Monthly Archives: July 2010

How to Write Funny?

I keep thinking about risk-taking in my poetry.  At Kundiman, after watching Regie Cabico and other poets read their work, I wanted to make people laugh, too.   I noticed that although Regie has me crying with laughter, his work is also incredibly tender and often leads to a sense of seriousness towards the end of the poem. I think that this is the best kind of funny poem; where the listener/audience experiences a complex range of emotions.  Check out this old Def Jam Poetry performance of his here.

To make someone laugh is an intimate action, even vulnerable (I think I heard someone say that once, but I forget who). I admire stand-up comedians in that way.  It’s all about timing, vulnerability and RISK (if they’re good comedians).  I think that as an artist in general it’s important to have a variety of work, in content, style, form and tone.  At readings, it’s nice to pull out a lighter poem in the midst of my darker work on the aswang.  Lately, I’ve been attempting to write funny poems riffing the mythological themes I’m sort of obssessed with.  Tons and tons of writers explore the myth of Persephone, and I started writing my own, which was a lot of fun.  I’ve also recently picked up an anthology of poems called SERIOUSLY FUNNY, edited by Barbara Hamby and David Kirby.  I like this poem by Charles Simic a lot, so far:

My Beloved

In the fine print of her face
Her eyes are two loopholes
No, let me start again.
Her eyes are flies in milk,
Her eyes are baby Draculas.

To hell with her eyes.
Let me tell you about her mouth.
Her mouth’s the red cottage
Where the wolf ate grandma.

Ah, forget about her mouth,
Let me talk of her breasts.
I get a peek at them now and then
And even that ‘s more than enough
To make me lose my head,
So I better tell you about her legs.

When she crosses them on the sofa
It’s like the jailer unwrapping a parcel
And in that parcel is a Christmas cake

And in that cake a sweet little file

That gasps her name as it files my chains.

***

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I Love Reading Lists and YA

Oh, I love them, even though I don’t usually finish half the books on my lists. Yup, listS– plural. I sometimes write them down (one is published on Lantern Review’s blog) but they’re usually just physical piles of books that surround my bed.

Of course, most of these books are poetry, but summer is also a good time for me to indulge in YA books; lots of fun and adventure in such quick, and mostly well-written reads.  I devoured the Golden Compass series by Philip Pullman a few summers ago, finished reading all of the Harry Potter series (of course), and will admit to reading the first Twilight book (couldn’t continue because Meyers’ writing is awful).  I’ve recently just read two YA books this week: Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, Chris Grabenstein’s The Smoky Corridor and am now reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. As a part-time bookseller at an indie in L.A., I’ve noticed that YA books have significantly gotten darker in content and tone since I was a kid, yet they’re more well-written and sophisticated.  I grew up on the Babysitters’ Club and Sweet Valley High series, which were fun and digestible yet their characters’ seemed like they lived on entirely different (i.e. mostly white) worlds than me.  Reading YA reminds me of spending my entire summers at the public library in Hayward and incurring astronomical late fees that my dad would be so pissed about paying.  Ahh, memories!  Oh, and I’m trying to get as much YA reads as possible before school starts in the fall.  If you have any suggestions, comment me.

Anyway, back to a lazy afternoon in an air-conditioned bedroom with The Hunger Games!

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My Report Back from Kundiman on PAWA Blog

Thanks to Barbara Jane Reyes who invited me to write this for the PAWA (Philippine American Writers and Artists) Blog! It was a great way to reflect on such a transformative experience.

I’m reposting it here too.

***

Although the annual retreat is over and I’m back on the grind with my two jobs in Los Angeles, I know that somewhere, out there, there are Kundiman fellows writing each other postcards, supporting another fellow’s reading at Bar 13 in New York City, planning road trips, fundraising for future retreats in Berkeley, inventing poetic forms inspired by Jose Garcia Villa’s Reversed Consonsance, visiting Poets’ House in Lower Manhattan and blogging about the retreat experience and how it applies to our poetry.

Kundiman was created by the incredible duo, Joseph O. Legaspi and Sarah Gambito who organized the inaugural Asian American Poetry Retreat in 2004 at the University of Virginia. According to the Kundiman website, both poets “recognized the need for a nurturing and yet rigorous space for emerging Asian American poets; such a space would facilitate the creation of new work, create mentoring relationships with established Asian American poets and address the challenges that uniquely affect Asian American poets.”

I arrived at Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, New York, new home to the retreat, in the thick of a hot, humid day in June. After a warm “opening circle” of fellow introductions and sharing of poems, I immediately felt at home with the poets in the room. Despite the bustling city that surrounded us and the pastelitos and fresh fruit I longed for on Grand Concourse, Kundiman remained a true place of solitude on Fordham’s beautiful campus.

Although Kundiman specifically seeks Asian American poets, I’ve never met and worked with a group with such diverse work in style, form and voice. Throughout the retreat, fellows and staff repeatedly described the time and space spent together as a “home” and our group of poets as a “family.” And it’s true. This strong community at Kundiman not only allowed me to feel protected and safe from self-censorship or the need to explain my work (which happens often in predominantly white writing workshops), it also fostered a space where I felt inspired and encouraged to take risks. In this unique space, I also felt a collective sense of duty to everyone’s work, exemplified through nightly poetry salons and rigorous workshops where we challenged each other with honest feedback. The comments and suggestions shared by fellows reached way beyond the typical (and rather unhelpful!) workshop comment, “I like this image…” This, of course, couldn’t have been made possible without the amazing faculty and staff.

I laughed until I cried hearing Regie Cabico perform a poem about his mother and took a stab at writing a funny poem (a big risk for me!). Jennifer Chang gave me courage to read it in front of everyone. I stayed up late, ate pizza and wrote poems. On our visit to Poets’ House, I exchanged poems by my patron poet Brenda Shaughnessy with fellows and gazed at an old photograph of Jose Garcia Villa amongst his peers, mostly white male poets. What would’ve Villa done with an institution like Kundiman?

I scratched my head when Tan Lin first explained an exercise inspired by Stein’s “equal weight, equal volume” theory, but dove in anyway, which challenged the way I thought about relationships between, amongst words. I felt free to play. Paisley Rekdal’s intuition and ability to see the seemingly invisible layers in a poem made me slow down my own reading of poems and pay more attention. R.A. Villanueva, Soham Patel and Tamiko Beyer offered us new fellows immeasurable amounts of kindness and sage advice from their own experiences at the retreat. Sarah Gambito and Joseph Legaspi’s dedication to their vision of seeing “the arts as a tool of empowerment, of education and liberation, of addressing proactively what legacy we will leave for our future generations as individuals and as a community” makes me reflect on my own contributions to the Asian American and poetry communities. They both inspire me to do more. I felt safe as a poet to write deeply and quickly, and hand poems off to other fellows to read and edit. I’d never trusted poets this much before. I’d never felt more at home.

For more information, check out Kundiman’s website: http://www.kundiman.org.

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