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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I’m still alive. Will write soon.

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April Happenings

Dang, lots of celebration and reading this month.

Here’s where I’ll be this month:

Friday, April 20, 2012    6:00pm – 9:00pm
Community Hall, Asian Pacific American Legal Center
1145 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90017

  • Small Press Booth @ LA Times Festival of Books, USC Campus, hosted by Kaya Press.

Saturday, April 21st, 10 am – 12 pm
I’ll be at Kaya/Small Press Booth, signing, reading and reppin’ Dancing Girl Press.

Sunday, April 22, 2012 @ 12:30pm until 3:00pm
The Last Bookstore, 453 S. Spring Street, L.A., CA

There will be food, readings, and visual art.

Featured readers/artists include:
*Dan Lau, David Campos, Angel Garcia, Michael C. Ford, Gail Wronsky, Mike the Poet, Andrea Gutierrez, Kamala Puligandla, Janice Sapiago, Erika Ayon, Cristina Victor, Sara Borjas

  • “Speaking Out: Transformation through Poetry:” Reading at Cal State Fullerton

Tuesday, April 24th @ 12-12:45 pm
Cal State Fullerton, Room TBA


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Split This Rock Poetry Festival, Adrienne Rich, Treyvon Martin

“And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea:
we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
― June Jordan

I’ve just returned from Washington, D.C. a few days ago from attending the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.  I’ve just flipped through my notebook searching for the cherry blossoms I pressed between the pages.  “Treyvon Martin is my son,” says Sybrina Fulton on Democracy Now, “and he’s your son, too.”  On Facebook, I re-post a status about Shaima Alawadi, the Iraqi woman beaten to death in El Cajon, CA, and solidarity.  Adrienne Rich passed away yesterday.  I found out through Facebook.

What does Adrienne Rich’s “dream for a common language” look like in the face of violence, hatred, racism and war?  The Split This Rock Poetry Festival is necessary to the formation of a common language, the realization of Rich’s dream.  Below is a summary of events, readings and encounters I experienced at the festival, which tries to capture everything but is inevitably insufficient.

On Thursday, the first day of the festival, Martin Espada howled “Alabanza” in tribute to Sam Hamill, poet and editor of Poets Against the War.  I ate pupusas with Sonal Malkani, K. Bradford and Rachel McKibbens.  Doug Kearney embodied the horrifying violence enacted on a Black man from the South (I’m kicking myself right now for not taking down this man’s name!).  Sonia Sanchez improvised a jazz elegy for June Jordan (“Junejunejunejune, look at the road, June!”).

On Friday, I attended a panel entitled “Poetry of Resistance: Poets Take on Reasonable Suspicion (Arizona SB 1070) and Xenophobia” hosted by Francisco Alarcon and Odilia Galvan Rodriguez who spoke about the power of social media and poetry; the thousands of protest poems from around the world posted on the “Poets Respond to SB 1070” Facebook page.   I wrote found poems in Cathy Linh Che and Laren McClung’s workshop on writing poetry of resistance and using the news as a source for text.  The rest of Friday was spent breathing in the cherry blossoms around the National Mall, breathing and listening.

Saturday morning was chockful of Kundiman.  I organized a reading between Cave Canem and Kundiman (“Intersecting Lineages: a Solidarity Showcase of African American and Asian American Poets”) with Ching-In Chen, a fellow Kundiman fellow.   Kazim Ali, Kevin Simmonds, Alan King, Monica Hand, Ching-In and I read a poem or two from an ancestor poet before reading our own work.  Monica spoke of Sei Shonogan, Kimiko Hahn and the zuhitszu form; Kazim invoked Lucille (“shore, shore”); Ching-In read a two-voiced poem by Sharon Bridgforth with K. Bradford; Alan King praised Li-Young Li’s deftness and subtle power in writing about his father.  I read a few sections from Dionne Brand‘s book, No Language is Neutral.  Brand, born in Trinidad and Tobago, now living in Toronto, is a poet introduced to me by Suzanne Gardiner, a teacher and mentor of mine.  I remember telling Suzanne that I wanted my poems to be “ferocious” (whatever that means!) and she searched on her shelf and placed a finger on Brand’s poem, and said, “look, look.”

“I have tried to write this thing calmly

even as its lines burn to a close.  I have come to know

something simple.  Each sentence realised or

dreamed jumps like a pulse with history and takes a

side.  What I say in any language is told in faultless

knowledge of skin, in drunkenness and weeping,

told as a woman without matches and tinder, not in

words and in words and in words learned by heart,

told in secret and not in secret, and listen, does not

burn out or waste and is plenty and pitiless and loves.”

-Dionne Brand, “No Language is Neutral.”

I wanted to say “look, look” to the folks who came to our reading, to the folks a few miles away in the White House and Congress, to the folks wearing hoodies in protest and remembrance of Treyvon Martin.  Look at the beauty of these ancestor poets, their survived, living and writing.  Marilyn Nelson said, “To be human is to be a stranger, and not a stranger.”  Look and listen to these strange and not so strange voices; all of them belonging to us.  Look at the beauty of risk and dreaming.

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Chapbook Release: Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood

Just a quick hello from the other side to announce my chapbook’s recent release from Dancing Girl Press.  You can purchase it here!
















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Brunching with Poetry

Yesterday morning, I ate bacon, lime-spiced papaya, fresh scones, and lox on a jalapeño and cheddar bagel at LADWP (Los Angeles Department of Writing and Power)’s first Poetry Brunch, hosted by the wonderful Alanna Lin.

I underestimate the power of fun at times.

Participants and readers (myself included) gorged themselves on a delicious, home-cooked meal an hour or two before “getting down to business.” Which didn’t feel like business. Poetry isn’t business! But it feels this way, before I do a reading sometimes — why?

Jamie Asaye Fitzgerald and I were the featured readers. Prior to our readings, everyone at the event, around 20 people, shared five-line poems at the mic. I dig this kind of community building in a reading format; everyone eating, drinking coffee and sharing their work. By the time I got up to the mic, the reading was among friends, haiku-writers, and brunch-lovers unbuttoning the top button of their pants.


I am teaching Introduction to Poetry this coming year. I am trying to remember any “formal” introduction I’ve experienced. In the sixth grade for the poetry unit, I had to interview my best friend as Gwendolyn Brooks who dressed like her (knit cap, large glasses). Does this count?

My first workshop in college wasn’t pleasant. There were little to no poets-of-color on the reading list. I didn’t speak Workshop Language yet. I was skeptical and grouchy, the newness of first winter in New York wearing off.

How were you introduced to poetry? How did poetry introduce itself to you?

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