Thursday, November 12, 2009

Page Turner: The Asian American Literary Festival

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop presents
PAGE TURNER: The Asian American Literary Festival

Friday & Saturday, Nov. 13-14, 2009

Join the Workshop for PAGE TURNER, a two-day literary palooza that’ll bring together more than thirty writers, including Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Ondaatje, David Henry Hwang, Hari Kunzru, Ed Park, and Porochista Khakpour. This quirky but curated festival will also feature a former Chinese rocket factory worker, poets making video art, ukulele-strumming comedian Jen Kwok, Indian crime fiction, panels on internment and immigration, and a cocktail reception and awards ceremony. For schedule and tickets, please visit


Friday, Nov. 13, 2009, 7-10pm
At Vermilion, 480 Lexington Avenue, NY, NY
$50 cocktail reception (7-8pm); $500 gala dinner (8-10pm)
A special cocktail reception and dinner honoring Sonny Mehta, who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from Michael “English Patient” Ondaatje. For tickets, visit or call (212) 494-0061.

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009, 11am-7pm
PAGE TURNER: The Asian American Literary Festival
powerhouse Arena, 37 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY
$5 per reading; $20 Day Pass; $10 Literary Awards & Reception Only; $25 All-Day Pass+Awards

A hip all-day reading series that’ll feature more than some of the most prominent Asian American writers in the country, as well as stand-up comedians, academics, and the Twelfth Annual Asian American Literary Awards. The line-up includes: Jhumpa Lahiri, David Henry Hwang, Ed Park, Mort Baharloo, Monique Truong, Hari Kunzru, Meera Nair, Mohan Sikka, Hirsh Sawhney, Mae Ngai, Mitra Kalita, Alexander Chee, Ron Hogan, Rakesh Satyal, Jen Kwok, Porochista Khakpour, Ed Lin, Jennifer Hayashida, Jeff Yang, Sree Sreenivasan, Ravi Shankar, Hua Hsu, Dennis Lim, Julie Otsuka, Rea Tajiri, Sunaina Maria, Tania James, Hasanthika Sirisena, V.V. Ganeshananthan, Amitava Kumar, Lijia Zhang, Alexandra Chang, Walter Lew, and Ye Mimi. For a complete schedule and tickets see

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry

The Lantern Review website and blog have gone live. Check it out! Yours truly will be doing a guest post on the Lantern Review blog soon. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Review of Squash: Fascinations Upon an Understated Gourd

"Quite seldom in life does fruit matter anymore." These words mark the epicenter of Squash: Fascinations Upon an Understated Gourd, the latest cookbook travelogue by horticulturist Samuel Wong Remalcoole and the third and final work in his "melon" trilogy (following Watermelon: A New Dawn Rises Over Sunset (1998, Amorphous Chicken Press, 285 pages) and Acorn: The Fast and Recognized Frontier (2002, Two Hundred Grand Piano Books, 293 pages)).

Whereas Remalcoole’s Watermelon found an eloquence in seedless descriptions of Oregonian-Taiwanese gardens in the 1950s and 1960s, and Acorn tended towards self-indulgence with its two hundred fifty-eight snapshots of an oak tree leaf, Squash captures that perfect balance of summer and winter.

From the opening chapters of Squash, as the aptly named Ann and Dave meander through the vegetable section of the second largest flea market in Tucson, we are compelled to wonder whether their marriage will outlast dinner.

Dave, 41, chooses each squash with such care and Ann, 39, speaks so endearingly of November, that we can almost picture them as psychology graduate students at the New London Graduate School of Artifacts and Gourds. Remalcoole has a knack for capturing the passion that Ann and Dave share for squash, their mutual disdain for broccoli and celery sticks, and their fierce lobbying for ordinances to put a squash on every dish in town. (In fact, rumor has it that the first title of the book was The Carrot Lobby.)

This passion jump starts the unlikeliest of festivals -- a three day feast in Tintleabre Square, attended by the most discrete gardeners and chefs of all thirty-one political parties. Many edicts were signed and comprehended. But it is only through Remacoole's description of honeydew that we know love is possible. Seven stars.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kundiman - Letter from Executive Director Sarah Gambito

As you (may) know, Kundiman is playing an important role in the literary world of the U.S. By initiating a summer retreat for Asian American poets five years ago, it has opened doors of opportunity that were previously closed to young poets of the Asian diaspora. Through intensive workshopswith renowned poets and the enthusiastic support from staff and peers, the amount and excellence of their output is phenomenal.

Kundiman Fellows have published poems in The Virginia Quarterly Review,The Colorado Review, Pleiades, Black Warrior Review and Crab Orchard Review. They are attending MFA and doctoral programs at The Iowa Writers' Workshop, New York University, Stanford University, The University of Houston, and The University of California, Berkeley. Three Kundiman fellows have gone on to publish full-length collections of poetry.

What you may not know is how important this program has been in the development of lives of the poets themselves. I'd like to share quotes from just two of the Fellows and I invite you to read the testimonies of others on our website Also, please see Janine Oshiro's essay on her experience at the Kundiman retreat here:

Months after this year's Kundiman retreat, I am still left wondering whether the most intensely beautiful experience, short of falling in love, was an accidental happenstance of a meeting of more than 20 poet-minds atvarious stages of our writing development; or the intricate design of the driven and artful, purposeful and generous, tactical and loving staff, guest faculty and board of Kundiman. The camaraderie, peer review, professional insight and instruction, mutual support, lack of sleep and utter kindness and friendship fired up the most remote synapses of mybrain and my deepest heartstrings. But why qualify the impact of Kundiman? I did fall in love with my fellow poets, their exquisite analyses of my work and each of their unique poetic voices. I'm both humbled and proud to be a small part of this growing family of writers whoeven today, are shaping the poetry of tomorrow.--Debbie Yee

As soon as I arrived, I was greeted so warmly as if I was among old friends! I felt at home among complete strangers. Here was a group of dynamic people who shared both my struggles being a writer of color inAmerica and my passions: a deep devotion to the art of poetry. I've always heard, read, and spoken about the importance of community in anyartistic endeavor. The poet's road can be a lonely one; the drifting heart needs its anchors. But I never realized how empowering a community of artists could be until I spent four days at UVA with the Kundimanstaff, teachers, and fellows. I found there what I failed to in any other poetry workshop I've taken: a deep respect and honor among poets; a desire to talk about race, identity, and history, in conjunction with one's composition process; and a willingness to be brave. --Brynn Saito

We are turning to you to ask for your help in insuring that the 6th Kundiman Summer Retreat can take place, to replace funds that we received in the past but that are not available this year because of budget cuts. The $4,000 we need will go toward direct costs of the retreat's faculty and staff travel and faculty honoraria. Again this year, Kundiman staff members will donate their time to coordinate and administer all the stages required to carry out the five day session.

What we ask, we ask for the program itself and for the brave and gifted poets it serves.Poet by poet, Kundiman is helping to change the face of American literature and what it means to document an important part of the American story. We need the certain light of poetry all the more in these uncertain times. With your help, we will continue to light the way for the next generation of Asian American writers.

Please click here to donate: Please, also, do forward this widely.

Sarah Gambito

Friday, March 20, 2009

On Bamboo Ridge Press

As anyone who has run a small to mid-sized publishing press will tell you, it is not the easiest endeavor. The successful ones are real labors of love. One of the most successful publishing presses in the field of Asian-American poetry is Bamboo Ridge Press, which was founded in 1978 and focuses on literature by and about the people of Hawaii.

I particularly like Bamboo Ridge Press's website. Like the most ambitious websites, this one is multifaceted, containing useful features such as an online bookstore, upcoming literary events in Hawaii, blogs by Bambook Ridge Press staff and site members, podcasts, videos, a photo gallery and news about the press itself. In my humble opinion, it is definitely worth checking out!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Review of Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond

Over the past year, I have eagerly anticipated the publication of Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond (edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal, and Ravi Shankar, W.W. Norton, 2008, 734 pp.). Sometimes when you eagerly anticipate the delivery of a new book on the virtual doorstep of your local transnational online bookseller, the work itself does not meet your lofty expectations, but I am happy to say that I am delighted with Language for a New Century, which is a triumph on so many levels.

I think that the anthology greatly benefits from Carolyn Forche's foreword, Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal, and Ravi Shankar's preface, and each of Tina Chang's, Nathalie Handal's, and Ravi Shankar's short personal essays before each section, which are elegantly written and effectively contextualize the geographical, linguistic, national, and thematic terrain of the poetry. The preface thoroughly outlines the selection criteria for poems in the anthology: 1) a broad definition of "the East", 2) representation of a broad selection of countries and nationalities, 3) the definition of "contemporary poetry" as post-1946, 4) a broad representation of various schools/styles of poetry, 5) a balance of emerging and established poets from different generations, 6) the selection of many different aesthetic sensibilities, 7) the publication of at least one book, with limited exceptions, and 8) the inclusion of translations. In the preface, the editors also explain the organization of the poems into nine major thematic sections -- characterized by Forche in her excellent foreword as "childhood, selfhood, experimentation, oppression, mystery, war, homeland and exile, spiritual life, love and sexuality, from Afghanistan to Yemen" (p. xxxi). Elegant touches like the inclusion of a country index and language list, along with more traditional features like author, translator, and editor biographies, permissions acknowledgments, and a general index (along with an explanation of the rationale behind the inclusion of a country index) further exemplify the wonderful editing. In short, I think that the editors have organized the anthology clearly, intelligently, and thougtfully.

Yet while clear, intelligent, and thoughtful, the anthology is also bold, ambitious, and makes major claims about the natures and meanings of Asian and Asian-American poetry. A reader should not simply dismiss the book as a coffee-table anthology. Each of the eight criteria for inclusion noted above, though I tend to agree with all of them, raises such difficult questions as, 1) why does the "East" not include more of Europe or Africa?, 2) what about Caucasian or African-American poets who were raised in Asia or have lived in Asia for a long time, who write about Asia extensively in their poetry, or who have written poems in such forms as haiku, ghazals, or pantoums?, 3) does the inclusion of poets from so many different nationalities necessarily exclude certain poets from "overrepresented" nationalities (like Indian and Chinese poets) from having a poem appear in the anthology? I think that the editors correctly do not raise such questions in the preface, as it would have probably lengthened and disrupted the flow of the preface, but I think that such questions are worth considering in a careful reading of the anthology.

Perhaps all of these questions point to, in my opinion, one of the most interesting and provocative elements of the anthology, which is the "effort to include as many crucial voices as possible" and to do so by "cho[osing] one poem per poet" (xxxvii). I think that the editors do successfully accomplish the important goal of including as many poets as possible, though at times, that causes the anthology to have the effect of feeling like The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics in the sense that the inclusion of just one poem -- as opposed to several poems per poet, as was done in The Open Boat (ed. Garrett Hongo) and Asian-American Poetry: The Next Generation (ed. Victoria Chang) anthologies -- may limit our understanding and appreciation of the work of any particular poet. But I feel for the editors here, as the inclusion of more than one poem from a given poet would probably have led either to a volume of an unmanageable size or to the exclusion of certain poets from the anthology. I think that the editors made a justfiable decision in limiting the number of poems per poet, but it must not have been easy. One almost wants this anthology, as in the tradition of the first Star Wars trilogy, to have a volume II and volume III. At any rate, just as The New Princeton Encyclopedia remains a comprehensive and necessary work for any poet or student of poetry, at least partly by virtue of its thoroughness, so does Language for a New Century.

As far as the poems themselves go, I would make the highly subjective and throughly unjustifiable claim that they generally are quite terrific. This claim is "highly subjective and thoroughly unjustifiable," because there are just so many poets and poems! There are over 400 poems in the anthology, and I think that any generalization of the poems as a whole would be an overgeneralization. But I have already greatly enjoyed reading many of the poems and will probably be discussing at least a few of them on this blog. I would add that I think that the fact that there were three different editors with different tastes really strengthens this anthology by allowing for an even more diverse array of poetic styles and sensibilities. Language for a New Century possesses the beauty of a freshly assembled five-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle.

So, in short, I highly recommend Language for a New Century, which I think is an essential work for anyone, and not just anyone interested in Asian-American poetry, to have on their bookshelves.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Brief Thoughts on Premonitions: the Kaya anthology of new Asian North American poetry

On his blog, Glenn Ingersoll recently made a few nice posts on various poems in Premonitions: the Kaya anthology of new Asian North American poetry (1995), edited by Walter Lew. Premonitions is one of the most ambitious Asian-American poetry anthologies out there and a landmark collection in Asian and Asian-American poetry.