Monday, May 01, 2006

Interlope: a journal of asian american poetics and issues

Sometimes you feel like you want to make the coolest post in the world on an important topic, and then you wait and wait and wait for the "ideal" post to come, and it never materializes. Well, I have waited for seven or eight months now, and I realize that the "moment of the ideal" may never arrive, so I might as well say what I have to say here and now, imperfections and all.

I'm referring to blogging about Summi Kaipi's Interlope: a journal of asian american poetics and issues, which has been arguably the most significant journal on the Asian American poetry scene over the past decade. It has featured some of today's better known Asian American poets as they just started out and/or have been on the rise -- like Linh Dinh, Tina Celona, Hoa Nguyen, and dare I say, poetry bloggers Lee Herrick, Pamela Lu, and Tim Yu (yes, friends, the Asian-American poetry universe is not that large) -- as well as Asian American poets who seem to have completely fallen off the map.

The look and feel of the print version of Interlope echoes the characteristics of classic underground comics, where the poets and poems are feeling their way through into being and have a vibrant, slippery, alive quality about them. Interlope was also one of the first Asian-American poetry journals to use the Internet as a means of publicizing poetry and to have its own website. Here is a brief description of the journal from the website,

"Interlope's mission is to publish innovative writing by Asian Americans. The first issue of the magazine, developed out of Summi Kaipa's interest in Asian American literature and the contemporary avant-garde in poetry, was released in May 1998. Particularly helpful as a starting point was the Premonitions anthology (published by Kaya, edited by Walter K. Lew, also an Interlope contributor), which had already begun - in a much less detailed way - to address the Asian American avant-garde. With writers like Theresa Hak-Kyung Cha as muse and evidence of a developing tradition, Kaipa fully married Asian American identity issues with avant-garde literature, bringing poetry and fiction by writers of Asian American descent together in Interlope to provoke questions of the impact of ethnicity on literature: What is Asian American writing and what is unique about it? What is experimental in emerging Asian American writers and why? What is the scope and the purpose of the Asian American avant-garde?

Interlope continues to be one of the few Asian American literary magazines currently being published. It is an invaluable resource for contemporary writing by up-and-coming Asian American writers and is currently available at many academic libraries, including Brown University, Stanford University, Yale University, and UC Berkeley. In February 2001, Interlope celebrated its 6th issue, a "criticism issue" guest edited by Alvin Lu (The Hell Screens), with a multi-arts event featuring readings by Lu, Chris Chen, and Amar Ravva, as well as a performance by experimental musicians Yasuhiro Otani and Tatsu Aoki. Additionally, for the past two years, Interlope has participated in APAture, a festival of young Bay Area Asian American artists. Some of Interlope's past contributors have included Brian Kim Stefans (Free Space Comix), Sianne Ngai (Criteria), Pamela Lu (Pamela: A Novel), and local musician and artist Miya Masaoka.

As writer, filmmaker, and Interlope contributor Kirthi Nath has said, “We [Asian American writers] have all thought, for a long time, that there needs to be a place for dialogue about the Asian American avant-garde. The significance of what Interlope is doing is indubitable.”

Notice that I have used the terms "has been" and "was" here -- this online description is slightly outdated, and the website and the publication itself have been on hold since 2003. One of the primary issues is that editor Summi Kaipa (, like all of us, is human, and being human, we (gasp!) have lives of our own outside poetry and sometimes wonder whether our projects/passions have run their course. After all, five years is a long time to run a poetry publication, and having gone through most of the issues myself, I think that it is evident that Summi put a lot of time, energy, and heart into editing and producing it.

At any rate, seven or eight months ago, I was corresponding with Summi about the future of Interlope, and I'm going to quote myself here, because it is late at night and I'm hungry and ready to grab a bite to eat but want to make this post before I go grab myself a slice of leftover pizza, and more importantly, much to my dismay, I don't think that I can come up with anything better than what I had written Summi before:

"To be honest, I actually think that you should continue editing Interlope or start a different Asian-American poetry publication under another name. There is definitely a void in Asian-American poetry and poetics magazines nowadays. I think there has been a retrogression since the 1990s. I'm pretty sure that the only "Asian-American" poetry publication out there now is the one published by the Asian American Writers' Workshop in New York, which comes out only sporadically. And Victoria Chang's Asian-American poetry anthology is the first of its kind to come out in about ten years.

I imagine that funding may be a major issue, and if it is, I'd suggest considering publishing online. There are deep, often unspoken prejudices against online poetry publications in the poetry world, but I think that they are the wave of the future. I think that the prejudices are more of a generational thing where poets over forty -- and virtually all poets with power, influence, and prestige are over forty -- tend to have anxieties about the use of the Internet as a medium for poetry and perhaps the Internet in general. That said, it's an open question whether their anxieties will influence a newer generation of poets and poetry editors/publishers."

Summi was just asking for my thoughts on what the 10th (and final) issue of Interlope should be like, and I was perhaps offering more than the question asked, implying that she should revive the publication if she feels like it. But the larger issue here, I think, is the complete lack of Asian American poetry publications -- whether online or print. It remains an open question whether there will be a regular Asian American poetry magazine or journal in the future.


Blogger Nick said...

Are there any asian american poets over 40 who are not averse to the internet as an expressive medium and who have active web sites or blogs?

12:13 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

how about starting a fund drive for Interlope? it is also the responsibility of the asian american poets to show some kind of support for these priceless kinds of publications. quite a few of us have given $$$ to kundiman for asian american young poets to attend the yearly retreat. give us an address, set up a paypal account. we'll be there!

12:23 PM  
Blogger Bryan Thao Worra said...

The other day I had an interesting dream that I was going to be around to see the death of the newspaper.

After all, I saw the death of the telegraph just a few years ago. I wonder if newspapers and magazines, too, will go.

Hmmph, and given the state of things, will this be a tragedy that we in our "modernity" insist it will be?

Had an interesting conversation with a guy the other day who insisted that Asian America really needs a magazine.

But not what has come before. To him all of those were just ink stained rags.

Personally, I wonder if we've all been too wrapped up in the wrong models for the modern magazine-

Thinking that now we have to have bigger and bigger circulation, more content, more color, etc.

Perhaps, would it work if we made localized, micro-magazines in black and white?

Get back that indy rebel feel to the whole venture and for the gods sake, save some money for a change...

And I'll be honest, though, we keep talking about Asian American this, Asian American that, but no one's gone on about Asian America.

And I think there is a difference, even as I'm trying to figure out how to best articulate it myself.

Until we start talking about Asian America, Asian Americans will not really have a home.

And this all relates to Asian American poetics and the arts because it is the arts that shall anchor this being. Or destroy it entirely.

Because the arts work with a spirit that transcends everything else.

It's late, so I'm not going to elaborate further on this ofr now, but I think you all get my point.

8:14 PM  
Blogger pam said...

Brian, I'm interested in what you see as the difference between "Asian American" and "Asian America," if you feel up to talking about it.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Juliette said...

hey roger! what about my chapbook series, corollary? it's not exclusively asian american, but has a pretty asian american centric focus....just wait till this summer to see what i mean...

6:49 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Nick, I think that poets over forty in general tend to not be too keen on using the internet as an expressive medium for poetry, though that definitely is changing.

I don't think it's the financial cost of producing Interlope, so much as the time constraints. In part, I'm making this post in the hopes that someone (or more than just one person) who has the time might take an interest and start an Asian-American poetry magazine of their own.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Bryan and Pam, I'm not sure what Bryan means either, and I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I think it's the difference between people/places (Asian America) and issues (Asian American). Asian America is more corporeal, while Asian American refers to something more abstract. At least that's just a guess here.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Juliette, please feel free to elaborate. I mean, I know that you founded Corollary Press (in 2005?), but I'm afraid that I don't know much about it.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Lee Herrick said...

i'd love to see interlope resurrected. i can testify that running a literary magazine is TOUGH. i've thought a few times about starting one for apa poets, but i never seem to have the time anymore. if someone started something, i would be happy to help in any way that i could.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Bryan Thao Worra said...

Boy- I always seem to wind up making my posts at the late hour.

In recent months, it has been nagging at me that we give great and frequent talk of the issues and joys of being Asian American, and we're deeply concerned with the Asian American, but not that somewhat more abstract concept of Asian America, wherein the Asian American theoretically resides, in addition to mainstream America.

There's been a collective loss of nerve to dare to speak of the nation of Asian America.

We speak easily of hip hop nation, for example, a world of red states and blue states, but we remain largely quiet about trying, daring to find happiness in Asian America.

When was the last good conversation you've had where we spoke of Asian America as a thing that is here to stay. Where we don't have to wonder if it is some fragile thing?

Or worse, for some, that it is a minor allegiance, an expendable part of our identity if push came to shove?

When have we last honestly suggested that it is a different psychological, spiritual, intellectual entity than mainstream America.

And that it is REAL, even as so many of us hve so many different experiences within it.

I fear we speak of the citizens but not the nation.

I'm not speaking of secession, but I am suggesting that if the Asian American movement is to truly endure, we'd best be prepared to confront the consequences of talking about Asian America...

Mind you, I'm just a poet, and what do poets know of nations?

Would Asian Americans exist without the United States?

Or are we to be forever identified and defined strictly in relation to this historical entity?

There is of course, the obvious answer, but as poets, I feel we must dare to at least probe the more unexpected answer...

12:02 AM  

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