Monthly Archives: May 2009

Love in 500 Years

From “TO BE READ IN 500 YEARS is poet Albert Goldbarth’s time capsule for a future that none of us can now imagine—a world without mailboxes, without sexual reproduction, without oil or tillable soil, without the capacity to understand music or poetry or “love love love love crazy love.” Goldbarth’s smart and nostalgic collection of poems, spoken from that future’s distant past, reminds us of everything we have to lose.”

How Simile Works
by Albert Goldbarth

The drizzle-slicked cobblestone alleys
of some city;
and the brickwork back
of the lumbering Galapagos tortoise
they’d set me astride, at the “petting zoo”….

The taste of our squabble still in my mouth
the next day;
and the brackish puddles sectioning
the street one morning after a storm….

So poetry configures its comparisons.

My wife and I have been arguing; now
I’m telling her a childhood reminiscence,
stroking her back, her naked back that was
the particles in the heart of a star and will be
again, and is hers, and is like nothing
else, and is like the components of everything.


Current poem I’m in love with.  This book is on my wishlist.


Speaking of futuristic love, last Wednesday, I attended a Janelle Monae concert at Royce Hall at UCLA for FREE, thanks to Joan Rose!  I’d listened to her album quite often last year, but this was my first time seeing her live.   I admire her consistency in persona as Cindy Mayweather, a “cybergirl without a face, a heart or a mind.”  From her unblinking robotic gaze to her stage-dive into the audience, she’s captured this character, without revealing the strings or the puppetmaster (her “real” human self).  I hear she always stage-dives, wears the same 50s’ inspired outfit: black bowtie, bouffanted hair, white jacket, flings said jacket into the audience and plays the same songs from her most recent album, which really shows her commitment to that persona, the representation of the robotic, especially shown through performance.  But how does a robot make me feel so ALIVE?  Watching her live resonated with me, as I continue to write persona poems in the aswang.  Some questions I ask myself: How far can I go with the aswang’s voice?  How commited am I to her experience, and well-being?

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The Blood-Jet Writing Hour

Today with Barbara Jane Reyes at 10 am PST!

If you don’t already know:

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The Gravedigger

“Everyone can dig a hole in a cemetery, but not everyone is a grave-digger.  The latter takes a good deal more stamina and persistence.  It is also, because of the nature of the activity, a deeply symbolic role.  As a grave-digger, you are not just a person who excavates.  You carry upon your shoulders the weight of other people’s projections, of their fears and fantasies and anxieties and superstitions.  You represent mortality, whether you like it or not.”

-Margaret Atwood, on writing, “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing”

I’m reminded of this “persistence” of the writer, after a great reading last night with the PEN EV Fellows.  Yes, the performing self performs, but it’s the writing self (my more comfortable self, I think) that’s gotta keep going.  I forget which writer/philosopher said this, but “I don’t know what I think until I see what I say.”

My very first day of high school, Mr. Neill, my counselor said this over and over again to us incoming freshmen.  I didn’t understand that quote until I started writing more.  I tried (maybe unsuccessfully) to explain this to a friend yesterday, who wanted feedback on a poem, without my having read it over and over again, and writing notes for myself.  I read the poem for pure pleasure, and it’s hard for me to give critique without the time and effort to write it down.

Anyways, back to the reading at the Hotel Cafe, which was an excellent venue.  For me, it’s amazing to witness and participate in the fellows’ writing processes, and then see everyone perform the hell out of their work last night.   As each writer went up on stage, I’d never felt such camaraderie with other writers, as we all hooted and cheered each other on.  I loved having our teachers, mentors, and the PEN staff in the audience too; it just felt like community.  And of course, I was happy to see my own surprise guests.  I feel so lucky.

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A Novel Idea & the Promoting Self

Last Monday night, a few EV Fellows got together to practice for our upcoming reading this Sunday at the Hotel Cafe for the Tongue and Groove series.

I was the only poet present that rehearsal night. However, while listening to Marissa talk in both frustration and awe about the writing process for her novel (she started writing “organically” as David Francis would say.  As in, random scenes, and seeing where they go), I realized that I could relate.

I’m also understanding that I have a story arc for the aswang.  I’ve been writing from different locations (Manila, St. Louis, her barrio), and seeing how Ascela reacts, who she meets, what situations she gets into.  Maybe the author evenings with fiction writers aren’t useless for poets, after all…


I will never forget what poet Eloise Klein Healy said, at an author evening a few months ago.  She says to cultivate the multiple selves, even though it may be a challenge.  Of course, there is always the writing self, but remember the self that sends off the submissions to journals, the self that performs their work, the self that PROMOTES.

I will admit, I have a lot of trouble doing this for myself.  I’m learning, and this blog helps!  But I like what the PEN ED Adam Somers says, be the indie band!  With books in a box in the trunk of your car (or in your canvas bag on the Big Blue Bus).

With that long-winded preface, I have two readings this weekend, AND a new radio show!

*Saturday, May 9 , 2009 at the Arroyo Seco Library for the Lummis Day Festival.

*Sunday, May 10, 2009 at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood for the Tongue and Groove series.

*“The Blood-Jet Writing Hour” – Next Thursday, May 14 at 10 am PST.  My first ever episode with poet Barbara Jane Reyes.

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“Human connection isn’t possible”

to loosely quote poet Catherine Wagner.

In preparation for my upcoming radio show(!) on writing, I co-hosted the Moe Green Poetry Discussion with Rafael Alvarado yesterday.

We interviewed Catherine Wagner, who writes about the body, amongst several other topics, quite a bit.  Catherine read a sequence of new poems called “Roaring Spring,” which delves into the language of the erotic and challenges processes of love-and-art-making.  After her reading, she mentioned that the relationship between the writer and the audience isn’t ‘real’, only through the writing, the object, itself.  There is no actual human relationship with the audience, she says.

She compares this art-making process, this object-making to romantic relationships.  Human connection isn’t truly possible.  You only know yourself.  No one can experience your reality except you.  One of Catherine’s poems from “Roaring Spring” begins: “Dear object, shaped of a man…” She says, it sounds like a bummer.  But actually, it’s quite amazing.

These assertions floored me.  Isn’t writing ALL about connection to the audience?  But that’s what it is: THE writing as object.  I’m interested in this notion of being connected only through the art-object.  What is the object between two lovers?  Sex?  What do you think?


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“I got insect thoughts”

from Digable Planets’ “Black Ego.”

Yesterday, I wrote my first rap/poem.

Inspired by a friend who wrote one for me a few years back.  I didn’t even attempt to respond with my own at the time, denying the true call-and-response tradition of hip-hop.  Perhaps it was insecurity, or feeling “inauthentic,” I’ve never really wanted to be an emcee (a DJ, yes), but no, never a rapper.  I can listen, appreciate hip-hop.  I can write about abortions, eating women’s placentas (in the voice of the aswang, of course!),  family secrets, but rap?  No, never.

I wrote the rap/poem in about an hour, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever had that much fun writing something.  The entire writing process was spent laughing aloud to myself, while thinking of braggadocious metaphors.  One of my favorite lines “I’m on you like jasmine on rice.”

I realize that the rap is meant to be performed orally, and I’m entirely uneasy about this.  If I could, I would love to sound like Ladybug Mecca, from Digable Planets, the NYC crew from the early 90s.  She is just smooth.  I remember sitting in the backseat in my older cousin Shaun’s car, listening to a scratched cd of “Blowout Comb” on the way to my grandma’s house to go swimming, in the middle of the summer.

Reading an East Bay Express article about them today, I learned that their biggest muses were “insect life and jazz.”  Insect life?

“They decided to name themselves after insects as a way of connecting with the smallest earth-furrowing creatures on the planet, thereby protesting stereotypical rap dreams of being “Out of this world, or bigger than life.” On the song “Black Ego,” Doodle raps ‘I got insect thoughts/Cats with cool ways/Clouds of purple haze keep me in a daze/Many different things trying to get to me, but in a world of hard rock I keep my humility.’ ”

I can dig this smallness, this need to feel speckness.  Call me ‘Chelley the Bee’ buzz, buzz.


(Ok, FINE!)

from the bay to l.a.,

I pop poems like tarts,

hand ’em over to the ocean

teemin’ with sharks,

and there you are, on the sand,

lookin at me,

watchin ink from my fingers

dribblin free

one by one, I lick em

so effortlessly

oh baby, oh honey,

we eat this poetry

when the pacific breeze hits

and I twitch with cold

your arms close around me

they do unfold.

I want you next to me,

you make me cartwheel

in the sea,

and when you kiss me

on the neck

I only feel free.

Oh baby, oh honey,

we eat this poetry

from harlem to wash heights,

I knew we’d always

be this tall

can’t stop, won’t let no one

make us crawl

or fall on our knees,

prayin pretty please,

not rats and fleas,

they’re wishin

for baby mice

and at night,

i’m on you

like jasmine on rice

oh baby, oh honey,

we eat this poetry.

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I never met Al Robles

but I remember finding his book of poems “Rappin’ with 10,000 Carabaos in the Dark” at the Esther Raushenbush Library, Sarah Lawrence College.

It was a late December night during conference week.  Outside, snow fell, I loosened the scarf around my neck as I entered one of the study rooms lit by fluorescence.  In Bronxville, NY, I couldn’t be further away from San Francisco, the city where I was born.  The city my family immigrated to in the 1970s. The city of the Ethnic Studies demands made by SF State students.  The city where the youth and elderly fought for housing rights for manongs at the International Hotel (or the I-Hotel).

Although my family was around during the fight for Manilatown, I knew nothing about this history.  Al Robles’ poems immediately brought me to Kearny Street, where the manongs reminisced over smoke, to the late-night blues of the Fillmore.  He evokes the names of manongs, his compadres, the I-Hotel, in poems.  Sometimes, walking through SoMa, I think I see them, the veteranos, men who live in the weekly hotels nearby, who play chess while tourists pass by.  Pigeons cluck at their feet.

Prompted by Robles’ work, I hosted a viewing at Sarah Lawrence of the film “The Fall of the I-Hotel,” which chronicles the struggle for housing rights and the historical maintenence of Manilatown, San Francisco.  I read a few of Robles’ poems.  Afterwards, I was moved to tears by the resistance of Filipino people, people-of-color and young people  for the I-Hotel, but I was mostly saddened by the fact that I had never known this history prior to college.

Although I unfortunately never had the chance to meet Al Robles, I’ve been ultimately influenced and continue to be moved by his work.  RIP, Uncle.


A few links for more info:

The Inspiration of Al Robles

Barbara Jane Reyes wrote a few poems for him:


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