Thursday, December 29, 2005

One Year Anniversary

This blog on Asian-American poetry is a year old now. To celebrate its birthday, it is time for the author to do some soul-searching...Ok, just found it beneath a pile of pantoums! Seriously, though, I think that I may be more amazed than anyone that this blog has lasted a year. There are marriages that don't last a year. The blog has kept on trucking through the posts that I've liked and the (hopefully fewer) posts that have made me want to stick my head in the sand.

At this point, I have mixed feelings about this blog. Obviously, I derive some joy, or at least satisfaction, out of maintaining it. I'm not a masochist. I like thinking and talking about Asian-American poetry, and I certainly wasn't getting enough of it at the same time last year. The blog has given me an outlet to share my thoughts on Asian-American poetry with anyone who happens to come across it. That's been cool. And I'm grateful for all the people who have stopped by, read my thoughts, and/or commented on them. Thanks. It's nice to know that there are people out there interested in Asian-American poetry, that you're not some freak with an interest that no one shares.

On the other hand, this blog is clearly, how do you say?...different. This blog is not about me. To a certain extent, all blogs are not completely representative of the people behind them, but this one has been even more of an act of ventriloquism than your average blog. Unlike most other bloggers, I don't talk about my life, which makes it difficult to get to know me through this blog. There are no pictures of myself, my pets, or my house plants. There are no links to other blogs. There isn't really much of a developed personal identity here. Plus, I've experimented with different authorial voices, which doesn't help with trying to establish a more personal connection. That's not necessarily bad. The focus has primarily been on Asian-American poets and poetry. The main goal of this blog has been to draw attention to matters of interest involving Asian-American poetry, and I feel that I've been fairly successful in this respect.

But sometimes I've wanted an understanding that I know would be virtually impossible to get out of this blog. A personal understanding. It's virtually impossible with this blog, because I would have to reach out first, and it would be against the nature of this blog. I'd have to talk about myself and my life, which may or may not be interesting, but would definitely detract from the discussion on Asian-American poetry. I'd probably have to be less blunt, provocative, and critical. The critic, in particular, needs a certain level of detachment. I'm not exactly sure why I've kind of painted myself into this corner, because I do enjoy blogs that are about people and their personal thoughts and emotions, probably more than single-issue blogs on average. If I ever start another blog, it most likely won't be single-issue. I'd show my true personality, which is not reflected on this blog.

In certain respects, Roger Pao the blogger is so different from me that it's almost funny. It's almost 180 degrees from who I am, and I'm in on a joke that only the very few readers who know me in real life can possibly get. For starters, I hardly ever say anything bad about anyone. I'm nice to people. Also, I'm quiet and shy. In a crowded room, I don't attract attention. I don't share my opinions with strangers. I'm sensitive to other people's feelings, and I'm into patience and compromise. My sense of humor is usually one of the later things that people learn about me. I care about people and my friends, and my friendships usually last a long time, etc.

In a way, the blogger is kind of like the Wizard of Oz. Roger Pao the blogger definitely aspires to be the Oz of Asian-American poetry. The blogger wants his towering emerald green presence to cast a shadow over Dorothy, the Tin Man, and all the pauvre munchkins. I'm kind of jealous of the blogger, of the confidence, bravado, and swagger that I lack. The blogger is bolder, more out-there, less insecure.

But in some respects, I am also the blogger. The two are not irreconcilable. The voices on this blog are my own. And that's sort of scary! I mean, I think that the blogger is bold, but I wouldn't even know if I'd want to be classmates or co-workers with this blogger, let alone actually be him. Still, I have a certain personality, and even though I may deny its existence on this blog, its presence, I imagine, marks pretty much every post.

As many bloggers have considered with their respective blogs, I've considered putting the brakes on this blog and ending it altogether. After all, the blog does take up some time and energy that could be put to other uses. So I have thought about bringing it to a close...Well, I hate to break it to you people, but that's not going to happen any time soon! The Asian-American poetry blog shall continue. I've still got at least one major project up my sleeve, and I've still got more opinions to share about Asian-American poetry. So happy holidays to all, and I hope you'll come back for more in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


I've been finding myself enjoying the Pussycat Dolls' "Stickwitu". For those not in the know, "Stickwitu" features such innovative rhymes as "day, away, and say," "better, forever," "me, baby," and the ever popular "stickwitu, stickwitu." Clearly inspired by Nellie Wong's Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park, the song marks another step forward for cultural feminism with such trailblazing lyrics as "I must stick wit u" and "I'm a stick wit u." Of course, the earlier Dolls' hit, "Don't Cha" featured the anaphora "Don't cha wish your girlfriend was [hot, a freak, raw, fun] like me." I guess "free of venereal diseases" didn't make the short list.

At any rate, I'm just kidding. Kudos for marketing yourself well, Dolls. Maybe poets Garrett Hongo and John Yau can imitate and form a Britney and Madonna-like duet and go touring the nation.

I don't know if there are any Asian-Americans in the Pussycat Dolls (a.k.a. the United Nations of Prettiness). If there were, I'm not sure about the extent to which it would mark an advancement for our people. Maybe it would. I mean, who needs an Asian-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court?...Oh, I get it now! "Stickwitu" stands for "Stick with you." They're just too fast for me, or rather, toofast4me...I should be making a post on football players who write sestinas in the near future.

Friday, December 23, 2005

David Lehman Takes a Swipe at Bloggers

Let me preface this entry by saying that I have a certain fondness for poet/editor David Lehman. I think of good ol' Dave as one of the greatest American poetry pimps that America has witnessed in the past two decades. The guy knows how to market poetry, and for that, he deserves a woot, woot! In many respects, my views on the commercial aspects of poetry resemble his. Like Dave, I don't have a problem with Rosie and J-Lo writing poetry -- the more, the merrier. I think Dave's a cool guy with a cool anthology series.

But, if only for the sake of my fellow poetry bloggers, I have to defend our kind, and poetry criticism, from this assertion of Dave's in The Best American Poetry 2005, edited by Paul Muldoon:

"But it is also worrisome that that the back of [Poetry] -- the part devoted to criticism -- has grown steadily. More voices, more pages, do not equal clarification. It is sometimes said with heavy tones of lamentation that in this day and age everyone's a poet. The criticism in Poetry implies that on the contrary everyone's a critic. And criticism is too often the sound of a gripe and the taste of sour grapes expressed with all the sensitivity and thoughtfulness of a midnight blogger" (pp. 4-5).

First, hey Dave, bloggers have feelings, too, you know! I know you must think that your analogy of poets/ poetry critics who suffer from sour grapes to midnight bloggers is cool and all, but you're not scoring points with this "midnight blogger." My "sensitivity and thoughtfulness" says that this one-sentence swipe at bloggers deserves to kiss my proverbial yellow and slightly-less-hairless-than-the-average-American's behind.

Second, yes, everyone is a critic. For example, this particular paragraph of yours needs editing. The sentences in this paragraph deserve commas. I've helped you a bit already. I changed "lamentation than" to "lamentation that." That was a typo. I also only excerpted the second part of your paragraph, because obviously, this is a new paragraph -- you had been praising Poetry as "a little livelier, more compelling magazine than it had been" to set yourself up for axing it. Very clever. Now all you need is a paragraph break, and you're ready for the prom.

Third, I do not know anyone who has ever said "with heavy tones of lamentation" that everyone is a poet. I know you're just articulating the other side's position here, but really, I don't know anyone who would "lament heavily" -- like a virgin shrouded in the purest shade of white, who has just discovered that her fiance has run off with the village prostitute -- over too many people being poets.

Fourth, and now on to the more serious stuff, I agree that "more voices, more criticism, do not equal clarification." But I disagree with your implification that this phenomenon is bad. I don't believe in a hierarchy of poetry. Now, your anthology represents a hierarchy, and it works well for the masses, and I think you should run with it. But I don't think that you should take yourself too seriously here. Don't let your critics push you into vehemently defending the "clarification" of your model of organization. It's clear who is in charge with dictatorships. Clarification does not necessarily mean good. Actually, this claim contradicts your other suggestions to open up poetry itself to a greater cacophony of voices. If the "poets' club" should have more voices, why not the "poetry critics' club"?

Fifth, yes, I realize that poets can be petty and childish, and that can be bad. It can be bad when "people...go public with their peeves" (p. 5). I don't think of personal "peeves" as poetry criticism, and I know it can be hard to draw the line. I'd draw the line at personal attacks on the poet, but that's an ambigious standard as well. But isn't it better this way? Now we can separate the "real intellectuals" from the vindictive posers. That's an advantage of having a liberal democracy -- perhaps with more than any other form of government, you can tell the difference between people who sincerely care about poetry and those who merely want to air their personal grievances. At least I can, and I'd like to think that most people can as well.

It strikes at something more fundamental and more American as well. Americans are blunt and bold and sexy and weird and lovely and diverse in more ways than one could possibly conceptualize. And returning to the origins of this post, this diversity is reflected in the wide array of blogs out there. So Dave, as a friend, I would say that you should visit more blogs, or start one of your own, to find out what all the fuss is about.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Most Intriguing (and Sensual) Male Poets of 2006

(Edit: This post is a persona post intended to be humorous and ironic. Sorry if there was any confusion. Read it as if the blogger were an uptight, old-fashioned, McCarthyesque conservative, and then go buy the calendar, for goodness sake!)

Someone must be the voice of morality around here. And as everyone knows, I have always been the voice of wholesome purity -- the kind that made the 1950s the best decade in American history. There may have been minor "issues" with regards to race back then, but, you know, as the KKK always say, que sera, que sera.

With all the polymorphous perversity oozing around the blogosphere, I was not surprised to come across this filthy calendar -- -- in the guise of poetry and charity. It even features an Asian American poet-blogger, Mr. Lee Herrick, who promotes the calendar on his depraved blog:

It's not about CFIDS, I'm afraid. It's about hot poet sex, ready to deflower us all, just like Shakespeare deflowered the sonnet. If I was a mother of three teenage daughters, I would buy three of these calendars and force my daughters to sit in front of them until they got it out of their system. Same thing, if I was a father with three teenage sons. I'd expose the calendar to them till they learned what was decent and right.

Sure, there are some "cool" people who will buy this calendar. Some "chicks" and (don't even let me think about this one) "dudes" may have purchased it already. These "chicks" and "dudes" may say "hey, man" to each other in their "happening" alleys and present themselves as "the in-crowd" and go shooting pool on Sunday afternoons like a pack of "hippie" Buddhists from Indonesia.

But there are consequences as well. For example, and names have been concealed to protect the innocent here: Mrs. Jane Doe-Sugiyama, 32, was an average suburban housewife and mother of two 3 year old twins, who liked backgammon, knitting stockings, and baking oatmeal raisin cookies. One day, while making sure her computer was safe from pornography as any upstanding American would, she came across a link to this calendar on Mr. Herrick's weblog. Like any good mother, she wanted to protect her toddlers from online images that would not be conducive to their upbringing. She had to check out the site for the sake of her toddlers. But when she clicked on the link, when she saw the primordial pics of poet after poet, her right hand started shaking. Against all the morals that constituted her purity and membership card of the right wing of conservative fortitude, she clicked "yes" and ordered it!

For days afterwards, she worried that her husband would find out, and when it arrived while her husband was still at work, she found herself ripping the package apart with her teeth. Animal! She tore off her corset, fell to the carpet, and licked all the poems like a Victorian with too much caffeine in her system. Animal, animal! She glossed poem after poem, poet after poet, page after page, with her lustful tongue. Animal, animal, animal! She wept and screamed, "O what a foul, poet-lusting beast have I become!" Fortunately, she confessed her grievous straying to her husband, who quickly enrolled her in a 14-step program for housewives addicted to beefcake calendars.

At any rate, if you like sex, if you think that poems can be sex toys, if you think that poetry is about the flesh -- about Mr. Randall Mann's pecs, Mr. William Allegreeza in his underwear, and Mr. Herrick's bare feet -- I cannot stop you from indulging yourself and buying this calendar. I can only warn you of the heart of darkness that is The Most Intriguing (and Sensual) Male Poets 2006.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

On TinFish Press

I think that this blog has been a tad too nice recently. What can I say? Blogging has at least slightly muted the angry persona that is the host of this blog. It's good to be nice in real life, but nice doesn't necessarily translate well to the blogosphere sometimes, especially when you've promised that your blog will offer "strange and outlandish takes" on the subject at hand. Unfortunately, for you lovers of mockery and power and self-loathing, this post will also be nice, but I'll have more oddness to dish out in my following post. Stay tuned...

This post must be nice, because I have to be honest here and give props to TinFish Press, run by Susan Schultz -- a hard-working and visionary editor who puts out arguably the most cutting-edge work in Asian American poetry today. Here is a description from the TinFish website (

A non-profit organization founded in 1995 by Susan M. Schultz, Tinfish Press publishes a journal of experimental poetry from the Pacific, including Hawai`i, New Zealand/Aotearoa, Australia, California, and western Canada. The press also produces books and chapbooks of poetry and experimental prose, some of it written in Hawai`i Creole English (Pidgin). Each publication is designed by artists living in Hawai`i, under the direction of cover-girl, Gaye Chan. Tinfish uses recycled materials, including tarpaper, weather maps, proof sheets, and hamburger sleeves to cover its always un-recycled poetry and prose.

As you can tell from the description, Schultz clearly has a specific and unique vision for TinFish Press, which I imagine has contributed to its relative longevity. It is peculiarly an interpretation of Hawaii, while at the same time, it acknowledges Hawaii's physical place in the larger, geographical landscape of the Pacific Ocean. It also negotiates all the territories around Hawaii. In a sense, I think that TinFish represents the Opposite of Europe. Reversing the more traditional narrative of space and time, Hawaii is central, while Europe is falling-off-the-edge-of-the-world.

Here are excerpts from an e-mail that Schultz recently sent out to publicize works that have been, or will be, published by the press:

I'm pleased to announce publication of _When the Plug Gets Unplugged_, by Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi. Kim Hyesoon is one of the most prominent poets in South Korea, and Don Mee Choi lives in Seattle where she translates the work of Korean women poets. Chapbook design by Mike Cueva.

These are poems about rats, spoken by rats...

Now at the printer is Barbara Jane Reyes's much anticipated volume, _Poeta en San Francisco_, so stay posted.

aloha, Susan, Tinfish Editor

PS Remember that rat books make fine holiday gifts.

This announcement sums up TinFish Press quite well. Really, come on now -- "These are poems about rats, spoken by rats..." Who else but Susan Schultz would publish poems about rats written by a Korean woman poet and translated by a Korean-American?! Under TinFish, the avant-garde becomes a ratty delinquency, exuded by the ugly visceralness of feminine hygeine. It's wild stuff, and in its own way, it's kinky in an increasingly kink-free world.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Asian and American, Entranced by Words

Poet Victoria Chang alerted me to this nice article in the San Francisco Chronicle -- -- about three Asian-American poets who have come out with new books of poetry this past year. More ideas for Christmas presents, or Hannukah presents, or Kwanzaa presents, or Hey-Why-Don't-Asian-Americans-Get-a-Holiday-of-Their-Own-in-December presents. (I don't think Hallmark makes cards for that last one.)

It is nice -- and highly unusual -- given the lack of space of typically devoted to poetry, let alone Asian-American poetry, in mainstream publications like the Chronicle.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

On Eileen Tabios

Several months ago, poet Eileen Tabios sent me a couple poems to post and comment for this blog. Unfortunately, she failed to take into account my technological ineptitude -- one of the poems had crossouts, and I tried a couple times, but I was unable to get the formatting quite right, so I put it off. And now the boat seems to have passed in terms of my phase of commenting on individual poems, as I had done a few months ago.

Fortunately, I have read enough of Tabios' poetry in general to be able to comment generally on it. (I should have thought of this mode of commenting earlier, but I didn't. What can I say? I'm like Wile E. Coyote in one of those Looney Tunes cartoons where he doesn't realize that he's rushed over the cliff till he's already gone half way over the Grand Canyon.)

For me, Tabios' poetry has always been at the forefront of the Asian-American poetic avant-garde. Her poems have been continuously innovative and ground-breaking, in terms of style and content, and they have paved the way for the work of other Asian-American, especially Filipina/o-American, poets whose poems reflect her intelligent experimentation with language and identity.

Her poetry embodies the negotiation between form and content in a way that is important to Asian-American poets and others -- especially important for critics who do not believe that experimentation with language and lyricism and narrative/history/identity may be reconciled. In Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole and other poems, she dares to attempt both at the same time, which is no easy task.

Though Tabios is not often mentioned as a central figure in "Asian-American poetry" -- in the sense of Marilyn Chin, Garrett Hongo, Li-Young Lee, Cathy Song, and Nellie Wong -- I think that she should be discussed in these terms. All these poets write different types of poems, and her own poetry is different from the work of these poets, charting out a new direction that Asian-American poets have consciously, or subconsciously, attempted to emulate. In addition, she was the editor of one of the most innovative anthologies in Asian-American poetry -- Black Lightning -- which showcases various Asian American poets' describing their own individual poems in progress. Her own poetry should definitely be sought out.