A human line

The horizon is flawless, a new way of stating that the stars mean nothing to me now that my eyes are locked to land.

The formerly deadly sky, less than ominous now without teeth or eyes, holds nothing for me. Not a vestige of a name or laden glance.

Night is absolute. Daylight a condition of some presences that turn regardless where you look.

The blue sky is as endless as my consideration. I choose to fold myself away from you, your highness. I choose to pull myself deeply into the parched ground. Count me among the refuse lining the old trolley tracks. Not even a roach deigns lift its head among such a wreck.

This is a form of mercy, of self ablution. The sky churns overhead, regardless the season, negligent of human failures, shrapnel, curses.

The lesson is to truly be mortal. To see with yellowed eyes the earth that issues forth from what we build. Human hands. Human ardor. Human waste.

Review of Kim Ji-Woon’s The Good, The Bad, and the Weird (2008)

My friend May-lee was asking my thoughts on this film, so I thought I’d post this as a note to initiate a conversation with any other folks who have seen this.

The Good, the Bad, and The Weird is the 2008 film by director Kim Ji-Woon. He also did A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and A Bittersweet Life (2005). The Good, The Bad, and The Weird is a re-imagining of Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, this time with 1930s Manchuria set as the Wild West. Three money-driven outlaws–a Bandit (the Bad), a Thief (the Weird), and a Bountyhunter (the Good)–face off over a treasure map that allegedly details where an ancient Qing dynasty treasure is buried. The Japanese (funding the Bandit) want this map to fund their failing war efforts. The guerilla Korean Independence movement have hired the Bountyhunter to also steal the map so they can thwart the Japanese and fund their own independence efforts. The Weird happens to foil all these efforts when he robs the Japanese banker with the map while on a train. He later makes a short-lived (and unwilling) allegiance with the Bountyhunter, who seems vaguely sympathetic with the Independence movement but is ultimately driven by some unnamed desires–in a scene where the Bountyhunter is about to tell the Weird what he fights for and what he wants out of life, the Weird cuts in with a loud snore, leaving us forever in the dark about The Good’s motivations.

To illustrate just how bad the Bad is, **SPOILER ALERT**, he executes his Japanese handler in order to go after the map himself. When he finds out that the Weird possesses it, the film implies some previous bad blood between the two men in order to justify the Bad’s obsessive fixation with beating the Weird. At the climactic moment of the film, the movie devolves into a three-way Mexican Standoff/pissing contest to see who is the best gunslinger around. Just as in Leone’s film, the Weird really wins out in this movie. His goofy posturing, earthiness, and bumbling heroics make him a focal point of almost every scene. He also serves to deflate the grandstanding, uber-action antics of the Good and the Bad. A favorite moment of mine was when the Weird dons an antique undersea helmet during a gunfight, illustrating his common sense wits, whereas the Good soars like Tarzan on a rope over the action, reloading and shooting his shotgun with one arm. The Good might *look* good, but as far as surviving a gunfight goes, I think the Weird has it right.

There were some glaring anachronisms, like the fact that The Bad was dressed like Prince, the Good was dressed like a cowboy, and neither seemed to have any actual roots in the 1930s. Overall, the movie took itself too seriously to be just a comedy, but as an action flick was kind of goofy and didn’t hang together very well. The action sequences were a beat or two too long, and the epic chase scene, in which Manchurian Bandits, the Japanese Army, and the Bad’s goons are all chasing the Weird across the desert, felt like it lasted for years. The film also made insistent Korean claims on Manchuria–though those moments were meant as plot devices, they seemed quite earnest, and betrayed more about the film than the film perhaps intended. Lawless Manchuria, where all this takes place, represents the hopes and desires for two national imaginations–the Japanese and the Koreans (the Manchurian barbarians don’t have any dreams in the film). The “richness” of this space seems to lie in its possibilities–the way its desert spaces withhold secrets rather than fulfill desires. The ocean can appear over a ridge without any warning, just as oil can gush up from an abandoned well, only to recede again, inexplicably. As a contested territory, Manchuria doesn’t seem, well, worth it. It’s dirty, dusty, and dry. It’s true value, the movie suggests, is underground, unrecognizable, and ultimately forgotten by the film’s heroes, who are more interested in fighting for fame and prestige rather than material or spiritual reward.

I think the good reviews this film received were in part due to the novelty factor–of how it imagines Manchuria as the Wild West. It IS doing something interesting with its lack of emotional substance/mythic posturing, yet *insistent* historical context. Some critic called it a “cartoon of a cartoon,” and I think that is quite apt, in both good and bad ways. I loved the old Spaghetti westerns for their mythic handling of something as base as human greed. There really isn’t anything mythic here, just a lot of grandstanding over emptiness.

One STANDOUT aspect of this film, in my opinion, was the actor who plays The Weird–Kang-ho Song. Mr. Song is now certifiably one of my favorite actors. I’ve seen him in The Host, The President’s Barber, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Thirst, and now this. He is really QUITE transformative. I just watched Thirst a few weeks ago, and seeing that and then this film in quick succession just made me marvel at how he really became two different people for these films. In Thirst, he prowls about the screen with a guilty restlessness. In this film, he bumbles about with earnest self-interest. Wow and Wow.

Steven Karl reviews Underground National for Sink Review

Steven Karl has, unbeknownst to me!, written quite a review of Underground National over at Sink Review. I appreciate how his sensitive readings connect the book to other texts and lives. Thank you, Steven, for the critical attention!


And for those of you who haven’t checked out his chapbook, you should check out (Ir)Rational Animals (Flying Guillotine Press), a delirious exploration of human (s/t)exuality.

Mark Your Calendars in Austin and Philadelphia

APRIL. We tilt a bit closer to the sun, and what blossoms from the earth…I’m excited about several opportunities to read over the next few weeks. Maybe I’ll get to see you at some of them?

Firstly, the NEW issue of Critiphoria is out! Definitely one of the smartest collections I’ve ever had the privilege of appearing in. Please go “click” and take a peek.

I’ll be in Austin, Texas for the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) conference from April 8-11th. The conference is being held at the Omni Austin Hotel downtown. If you want to hear me nerd out, I’ll be presenting a paper on Mei Mei Berssenbrugge’s poetry on Thursday at 4:30pm. Timothy Yu, who wrote the excellent Race and the Avant Garde, will be presenting on John Yau’s Berlin poems, and Catherine Fung (who was just hired to teach up in Massachusetts) will discuss Gran Turino. Stephen Hong Sohn from Stanford will be chairing.

I’ll be reading poems for the Asian American Writers Workshop (AAWW) Reading on Friday, April 9th at 7pm.

On Saturday, April 10th, I’ll be reading with Ken Chen, the executive director of the AAWW at Hoa Nguyen’s home in Austin. I’ll have further details on that soon.

If you’re in Philadelphia, there’s a HUGE Heretical Texts event on Saturday, April 10th in Center City Philadelphia. All five poets will be (re)present(ed), and it is probably the only time this will happen for this particular volume of the Heretical Texts Series. Though I can’t physically be present because I’ll be in Austin, Carolina Maugeri will read a few of my poems on my behalf, and I will be there in spirit. Below is the announcement for the Philadelphia Heretical Texts reading.

On MONDAY April 12th, I’ll be giving a presentation discussing the use of film and theory in my poetry at the University of the Arts. The talk is from 1-2:30 in the CBS Auditorium, located in Hamilton Hall (corner of Broad and Pine Street). This talk is intended for an undergradate audience. You’ll need a picture ID if you plan on attending. I hope you do!

On FRIDAY April 16th, I’ll be reading in Philadelphia for the Moles Not Molar reading series. The event starts at 7:30 at the Wooden Shoe Bookstore (704 South Street (at South and 7th St). I’ll be reading with Matvei Yankelevich of Ugly Duckling Presse (they produce the most stunning books), with music by Tristan Dahn & Tim Leonido.


HERETICAL TEXT Philly event, DON’T MISS IT!  (If you miss it don’t come crying to me!)
April 10th
at 8pm
Corner of Walnut and Broad
in the Connelly Auditorium, 7th floor

(ENTER on Broad Street through the door between Rite Aide and the Italian restaurant, you will need to show I.D. at the desk to enter, EVENT IS FREE)

Kate Schapira (author of TOWN), Allison Cobb (author of Green-Wood), Sueyeun Juliette Lee (author of Underground National), Simone White (author of House Envy of All the World), and CAConrad & Frank Sherlock (co-authors of The City Real & Imagined)

HERETICAL TEXT Books are published by Factory School, and this Philly event is the only event in the continental US and the entire world where all the authors will be reading together!  DON’T MISS IT!
see:  http://www.factoryschool.org/ht/index.html for details on books.

Kate Schapira’s book:  http://www.factoryschool.com/pubs/heretical/vol5/schapira/index.html

Allison Cobb’s book:  http://www.factoryschool.com/pubs/heretical/vol5/cobb/index.html

Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s book:  http://www.factoryschool.com/pubs/heretical/vol5/lee/index.html

Simone White’s book:  http://www.factoryschool.com/pubs/heretical/vol5/white/index.html

CAConrad & Frank Sherlock’s book:  http://cityrealandimagined.blogspot.com

Release Reading in Philadelphia

Reception and Poetry Reading
Celebrating a Book Release and New Exhibit Opening

Friday March 5th, 2010
5:30-7:30 gallery opening and reception
7:30 PM-8:30 poetry reading
Asian Arts Initiative
1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia

There’s so much to celebrate!

I am incredibly excited about the release of Underground National (Factory School), which I’ve been working on for about three years. One of my favorite poets, Linh Dinh (also a Factory School poet), has kindly agreed to celebrate with me and share from his poetry and fiction.

The Asian Arts Initiative, which has been a generous friend and ally, will be hosting the event. The reception also celebrates their newest exhibit, CARRYING ACROSS. Curated by local artist Yvonne Lung, CARRYING ACROSS is a multi-media group exhibition that explores the nature, processes, and products of interpretation and translation. The findings range from morbidly beautiful to elegantly understated, hysterical to heartfelt.


Linh Dinh is the author of a novel, two collections of stories, and five books of poems. His work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007 and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, among many other places. He is also the editor and translator of Vietnamese poetry. His collection of stories Blood and Soap was chosen by the Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004.

CARRYING ACROSS features artwork by Sama Alshaibi, Midori Harima, Tomiko Jones, Jong Kyu Kim, Sarah Koljonen, Larry Lee, Yvonne Lung, Shanjana Mahmud, Rana Sindhikara and I Gusti Putu Hardana Putra, and James Sham.

Underground National is available!

Factory School is pleased to announce the publication of Heretical Texts, Volume 5:

1. TOWN, by Kate Schapira (70 pages): How we live differently in the same world, who we mean when we say we, what we mean when we say here.

2. Green-Wood, by Allison Cobb (166 pages): Wanders Brooklyn’s famous nineteenth century Green-Wood Cemetery and discovers that its 500 acres–hills and ponds, trees and graves–mirror the American landscape: a place marked by greed, war, and death, but still pulsing with life.

3. Underground National, by Sueyeun Juliette Lee (108 pages): Go underground and enter into a subterranean consideration of how History collides with human memory to generate new, unseen currents for being.

4. House Envy of All the World, by Simone White (78 pages): Family, death, power, Poetry and blackness—each is implicated in a general failure of perfection and subjected to furious lyric re-thinking.

5. The City Real & Imagined, by CAConrad & Frank Sherlock (100 pages): Visit landmarks that remain standing, revisit citizens that live on in memory, and participate in the future mappings of your city yet to be realized–the city real & imagined.

For complete details, visit: www.factoryschool.org/ht

All books $15 paperback, $30 hardcover — available now through Small Press Distribution (www.spdbooks.org).

VOLUME DISCOUNT: Get a complete paperback set of HT Vol. 5 for $50 (33.3% discount). Order direct from Factory School using PayPal: www.factoryschool.com/pubs/order.html

To order by check, please write to bmarsh at factoryschool.org.

I read a poem in a blue room on Rabbit Light

Joshua Marie Wilkinson released volume 10 of his Rabbit Light Movies series, and I’m in it!

My short poem is from a series I’ve been working intermittently on for about 5 years. Many of the poets took it upon themselves to create short films rather than just reading into the camera. I really love Fred Moten’s piece and the video footage he incorporated. Overall, I’m astounded to be collected with the writers in this volume. Wow!

I opted to just read into my desktop’s video recorder. Once I get my hands on a good recorder, though, I think I’ll try making some little films.

not in perfect circles, but a series of s-shaped curves

How best to reproduce daylight within a semi-porous, organic system.

A question of sustenance emerges out of air: to strive, break towards. A concupiscence characterized by watery overflows, another version of rapture set against a bent willow frond, reading nook, cloud-cover of eyelashes you cannot make out through a high-def screen.

The sun’s strophe = a stronger self-portrait set sail in a translation quickened from fingertip to breath.

Sun blinded-ness. To tremble in the semaphore that is this effort of communicating. Of angles without hips. A jointed venture.

The impossible how you go again and relapses.

I made this without thinking of you.

The day they catch up to you, they’ll be sorry.

Progress. What is the shape of this idea, its space and outline. Where does it sit in the endless body we share? Cunningly, an edge. A forgotten stream, that howling dog. The sun behind a cloud, there. And that cloud again, the very same one. I told you about its minutes, every moment that pulled it into day. He said that this is an ineffable gesture, this art. I make invisible sand castles, I make invisible sand.

Forgive me my indiscretions. As a child, a something then and what was it, she. As such a child, I mentioned myself to you and moved gropingly across the floor. I pulled myself into a knot. The same one here, and here.

Strangers say you are beautiful. Strangers walk towards me on the street. I don’t have any money to give them, and they stay put. Somewhere in New Orleans I got lost and stayed. Indolent, of no matter. That city made me ultimately go forward they seem to think. A variety of upward velocities converging ==> a pulse. And what does that progress towards? Dear flat emergence. This is not an address. Not a call. Dear flat emergence. Dear renegade activism. Dear suffering shoe.

Whose endeavors call you there? My own. And the shape of your voice? A rock that was thrown. Where is it consequential? At the place where the sea divides. What time is it? You’ve already commanded it. It took place? Eventually. Without effort. Like a cry.

Saving daylight?

I was wondering when daylight savings was this year, and saw that it’s not for another few weeks.

The concept of saving daylight amuses me. Isn’t it an always-expenditure?The end of the world is purportedly in three years. The sun might send out a giant flare that eats our entire planet. After the poles switch polarity.

What is true about daylight.

What is true about day.

The advantages of measurement–may I one day have the tally.