Monthly Archives: August 2012

Staying Sharp: A Post in Four Sections

As my funemployment continues, I’ve decided to make this time as fruitful for my writing as possible. To me, this means reading my butt off, scheduling shows for The Blood-Jet, submitting work, and editing Kuwento for Lost Things, an anthology of Philippine myths with co-editor and lovely fiction writer, Melissa Sipin.

Since my brain has been all over the place, this post is broken into sections as an attempt to organize my thoughts.

I. Ana Mendieta

Image

 

I’ve committed myself to writing for 3-4 hour blocks at least once a week (on top of daily writing).  I’m diving in and grazing the ocean floor.  During my first session, I used Cuban artist, Ana Mendieta’s Silhueta series, as sparks to begin writing.  The transitory nature of these works and Mendieta’s use of the body and nature that isn’t idyllic intrigues me.  They’re grotesque, mythic and downright scary.

As I wrote from her images, I thought about Akin’s legitimate rape, the shadows and imprints we leave everywhere we go, women’s bodies.  What is my connection to the earth?  I came across Emily Kendal Frey’s poem, My Definition of Rape.  What is my definition of rape?

II. Create Dangerously

Melissa reminded me of Edwidge Danticat’s Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, which she’s been reading and I completely forgot I owned.  I read the first chapter last night, and much of what she writes about in regards to lineage resonates with me:

“…the artist immigrant, or immigrant artist, inevitably ponders the deaths that brought her here, along with the deaths that keep her here, the deaths from hunger and executions and cataclysmic devastation at home, the deaths from paralyzing chagrin in exile, and the other small, daily deaths in between.”

The small, daily deaths in between.  “I’ve sacrificed so much for you to grow up here,” the immigrant parent says.  Danticat cites the Colonel’s wife in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude: “If I have to die for the rest of you to stay here…then I will die.”  I spoke with my friend Angel about the lives of our ancestors, and how are they living through us now?  I’ve just finished Daytripper, a graphic novel by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.  The protagonist states: “We carry our family with us.”

III. Workshop
I’ve also decided to take an online poetry workshop with Toronto-based poet, Hoa Nguyen.  The workshop itself is focused on the work of Alice Notley, which is new to me.  I’ve never taken a class dedicated to the work of a single poet, so I’m excited to delve into her oeuvre.  I want to keep reading widely and diversely, and I’m hoping that this workshop will help.

IV. Fun

I also want to use this time to catch up on handwritten correspondences, brush up on my arroz caldo and chicken adobo recipes, write for 3-4 hours at a time, and hike.

All of this is to say, I’m grateful.

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MS Progress, and I don’t want summer to end…

I love school.  Which is why these back-to-school commercials unnerve me.  I’m not going back in the fall to the (wonderfully) structured stress of the MFA.

However, I’m excited about figuring out my own writing schedule again and reconnecting with my writing communities outside of UCR, namely the MMIX writers (formerly known as the PEN USA Emerging Voices 2009).  We met last week after a long break in our bimonthly meetings, and it was great to check-in with everyone and their writing.  And of course, there was fruit and samosas and wine galore!  It was also very exciting to see how far long folks were with the manuscripts they just began writing or had just proposed during the PEN fellowship.  A few of us have chapbooks from the work we’ve done, others are finishing their novels.

As far as my manuscript is going (tenatively titled, The Gossip Tree), I’ve finished revisions back in June and spent most of this summer submitting it to various open submissions and first book contests.  Some poems from my chapbook, Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood, appear in the full-length MS.  How do folks feel back that?  I read an interview with J.P. Dancing Bear who mentions that it’s unfair for writers and their readers who buy both chapbook and full-length. I’m reminded by Kate Durbin’s work.  A section from her book The Ravenous Audience, entitled Fragments Found in a 1937 Aviator’s Boot, was published as a chapbook by Dancing Girl Press.  The section as chapbook definitely worked independently from the book itself but added to the choral of voices and stages in the full-length.

I suppose this brings me back to the question of the chapbook form.  I know some poets use it as a “mix-tape” of sorts; a preview before the album drops.  Others prefer the chapbook for the contained space that the short form provides.

In thinking about my own chapbook, I was interested in the “self-portrait” poems as mirrors.  The poems, “Self-Portrait as Rumor” and “Self-Portrait as Blood” bookend the chapbook.  Mirrors, and reflections they fleetingly hold.  The ones they cannot.  The voices that bounce between them.  Perhaps, a nightmare funhouse of family, colonialism, and violence.  When two mirrors face each other, you see yourself and multitudes of yourself waving back. Unnerving.  You hear gossip, but cannot see the women.  You can see the bat wings, but don’t know for sure where they belong.   The mother telling you that you’re too dark.  She wants to keep you but flushes you out.  You’re unraveling silences in front of both mirrors.

I’m wondering if I’ve accomplished that with the chapbook.

So, with The Gossip Tree.  There is more humor.  Imelda Marcos throws shoes at your head.  She snaps Minnie Mouse ears in half.  There is also a collective of voices, speaking through the remittance message.   The limit of 25 words per message.  I’m hoping to do what Durbin does in her collection.  Have the voices rage at each other.  Support each other.  Betray.

I’m trying not to pick at the MS , or rub that dirt spot off with my saliva.  During the submission process, do folks continually revise, providing a different form of the MS to each press?  What are your best strategies for leaving it alone?

I suppose my best strategy is continuing to write new stuff.  I’ve just started a poetry correspondence over email with a friend from UCR.  We write everyday, borrowing words, ideas and lines from each other’s poems to create new ones.  We send them to encourage our accountability.  I hope to continue this practice.

So, that’s just a quick update on where things are progressing.  Since I’m no longer in the space of structured stress, I’m going to hash out more writing stuff here.  To be continued…

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On “Liking” and Being “Liked”

I’ve just come across this article, “Against Enthusiasm: The Epidemic Niceness in Online Book Culture” on Slate.

The problem with Liking is that it’s a critical dead-end, a conversation nonstarter. It’s opinion without evidence—or, really, posture without opinion. For every “+1,” “THIS,” or “<3” we offer next to someone’s fawning tweet, a feeling is expressed without saying much at all. And in the next review or essay, it will show.

 

I remember Barbara Jane Reyes writing awhile back about online literary life and dialogue before Facebook and Twitter.  Instead of perpetual “liking” on Facebook (which I admit, I’m apt to doing), folks wrote thoughtful posts on their blogs and their followers responded with actual words and fully-formed sentences.  Thinking about my online work with The Blood-Jet Writing Hour, I try to create honest, critical dialogue with the guests on the show and with listeners through the Facebook fan page.  I’ve found that when I post questions on the page, in order to encourage listener participation and feedback, I’m often greeted by crickets and a host of “likes.” 

Going back to the Slate article on “blind enthusiasm,” I can’t help but think of the communities where I read, write, engage in dialogue and exchange work.  In the effort to build communities online and in-person, especially for writers-of-color, does “niceness” and enthusiasm restrict our ability to give honest feedback or write critical reviews of each other’s work (which is important!)?  Amidst the kumbaya-ing, do we begin to care more about “safe spaces” than the writing itself?  After fostering a “safe” community (and I put safe in quotes because I think that nowhere is a safe space for writing), where do we go from there?  Lastly, if we do practice critical reading and writing of each other’s work, are we afraid of airing our “dirty laundry” for the public to see?

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