Friday, September 30, 2005

Srikanth Reddy and Dara Weir Reading

I just returned from the Srikanth "Chicu" Reddy and Dara Weir reading at Adams House at Harvard tonight. It took place in a nightmarishly artsy red room that bears a certain resemblance to the netherworld to which art-loving Nazis must go when they die. The tomb-heavy door matched the room's crypt-like ambience, and the lights were appropriately dim to make the audience feel like they were somewhere wealthy and important. (For goodness sake, Harvard, go buy a bucket of 100 watt light bulbs!) Essentially, the room scared me.

Even though the poets arrived on time, the reading started twenty minutes late. Why do poetry readings start late? My theory is that the purpose is to punish people, like myself, who actually know how to tell time and can't fake ignorance. For people who arrive late to these things, I'd like to introduce you to a marvelous invention called the "watch." It typically has hands, numbers, and a face and is most often worn on people's wrists. If that's too tough for you, I've heard there are digital "watches" nowadays that just give you the numbers. Seriously, though, I envy the late arrivals. They're the smart ones, economically speaking, because they've made efficient use of their time, while I've been walking around the room and pondering over the reason that there's a plastic hanger in a porcelain bowl by the side window. They're rational actors. I'm the guy staring at a hanger in a bowl.

Fortunately, the poets were nothing like the room. Reddy appeared quite friendly and likable, and Weir seemed open and down-to-earth. Reddy talked about baseball, which made me like him immediately, even though I'm pretty sure he's not an Angels fan. Both the poets have the feel of real people, which I find to be an important quality. I like to impose my judgments of people when I first meet them, because it makes me feel sexy, and I had favorable judgments of each. Both are great readers. Reddy's pieces were perfectly modulated and in keeping with the general tenor of the poems themselves. And they kept their readings the perfect length -- twenty or twenty-five minutes. Obviously, they're really experienced.

Which reminds me -- as usual, there was a lot of mutual whoring going around. First, poets are like whores in the way that they give reading after reading to different audiences, often for a price, and typically never seeing most of the audience members again. It's like prostitution without the sex. Second, audience members, like myself, are whores in the way that we (sometimes) buy the poet's book and have him or her sign it. We don't personally know the poet, but we do it anyway, at least sometimes. I'm not sure why. One of my English teachers once said that she liked to get authors' signatures, because they could be worth a fortune when they die. She was the one who introduced me to Keats.

While Reddy and Weir were reading, I couldn't help but notice poet Peter Richards' olive green sweater, which I'd mistook earlier for a scarf and was stupid enough to tell him. Richards was sitting in the audience, in a comfortable-looking lounge chair, right in front of me. I hate it when I say something stupid, and I said something like "nice scarf," and he said it was a sweater. (When you want someone to like you, you should always mistake their articles of clothing for other articles of clothing. I mean, there's just no way around it.) And, no, I had no idea what kind of conversation I may have been trying to start, but that happens to me a lot, and he was really gracious about it. I also noticed that Richards was pulling his sleeves over his hands during the reading, which I take as a sign of a good person. I've read that Hitler just let his sweater sleeves hang there like they belonged to a mannequin. No one in the KKK ever wears sweaters.

At any rate, I will say that I was impressed by Reddy's signing of the books. If he is a whore, then he is a sexy French one in the watercolor tradition of can can dancers, not a slovenly hag east of Reno for whom you can pay in coins. He actually engaged whorish individuals like myself, congregating around him like hyenas around Bambi, and then wrote something in the book based on the conversation. That takes some measure of intelligence and talent.

So, it was an enjoyable night. Some people like to watch birds, but I like to watch poets. I like to watch poets, even when they are doing nothing. I think we should give our poets scientific names -- like Chicus Reddius or Daraius Weirus -- and we should talk about our sightings and have them verified by some accrediting body of experts.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Instead of blogging as often as a good blogger should, I have been wading through some of my earlier posts --my juvenilia. It's amazing that one can be so embarassingly stupid -- and still live to blog about it. Not that I seriously think I've ever been embarassingly stupid here (are we counting this post?), but I just think that it is interesting that my views have changed, thanks in large part to many of you.

I am always a bit saddened when I come across people whose views don't change. I do not think that there is a correlation to age here. Younger people can be obstinate, and older people can be open-minded. At any rate, to always have the same view of "what Asian-American poetry is..." strikes me as sad.

I think that my favorite thinkers and poets are in a perpetual state of juvenilia. They never grow old to me, because they have never grown old to themselves. They are able to adapt and improve themselves and their poems, which I admire.

It must be because deep down inside they feel that they have not attained the ideal of having written great poetry. There must be an insatisfaction, a hunger, that drives them into originality in both the thinking about the art of poetry and the act of writing the poem itself.

And I think that we who try to claim the mantle of "intellectualism," as I once did in an earlier post, should try not to adhere to "a" single view our whole lives. Because the foundation of intellectualism is not dogmaticism. The foundation is a quest towards greater understanding, and understanding is an infinity loop.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Asian-American Poetry and Class - Revisited

I once had a stimulating discussion with someone who claimed only rich, or at least upper-middle class, people write and read poetry, so poetry is only for the rich or upper-middle class. Now I don't think that's true, but admittedly, neither of us had the statistics to back up our claims but could only rely on anecdotes.

Related to Asian-American poetry, I do wonder about the socioeconomic-educational background of Asian-American poets. The recent Next Generation anthology provides some information on this matter with its relatively extensive biographies on the poets -- all the poets are at least college graduates, and it's very possible that all the poets have at least some graduate degree with the majority having MFAs. That doesn't exactly lead to anything conclusive about their socioeconomic status, though socioeconomic status is highly correlated with education.

Demographically, Asian-Americans are the "wealthiest" race in terms of family income. But the category of "Asian-American" conceals variations between ethnicities as well as among a particular ethnicity ("among" as in the case of recent Chinese immigrants who labor in factories versus Chinese immigrants who have come to the US to get their PhDs.) There are Asian-Americans living in poverty out there.

I think that it could become problematic for all Asian-American poets to be college graduates and have MFAs, if one wants poetry to truly be representative. You know, we talk all the time about having the proper race, gender, sexuality balance, but I find it fascinating that "socioeconomic class" tends to be a taboo. No "Asian-American" poems about living in poverty or growing up poor come to mind.

I feel that, as readers, we should remain critically aware of our biases, and I'm aware that I may be biased against poems whose experiences that are more difficult for me to comprehend -- growing up in poverty, being one of a whole laundry list of experiences that fall under this category. But I'm not satisfied to merely read poems that seem to more directly relate to my own socioeconomic class or ethnicity, for example. I'm also hoping for a more diverse poetry canon that expresses a broader range of human experiences.

[Note the strong assumption that I've made here: I've assumed that a poet's socioeconomic class directly influences his or her poetry. This discussion of class is yet another critique against the idea of having a single "poetry" as capturing "the" universal.]

Friday, September 09, 2005

A Fundraiser: Proceeds for Katrina Disaster Relief Fund and More

TAKES 3 TO TANGO: A Dance Party Extravaganza

Sponsored by: Bloom, Cave Canem, and Kundiman

Ever want to dance true tango style? Rose in your teeth? Love in the air?Well, cariño, your time has arrived. Takes 3 to Tango features tangolessons, free flowing wine, glittering poetry and dancing to your favoritehip hop and funk beats! Come on out and shake your groove-thing for afabulous cause. All proceeds will benefit programs for LGBT, AfricanAmerican, and Asian American writers. A portion of the proceeds will alsobe donated to The Red Cross Katrina Disaster Relief Fund.
• Free Tango Lessons from 8:30 – 9pm
• Open Wine Bar from 9 – 10pm
• Free Gold Roses given out (for dancin’ and romancin’ of course!)

Your Illustrious Host Committee:Minnie Bruce Pratt, Mark Doty, Regie Cabico, Father Francis Gargani,Bishop Alfred Johnson, Walter Mosley, Vijay Seshadri, Patricia Smith & John Yau

The 411:
Saturday, September 24, 2005
The LGBT Community Center
208 West 13th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
8:00 p.m – Midnite

$20 Advance Tickets & $15 Student. Advance Tickets are available on OR Tickets are $25 at the Door. For more information on this event, please email

Performer Bios

Counted by A. Magazine as among the hottest up and coming Asian Americanstand-up comics, Regie Cabico has competed in four National Poetry Slams,and winning the title as a member of Team Mouth Almighty from NYC. Thewinner of MTV’s ‘Free Your Mind’ competition, he was also featured on thePBS series ‘In the Life’. Regie appears on HBO’s Russell Simmons PresentsDef Poetry. In 1997, Regie received the New York Foundation for the ArtsPoetry Fellowship. His work appears in over 30 anthologies. As a foundingmember of the Asian Arts Collective, Cabico has developed and led numerousspoken word and writing workshops.

Patricia Smith, a poet, performance artist, and journalist, was born in1955. Her volumes of poetry include Close to Death (Zoland Books, 1993);Big Towns, Big Talk (1992), which won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award;and Life According to Motown (1991). Her latest work of nonfiction,Africans in America, is a companion volume to the PBS Series. Her poemshave been anthologized in Unsettling America: An Anthology of ContemporaryMulticultural Poetry (1994) and Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican PoetsCafe (1995). A four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam,Smith has performed her work around the world. She has also written andperformed two one-woman plays, one of which was produced by DerekWalcott’s Trinidad Theater Workshop in the spring of 1994. Anaudiocassette of Smith performing before a live audience, Always in theHead, includes selections from her first three books. A short film ofSmith performing the poem “Undertaker” won awards at the Sundance and SanFrancisco film festivals. A former Metro columnist for the Boston Globe,Smith teaches writing periodically and is now a columnist for Ms. Magazineand the online magazine Afazi.


Bloom was founded to support the work of lesbian, gay, bisexual, andtransgendered writers and artists and to foster the appreciation of queerliterature and creation.

Cave Canem is committed to the discovery and cultivation of new voices inAfrican American poetry. Our program has expanded from a summer retreat toinclude regional workshops, a first book prize, annual anthologies, andreadings and events in major cities around the United States. We are anational community of emerging and established poets, a family of blackwriters who create, publish, perform, teach, and study poetry, and supporteach others’ work.

Kundiman is a not-for-profit organization serving emerging Asian-Americanpoets. Through instruction and collaborative programs with establishedAsian-American poets as well as through publications and readings open tothe public, Kundiman hopes to advance the work of Asian-American writing.Through poetry, we aim to celebrate and promote a strong and positiveAsian-American culture and identity.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Leaving Children Behind

I've made a similar post before, but I want to emphasize again that I think that it is totally wrong to reduce or eliminate the teaching of poetry in K-12 education.

Partly, I blame the fetishizing of multiple choice testing. I think that it's a mistake to salivate over high stakes, multiple choice tests and artificially constructed "increases or decreases" in scores. Even though all the people in this world who are good at multiple choice tests are also good, upstanding citizens with highly developed social and emotional skills, I haven't flown to the moon on my vaccuum cleaner lately.

High stakes, multiple choice testing is especially bad for poetry. I mean, I suppose you could have the question: Regie Cabico is a) the square root of five, b) a type of kumquat, c) a poet, d) the capital of Brazil, e) none of the above. (Believe it or not, that would actually be an improvement to certain curricula, because at least you would be learning the name of a living poet.) For some reason, it seems very difficult for certain officials who design curricula and tests to comprehend sometimes, but believe it or not, there are poets who are still alive and writing! Yes, there are still poets writing poetry out there today! Go figure.

I also think that poetry is too-often marginalized -- economically, politically, and socially -- which should not be a surprise if you've been reading this blog regularly. This marginalization affects the education of poetry. We teach elementary school, middle school, and high school students that poetry means nothing when we don't teach poetry. We teach students that poetry means less when we teach less of it. We teach students that no one writes poetry today, or at least no one we should take seriously, when we complete the education of poetry by winding up the unit with the "modern" work of T.S. Eliot. I guess Elizabeth Bishop (who actually is one of my favorite poets, if I was forced to choose) is too much of a wild child.

Of course, in almost every classroom, we teach students that Asian-American poetry means nothing everyday. Now that school years are beginning across the nation, I suppose that will remain one staple of the English curriculum, no matter how many brilliant new exams that one manufactures.