It happened, and she

It happened.
It happened to her.
It happened to her and we are all here.
It happened in the middle of the night.
She was happy and well.
He arrived and he was beautiful.
She left us.
It was cloudy when the sun rose.
It rained and was gray.
The sun went down and rose again.
It happened.

It happened to him.
He was with her and then he wasn’t.
He loved her and waited.
It happened and it was shocking.
It cast a strange light.
Dark and glowing, her name sounded new and the same.
Dark and glowing, how everything changed that remained.

It happened to us.
There are many of us, and we loved her.
Some of us were waiting for her before she arrived.
Some of us waited a long time and were excited.
She was born.
She cried and smiled.
Her voice took shape and it was the clear sky at noon.
Some of us watched her grow.
Some of us knew her later.
We wrestled and studied and shared things with her.
We took walks and ate food together.
We played and sang.
We delighted in her.
It happened.
We all called her name.

She slept as straight as a starling pinion in her bed.
She savored the good things.
She told stories and fell asleep at movies.
She came home each day.
She laughed and her laughter was the brightest lily.
She gazed at us with clear, dark eyes.
She startled at the gorgeous dawn.
She sewed and painted and planted.
She made things with her hands. Her fingers were smooth and long.
She cooked and touched and comforted.
She spoke the truth and it was gentle.
She helped children and friends.
She helped neighbors.
She helped everyone she knew.
She helped and in her helping she loved.
She loved quietly.
She loved without demand.
She loved with all of herself.

for Peggy Jin Thrash (nee Chung)
April 13, 1977 — August 1, 2013

Not one, but many. All and more.

t-party

My sister, an actor and writer, invited me to go see Natsu Onoda Power’s newest work, “The T-Party.” Here’s a pretty good description from the Washington Post, which reviewed the show.

I was a tiny bit familiar with Onoda Power’s work previously, since she directed Young Jean Lee’s play “Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven,” which went up at Studio Theatre a few years back. My sister was cast in that production. She’s the one in the middle.

Studio Theatre-Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven 9-28-10That play deserves its own post, btw. I’ll try and do more posts about the DC Asian American theater scene.

Onoda Power is brilliant. Last year, she put up a show called “Astro Boy and the God of Comics,” which I TEAR MY HAIR for missing. SOB.

“The T-Party” opens with a series of smaller parties–a karaoke party, a birthday party, (the bridal shower wasn’t running last night)–to which you receive an invitation from a cast member. These parties take place in different parts of the theater. I attended the karaoke party, where we were all asked/invited to sing various songs that explored gender play (eg Kate Perry’s “I kissed a girl” and Aerosmith’s “Dude looks like a lady”).

After these mini parties, we were ushered into the theater, which was a Prom. Some of the cast, in eveningwear, were dancing, and audience members were invited to dance as well. There were a few staged interactions (a fight between a man and a woman over the fact that the woman was enjoying dancing with another woman) before the Prom Queen and King were announced. The Queen was trans, and when she came up to accept her sash, she gave a short speech on how bittersweet it was to win this award, given all the hardships she’d endured at high school. She described how there are some people who possibly voted for her in order to mock her. She elegantly refused the sash.

This short scene was a wake up call that we weren’t entering a gender-queer utopia.

What followed were a series of vignettes that made smart use of dance, story-telling, sound and music, all of which ran me through a whole gamut of emotions. They explored the various experiences of trans and queer identities, ultimately advocating for their plurality, beauty, and difficulty.

My favorite scenes were a dramatic reading of a scholarly summary of dolphin sexual habits, a live music video about a lost unicorn, a lesbian coming out story set to a tango, and a staged blog post. I loved how these various stories got at the diversity of experiences that are grouped together under the banner of “trans” or “queer,” and how challenging it can be for those who move within this community to relate to each other, given those differences. We’re all different. Our differences can lead us to misunderstand and hurt each other or ourselves. But we can still find ways to be together. We have to be creative. We need to be open. I loved this show.  I loved the variety of bodies that were performing. I loved the range of talents they all brought with them. There were some incredible singers, poets, and dancers. The boundaries between their lives and the production’s narratives was porous. We were all invited to be on stage, so to speak.

I was especially touched by the incredible humor that this production exhibited. Humor is a powerful tool. I don’t know how to access it myself, but I love seeing it. It reflects the absurdity of our condition so beautifully. It’s one of our most powerful responses to pain and hatred.

All of this has me thinking about my little craft, the sometimes hermetic world of experimental writing that I dwell in. I love poetry. I love writing. I love how it can transform thought. I love the way it challenges and moves me. I also struggle with how it can reach more people.

My mother, for example, is a native Korean speaker. She’s an incredible communicator, but her English is definitely non-standard, and she’s not a confident  reader. My siblings do a lot of translating and explaining for her when it comes to texts or forms, things like that. She’s always been supportive of my efforts as a writer. She’s been to a few readings of mine and has my books. But I know that she experiences the work quite differently because of our language barrier.

I’d like to make something that my mother can encounter and relate to. I’ve been designing some new work towards this end. I’ve been incorporating more images in my poetry over the years, but I’m also thinking about performance and the Korean language, etc etc. I recently performed a dance at a reading I gave in Philadelphia. My mother designed and fabricated the dress I wore, and my ex covered it in calligraphy.

Salpuri SJL1

So much of my work emerges out my experiences with my family and where I came from, but so little of it is accessible to them. We’re different, but I want us to breach those things and come to a new understanding. We are not one, but many. I want us to have all, more.

“Conceptual” poetry

I had an incredibly exhausting trip out to Buffalo with some friends to participate in the small press book fair there. What an incredible space.

A lot of my friends out there fall into the “conceptual poet” category. This label fascinates me for who gets placed in it versus who does not. There seems to be a strong proceduralism and/or repetitiousness to the projects I have seen get read under this “conceptual” banner. And a provocation at the center of their work. Some might describe it as “offensive.” I am on the fence. I’m interested and alert to it because I haven’t quite made up my mind about what I think it’s doing. That in itself is very exciting to me.

But what about authors working in different shapes with different motivations behind their work? Nathaniel Mackey. Urayoan Noel. Myung Mi Kim. There is a sense of history at their center that they write around. Does this disqualify them from this label of “conceptual”? I’m inclined to think so.

The Next Big Thing!: Melissa Buckheit

Several of the writers I tagged don’t have their own websites yet, so I’ll be featuring their responses here! Melissa Buckheit’s site will be up this weekend, but in the meantime, check out her answers below…
buckheit300

What is the working title of the book?

 

Noctilucent

 

Where did the idea come from for the book?

 

I began writing this book when I was in graduate school getting my MFA at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. About a year into my time there, many of the poems in the book, especially the first two-thirds, began to surface from what was a lot of time alone, a lot of time cycling alongside the creek that moves through the center of Boulder, a lot of time of exceeding silence, and a lot of time spent in the dark, at night, moving about on foot (and on bicycle) with my Canon AE1, almost melding/assuming the space with many of the plants, such as: night-blooming Morning Glories, many cool, silver birches, red-rooted bamboo-type plants which grow along the edges of the creek, and with the dirt, in the cool air and in the darkness which exists there at night. This is a deep and abiding darkness, almost empty and truly black, punctuated by the pallid light of the moon or the small porch lights in various colors which are popular for small, older houses and cottages.

 

For various reasons, I didn’t have a lot to say aloud for several years, not that I wanted to say to anyone about myself, nor of any intimate or true thing (I felt and chose to be very private, which I am anyway, but this was a necessity and a natural result of place and experience and self.) For a good period of that time, I didn’t have the ability to say anything of that ilk in my poetry, as well. Therefore, there was a lot of silence and time spent doing nothing or meditating, listening, watching water, a fascination and attention to repetition and patterns–amongst work and creative writing workshops and dance in my daily life. There was ‘White Noise’ of the quotidian, to steal back a poem title from the book.

 

The experience of the book, therefore, is one that parallels this place (geographical and emotional), and my perception of how/what exists in darkness. Darkness, not as a metaphor and not as some trope (evil or the unconscious) in humanistic thought, necessarily, but rather darkness as itself, as the interior and privacy of the thing, anything, and almost what grows or exists or breathes in this–which is also light, eros, suffering, emptiness and many other things. The light beside/in it, such as the nightshade, or pottery shards in the dirt, or algae that produce their own light chemically in the deep darkness of the sea, the sea which reflects the night sky, the lights of stars and reflectors, and others. These are material things, but inside of the energy and presence of these things, the feeling exists, the relationships of beings, the emptiness and presence, simultaneously, just like light in darkness.

 

There grew to be this theme (and others, in relationship, such as what is lost/from the past, particular echoes to ancient and Modern Greece, the sciences, experiences of gender, trauma, the visual/photography) which moved through the original manuscript. The last third of the book, written between 2005-2008, in Tucson, AZ (where I still live), was much a process of waiting–waiting for the what the rest of the book wanted to say, how it could complete itself like a breath but also like the desert is a continuous wave, an oscillation. In a way, the cycle of the book speaks oscillation rather than full stop. It doesn’t attempt to say how anything is, particularly, but how it can be, which includes the possibility of many things. I don’t trust too many statements in my own poetry, and I prefer the subtle, the in-between shadows and realities, the shards or silt that accumulates in the flow.

 

What genre does your book fall under?

 

Poetry, specifically lyric, prose poem and the serial poem. The manuscript form had several original pro color photography series in it, as well; the photograph on the cover is one of these images, taken in Boulder, also titled, “Noctilucent”.

 

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Since I’m not really a ‘character’ type of writer (I read and write about novels and fiction, but unconsciously have killed off every character I’ve ever tried to develop in short, long or flash fiction, since high school), this is a bit of an odd question that requires a strange answer. I’m not narrative by nature as a writer, nor do I prefer it in my work; if I could assign stars, and starfish and Athens and orange night-lanterns, and willows as well, anonymous people and voice-overs, that would be best. Perhaps I’d want it to be a bit like the way Inagaki Taruho’s One Thousand and One Second Stories gives the moon a personality and a voice, with humor and sadness, both.

I have personally worked with video and film for years for play, performance and collaboration, often as installation conjoined with my own Modern Dance choreography.  A video installation of moments in the book could exist someday in one of my dances.

 

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

 

Nocti-lucent (use an etymological dictionary or the notes at the back of the book).

 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

As stated, early 2002-early 2008 (the final draft).

 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think we already covered most of this. In terms of outside sources, I was reading a lot of science books and journals–Astrophysics, Marine Biology, Astronomy, Physical Sciences; Photography art books; Archaeology; Tibetan Buddhism; Somatic Psychology and Trauma theory texts; as well as Eleni Sikelianos, Jane Miller, Lynn Hejinian, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Alice Notley, Olga Broumas, Homer, Sappho, Thoreau and Roland Barthes.

 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There are a lot of words in the book that are old or come from the Greek or Latin or require stipulative definitions (see the notes, again), combined with more common words. I’d also like to think that the musicality, the sound of the poems is particular and evocative and strong. I feel the music and spirit and feeling lead the meaning, rather than the other way around. There is a sense of the empty spaces in space and around us in the book, and darkness. Some people might read this as something sad, although I do not; I feel it is simply what is. I mean emptiness in reality and also in a Buddhist sense.

 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Noctilucent was published by Shearsman Books, Ltd, in the UK, in March 2012.


Casa Libre en la Solana

I was asked to participate in the EDGE Series 50th event at Casa Libre en La Solana in Tucson, AZ, where I also taught a workshop titled “That Forward Trajectory: Poems from the Future.” It has been an incredible couple of days, and I can’t believe how warm, welcoming, and vibrant the community in Tucson is. What a lovely place. More about it with pictures to come. 

no day of farew…

no day of farewells

no day of skies, their permanent distance
no day of echoes, no way to hold a tide
no day of proper nouns, of names that were familiar once
no day of imprints
no day of marble forms
no day of any spirit alighting on said tree
no day of patience, of withholding ever in decline
no day of scattered minutes, no seconds to gather to my cheek
no day of monuments
no day of light

AWP, Chicago 2012 (2)

All the books I came back with, alphabetical by author. I’m starving for work that’s not from an american context, so I cracked out on books in translation (*). My new favorite presses that I wasn’t previously familiar with: Zephyr Press and Open Letter Books. They have incredible catalogs. I also bought a bunch of books from presses friends had started that I wanted to support….

POETRY

Browning, Sommer. Either Way I’m Celebrating (Birds LLC, 2011)

Dabrowski, Tadeusz. black square (Zephyr Press, 2011) *

Dennigan, Darcie. Madame X (Canarium, 2012)

Greenstreet, Kate. “but even now i am perhaps not speaking.” (imprint press)

Hocquard, Emmanuel. The Invention of Glass (Canarium, 2012) *

Ignatowa, Elena. The Diving Bell (Zephyr Press, 2006) *

Madrid, Anthony. I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say. (Canarium, 2012)

Pettit, Emily. Goat in the Snow (Birds LLC, 2012)

Wallace, Mark. The End of America, Book One (Dusie Kollektiv V)

Yu, Jian. Flash Cards (Zephyr Press, 2010) *

Yu, Tim. 15 Chinese Silences (Tinfish, 2012)

Zhai, YongMing. The Changing Room (Zephyr Press, 2011) *

PROSE

Cardinale, Joseph. May I Not Seem to Have Lived (New Herring Press, 2011)

Lee, Janice. Kerotakis (Dog Horn Publishing UK, 2010)

Lind, Jakov. Ergo (Open Letter, 2010) *

Place, Vanessa. Dies: A Sentence (Les Figues, 2005)

Unferth, Deb Olin. List (New Herring Press, 2011)

Tillman, Lynne. Doing Laps without a Pool (New Herring Press, 2011)

Van der Vliet Oloomi, Azareen. Girona (New Herring Press, 2011)

Xue, Can. Vertical Motion (Open Letter, 2011) *

Yeh, James. Some Things You Just Have To (unattributed chapbook)

AWP, Chicago 2012 (1)

AWP this year has been a rough pendulum of happy accidents, community building, incredible isolation amidst the clamor of nine thousand voices, and reminders (always) of how minor, marginal, and mortal I am. Such reminders are a very important thing. I am human and made human again through them.

I spoke (rather poorly, I have to say) on a panel about book reviews as part of the Constant Critic team, and attended panels on New Media, the Chapbook, and Asian American poetry.

Of the poetry events I attended, the Lambda Literary organization’s Ancestors reading of multi-ethnic trans/queer writing had the greatest sense of community and urgency in the work. The space was incredibly welcoming, generous, attentive, and everything I look for in a community. I have to credit Ahimsa for his immense human warmth and laser beam focus for bringing that event together as perfectly as he did.

I had the most fun at the Red Rover series off-site event, and was also brought to tears several times. The tears were in response to the video of Akilah Oliver reading her work: I’m still so close to the loss of my own dear one…and the incredible fragility of language, of light being projected against a wall, of the patterns of Akilah’s voice against the room–it moved me into a nameless space. Part grief, part beauty, part immense silence before the all of being. Quiet devastation at having to continue, simply.