Saturday, January 28, 2006

Folk Say - An African-American Equivalent to Asian-American Poetry

Wow, so blogging about issues does make a difference! In a comment below, Kevin Andrew Elliott says that my post on the lack of an African-American equivalent to this blog has inspired him to establish just such a blog on African-American poetry -- "Folk Say"

This is exciting! Kevin's first post is terrific and sounds the message of inclusiveness and curiosity that I find important to both our blogs.

You know, I feel like All in the Family, and the Jeffersons have now moved up on to the East Side to their own groundbreaking series. I want to say that I'm not being "racial" here, and this comparison would work just as well with The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, but both our blogs concern "race" anyway, so I might as well work the race angle for any humor that may exist. After all, there is no Asian-American equivalent to All in the Family (unless you want to Margaret Cho's All-American Girl, though it's questionable whether she would even want to count that herself), so I'll run with this comparison.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Cruelest Month

Started by masterminds at Harper Collins, a new website ( is linking to poetry journals, poetry resources, and (gasp) poetry blogs...Sorry David Lehman, I guess there are people who appreciate blogs. Go figure. But don't feel too bad -- as Randy Jackson might say, "you did your thing dawg." At least you had the decency to mention bloggers alongside J-Lo in the same introduction.

As long-term, or maybe even short-term, readers of this blog can probably guess, I approve of this website. I really think that poetry publishers, editors, and poets should work hard to market themselves. It's a tough world out there, folks. Most people watch television and go to movies. Too few people read poetry. Joe Six-Pack Srichipan would much rather buy one of those "novels" than a book of fine poetry. If you publish poetry, you've got to flaunt it at least a little.

And there are books of fine poetry offered by Harper Collins. I'm going to point in alphabetical order, and possibly revealing my biases more than I would like, to Ashbery, Brooks, Bukowski, Dickinson, Doty...ok, I think I'll stop here. The list goes on, and it's a great list.

So instead of saying "shucks, I'm just [name of poet/poetry editor] and don't believe in commercialism and don't care about readers and would be happy if my book sold in the triple digits, and novelists are just so much sexier because they can't shut up about all their 'ideas,'" the poet/poetry editor might say, "You should buy my books of poems and read my poetry, because poetry is so awesome, and so much easier to read on the subway than a cookbook or dietbook or Republican Lovers Weekly."

So, shout out to Long live blogs!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Color Barrier? - African-American Poetry

Do African-Americans write poetry? Why are there no blogs out there by African-American poets? Why is there no "African-American Poetry" equivalent to this blog? (And by "African-Americans," I mean "black," of course. Just using the term "African-American" because it sounds and looks similar to "Asian-American.")

Obviously, I'm mistaken that there are no blogs by African-American poets. At least I think that I am. Prove that I am mistaken. As the very sane Tom Cruise might say, "Show me the blog!"

I hesitate to make a socioloeconomic, historical, and/or cultural arguments that there are fewer African-Americans, on average, that have easy access to computers and e-mail and blogs, and therefore, that accounts for the lack of African-American bloggers. After all, there are plenty of African-Americans with easy access to computers and blogs.....But that still leaves us with a puzzle.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Paper or Plastic: A New Frontier?

Unga-bunga! From the dawn of civilization, people have been writing poems. It all started when Ug the Cave Man and Uga the Cave Woman used their prehensile fingers to share tanka pictographs with each other by carving poems in the dirt. Since then, we've gone through many stages in terms of writing utensils for poetry -- paint made of berries for cave walls, the use of papyrus, quill pen and paper by romantic candlelight, etc.

Now we have computers. Computers scare a lot of poets. You have to understand that knowledge of poetry and knowledge of computers do not go hand in hand. I can sympathize. Computers scare me as well. Things happen so fast. E-mails and blog posts seldom allow for enough contemplation. You're on a first date and then, boom, before you know it, you're married with three kids, a two door garage, and a mortgage the size of Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry. But, like it or not, I'm here to say that the computer is here to stay, just as the Internet and blogs are more likely than not here to stay.

That leads to one initial question: In the future, will poets generally write poems on paper/in notebooks or type them out on computers? My guess is that we are heading towards the latter. That is, I can envision a future, maybe twenty and thirty years down the line, in which only a distinct minority of poets will use paper to write initial or subsequent drafts of poems, and all writing and revising of poems will occur on computers.

You might be scoffing. You might be one of those poets who writes everything initially by hand and shuns the idea of typing out poems on the computer. Well, scoff, if you must. I can't stop you. We (still) live in a country with no federal prohibitions on scoffing.

But I think that those of us over the age of 21 should wake up and take a look around. Over the past decade, I've witnessed the world of computers and the Internet infililtrate the world of young people. I didn't use a computer much when I was a kid. Kids are using computers regularly now. When I was a teaching assistant for a summer school class of first graders a few years back, they were already typing away on the computer. I didn't use e-mail on a regular basis till I was in my junior or senior year of high school. For many teenagers nowadays, e-mail, IM, and blogs are a regular part of their lives and have been their whole lives. That is, they have never known any differently. To draw a parallel here, it is like trying to imagine a world without television sets, which is very difficult to do.

I'm not sure whether this phenomenon is good or bad. At least a few of my friends have lamented at the costs of the new technological age -- less face-to-face contact with people, fewer phone conversations, greater alienation, etc. At the same time, there are benefits as well -- easy communication via e-mail, the nonintrusiveness of such communication, it is a plus for people who like to write, etc. More relevant to the point of this post, a lot of younger people actually don't know how to write substantively or stylistically well on paper, especially in cursive in terms of style. It may come as a surprise to you, but it shouldn't. With more time spent on computer instruction and regular use of computers, writing on paper naturally seems more unnatural. At the same time, the computer skills of younger people are well-developed, and in general, will be more well-developed than those of a previous generation.

My guess is that most poets under the age of 21 have already given up pen and paper for keyboard and computer monitor. Go to -- where there are many Asian-American poets under the age of 21 -- to check out the phenomenon for yourself. This is the year 2006. We are at the cusp of the computer/Internet age, and I think that more poets should more seriously consider the different ways in which this change may drastically affect "how" we write poems.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Asian-American Men and Looks

Sooner or later every Asian-American male blogger makes a post about race and gender and the American mass media. (This post defines "Asian-American" as Americans from East Asia, of course, because Asian-Americans from South Asia have a similar though separate set of concerns and issues.) Obviously, I've touched upon it over and over in a series of posts, but I don't know if I've ever dealt with it directly, perhaps because I've been focusing on poetry as opposed to television or film.

I've been thinking. I'm going to use American Idol's William Hung as an example for this post, since I've talked about him before, and there's a better than average chance that readers of this blog will know who he is. Most Asian-Americans don't like William Hung. But why? What's bad about William Hung?

One response may relate to the fact that he's basically one of the few Asian-American male figures in popular entertainment out there. He serves as a symbol for all Asian-American men in the United States, because there are so few represented in mass media. I like this answer. Under-representation is bad, and Asian-American men are underrepresented in all forms of media -- be it television, film, magazines, or even poetry, though the poetry world has been changing rapidly in poetry over the past two decades. As discussed before, I predict the continued rise of Asian-American poetry.

More questionable, to me, is the answer that William Hung embodies negative stereotypes. I mean, what does that mean? My concern is that Asian-Americans are bashing the "William Hungs" of the world at least partly for being physically ugly. That is, "ugly" by the superficial standards of mass media. But lots of Asian-Americans look like William Hung. Many of us are not all that good-looking by the standards that many corporations have defined beauty. On average, Asian-Americans tend to have rounder faces, smaller eyes, less facial hair than Americans of other races. Asian-Americans also tend to be shorter and have a different complexion than Americans of other races.

Equally questionable, to me, is the answer that the William Hungs of the world are bad because of the way they "act" -- as if the way someone acts can ever be completely separated from the way someone looks. On American Idol and afterwards, Hung acted polite, naive, straightforward, reserved, and calm. His attire was acceptable but could be improved upon. His English was ok but not perfect. In short, he acted the way that a lot of Asian-Americans, and a lot of people, act in general. Very common and not decked out with bling.

My fear is that Asian-Americans' critique of William Hung also reflects a self-hating desire to look and act more like Gap, Abercombie and Fitch, Old Navy models, etc. That's not going to happen. William Hung will never look that way, no matter how many stylists or voice coaches the entertainment world gives him before they abandon him to oblivion once the fad wears off, if it hasn't already. Nor should it happen, one could argue. We should be happy with the way we look and accept ourselves for who we are. Asian-Americans should not try to simply imitate the look, attire, and behavior of any other race -- some imitation can be good, but it should be an adaptation into what may become ours, not a refutation of what is there.

Lots of Asian-Americans are children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. For some Asian-American men, I think that the William Hung issue may reflect an anxiety to separate ourselves from the identities of our parents and grandparents. If an Asian-American man happens to be an immigrant himself, he may want to break away from the whole identity of the Asian past as well. There's a tension there, which the mass media (especially television and film) worsens by not presenting enough possibilities as to what and who an "Asian-American man" can be.