Thursday, March 31, 2005

Poetry and Ambition - Part 2

"1. I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems...

2. If I recommend ambition, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy or pleasurable...

5. True ambition in a poet seeks fame in the old sense, to make words that live forever..."
See "Poetry and Ambition,"

Operating under the premise that Donald Hall is a rational human being, I think that here we have a prime example of Hall as Showman. The argument that one must ambitiously strive to write great poems that live forever is perfectly fine, if it is taken as one of exaggerated showmanship. Sort of like Michael Jordan wagging his tongue in midair on his way to a slam dunk.

If the argument is intended to be an intellectual one, then it is far more troublesome. That is, I do not believe that one who spends a lifetime writing poems must write "great" poems, at least in the way that Hall appears to define "great," which is "to make words that live forever." (For the moment, let us pretend that "to make words that live forever" is not a loaded claim.)

For example, I think that there are plenty of young and old Asian-American poets who are writing poems that are not published. They write for ease and pleasure. They write for friends and loved ones. They have no ambition for publication. They have no ambition for external commendation beyond their own sense of self-worth and/or their close knit circles. If they are young and unmarried, perhaps they are writing for a boyfriend or girlfriend. Perhaps they are writing for themselves. Perhaps they are writing in their private diaries. They write for their own relaxation, happiness, and release. Such is their ambition. They "get" something out of writing poetry beyond the joy of external approval.

Thus, if Hall's argument is intended to be intellectual, then I would counter that these Asian-American poets have perfectly good reasons to spend their lives writing poetry. If writing poetry makes one happy, then there is no reason why one should not spend a lifetimes doing it. Striving "to make words live forever" is neither the only legitimate justification for the writing of poetry nor the only form of ambition.

Now moving on to the claim that a poet should seek "fame in the old sense, to make words live forever." I do not know what Hall means here. Perhaps Hall is imagining that poets have access to time machines that allow them to skim the canon of the next million or billion years of poetry and to thus figure out what words are going to live forever. But if we live in a world not of science fiction, then I am not sure how any poets can seek to make words live forever, at least without having some preconceived notion of "words that live forever" that is rooted in the past and present.

In fact, Hall's naming of poets in his article suggests that the "words that live forever" in poems are the words of white male poets. To this claim, one might respond, Oh, that's such a cliched argument that's been done to death in the annals of multiculturalism and feminism. Perhaps. But go back and look at Hall's mentioning of individuals from Milton to Johnny Carson. Unless I've missed something here, Hall mentions only Caucasians and Caucasian poets in his references to "great" poets and almost no female poets. More interestingly, and ironically, his calling for poetic ambition in poems-to-be-written thus functions as a de facto calling for a reproduction of the past.

Here are a couple interesting questions: Are there words that live forever? Are there poems that live forever? Let's compare a poem about Chinese-Americans working on the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s versus one of Shakespeare's sonnets about love. Shakespeare's sonnet has withstood the test of time. Love is universal. But a poem about Chinese-Americans working on the Transcontinental Railroad can also withstand the test of time. And knowledge of this chapter of American history can also be universal. It is about choice -- poems or words or moments that seem to "live forever" now, "live forever," because they are chosen to be the survivors at specific times in our intellectual history. For example, it is a choice whether to remember the enslavement of African-Americans, whether to remember the Holocaust, etc. I am not sure whether there is such a thing as an external quantum of words independent of linguistic, economic, cultural, social, and political times and desires.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Chinglish and Englese

I just added the words "Azn" and "Pryde" to my MS Word dictionary. I like educating my computer about words that it should know.

Sometimes I like to make up my own words, including "Chinglish" (a vernacular hybrid of English and Chinese, with Chinese words used in over 50 percent of one's speech) and "Englese" (also a hybrid of English and Chinese, but this time with English words used in over 50 percent of one's speech). There are similar terms that may be used to describe other "hybrid" languages -- like Japanish, Tagalogench, and Germanorean.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Poetry and Ambition

I just read Donald Hall's "Poetry and Ambition" (1983) ( for the first time, and I must say that I both love and hate the ideas at the same time! The fact that a piece can evoke such joy and revulsion is a sure sign that I should devote at least several posts worth of space to it here. I'll start off by saying that the love far outweighs the hate, perhaps partly due to my relief at finding someone who shares my obsession with numbering things but mostly due to his undertaking this bold project.

My first response will be to Hall's take on relationships between poets:

"11....Most poets need the conversation of other poets. They do not need mentors; they need friends, critics, people to argue with. It is no accident that Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey were friends when they were young; if Pound, H.D., and William Carlos Williams had not known each other when young, would they have become William Carlos Williams, H.D., and Pound? There have been some lone wolves but not many. The history of poetry is a history of friendships and rivalries, not only with the dead great ones but with the living young. My four years at Harvard overlapped with the undergraduates Frank O'Hara, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Peter Davison, L. E. Sissman, and Kenneth Koch. (At the same time Galway Kinnell and W. S. Merwin attended Princeton.) I do not assert that we resembled a sewing circle, that we often helped each other overtly, or even that we liked each other. I do assert that we were lucky to have each other around for purposes of conversation. " (Later on, Hall identifies "the American problem of geographical isolation" and laments MFA workshops as the solution to this isolation.)

Of course, Hall was writing in 1983, way before the popularization of computers and the Internet. I happen to think that the Internet -- e-mail, blogs, discussion boards, etc. -- has changed everything and will continue to change everything. My guess is that nowadays the vast majority of poets use the Internet regularly, and many poets communicate about poetry via the Internet. (I know that it is not all, especially with older poets.) So Hall's concern about the need for a forum, or a "cafe," as he puts it, appears to have been answered.

But if questions over medium have apparently been addressed by technological advancement, questions over substance remain. Tim Yu's recent discussion -- one that I hope has not fallen by the wayside -- about establishing an Asian American Poetics Listserv reminds us that the need for connection remains. I concur with Hall's identification of the necessity for "friends, critics, people to argue with." But over what? I'm guessing O'Hara and Bly would never argue who was their favorite Backstreet Boy.

It must be over poetry, which narrows it down considerably but is still a little general. I'm just going to be narcissitic here and come out and say that Hall is probably referring to discussions over theories of poetry as opposed to simply workshopping individual poems. Throughout the essay, Hall is calling for people to think seriously and critically about "poetry" as opposed to specific, isolated "poems." He is looking for an intellectual community of poets who care about the big picture that is "poetry," which I find wonderful.

I have to add, though, that I find his emotional distancing a turnoff. I get a vibe of emotional distancing from his proclamation that the named poets didn't necessarily help each other overtly or even liked each other. That sounds a little catty to me, and I hope it's not an accurate description of the poets' relations with one another. There's a huge gap between "sewing circle" and not liking people.

I mean, I can disagree with someone and still get along and like the person. It's not like if someone tells me that they hate haiku, I'll go around hissing and booing at them whenever they walk by. There's a bit of conflating of the person of the poet with the actual discussion over poetry going around here in Hall's piece. Now that conflating does happen, and it certainly can happen with blogs, e-mails, discussion boards, etc., but hopefully, it is not an inevitability.

Hopefully, poets can make friends with other poets and still have regular, friendly discussions without going ga-ga over whether they like Billy Collins or Justin Timberlake more.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

On Haiku

To the best of my knowledge, there has been a complete absence of Asian-American haiku. No matter how one defines Asian-American poetry, there is just no Asian-American haiku out there. One might consider that strange, considering the elevation of the pantoum to new heights in recent years.

Haiku are seldom published in "respectable" poetry publications. There are poetry publications and organizations dedicated exclusively to the haiku, but they remain largely segregated from "mainstream" poetry.

I think that, subconsciously, many poets feel that haiku is a stupid, childish form. It is a form that an elementary school teacher can teach to third and fourth graders. The democratic ease of writing haiku, in a society that increasingly values complexity, renders it an obsolete art form in the eyes of many people. As the Freudian adage might go, "Pantoums are for smart, sexy, sophisticated urbanites. Haiku are for lazy morons who don't have the patience to write a real poem and/or don't know enough intelligent words." (Of course, that's how a lot of prose writers subconsciously feel about poets, so there are probably fingers pointing in all directions.)

I happen to think that the haiku is a wonderful, joyous form. Their compactness is often a breath of fresh air. I would concur that a haiku is easier to writer than a pantoum. But so what? I am not so sure that we would want to live in a world where quality of poetry necessarily hinges upon the difficulty of writing it. Complex forms and poems may be good, but they may be bad as well. There are reasons why a poem is good or bad (and a critic making a claim as to goodness or badness of poem should explain at least why he or she believes it to be so, if only out of an ethical responsibility to the poet), and I don't think that the reasons are inherent in the form itself.

So bravo to the haiku! If Asian-American poets are salivating over pantoums, reaching out for a little Asian lovin', then they should also get their mouths watered for a little side dish of sweet haiku.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Plans for May

As a heads up, starting some time in May, roughly coinciding with the end of the school year, I plan to be taking this blog in a slightly different direction in the sense that I will be reviewing specific books of Asian-American poetry, probably at a rate of several books per week, though it is too early to tell.

The upcoming "reviews" -- I don't know if I would necessarily call them "reviews." I've got problems with "reviews" that portray themselves as objective assessments of the poetry, when really it is the subjectiveness of the reviewer that should be foregrounded or at least duly acknowledged. I envision an "ideal" review of a book of poetry as an artistic, literary creation in and of itself. More essentially, I think that there should be more reviews of poetry that aspire to be fun, humorous, and entertaining, and that will be my own aspiration. I mean, I'm a busy guy, an average joe, I'd like a little more pizzazz in my book reviews of poetry as opposed to paragraphs that ramble on and on with large words, informative little factoids, and the overwhelming air of a well-versed reviewer who seems just above everyone else intellectually and knowledge-wise. Now I definitely think that there should be room for that type of review out there, and personally, I am entertained, in a literary sense, by lovely reviews like Christine Hume's of Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge's Nest: But there should be more of the "popular" kind as well, and I'm still thinking over what the shape of the "popular" kind should be.

In the meantime, there will be more posts on Asian-American poetry as usual. Just thought I'd share my plans.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Stick

Well, Barbara Jane has called me out (, and I've got about ten minutes of spare time now to play the game. I'm gonna try to provide quick spicy, critical, tongue-in-cheek answers, which probably means my modest little response will be duller than green bell peppers, but anyway:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?: I won't be stuck, that ain't my style. If a special league of firemen tries to mess with me, I'd bust out the paper cuts like you wouldn't believe.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?: No, I save all my loving for real people.

The last book you bought is: a book for law school. They all blur together.

The last book you read: a book for law school. They all blur together.

What are you currently reading?: a book for law...okay, I'll indulge my beloved readers here: Langdell Lyrics of 1938, edited by W. Barton Leach; Lyrics of the Law, edited by J. Greenbag Croke; The Lawyer's Alcove: Poems by the Lawyer, for the Lawyer, and about the Lawyer, edited by Ina Russelle Warren. I'm actually serious here. I'm having my cake and eating it too. I've also got Doubled Flowering by Araki Yasusada somewhere among the library books, and I still need to get to Eileen Tabios' Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole.

Five books you would take to a deserted island: Like Adrienne Rich, I don't believe in limiting myself to a certain hierarchy of literature, as the question implies that one can do. If I did believe that I could make such a hierarchy for myself, I'd take five copies of Barbara Jane's Gravities of Center, of course.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?: George W. Bush, John F. Kerry, and Bill Frist. Because I think it would explain a lot.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Of the People?

Well, I had a nice post that blogger just ate up. Arrrrggghhhhh! I'll try and reconstruct it now, but it just won't be the same. Oh well.

Basically, I was speculating upon the socieconomic class of readers of Asian-American poetry. I was commenting on the fact that some people think that readers of poetry, in general, tend to be of a higher socioeconomic class. I was saying that, though I instinctively recoil against the notion that poetry is an elitist art form that should only be for "elites," these people may have a point in that people who have the money to buy poetry books, the time to read poems/go to poetry readings, and the ability to access the sometimes elitist style, diction, tone, subject matter, form of poems are probably richer/more well-educated, on average, just demographically speaking.

I was speculating that it is possible that the average reader of Asian-American poetry may be of an even higher socioeconomic class than the average reader of poetry, in general, due to the fact that Asian-Americans -- who constitute a large though definitely not exclusive audience of Asian-American poetry -- tend to be of a higher socioeconomic class on average, notwithstanding the fact that there are still wide variations in wealth.

I said more, and I said it better, but that's the gist of it.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Asian American Poetry - A Critique

Why do people hate Asian-American poetry? One interesting critique often levied against Asian American poetry is its engagement in identity politics/ethnic studies -- that is an evil per se. These critics are often dismissed as racists, but I do not think that is necessarily an accurate categorization or fair dismissal. That is to say, I do not think that, if an Asian-American poet covered the same subject matter and used the same style as a Robert Frost or T.S. Eliot that contemporary critics would not nod approvingly.

I think that most haters of Asian-American poetry should at worst be accused of the same fog of hypocrisy that supporters of Asian-American poetry sometimes drift through. And we should note that the most perceptive of these critics recognize, even if often failing to openly acknowledge, that the most fundamental debate is about control over the canon and content of poetry itself. The inclusion of a Patrick Rosal, Diana Chang, or Kimiko Hahn into the canon of "legitimate" poetry also has the effect of changing it. We are saying something important about poetry if we choose to read Kimiko Hahn instead of Ezra Pound. In this sense, demand for Asian-American poetry would not only be a threat to the status quo but a threat to one's "poetry self" that has developed over the years.

At this point, I'd like to define the "poetry self" as the subconscious, inchoate, intrinsic self that gravitates to certain poets/poems/styles of poetry over others. Because there are so many poets and so much poetry, we only have time to read a certain number of poets/poems. The poems that are the subject of our gravitation are often labeled as "the best poems," with "best" being conflated here with "personal favorite."

And I have noticed that readers of poetry tend to gravitate to poets like themselves. Male readers tend to prefer poems written by male poets, or African-American readers tend to prefer poems written by African-American poets, for example. You can often tell by what they talk about and praise as excellent. I'd be willing to wager that most of William Wordsworth's fans are white, male, older, and nature-lovers. This phenomenon is analgous to the "pets who look like their owners" phenomenon. I don't think that I'm making a remarkable observation here. Corporations and business-school folk have recognized this demographic phenomenon for years. One issue is that much of Asian-American poetry, for many prominent non-Asian-American poets and editors (who, of course, are readers themselves), is so unlike these readers that problems of audience can become centralized and perhaps function as a de facto prohibition of such poetry in publication. Part of what I'm getting at has a lot to do with identity -- there is the tendency to gravitate towards poetry with which we can identify.

At the same time, however, the dream of unity is still a powerful dream. Deconstruction and fragmentation may be helpful intellectual exercises, and they may be useful to the achievement of greater recognition for previously less recognized poetries, but we must appreciate the power of the desire for a single "poetry," a single ideal of "bestness." There is a reason why U.S. News and World Report college and graduate school rankings sell like hotcakes. Or why we have 4 brackets of 16 NCAA basketball teams in a field of 64 (now 65) and want only one champion, however arbitrary the road to the final four. In poetry, the paradox here is that dreamers of unity sometimes attempt to achieve this unity by quashing alternative poetries to maintain their own ideal of the dream, but, in doing so, have implictly acknowledged that the unity of their dream is a falsehood.

My own desire at this point in time is greater inclusivity and diversity, not only of race and ethnicity, which is the focus of this blog, but of gender, class, religion, etc. as well as of form and style of poetry. Moreover, I do not think that Asian-American poetry itself can be a closed category. Of course, I must admit that my own desire at least partly mimic my own ever-changing preferences and practices as a reader of poetry, which have biases of their own that represent the accumulation of a lifetime of rational and irrational events and thoughts. Also, I do not think that any of these issues have easy answers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Hyphen

Am I running out of things to post? Hard to tell sometimes. I don't think so, or at least I hope not. I think that when I run out of things to say -- that is the time to say adios to the blog and take up rugby or squash.

At first glance, the subject of this post seems silly. (At last glance, it may seem equally or even more silly.) But it has been on my mind a few times over the years. The issue is whether to hyphenate the term "Asian American." Should there be a dash? In other words, is it "Asian-American" or is it "Asian American"? One can also ask apply this question to other races and ethnicities, for example, is it "Japanese-American" or is it "Japanese American"?

When I was but a toddler in my foray into identity politics, I had assumed that it was "Asian-American." I don't know why I just assumed it. It's one of those inexplicable mysteries of life, like why the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were named after Italian Renaissance artists.

Anyhow, my metamorphosis started when I took a poli sci class, and the professor kept on using the term "hyphenated Americans." He was mainly referring to "Italian-Americans," "Irish-Americans," and "Polish-Americans." Over and over again. The term "hyphenated Americans" began to sound too strange and limiting to me, also for inexplicable reasons. No, I take that back. Hyphenated Americans was portrayed by this prof as a somewhat derogatory characterization of these ethnic groups. That's why I had trouble with the hyphen.

So I dropped the hyphen. But over the years, I softened and put it back in again -- sometimes. Now I don't have any strong views over this issue, but I thought that I'd share my thoughts. And people wonder why my Saturday nights are so lonely. :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Poetry Supremacy

Just the other day, a friend marvelously accused me of being a "poetry supremacist." To which I replied, of course! Poetry, poetry, poetry!

I feel that one of the problems nowadays with poets and poetry lovers is that we are too timid about the writing/art form that we love. Not necessarily timid to one another. But timid in front of "the others," whom we often just feel and treat as if they do not "get" it and leave out of the conversation. By "the others," I am referring to about 95 percent of the world's population.

I think that it is partly because, as I put it in an earlier post, "Poets are losers." You just cannot go around saying you are "a poet" -- unless you are a poetry professor -- without getting "looks." Even if you are a poetry professor, I would imagine that saying you are "a poetry professor" sounds better than saying you are "a poet."

But why? There are many reasons why. In this post, I am suggesting that part of the responsibility/blame must lie in poets and poetry lovers who have weakened in the face of what I call "cocktail party skeptics" of poetry and have complicitly helped allow the art form to reach close to the apex of literary marginalization. I am suggesting that there must be a more aggressive effort to reach out to the other 95 percent of the population.

For example, I give big props to poet David Lehman for establishing the Best American Poetry series. The sensationalism of the title helps the books sell. Another example would be my call for the inclusion of more living poets in K-12 English education. From my K-12 education, I learned that all poets are dead, because we only read dead poets. Now I have to admit that there are some above-average dead poets out there, but there are living poets as well.

Do you know who knows about the timidity in poetry? Answer: Vanity publishers. I've been around the block. I've seen Asian-American names in the vanity volumes. They've successfully tapped into a market filled with people who have little or no confidence in the art form. At bottom, I think their success rests in capitalizing upon a beleagured audience that lacks any sense about the artistic value of poetry. Some responsibility must rest upon "the poetry establishment" -- the several dozen or so poets with the economic and star power to change things.

I also would add that part of the issue is the "poets' personality." In other words, is there a "poets' personality"? I've joked that I can identify a poet just by looking at a person, and I don't think I'm too far off. It's hard to describe. Poets just look like they are a bit withdrawn into themselves, like they are thinking all the time, like they are perpetually contemplating something brilliant and are just on the edge of forming it but are not quite there yet. I may post more about this later...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

List of Asian American Books of Poetry

Below is my list of titles of Asian-American books of poetry that some people wanted. (It's actually about 135 books, not about 150, as I'd thought it was.) As I said before, I didn't want to post this list, because I regard it as incomplete, haphazard, and ultimately unsatisfying, but since I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is, I've posted it here with three disclaimers:

1. Disclaimer #1: This list does NOT include any Asian-American book of poetry published 2002 or afterwards. I haven't updated it since 2002.
2. Disclaimer #2: This list does NOT include any Asian-American book of poetry owned by Duke Libraries as of 2002. As noted before, my purpose for making the list was to get Duke Libraries to order these books. (You will thus note the lack of Li-Young Lee books, for example, since Duke Libraries has those books.)
3. Disclaimer #3: Just wanted to emphasize again, this list is NOT comprehensive in any way. It's mainly just a starting point. I used a great Asian American Writers' Workshop (AAWW) list of books of poetry as a starting point, but I know that not all Asian American books of poetry were listed there, and I've probably missed many books. If you'd like, you can post additional authors and titles in comments; some authors/titles not in this list may be relatively obvious.

I wanted to update it before posting, but I haven't had the time. Hope you enjoy!

Akella, Usha
…Kali Dances. So Do I…
Alexander, Meena
Night-Scene, The Garden
Ali, Kazim
Amirthanayagam, Indran
The Elephants of Reckoning
Berssenbrugge, Mei Mei
Berssenbrugge, Mei Mei
The Heat Bird
Berssenbrugge, Mei Mei
Summits Move with the Tide
Berssenbrugge, Mei Mei
Random Possession
Biala, Arlene
Continental Drift
Bishoff, Tonya and Jo Rankin, eds.
Seeds from a Silent Tree: An Anthology by Korean Adoptees
Bruchac, Joseph
Breaking Silence: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian-American Poets
Carbo, Nick
El Grupo McDonald's: Poems
Cerenio, Virginia
Trespassing Innocence
Chang, Diana
The Mind's Amazement: Poems Inspired by Paintings, Poetry, Music, Dance
Chang, Diana
Earth, Water, Light: Landscape Poems Celebrating the East End of Long Island
Chawla, Yogesh et al.
Attack of the 50 ft. Poets
Chawla, Yogesh
Atlas on Crack
Chin, David
The China Cupboard and the Coal Furnace
Chin, Justin
Harmless Medicine
Chin, Justin
Burden of Ashes
Chin, Marilyn
Dwarf Bamboo
Chin, Marilyn
Rhapsody in Plain Yellow: Poems
Ching-chao, Li
Li Ching-Chao: Complete Poems
Chock, Eric
Last Days Here
Dao, Bei
Old Snow: Poems
Evangelista, Susan
Carlos Bulosan and His Poetry: A Biography and Anthology
Fay, Chiang
Miwa's Song
Foo, Josephine
Endou: Poems, Prose, and a Little Beagle Story
Foster, Sesshu
Angry Days
Foster, Sesshu
City Terrace Field Manual
Freeman, Sunil
That Would Explain the Violinist
Gamalinda, Eric
Zero Gravity
Gloria, Eugene
Drivers at the Short-Time Motel (National Poetry Series)
Hahn, Kimiko
Air Pocket
Hahn, Kimiko
Ear Shot
Hamasaki, Richard
From the Spider Bone Diaries: Poems and Songs
Han, Stephanie
L.A. (Lovers Anonymous)
Hartman, Yuki
A Coloring Book
Hartman, Yuki
New Poems
Hartman, Yuki
Hashimoto, Sharon
Him, Mark Lai; Genny Lim; Judy Yum, eds.
Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940
Hom, Marlon K.
Song of Gold Mountain: Cantonese Rhymes from San Francisco Chinatown
Hongo, Garrett
Yellow Light
Hongo, Garrett
The River of Heaven
Jacinto, Jaime
Heaven Is Just Another Country
Jin, Ha
Facing Shadows
Kageyama, Yuri
Kim, Myung Mi
Dura (New American Poetry Series No. 28)
Kono, Juliet
Tsunami Years
Kono, Juliet
Hilo Rains (Bamboo Ridge, No. 37-38)
Kuo, Alex
Changing the River
Kuo, Alex
This Fierce Geography
Kwang, Casey L.
On Blue Felix Paper
Lan, Mong
Song of the Cicadas (Juniper Prize)
Langworthy, Christian
The Geography of War
Lau, Alan Chong
Blues and Greens: A Produce Worker's Journal
Lau, Carolyn
Wode Shuofa: My Way of Speaking
Lee, Priscilla
Wishbone (The California Poetry Series)
Lee, Pwu Jean
East Wind, West Rain: Poems
Leong, Russell
Country of Dreams and Dust
Lew, Walter
Treadwinds: Poems and Intermedia Work
Lew, Walter, ed.
The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry
Lim, Genny
Winter Place
Lim, Shirley Geok-Lin
Monsoon History: Selected Poems
Lin, Tan
Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe (New American Poetry Series, No. 26)
Litonjua, Rory
Bring Me the Head of Jorge Brazil
Liu, Timothy
Hard Evidence
Liu, Timothy
Say Goodnight
Liu, Timothy
Burnt Offerings
Liu, Timothy
Vox Angelica
Lum, Wing Tek
Expounding the Doubtful Points
Mahapatra, Anuradha
Another Spring, Darkness: Selected Poems of Anuradha Mahapatra
Mei, Yuan
I Don't Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei
Mirkitani, Janice
Shedding Silence
Mirkitani, Janice
We, The Dangerous: New and Selected Poems
Mitsui, James Masao
After the Long Train: Poems
Mitsui, James Masao
From a Three-Cornered World: New and Selected Poems (The Scott and Laurie Oki Series in Asian American Studies
Mori, Kyoko
Mura, David
The Colors of Desire: Poems
Nam, Wong Phui
Ways of Exile: Poems from the First Decade (Skoob Pacifica, No. 2002)
Oikawa, Mona and Tamai Kobayashi
All Names Spoken: Poetry and Prose
Okita, Dwight
Crossing with the Light
Paat, Joseph
Haiku Harvest
Rashid, Ian
The Heat Yesterday
Rayaprol, Srinivas
Selected Poems
Reetika, Vazzirani
White Elephants (Barnard New Women Poets Series)
Robles, Al
Rappin' with 10,000 Carabos in the Dark: Poems
Roripaugh, Lee Ann
Beyond Heart Mountain (National Poetry Series)
Rutkowski, Thaddeus
Basic Training
Rutkowski, Thaddeus
Near Wilderness
Saijo, Albert
Outspeaks: A Rhapsody
Sen, Sudeep
Dali's Twisted Hands
Sen, Sudeep
A South African Woodcut
Sen, Sudeep
Kali in Ottava Rima
Sen, Sudeep
Mount Vesuvius in Eight Frames
Sen, Sudeep
New York Times
Sen, Sudeep
The Lunar Visitations: A Cycle of Poems
Sharma, Prageeta
Bliss to Fill
Sia, Beau
A Night Without Armor II: The Revenge
Song, Cathy
School Figures
Song, Cathy
The Land of Bliss
Song, Cathy
Frameless Windows, Squares of Light: Poems
Stefans, Brian Kim
Angry Penguins
Stefans, Brian Kim
Free Space Comix
Stefans, Brian Kim
Su, Adrienne
Middle Kingdom
Sugioka, Kimi
The Language
Sze, Arthur
Sze, Arthur and Frank Stewart, eds.
Zigzag Way: New Writing from America, the Pacific, and Asia
Tabios, Eileen, ed.
Black Lightning: Poetry in Progress
Tagami, Jeff
October Light
Thuong, Vuong-Riddick
Two Shores/ Deux Rives
Tran, Barbara
In the Mynah Bird's Own Words
Tran, Truong
Placing the Accents
Tran, Truong
The Book of Perceptions
Tran, Truong
Dust and Conscience
Trask, Haunani-Kay
Light in the Crevice Never Seen
Tsang, Lori
Passages and Totems: Poems
Tsui, Kitty
Uyematsu, Amy
30 Miles from J-Town
Vanderborg, Arthur
Introducting Mr. Vanderborg
Vira, Soma
Little Bit India - Little Bit U.S.A.: Poems from East and West
Wang, L. Ling-chi, I-heng Chao, and Carrie L. Waara, eds.
Chinese-American Poetry: An Anthology
Wong, Nellie
Stolen Moments (Crimson Edge Chapbook)
Wong, Nellie
Death of Long Steam Lady
Wong, Nellie
Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park
Woon, Koon
The Truth in Rented Rooms
Yamanaka, Lois-Ann
Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre
Yau, John
Borrowed Love Poems
Yau, John
Radiant Silhouette: New and Selected Work, 1974-1988
Yau, John
Berlin Diptychon: Poems
Yau, John
Big City Primer: Reading New York at the End of the Twentieth Century
Yee, Victor Shin
My Journey

Friday, March 11, 2005

Asian American Listserv? - Playing Devil's Advocate

Building off Eileen's ( quasi-suggestion for an Asian-American poetry Listserv, Tim posts and comments on the possibility of having such a listserv and hypothesizes on its parameters ( Both his post and the ensuing comments are really quite interesting -- most commenters support the idea of such a listserv, and you should check them out. On balance, I think it would be fascinating to have a Listserv and I do support the idea (I actually think that the creation of an "Asian-American" school of poetry is overdue but is developing now more than ever with Kundiman and increasing interest in Asian-American poetry, which I won't get into here). But I'll sort of play devil's advocate here and describe a few potential dilemmas:

1. The Listserv format: Probably the biggest dilemma, and the one that I most genuinely believe is a problem, is the listserv format. I've belonged to a few listservs in my day, but I've found them hard to follow due to the sheer quantity of e-mails. Paradoxically, "bad" listservs are the easiest ones to follow -- if there are only a couple comments a day, then it's easy to keep track of the ideas. But "good" listservs, if they have 20+ posts a day and if the posts are relatively long, can be absolutely maddening.

2. Membership: Pam suggests that the listserv should have a completely open membership, while others suggest limitations by aesthetic or even aesthetic using race as a proxy, i.e. race-conscious poetry. Of course, no surprise to readers of this blog, that I agree with Pam here. I don't think that this is a major issue, and now editing here, I think that most will concur that there should be no membership restrictions.

3. "Controversial" Posts: Sooner or later, an issue will arise with "questionable" posts about Asians or Asian-Americans. In the rare instance of an outlandish, maliciously racist post, one can foresee almost everyone agreeing that the individual should be kicked off the list for the good of the Listserv. But I think that the paradigmatic "controversial" post is one that will only be controversial to some, and the "racism" will have some members questioning whether or not it is "racism" or simply intelligent provocation, a witty remark, or utterly uncontroversial at all. More likely than not, there will be disagreement over what, if any, action should be taken to remove a "controversial" poster. And such might engender negative feelings and accusatory exchanges over censorship vs. insensitivity against racism.

4. Poems vs. Philosophy: I wonder whether the listserv would be about Asian-American poets posting their own poems, discussions over the philosophy of Asian-American poetry, or both. Actually, I think that discussion boards are a much better format for workshopping poems than listservs. And it might be arguable that a discussion board would be preferable in the case of conceptual discussions over "Asian-American poetry" as well.

5. Focus: Perhaps in contrast to Tim and Pam, I do not favor a focus on a particular aesthetic, e.g. avant-garde. Aside from the difficult issue of having to define "avant-garde," I think that it would circumscribe the listserv too much. In essence, it would no longer become an "Asian-American poetry" listserv, but an "avant-garde Asian-American poetry" listserv or an "identity politics Asian-American poetry" listserv, for example. Tim raises this point in a later comment. Now a restrictive Asian-American poetry listserv would not necessarily be a bad thing, but it would have to be acknowledged as such, if such a restriction on subject matter was part of the raison d'etre of the listserv.

Anyhow, I still think it's a cool idea to have an Asian-American listserv, or at least some online discussion group on Asian-American poetry.

Blog Mortality and Philosophy

At the risk of veering too far off the topic of Asian-American poetry, I have been thinking about blog mortality lately. I've been around the blogosphere long enough to know blogs come and go, and it's always sad to witness the departure of a beloved blog. You know, bloggers are people. I have found that bloggers are and are not the personas they create through their blogs. It's hard to say sometimes. You, or at least I, do think about the people behind the blogs -- sometimes it's hard to discern that the persona is part fictive. But then maybe meeting a person in person is part fiction as well. I've always felt that blogs and e-mail are terrific for people who like to write (perhaps shy people) but perhaps not so good for the brilliant extroverts who are good at dealing with people in person. Anyhow, who is to say that being with a person in person is more real, or at least any less real, than getting to know a person via e-mail or through a blog? On balance, I guess I prefer getting to know people in person, but really, there are people I know just through blogging or e-mailing better than the people whom I encounter regularly in the classroom...Ok, not enough about Asian-American poetry. If I say "Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni," maybe that would make it somewhat better?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Asian American Poetry and Libraries

Ok, ever since the beginning of this blog, I've had on my list of things to blog -- being a guy who is fairly big on lists -- a post about Asian American books of poetry and libraries. I was aiming for a spectacular post, but it looks like that won't happen, but at the moment, I feel like I can aim higher than woefully inadequate, which is probably a sign to post.

The first question that one might think of asking is what types of libraries? More specficially, public libraries or university libraries? To a certain extent, however, this question is irrelevant -- neither public libraries nor college/university libraries carry acceptable quantities of Asian-American books of poetry, however one defines "Asian-American."

What do I mean by "acceptable"? Well, in most public libraries, the number of Asian-American books of poetry is two or fewer. There might be an anthology or Li-Young Lee book scattered here and there, but that's usually about it. Knowing the financial conundrums of many public libraries, I am less troubled by this phenomenon than by the lack of Asian-American books of poetry in university libraries, which is very few as well. For example, as of 2002 at Duke University, the number of Asian-American books of poetry was about fifteen.

Only because I had to do research on Asian-American poetry did I learn of the levels of exclusion of Asian-American books of poetry in college/university libraries. It is an open question whether fault lies in the library. WorldCat, the worldwide library database, shows us that all college/university libraries suffer from a lack of Asian-American books of poetry. One could fault the libraries for not purchasing these books, which I think is a legitimate critique. But I think that one could also blame on large and mid-sized book publishers, which have chosen not to publish Asian-American books of poetry, since that is the source of purchasing from many libraries. Or for that matter, one can trace the responsibility back to magazine editors or professors of poetry. And yes, one might potentially fault Asian-American poets themselves for not more vigorously pursuing publication, if such is the case.

At one point, as I have noted before, I attempted to catalog all books of Asian-American poetry ever published. In 2002, I reached about 150 books. I imagine that, at that point and taking into account books that I may have missed, there were about 250 published books. I think that now there are probably around 300 books in the canon, though again, I am just guessing here. Many of the publishers are fairly small, and many of the books may have been missed.

But I think that the tide is changing, especially in the last couple years. Asian-American books of poetry are being published at a much higher rate, and one can only imagine that this phemonenon should trickle down to college/university libraries in the form of a growing catalog of books.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Hitler Question - Poets vs. Poetry

All this talk about Tim Yu's departure from the UB Poetics Listserv reminds me of a post that I've been wanting to make for a while. It concerns the Hitler question as applied to the debate over focusing on poetry vs. focusing on poets.

The Hitler Question: If a historical researcher discovered that Hitler was a poet and had written a book of fantastic poems, would you judge solely on the basis of the poetry or judge the poet along with poetry?

The descriptive answer, meaning the "is" answer, for me is that I honestly couldn't divorce the poetry from the poet. I don't think that I could go around proclaiming that Adolf Hitler is a great poet. If I knew Hitler wrote a volume of zesty sestinas, I don't think that I could go around praising his original use of end-words knowing he caused the death of six million Jews. The normative answer, meaning the answer to the question "am I wrong here? should I be divorcing the poetry from the poet?," is open to debate.

I think that this question potentially has widespread implications. I chose Hitler on purpose, precisely because he is a reviled figure. Lots of people sincerely think that they can separate the poetry from the poet. But the question is whether they can pass the Hitler test. And if they pass, should they be passing, that is, should they be openly praising Hitler's poetry and encouraging people to read Hitler's poetry despite the man himself? The normative question is, of course, also an ethical one.

You might argue, come on, no poet is as bad a person as Hitler. And that would be exactly my point. You would be looking at the poet; you would have to be looking at the poet to make such a conclusory remark. The Hitler question stretches the dogmaticism of logic fairly close to as far as it can go.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Of Message Boards, Blogs, and Listservs

Tim Yu ( has a juicy post about his departure from the UB Poetics Listserve. He claims the discussion of whether the use of the term "Jap" is racist as the immediate trigger for his departure, but I do not think that this claim does his departure justice. I do not think that the questioning of the use of the term "Jap" is racist per se, as racism must be contextualized, which Tim implicitly acknowledges as such through his citation and brief discussion of Ronald Takaki's Strangers from a Different Shore -- a book I have read as well.

I think that Tim is more accurate when he situates the "racism," later in his entry, in some white, male avant-garde poets' romantic obsession with a carelessly fetishized Asia. I implied this "racism" as problematic earlier through my claim that Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" is outmoded and not worthy of the great attention that it receives in light of the fact that one can only read/discuss so many poems. I think that this "racism" is only problematic due to these poets' economic dominance over poetry publication and subsequent dominance over the poetics discourse and only if there is disrespect or close-mindedness.

Avant-garde, surrealist poetry and poetics has always had a streak of Orientalism and racism which still exists today. I am a little surprised that Tim has apparently been surprised by this racism, since he is an expert in the field. Despite my support of the close inquiry into language that is so much a part of avant-garde poetry and my enjoyment of some of the poetry itself, I have to say that avant-garde poetry, in general, has always suffered from a lack of representation from women, African-Americans, and Latinos. Anyhow, as far as Listservs and message boards go, you take what you get sometimes, and as long as you find transformative potential, you remain in the discussion.

It appears to me that Tim's sadness results from the fact that he found close-mindedness and felt an absence of transformative potential through the discussions on the Listserv. One can easily find this disappointment justified merely by noting the relative lack of Listserv reactions to Tim's long, intelligent, and heartfelt post on the Listserv. The Listserv has clearly intellectually and emotionally disengaged itself from him. It is not the vibrant community that Tim desired.

Such is often the case with almost all message boards and listservs. Look around the internet, and you will find that racism and sexism, largely divorced from intellectual content, are constants on the vast majority of message boards. I agree with Tim that blogs are better, though I am obviously biased here.

A larger question is whether a dedicated focus on "language" in poetry necessarily devalues different races, cultures, and women. I do not think so. I do not think that avant-garde poetry is racist per se. But I also think that avant-garde poetry, like all forms of poetry, sometimes contains (hidden) social/cultural biases, and a reluctance to acknowledge the existence of these biases can be problematic. A willingness to indulge in utter cluelessness is rarely a good thing.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Infinity 2005: A Visual Poetry Exhibition

A visual poetry exhibition opened in Cambridge last night, and yes, I was one of the privileged New England few who got a chance to experience, in person, work not bent on colonizing the Third World, if there is such a thing as a "Third World." I once took an undergrad class with "Third World" in the title, and one might conclude that if it is in a college/university course catalog, it must exist!

In trying to keep with the theme of this blog, at least three Asian-American poets -- Nick Carbo, Shin Yu Pai, and Janet Si-Ming Lee -- had exhibits there. All the poets' works were quite fascinating, which, in no small part, resulted from the arrangement of the curators, who spaced out the exhibits from each other as well as skillfully mixed color with black-and-white. The curators' understanding of space in the room was key.

Interesting story (or at least interesting to me, so maybe that means uninteresting to most people, anyways): I was looking at Nick Carbo's "After My Mother's Alzheimer's All Her Verbs are Gone," which is composed of a 4X4 inch lucite cube and five water-filled plastic balls, when one woman asked me (what I thought was) why wasn't there water in the cube? Why wasn't it an exhibit with balls floating in water? Now I could've been arrogantly pompous and said that the lack of water symbolized this woman's gradual loss of her awareness of her existence and her selfhood. Or I could've been silly and said that Nick Carbo probably just didn't want water to accidentally leak on to and damage the other exhibits (weird coincidence: I just visited Nick's blog and noticed that he is, unfortunately, having water issues at his residence.)

Anyhow, that wasn't the question that she asked. I asked her to repeat and realized that she was asking how Nick got all the water into those tiny colorful spheres? A second woman next to us answered that they were plastic ice cubes -- the kind one can get at crafts stores or trendy bars. We nodded our heads; it made some sense, I guess. And I asked her why one of the spheres had a lower level of water than the other, being only a third full as opposed to three quarters full. She surmised that it must have been leaking during the shipping over to Cambridge. But then I observed that no water had leaked onto the floor of the inside of the cube. We never solved our little mystery.

At any rate, props to Jamey Graham and Melissa Shields, the curators of the visual poetry exhibition, for a successful opening night! The online exhibit is here: . For more info on visual poetry in general, I recommend Geof Huth's blog --

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Conservative Asian American Poets?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most conservative of them all? The complete absence of politically conservative Asian American poets parallels the near-complete absence of politically conservative non-Asian-American poets.

What do I mean by "politically conservative poets"? Well, for example, poets writing poems advocating American participation in the Iraqi war, favoring measures to drill in the Alaska and opposing environmental measures that restrict economic development, or opposing same sex marriages. Asian-American poets could be writing poems taking these positions. They are not, at least to the best of my knowledge.

When I was an undergrad, I did poli sci research on the political ideologies of Asian-Americans across the liberal-conservative spectrum. (I question the wisdom of creating/using such a spectrum, but let's just pretend that I believe in such a spectrum for now.) Various polls indicate that Asian-Americans grew more liberal in the 1990s versus the 1980s, though the polls may be biased, because the percentage of Asian-Americans in the general population is so low, and most of the statistical studies that have been done (of Asian-Americans in large eastern cities) tend to be biased because people in these cities are more liberal in general. Acknowledging these limitations, the studies do suggest that Asian-Americans are less liberal than African-Americans and Latino-Americans but more liberal than Caucasian-Americans.

Not to say that Asian-American poets would be politically representative of the Asian-American population at any rate. Poets, politically speaking, are not politically representative of the general population. Of course, since our politicians have already achieved a state of sublime perfection, we have nothing to worry about. ;)

But sometimes I do worry about the homogeneity of poets/poetry, more generally, as well as the homogeneity of Asian American poets/poetry, more specifically. Now I wouldn't sit down and read a book of Trent Lott's pantoums. But I think it is a legitimate question to ask whether poets who come out of roughly the same socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, class, educational background tend to produce poems that might otherwise focus on different concerns and may arguably have different stylistic elements. It is a question sometimes asked in the field of law, which like the field of poetry, has its own homogeneities that are reproduced by lawyers through law.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Asian-American Poetry and Politics

Way back when, probably two months ago now, Nick provided me with a question explicitly for this blog: Why do white poetry professors steer Asian-American poets away from political subject matter?

I think that I never answered it, because I had issues with the framing of the question. I don't think that all white poetry professors do steer Asian-American poets away from political subject matter. I think that there are white poetry professors who steer Asian-American poets towards political subject matter, just as there are Asian-American poetry professors who approach things from the opposite perspective.

But I'm glad that I didn't answer Nick two months ago, because I would've been wrong, wrong, wrong. Or maybe now is the time that I'm wrong, only now I'm operating under the grand delusion that I'm right.

At any rate, I think that now I better appreciate the import of Nick's question. I'll frame it slightly differently here. In my framing, I am wondering why do non-Asian-American poetry professors know so little about Asian-American poets, in general, and the political subject matter of Asian-American poetry?

Personally, I've had many a great poetry teacher/professor who really have no clue about Asian-American poets and poetry. Should this ignorance detract from their "greatness"? I mean, I'm ignorant about a lot of stuff, and I don't really like having it shoved in my face. I am usually willing to learn, though, and lots of people are willing to learn. So I don't think ignorance is the main problem, and a professor's ignorance of Asian-American poetry doesn't necessarily detract from her or his "greatness."

The bigger problem is the related one where a poetry professor is ignorant and does not care about Asian-American poetry. I do not mean not caring about the term "Asian-American poetry." I'm talking about not being able to name a single Asian-American poet or being able to name only one or two and not wanting to learn! It is much more common than you think, especially if you live outside of CA or NY. There are poetry professors, teachers, and afficianados whom I admire, and some of whom I might even call great teachers, who genuinely do not care about Asian-American poets or poets who are Asian-American or however you want to frame it. For example, and to avoid impugning anyone, this is purely hypothetical: they might only care about pre-19th century American poetry, which of course eliminates all Asian-American poetry.

More usually, though, they do care about modern American poetry, but they just don't care about Asian-American poets or poetry. There are only so many poets that one can read. There are only so many interests that one can have. I understand. That makes it difficult, though. In one of his movie reviews, Roger Ebert once wrote something to the effect that sometimes you have to, deeply and emotionally and perhaps irrationally, want to care about another person and his or her interests. You can't force someone to care about, say, sea turtles or figure skating, if they just do not want to go there. I'll be tactfully vague here, and say that I've come across many people who just do not want to go there. It's always a bit disappointing, but I suppose that is part of love and life.

In general, I always find it sad when I come across a professor or teacher who is just intellectually uncurious about something that I care deeply about. I'm not sure why. I think it is because I have always presumed that to be a professor or teacher is to care deeply about learning and remain open-minded. That may be naive of me, but I still want to want to put my professors/teachers up on such pedestals.