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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“Thou shalt not be an egotistical asshole.”

“The 10 Commandments of Collaboration”

by Maureen Seaton and Denise Duhamel

1. Thou shalt trust thy collaborator’s art with thy whole heart.
2. Thou shalt trust thy collaborator’s judgment with thy whole mind.
3. Thou shalt trust thy collaborator’s integrity with thy whole spirit.
4. Honor thy own voice.
5. Honor thy collaborator’s spouse.
6. Thou shalt not be an egotistical asshole.
7. Thou shalt not covet all the glory.
8. Thou shalt love the same foods as your collaborator.
9. Thou shalt eat and tire at the same time.
10. Above all, honor the muse.

From “Poetry and Collaboration: Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton”

Today, I’m thinking about poetry and collaboration.  Why collaborate?

“The most delightful part about our collaborating is the shared creative burden. Even when we think we are stumping one another, providing lines that seem almost impossible to finish, the other can usually think of something to follow right away. We are open to mess and mayhem. We have found what we believe to be a third voice, a voice that is neither Maureen’s nor mine, but rather some poetic hybrid.” – Denise Duhamel

I find myself in three collaborative projects this summer, and I’m realizing that the “shared creative burden” is not only “delightful” but also less lonely.  There’s a larger vision at stake.

“I’ll post the generative questions or prompt that surface from the previous day’s writing and ask participants to write in response to them. You can answer in whichever way you are moved to — off-the-cuff, improvisationally, in deep meditation, whichever feels right to you. I’ll ask you within your writing response to braid the words of either another participant or writer/artist (other than yourself) in your writing in some way, to honor the collaborative intent of the project, and to credit that other writer/artist by name at the end of your writing (unless that person would rather remain anonymous).” – Ching-In Chen’s call for Collaborative Manifesto Remix

Over at Ching-In’s blog, it’s an incredible process to participate and witness the recycling of words and images in new, unexpected ways.  No matter the repetition, each writer cuts through from a different angle of light and shadow.  The “third voice” which Duhamel speaks of is complicated here; it’s many voices underneath voices and also what isn’t being said.

Fellow Kundiman poet Dan Lau and I begin the day with a collaborative ekphrasis poem on Gmail Chat.  We alternate lines, limiting ourselves to 20 minutes of writing time. It feels more like a sleepover as we play the flashlight game.  A thin beam of light on the bookshelf, on the window, at the crack in the floor, on the creepy clown doll.  We are asking ourselves, what else is here?

“diluvial: of, relating to, or brought about by a flood
I’ve pissed the bed again.

  The stench of new magnolias
weeping in the sea of sheets
collecting into deposits of sweat
  I fold myself into the bathroom
the condensation of wet dreams
the melange of urea and powdered flowers”

I’m loosening my language, opening up to “mess and mayhem,” engaging in dialogue and community (living and dead), facing the darkness underneath the bed with a good friend — these are my reasons for collaboration.


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