these recent have been that unlike in prior years, including 2009, when I was in Cuba, I have been able to post a daily poem from National/International Poetry Month. I will strive to post a few more before April flows into may, but for now, here is one by Hagiwara Sakutaro 萩原 朔太郎(1886-1942), the late, acclaimed experimental Japanese poet, whose volume The Iceland, translated by Hiraoki Sato, will be published this summer by New Directions.

The poem below, which appears with two others on Asymptote journal's website, displays the quintessence of Hagiwara's work: its use of free verse, rather than traditional Japanese forms (which he also employed during his career); its mixture of linguistic registers, including lofty poetic speech, everyday language, and philosophical discourse; and oscillation between pedestrian and psychologically dark imagery. Several previous volumes of his work, including Howling at the Moon and Blue (Green Integer, 2001), translated by Hiraoki Sato, and Rat's Nest: The Poetry of Hagiwara Sakutaro (UNESCO, 1999), translated by Robert Epp, have previously appeared, as has Hagiwara's Principles of Poetry: Shi No Genri, from Cornell University Press in 1998.

The Tiger

It's a tiger
wide and vague as a giant statue
you sleep in a cage in the uppermost floor of a department store
you are born no machine
you may tear apart and eat meat with your fang-teeth
but how can you know human reasoning?
Behold, under the orb sooty smoke flows
from the roofs of a factory-zone town
sad whistles rise and spread.
It's a tiger
It's a tiger

It's an afternoon
the ad-balloon rises high
in twilight-close city sky 
on this high-rise building sitting in the distance
you are as hungry as a flag.
When you scan vaguely
you make the worms crawling along the streets
your live food dark and depressing.

It's a tiger
on the roof of prosperity in the midst of Tokyo City
where elevators go up and down
wearing an amber striped fur
you suffer solitude like a wasteland.
It's a tiger!
Ah it's all your afterimage
a useless total view of a void.

Copyright © Hagiwara Sukitaro, translated by Hiraoki Sato,from The Iceland,
New Directions Publishing Corporation, June 2014.

This poem appears on the website of Asymptote Journal. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Montana Scenes

I'm currently out in Missoula, Montana for the inaugural Thinking Its Presence: Race and Creative Writing conference organized by poets and critics Prageeta Sharma and Joanna Klink, and featuring a wide array of amazing writers and scholars, including keynote speaker, scholar and critic Dorothy Wang, after whose study the conference took its name, and Sherwin Bitsui, Jess Row, Meena Alexander, Kimiko Hahn, and Farid Matuk, among many others. I'll post more about the conference over the next few days, but here are some photos of Missoula and its necklace of hills and mountains. Big sky, yes, but also, gigantic, very nearby mountains. And I've also included the photos of the herd of white-tailed deer we came across as we were leaving an event on campus. They were so close, so gentle, and did not flee but slowly moseyed away, grazing and periodically glancing back at us, as we headed for the bridge and trail to downtown.

A view across the Columbia River,
famous for Norman McLean's collection
 A River Runs Through It
A view of the nearby
mountains to the South
The Holiday Inn, where
part of the conference took place
Looking north along Higgins Road
in downtown Missoula
The hills looming just in walking
distance of downtown
Looking west along Broadway,
downtown Missoula
Public artwork, Missoula
Public artwork, Missoula
Those mountains!
More hills and mountains,
downtown Missoula
The campus of the
University of Montana
On the footbridge across
the Columbia River
Looking along the Columbia
The Milwaukee Trail, Missoula
Young white-tailed deer, grazing
at night--they were only steps
away from us and didn't scatter,
but kept munching away until finally
they proceeded down into
the parking-lot area
On the Higgins Street bridge
River and mountains
Some of the rapids near downtown

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Hilda Hilst Online Roundtable

The young Hilda Hilst
Over the last few months I participated in an online roundtable about Hilda Hilst, whose sublime and sublimely perverse novel Letters from a Seducer (Nightboat Books, 2014) I translated last year. Organized by critic and author Sarah Gerard, the roundtable, which comprised questions posed by Sarah (and translator Caroline Aguiar), and responses by authors, translators, scholars and publishers including Alex Forman, Rachel Gontijo Araújo, Adam MorrisNathanaël, Stephanie Sauer, and I, does give a deeper sense of who Hilst was, and what she was up to. The conversation is now live at Music and Literature.

One unfortunate aspect of the conversation, however, is that it appears to have been reordered and edited, with some errors inserted, after the fact--by Music and Literature or someone else I'm not sure. Nevertheless, it reflects our real-time online exchanges, and for the most part (or at least my part) did not receive any subsequent polishing. Were we onstage, bodily as opposed to virtually, this is the sort of conversation--without the remixing--you might hear.

One highlight:

Caroline Aguiar: Hilst was willing to explore the limits of language while going deep into aspects such as God and immortality. At the same time, she was deeply connected with the very core elements of human existence, such as passion, comradeship, life, and death, often finding inspiration not only in philosophical books but also books on biology, physics, anatomy, and math. How do you interpret the fact that the public is now more interested and prepared to embrace Hilst’s view of literature than any time before? 
Nathanaël: This seems a recasting of the first question of our conversation. As I think a number of us have indicated previously the question of the timeliness of these translations seems to mislead the apprehension one might have of Hilst’s work; John has underscored the degree to which this is already an Anglo-centric question, since Hilst arrived in other languages well in advance of these efforts here; so perhaps the question is one, if it does indeed need to be asked at all—and I’m not personally convinced that it does—of the English language’s belatedness and hitherto lack of receptivity. And the way in which borders between languages are more or less passable. On the occasion of the U.S. film release of Macunaíma in 1968, the U.S. public’s ability to receive the work was, according to one critic, limited by its impoverished understanding of Brazilian specificities and political realities within a larger South American context, with which it was somewhat more familiar. It would seem to me, though, that this kind of limitation is a consequence of a kind of deliberate ignorance. And I am concerned that the same kind of short-sightedness can lead us to congratulate ourselves misguidedly for identifying a particular moment as a zeitgeist. Literature has no time and articulates itself reiteratively with a reader. 
Alex Forman: Caroline makes an important point about the elements of the metaphysical in Hilst’s literature, ideas brought over from other fields such as philosophy, math, and science. And though I don’t immediately see the math, I do find biology, and I want to think more about this… I do see a predominant focus on literature itself (the notion of Literature) in a sort of meta-textual writing and the Metaphysical. In the books I have read, there are monster narrators who eat little children; we have children whose living uncles turn into great authors of Brazilian literature (in a game of smoke and mirrors) and narrators who speak from beyond the grave. We have multiple interior voices—some, like John mentioned earlier, come from Hilst’s fascination with recording seance-like encounters with spirits, while others seem to be simply the “voices in our heads” at play in her fascination with mental illness. So many of these elements are in communion with Brazilian culture. They end up being the manifestation of a cultural reality, a stream that runs permanently beneath the surface here, so much so that it is never described but simply permeates daily rituals. Hilst works it all into her literature as fantastical and absolutely natural, absorbed and accepted by her characters in such a way that we, her readers, come to accept it too.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

40x40@40: C. S. Giscombe on Seismosis

Many thanks to Tisa for forwarding to me and others a very fine mention of Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006), the collaborative project I worked on with artist Chris Stackhouse. Small  Press Traffic is currently running its "40x40@40" series, about which SPT says:

As part of looking back and mapping what the amazing feats of the SPT community have been since 1974 [the year of its founding], we asked 40 writers to contribute one short text each celebrating—describing, anatomizing, remembering an encounter with, meditating on, shouting out to—a single book published by a small press between 1974 and 2014.

We’re interested in having writers reflect on a book that palpably shifted their perspective, startled their aesthetics, changed their life; a book they always recommend to others; a book that they would place in a time capsule. The one small-press publication that has obsessed them: cult classic—difficult pleasure—creased-cover favorite—out-of-print masterpiece…

The 40×40@40 list will, hopefully, sketch a 40-part haphazard history of independent publishing and ardent reading across these four decades.
How wonderful then to learn that out of many libraries' worth of compelling experimental texts published over the last 40 years award-winning author C. S. Giscombe, author of Giscombe Road (1998), Prairie Style (2008), and other important works of poetry and criticism, and professor of English at University of California-Berkeley, selected Seismosis as his pick.

Here's a snippet of what he writes:
Seismosis, John Keene’s collaboration with Christopher Stackhouse, moves and moves in more than direction.  From the title—which suggests the motion of earth and the motion of liquid—onward the book celebrates mix.  As the back of the book tells us, the text samples work from a variety of writers and performers (Guy Davenport, Leonardo da Vinci, DJ Spooky, Charles Olson, Marjorie Perloff, and Cecil Taylor, among others) and here, in that act, is the mix of languages that makes poetry—here Keene and Stackhouse have taken their collaboration outward and, in so doing, have brought the world into it.  The very end of the book, the one-line poem called “Process,” is signal and also, playfully, serves a summary function—“In the mark we choose and lose signature.”  
He concludes his short post by noting that
Here I feel the book coming again not to “a still but not deep center” (Roethke) but to a statement (via re-statement) of its collaborative project.  I’m struck, throughout the book, by the play of collaboration. The book seems to me to be an examination of what collaboration might look like if it crossed borders.  And here, in Seismosis, with its implicit ruptures of earth’s crust and violations of membranes, borders are being crossed.
Many thanks to Cecil and to SPT, and do visit their site to check out some of the other works they've selected, including works by Dennis Cooper, Elaine Equi, Bernadette Mayer, Karen Brodine, and Heather Fuller. There are a little over 30 more or so works to come!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Split This Rock Poetry Festival in DC

L-r: Reggie Harris, me, Kevin Simmonds, Tisa Bryant
Two years ago I attended my first Split This Rock Poetry Festival, the biennial Washington, DC-based gathering that brings together socially engaged poetries and poets, and had such a great experience that I vowed I would be back in two years. Although poets who teach in academe are integral to Split This Rock's lineup, one of the most refreshing aspects of the festival is its separateness from any academic institution, college, university or otherwise, and the aesthetic range of poetries, from experimental to spoken word. This year, panels and readings were held at a range of not-for-profit and historical sites, including The Human Rights Campaign's offices (where we read), The Charles Sumner School, the Wilderness Society, and the Institute for Policy Studies, as well as the Beacon Hotel, which was a conference sponsor.

The poets who participate work not only in classrooms at all levels, but in prisons, running nonprofits, as booksellers and waiters, as poker pros, you name it. The aim is not the usual official verse culture game of trying to impress the high priests and priestesses of the AWP (Associated Writing Programs) and the MLA (Modern Language Association), but rather, as Split This Rock's tag points out, to call "poets to a greater role in public life and [foster] a national network of socially engaged poets." As William Carlos Williams, a socially committed poet among his Modernist peers, wrote in his great, late long poem "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower," and as we could say of so many aspects of our society and globe, "Men die for lack of what is found there [in poetry]."

This year, I returned as part of a quartet reading poetry by and in tribute to some of the major Black LGBTQ writers from the Harlem Renaissance through the 1990s. Our group, under the rubric of Gathering Forces, performed singly, in pairs, and in ensemble fashion, the works of a number of major Black LGBTQ writers. Our list was not comprehensive, and in some cases, we included poets who might raise (critical and cultural) eyebrows, like Ai, who was not publicly out in her lifetime (though she was outed shortly after her death by Gay and Lesbian Review Online), and Robert Hayden, who is still not usually thought of as a queer poet. Moreover, in retrospect, I think several of us thought about how might have exchanged some of our choices so that we could have included more poets from the past, like Countee Cullen, or other kinds of texts, like excerpts of letters, manifestos, and the like. Nevertheless, despite no opportunity for extended rehearsal, we met up on Friday morning (March 28) in DC, did a very run-through of portions of each poem, and when the crowd arrived--and we had a very good turnout despite so many other compelling concurrent sessions--we did the ancestors proud.

Our lineup went as follows:

Lorraine Hansberry, from her annual lists of "Likes and Dislikes"
Pat Parker, "My Lover Is a Woman" (Tisa)
Langston Hughes, "I loved my friend" (Kevin, beautifully sung)
Angelina Weld Grimké, "Grass Fingers, " (Reggie)
Roy Gonsalves, "X" (John)
David Alan Frechette, "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" (John)
Essex Hemphill, "The Brass Rail" (Reggie and I)
Pat Parker, "My Brother" (Tisa)
Reginald Shepherd, "God With Us" (Reggie)
Melvin Dixon, "Hungry Travel" (Kevin)
Marlon Riggs, "Tongues Untied" (John)
Ai, "Ice" (Tisa)
June Jordan, "Kissing God Goodbye" (all of us)
Claude McKay, "Jasmine" (Reggie)
Claude McKay, "Commemoration" (John)
Ai, "Why I Can't Leave You" (Tisa)
Stephen Jonas, "IV" (Reggie)
Audre Lorde, "Pirouette" (John)
Stephen Jonas, "What You Can See" (Reggie)
Audre Lorde, "Power" (Kevin)
Ai, "Salome" (Tisa)
Robert Hayden, "The Tattooed Man" (Reggie)
Richard-Bruce Nugent, excerpt from "Smoke, Lilies and Jade" (John)

I only had a day to spend at Split This Rock, so I tried to catch some of the other panels. One I attended was "Women and War/Women and Peace II," featuring poets Samiya Bashir, Lisa Suhair Majaj, Melanie Graham, Robin Coste Lewis, and Kim Jensen. Unfortunately Robin could not attend, and the panel moderator, whose intentions appeared great, did not seem to know how to frame the conversation, at one point having us all respond to an exercise she used in her class (in which we were to write down our greatest fear on a piece of paper, ball it up, and throw it across the room at someone (!) and keep doing so until we had dispersed our own; the one I received was "I fear white women will co-opt my voice," and while I didn't discuss this fear, Jennifer Karmin, who is white and who was sitting beside me, did do so). At another point, she cited her recent dissertation, quoting Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse (I added my thoughts to this discussion point), but the poets' presentations of their own work focused the panel back onto the topic at hand.

I slipped out partway through to catch a little bit of the panel dedicated to the legendary Black Rooster Collective, which was entitled "The Black Rooster Collective: 'You' Street Poets of Witness." Although only four of the poets affiliated with this collective were present, each of them, Joel Dias-Porter, Brandon D. Johnson, Gary Copeland Lilley, and Ernesto Mercer, read poems and recounted enough history to give a rich overview of who they were when they began, and how they continue, despite having moved to various parts of the US (New Jersey, Virginia, etc.), to remain in contact and aesthetic and political conversation. I should note that several of them (Joel, Brandon, and Ernesto, as well as Toni Asante Lightfoot, who was not present) were among the most talented and dynamic poets I encountered during my first few years at Cave Canem, and their dialogue reminded me that poetry has lived and continues to live, and thrive, far beyond university walls or powerful academic critics' perspectives and dicta. Two years from now, I hope to attend the next Split This Rock Poetry Festival, and urge others to consider attending too.

At the "Women and War/
Women and Peace II" panel,
Lisa Suhair Majaj (at left, in green),
Samiya Bashir (at center in purple)

The Black Rooster Collective panel,
(l-r) Brandon Lewis, Ernesto Mercer, Joel
Dias-Porter, and Gary Copeland Lilley

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"White Silences": The Lyric Theory Reader Panel @ ACLA 2014

Lyric Theory Reader
Panel at ACLA 2014
Back in November 1999, the Poetry Society of America, in conjunction with then-US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and the New School Writing Department, presented a festival entitled "What's American About American Poetry." In preparation for the festival, the organizers queried a wide and diverse array of US poets on this very question, with the results posted on the PSA's website. (A decade and a year later, they surveyed another swath of contemporary US poets.) I was living in the metro area at the time and attended the festival, which offered numerous memorable and forgettable presentations.  One of the more confounding and unforgettable ones, which I believe I'm recalling correctly, occurred when poet Thylias Moss was describing the origins of poetry--hers, and one might say a good many others--and pointed not just to music and song, but everyday exchanges, in the kitchen, among family members, over fences, at church, and so forth. Which is to say, everyday speech, the vernacular, in the regular, often quotidian social performances of language.

On that same panel, the late John Hollander dismissively challenged Moss's assertion, suggesting that poetry's origins were loftier, and certainly not to be found in anybody's kitchen or conversations through a back door, but rather in European traditions going back millennia, to Ancient Greece. None of the other people on the panel--all white--openly or overtly challenged Hollander, which I found disappointing at the time and still do. Among my friends who were also there, I know I was not the only one who took umbrage at Hollander's tone and reply. I do know, however, that it was not until a later panel that day, I think, that Sonia Sanchez, in her gentle but forceful way, challenged Hollander's comments. The exchange led me to write a semi-found poem, weaving in quotes and notes I had taken that day, in one of my little black notebooks, which I believe I still have somewhere. I titled the poem "What's American About American Poetry," and shared an early draft with the Cave Canem listserve, which I was still then on. Among the lines directly dealing with the Moss-Hollander contretemps were:

a white silence
which is metaphysical
and a black silence
which is political and social

and, as aptly,

we keep coming back
to Eliot and Pound
to rebel against
the street and jazz

I thought of that conference and the Moss-Hollander exchange, as well as the "white silences," of that panel and so much more, as I sat at a panel on the new Lyric Theory Reader, edited by Virginia Jackson and Yopie Prins yesterday at the American Comparative Literature Association's (ACLA) annual conference in New York, titled "Capitals," at New York University. Though I am not a member of the organization nor a comparativist by training or pedigree, and have never been to an ACLA conference (unless by happenstance), I thought I should attend since I do write and teach poetry and poetics, and am always interested in current and ongoing conversations both within and outside academe about both. During my entire stay at Northwestern I was involved in various ways with the poetry side of the undergraduate creative writing program (less so the graduate poets), and once the Poetry and Poetics Colloquium began during the last few years of my time there, I actively participated in many conversations around and discussions about lyric poetries and the "new lyric studies." I even made a point of setting aside and reading through the issue of PMLA which presented papers by Jackson and others, so as to be cognizant of this new turn in poetry and poetics studies. That PLMA section was an intellectual preview of the Lyric Theory Reader (Johns Hopkins University, 2014) which gathers a range of essays, many from the last 75 years of writing about American and European poetries, some as recent as the last few years, theorizing "the lyric" and lyric poetry. It is, by any measure, a compendium anyone teaching poetry today should consider perusing. 

A review of its contents, however, immediate point up a glaring problem that the composition of the panel, which included Jonathan Culler, Heather Dubrow, Herbert Tucker, and Charles Altieri, as well as Jackson and Prins, mirrored. (One panelist, Marjorie Perloff, could not attend, we were all told, because of a family issue.) In both the anthology itself there are, I think, only two essays by scholars who are not white (one is by an Iranian-American scholar whose recent work does explore poetries by poets who are not white, the other a non-US, South Asian scholar writing about Indian poetics), and perhaps others in the volume do go beyond the perfunctory in discussion poetries and poets who are not white. But it struck me that yet again, in 2014, both with this anthology and with this panel, on a topic that by its very nature is necessitates an attention to the historical, which in the US, as well as Europe, which entails thinking about Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Pacific world, and so forth, the topic and thematics of RACE WERE A GLARING OMISSION. It was what I think poet Harryette Mullen has called "aesthetic apartheid," which I will broaden to "literary critical apartheid" and "intellectual apartheid," since it is not just a matter of aesthetics, but an unconscious and conscious series of gestures and acts, of thought and speech, at the individual, institutional and structural levels, that keep up this process and practice of omission, exclusion and erasure. 

I will note Jackson did very briefly broach this omission as part of her concise remarks that concluded the panel discussion. She suggested that supplements to the anthology and the discussion which had just occurred might be necessary, in the process also noting queerness's absence from the panel's interlocutors (though "sexual difference" does merit a section of the book), as well as a lack of mention of "digital" writing as well, though one of the panelists, Heather Dubrow, as part of her remarks, did offer some sparkling insights on how scholars and critics might think expansively about social media in relation to public readings of poetry. She also mentioned a potential way of reconsidering the horizon of "address" in poetry that queer studies had opened up (I immediately thought of the idea of Michael Warner's work on "counterpublics," and of José Estéban Múnoz's work on "queer utopianism" as read through figures like Frank O'Hara, etc.), but did not, however, mention the topic of race. It was the unmentionable topic, by the panel and, it appeared, the mostly white audience. I attended with a friend, the scholar Dorothy Wang, whose brilliant new study, Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry, which was published late last year by Stanford University Press, treats this very topic in assured, nuanced fashion, from its introduction through each individual chapter, and we each realized that the other would have to be the person to speak up if it was going to happen.

Before I detail how that unfolded, I should note that all of the panel presentations did provide grist for thought, some more than others. Interestingly, I felt at times as if I were in a time warp, circa 1986-87 as an undergraduate at Harvard, since more than one of the panelists mentioned not only Paul de Man, who was still a much bruited, not yet publicly unmasked intellectual presence then (and a graduate of Harvard's comparative literature doctoral program in the early 1960s), but also Helen Vendler, who had, I believe, just arrived shortly before I graduated (and is also a Harvard Ph.D.), and, quite interestingly to me, New Critic Reuben Brower, whose famous Humanities 6 program had been the training ground for both Vendler and de Man, among many other major literary scholars of that era. On top of this, I had my sophomore history tutorial seminar (required of all students in every major, I think) in the Brower Room in Harvard's undergraduate residential hall Adams House! So, a high priest of literary theory, most specifically deconstruction (de Man), a critic whose work might be thought of as atheoretical in the post-1960s sense of that term (Vendler)--though any attempt to read and understand literature that entails any level of abstraction is, by another name, theoretical engagement--and a New Critic mostly forgotten today were central players in the exchanges that unfolded. All in all, it felt quite bizarre. A shockingly aggressive paper by Jonathan Culler, in which he directly attacked Virginia Jackson for what he claimed was an elementary error of formalist reading (mistaking a sonnet for a prose poem) by Charles Baudelaire, as part of a critique of a misreading of de Man, added to the bizarrerie. Jackson, in a gentle but incisive way, called him on his unaccountable aggression.

Afterwards, Dorothy and I approached Jackson and politely queried her about the complete absence of any overt treatment of race, or of any American scholars or critics other than one who were or are not white, in the Lyric Theory Reader, perhaps as clear a reflection of literary critical apartheid as one can get, and she was quite apologetic, going so far as to tell us that a highly regarded African American poet and critic had slammed the volume down in disgust after seeing its reinscription of critical and aesthetic erasure, and that two noted African American male scholars had been contacted to provide essays, but had been unable to do so. I noted to Jackson that Dorothy herself had just published a book addressing many of the issues we were pointing out--and providing a powerful way of reading Asian American poetry, as well as other poetries by writers of color, and white writers, who are, despite all evasions to the contrary, are racialized subjects too. There are any number of other Asian American, Latino/Latina, Native American, mixed race, and white critics, let alone African American scholars, who have written on lyric poetry and race, or who could have been persuaded to do so, for this volume. (I should note that I have not yet purchased or perused the reader, but have only viewed it and its table of contents online.)

Jackson responded by asking if we thought the panel reflected a particular critical oversight, and we both noted that the panel, like the anthology, was symptomatic of far deeper problems that white scholars and critics badly need to address. The US is not getting any whiter; American poetry has hardly been all white since its beginnings (the second published US poet was a black woman, Phillis Wheatley, and there have been a range of US poetries for over several hundred years), and criticism by scholars and poets and about poets who are not white, lyric poets, can be found with even a minimal amount of searching, even on Google. Yet as was the case with the "The Future of Literature" conference at NYU, this sort of racist blindness--and I am not going to ascribe bad faith to Jackson or Prins or anyone else, but what else do you call an approach which erases almost completely the very presence of people whose existence of constitutive of the thing being discussed, which is to say, lyric poetry in the Anglophone world, which by its very nature involved, as countless literary scholars and others have pointed out, colonialism, chattel slavery, imperialism, white supremacy, ethnocentrism, and so much more? I accept Jackson's apology, and acknowledge that she did appear quite distressed at the oversight, but the anthology is in print, it will circulate not just in the US but perhaps throughout the Anglophone world and beyond, and anything not in it will exist as a supplement, a material testament to the erasure the anthology enacts and embodies.

One might ask why anyone cares at all about an anthology that a group of scholars affiliated with the ACLA has compiled. I would answer that all one needed to do was look at the packed audience, filled with numerous young and many established scholars, not all of them white, and consider the future generations of students and scholars who, in the absence of more broadminded doctoral exam lists and committees, are internalizing the premise that the study of the lyric, of lyric theory, of lyric poetry in the Anglophone world, let alone elsewhere, by its very nature brackets off questions and issues of race. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with American history, society and poetry knows how absurd this premise is, yet this theory reader suggests that this absurdity is just the opposite, a way of proceeding such that yet again, the element thing lying at the heart of the structures of American society and culture, our politics, our economics, our very being, does not exist, just as it did and does not exist in British or Commonwealth poetry (which is of course equally absurd). To the countless poets of the past and present who are elided and erased, of course, there is the recourse of doing their work and making the case for themselves. For the critics who are ignored or omitted, they must speak out. Yet at base, I come back to the following point: there is a name for why this sort of thing keeps happening. The people doing it need to name it, address it and own it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Between the Lines: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie & Zadie Smith

Just days after winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for her extraordinary novel Americanah (Knopf, 2013), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie participated in a public conversation yesterday evening with fellow writer Zadie Smith. The event took place at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library, and was sold out in no time. Thankfully the Schomburg and NYPL were ready, and the event streamed live, and is archived below in case you, like me, were unable to get in, or are nowhere near the New York area. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

ETERNiDAY @ Queens Museum of Art

The Unisphere
Yesterday the Queens Museum, which I had not visited in over a decade, hosted ETERNiDAY: Queens Poet Lore Festival of the Language Arts, from noon until 8 pm. This multifarious event was much more than a poetry festival, however; it represented a successful collaboration between the visual, performing, musical, and literary arts, with readings, performances, dancing, and a book fair occurring throughout the Museum's newly remodeled exhibition spaces. From the atrium to the café to galleries to work spaces, a wide array of events took place such that it was sometimes hard to keep up, the sounds often bled into each other, and by the end of the day I felt as though I had attended 20 readings as opposed to six or seven. But the conjunction of so many words, so much music, and so much visual art and performance, shared by such a wide and diverse range of people, from professionals to members of the Queens and broader New York metropolitan area communities, had an invigorating effect, and I found myself wishing that this museum and others explored such possibilities more often. (Note to self: suggest something of this sort to the Newark Museum.)
Reggie Harris, reading
from Autogeography
I attended at the kind invitation of poet Paolo Javier, and had the pleasure of reading with Gracie Leavitt again for Nightboat Books as part of a reading by small presses that included futurepoem (Mina Pam Dick and Suyeun Juliette Lee) and creature press (Cassandra Gillig), but the space we were in, the Unisphere Gallery, also hosted mid-size and small press readings all afternoon by other local presses, as well as thematic readings focused on "Autogeographies," which included Reggie Harris, Jan Heller Levi and Aiko Roudette. Other readings and performances were held in the humid, astonishing (it has to be seen to be believed) "Panorama of the City of New York" Room, which replicates a mid-1970s (?) panoramic diorama of New York's five boroughs, with the twin World Trade Center towers intact.
Translator Susan Bernofsky,
talking about Robert Walser's
There were also readings in the Theater, from which I heard poet Julie Patton's melodious voice wafting out, which led me in; the immense, light-filled Atrium, where poets like Emanuel Xavier, Yuko Otomo, Nikhil Melnechuk, Michael Taylor, Amy King, and Bob Holman declaimed and sang with a power worthy of all listening; in a room featuring an exhibit on "Los Angeles Poverty," with prison beds, wherein poets Justin Petropolous, Celina Su and Latasha N. Nevada Diggs animated the space and created a conversation with the ideas in it; the Studio Artists Residency Space; and the Triangle Room in the Artist Studio Wing, where in an afternoon panel discussion on "Alternative Publishing and Literary Curating" that turned into much less formal, more welcoming conversation circle, Stephen Motika talked about his work with Nightboat, Sol Aramendi spoke about her efforts with Project(o) Luz, John Harkey detailed the DIY spirit of creature press, and Chris Stackhouse showed images of the transitory, multiform gallery and performance work This Red Door has enabled. There were so many more writers, performers and publishers, though, but

The melodious Julie Patton
One of the best aspects of the day was taking in the Museum's approach and exhibits, which are quite distinct from the ones you'll find at New York's other major borough (Bronx Museum) and international (Met Museum, MoMa, Brooklyn Museum, New Museum, etc.) museums; seeing so many fellow writers and artists in a truly community-based, non-academic environment; browsing the Book Fair; and just taking in the art and words. The Queens Museum sits in Flushing Meadow Corona Park, just off the 7, and entails a brisk walk from the station, though you get to walk away from the Mets' Citi Field toward USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, right up to and around the few remaining artifacts of the 1965 World's Fair, one of which is the Unisphere. Whether you visit the Museum, the tennis center or the baseball stadium, the trip is worth it, but do see the museum if you can.
Suyeun Juliette Lee,
reading one of her chapbooks
Mina Pam Dick, reading
work in conversation with Georg
and Grete Trakl
The exuberant Cassandra Gillig
Gracie Leavitt
The Book Fair 
At the Book Fair, with Flushing Meadows
Corona Park in the background 
More book tables
A reading in the atrium

Latasha N. Nevada Diggs and Paolo Javier
The Los Angeles Poverty exhibit's
State of Incarceration room
Peter Schumann's The Shatterer exhibit 
In Schumann's The Shatterer exhibit 
The New York watershed exhibit
(the Hudson & Jersey City in the foreground) 
Another of the exhibits, Pedro
Reyes' The People's United
Nations (PUn)
Justin Petropoulos reading
in the State of Incarceration
exhibit space
Emanuel Xavier reciting his poetry
The very humid, somewhat dark
New York Panorama room
The accordionist playing
in the Panorama Rooom 
Michael Clark, performing his
poetry in the Atrium 
At the "Alternative Publishing and
Literary Curating" workshop
Stephen Motika and John Harkey