Monthly Archives: March 2009

“MOTHERFUCKER!!!”

In order to support my lucrative business of poetry, I work at an after-school program at the middle school nearby (where the even bigger bucks are!).  When my rambunctious group of 6th graders come into our classroom after school, they’re exhausted but energetic enough to crack on each other and joke the whoooole time I’m there.  Yesterday, as the kids lined up to sign-in to the program, one of the boys screamed “MOTHERFUCKER!” right behind me.  The other boys laughed. As a writer, cursing doesn’t bother me.  But why do I feel the need to become the bitchy witchy teacher when it comes to students cursing?  The boys got in trouble, but I felt incredibly guilty for stifling language, however inappropriate.  I think of the book “The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On,” which is a picture book about how young people are dehumanized by the school system, their teachers.  I don’t want to become this, especially on the challenging days, but how do you remain positive when the system around you is so fucked up?

“Good boys and girls always listen.

To learn we must listen.  We must listen al the time.

Good boys and girls never talk, but they always listen.

We should listen and listen and listen!

To you, Teacher, and your words, your words, your words.

Your words, your words, your words, your words, your words!”

-Albert Cullum, who dedicated the book to “every grownup who, as a child, died in the arms of compulsory education.”

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The “Good” Eucalyptus

Mindanao Eucalyptus

Mindanao Eucalyptus

…is from Mindanao?  Apparently, it doesn’t catch on fire as easily as the other ones.   They line the UCLA Botanical Gardens.  This is what I’ve been smellingggg?

jasmine

Can my future house be draped in pink jasmine?  I’m obsessed.  I sit in my patio near my jasmine vine and get high off this fragrance, instead of writing.

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Monster Mash

I’ve been inundated with books/stories/poems about witches, demons, imaginary beings lately.  Partake in my nerd-dom (where I’m the queen), and read this list:

Book of Imaginary Beings By Jorge Luis Borges

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde (a book I was supposed to read freshman year of college, but didn’t.  Actually, got away with this discussion comment: “Tituba becomes empowered in this book.  Look at the title. I, TITUBA.”

Vice by Ai (for persona poem studying)

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (for the long poem aspect.  and the mythic stuff.)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I’ve been told to watch Elephant Man dir. by David Lynch as well.  Are there any other good or classic monster movies that I need to watch?

I’ve been writing myself to exhaustion lately.  I don’t know if what I’m writing is any good, or if it even ties in with what I’m trying to do.  But it shouldn’t be my business to judge yet, huh?  As I’ve been writing these aswang persona poems, I’ve been trying to control the language, as well as develop her voice.  The hard part comes when I find myself switching back and forth to the other personas that I’m working on. Focus.

Yesterday, I attended a great workshop at UCLA Writer’s Extension called “The Writer’s Banquet,” which was about using food in writing.  One of my favorite exercises was eating different flavored Jelly Bellys and writing automatically for five minutes about the memory that’s triggered from the flavor.  The majority of the fellows were present, and we were able to represent and cause a raucous in class.

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By the way, I’m here

PEN USA posted bios of the EV Fellows ’09, and a few pictures from the Welcome Reception.

The Fellows met last Saturday to share writing, eat, complain, and I feel like I know everyone so much better. I’m excited and honored to be writing with these talented folks.

http://www.penusa.org

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Ode to a Louse

There is a long history of poets writing about disgusting pests, i.e. Scottish poet, Robert Burns circa late 18th century. I’m glad to accept this inheritance.

Ode to the louse

By Robert Burns

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn’d by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her –
Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.
Apparently, Burns wrote this poem when he “observed a louse nested in the hair of a finely dressed lady seated in the pew just in front of him.”  EWW.
I guess poetry IS everywhere.  Even in a woman’s lice-filled hair.

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“Writing isn’t the same as THINKING about writing”

Someone wise said that.  I can’t remember who, but I say this to myself every morning, after breakfast I will write, after I make my bed I will write.   Chanting these things to myself isn’t gonna make the writing HAPPEN.  Actually, they make me feel more guilty about NOT writing.  Laurel Ann Bogen, my poet-mentor, tells me it’s okay to vomit on the page.  No one has to look at it, right?

Upon hearing a recording of Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Ode to the Maggot,” a new poem:

Ode to the Bedbug

You flat, brownbottom speck

gorge on blood before dawn.  You

sleep in everyone’s bed, faithless

and unnerving the thigh.  Thigh

brushed at by my own hand

in sleep.  At least there is a part of me

that swells you with blood,

multiples your body three-

fold.  At least there is something

about you that tells me where I’ve

been.  At least I’ve been

somewhere.

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Wild

I’m memorizing the following poem for my “Complete Poet: Vulnerability, Sexuality and Sense of Humor” Poetry workshop with Suzanne Lummis.

25
By Emily Dickinson

Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a heart in port –
Done with the compass –
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor – Tonight –
In thee!


It’s short, but it certainly hits the second category for the “Complete Poet.”

An interesting quote from Colonel Higginson, the co-editor of Dickinson’s 1891 collection, before it was printed:

One poem only I dread a little to print–that wonderful ‘Wild Nights,’–lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there. Has Miss Lavinia [Emily Dickinson’s sister] any shrinking about it? You will understand & pardon my solicitude. Yet what a loss to omit it! Indeed it is not to be omitted.

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Imagining the Philippines

How do you write about a place you only have some fuzzy nostalgic connection to?

My current writing project has a lot to do with the Philippines, a country I’ve visited only twice. Five and Sixteen years old.  An enormous, complex place that my aswang character is from, where her life begins, where her imaginings about the U.S. start, that I only know as a passing two-week visitor.  I guess that is the paradigm of immigrants, or people whose parents are born in another country.

My dad tells me Tess Uriza Holte, the author of “When the Elephants Dance,” a novel about the Philippines during World War II, never visited the Philippines prior to her writing this book.  She wrote from the stories of her grandparents and parents.  But how do you get to the particularities of a place without stereotyping it?  How will my aswang navigate her hometown, a place I know nothing about?  Maybe I’m trippin too much about this, thinking too hard.

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“Writing is an act of betrayal”

to summarize something David Ulin, an L.A. Times writer and book reviewer, said to us fellows a few weeks back. He wrote “Myth of Solid Ground,” a book of non-fiction about earthquakes in CA. For research, he interviewed earthquake predictors, whose levels of sanity ranged quite a bit. To get his story, he had to “sell out” a particular predictor who had trusted him, by telling (most of) the (unsavory) truth about this man’s character and his discrepancies in prediction. Is this “selling out” or truth-telling? Do we write with the intention of betrayal?

Back in high school, I wrote for the “Daily Review,” the local Hayward newspaper, and had a cute little column about the youth perspective.  I wrote about the Iraq war, budget cuts, etc.  But there was one particular article that my best friend paid the most attention to because she HATED it.  For my last column of the year, I had set out to write an homage to my high school friends, since we were graduating that year. In the article, I characterized all my friends by specific songs we liked, activities we did together (blah blah going to the movies, listening to music blah blah), and I remember writing that I enjoyed talking about boys with this particular best friend.  I didn’t mean to describe her as a one-sided, boy-crazy Stacy (because she wasn’t), but that was truly one of the many things I couldn’t do with anyone else at the time.  She was offended and possibly hated me for a while.  I’d unintentionally betrayed her with my words made public and immortalized (at least for that day’s paper).  Maybe I’d betrayed her by my lack of character development or focus within the piece.  I hadn’t realized that writing a column necessitated the same grace for writing fiction or poetry at the time.  I think this was the first time I recognized my squeamishness with writing for an audience.  With writing, is it better to offend someone than no one at all?  Audience of one or none?

I guess this is what brings me to blogging.  Or blogging with a safe number of audience members.  I haven’t blogged since 10th grade, and I’m glad that Livejournal doesn’t keep inactive accounts.  Or do they?

For fun, a list of people I’ve “betrayed” in my writing:

*my parents

*my sister

*my grandmother

*my best friends

*at least five cousins

*at least 3 of my students

*all my former lovers

In any case, I’d rather betray all my loved ones publicly.  For art’s sake, right?

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American Sentences

I’ve been reading Kim Addonizio’s “Ordinary Genius,” a kind of poet’s companion, and she references an Allen Ginsberg form: the “American Sentence.”  A riff of the Japanese haiku.

“American Sentences as a poetic form was Ginsberg’s effort to make American the haiku. If haiku is seventeen syllables going down in Japanese text, he would make American Sentences seventeen syllables going across, linear, like just about everything else in America.”  http://www.americansentences.com

A few of his:

Tompkins Square Lower East Side N.Y.

Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella.
1987

Rainy night on Union square, full moon. Want more poems? Wait till
I’m dead.


A few of mine:

Behind apartments, brown men and leafblowers forget away autumn.

Who will propose a stimulus package for today’s stiff throat, this drought?

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