Monday, August 31, 2015

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Kundiman (Week of August 31st)

We have a collection of very talented guest bloggers to cover the Word for Word Poetry series this summer. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of our visiting poets who present at the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC

Michael Broder for Word for Word Poetry, September 1, 2015
Featuring Kundiman 

On Tuesday, September 1, the Bryant Park Reading Room presented a reading in partnership with Kundiman, an organization founded in 2004 by Sarah Gambito and Joseph O. Legaspi that serves Asian-American writers. Kundiman, in turn, partnered with Cave Canem, an organization that serves African-American writers, to assemble a diverse and vibrant program. The program was introduced by Cathy Linh Che, Managing Director at Kundiman, and included Rickey Laurentiis, Wendy Xu, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Lo Kwa Mei-En.

Rickey Laurentiis
Rickey Laurentiis read from his debut collection, Boy With Thorn, selected by Terrance Hayes for the 2014 Cave Canem Poetry Price, and just out this month from the University of Pittsburgh Press. In fact, it was the first time copies of the book were available for sale, and the first time Rickey held his own book in his own hands and read from it to a public audience.

Laurentiis’s poems circle around and return to questions, ideas about the search for meaning, of words, events, experiences, the nature and meaning of race, sexual roles, sexual acts, and intimate relationships, or the barriers to intimacy between partners. Possibilities and the limits of our potential. As in the poem “Conditions for a Southern Gothic,” in which the sky “mocked” the speaker by saying, “My freedom is possible,” but the speaker concludes “If God made us in his image, it was the first failure of the imagination.”

“Vanitas with Negro Boy” is ekphrastic poem responding to an oil painting by the 17th-century Dutch painter David Bailly that depicts a black servant hovering almost ghostlike in the background and setting out the components of a still-life arrangement on a table, of which the most arresting element is a human skull. The speaker’s meditation on the painting is interrupted, as it were, by questions in the voice of the youth, all of them beginning with “And,” as if they are part of an infinite series of questions with no discernable beginning or end: “And nearest to the worn flowers, sir, or nearer to the fruit?”; And whose boy am I, and what is my name?”; “And what is my boyhood, and where is it from?”

Wendy Xu
Wendy Xu is the author of the collection You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State, 2013), winner of a 2014 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, as well as a number of chapbooks. Xu read a single long poem in several sections called “Notes for an Opening.” The first section, “TOWARDS IN/MIGRANT,” reflected on issues of existence and continuity, beginnings, middles, endings, past, present, future, the public and the personal, how they interact, how the human condition makes reality seem unreal, how consciousness distorts the so-called objective world with which we as subjective beings interact. Some of the lines (or statements) from the first section:

“Sometimes, sitting in the room of the reading, I become lost.”
“I’m trying to have an idea that lasts a lifetime.”
“Language is defeated or graciously concedes”
“I fixate on the gate through which I assume he will reappear.”
“I approach an impasse of language.”
“How can I ever repay them for the invasion of my psychic spaces?”

In the second section, “I MUST CHANGE MY FORM,” the speaker includes an excerpt from a letter her father wrote to her about the poem itself, which reads in part, “I have been thinking a lot lately about our life journey. Nothing is better than writing it out and fully express it although it is really hard to re-experience many things.”

In another section, Xu writes about “Tank Man,” the unidentified protester who stood before a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, the morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests. The section, a powerful exploration of history, identity, and human migration, begins:

Question: who is “Tank Man” to you?
My what if and my thank god
My before and my after, my darkest potential
You could say: my whole life unlived
You could say: the whole life of a generation, he and not them
See Tank Man:
Lovingly consumed by western media, torn apart by my would-be friends
Tank Man dancing immortal as .gif
Tank Man as where you stop reading
Tank Man has been around the world but not back
Tank Man as my dead dad, as nobody you care to know
I left in 1989 and I admit I did not look back, how could I, I was still shitting in my diaper

Xu said in an email, “I've begun to understand the poem as a catalog of betrayals, memories, recoveries, and not least of all an ongoing tribute to my immigrant parents. The ‘opening’ is an invitation, a possibility, a wound.”

Brenda Shaughnessy
Brenda Shaughnessy
read a number of poems, including “I Have a Time Machine,” which recently appeared in The New Yorker. “In This Economy” was a whimsical poem about fantastic animals and plants that seemed to oppose imagination to the harsh reality of late capitalism. “I want to take a picture of the flowers I arranged,” the speaker says in part, continuing, “Even now, the clock we need to punch out on is too far away to plug in.” From a new book coming out in the spring, Shaughnessy read “Is There Something I Should Know,” a poem about adolescence, pubescence, desire, and sexual awakening as experienced through the medium of a crush on the 1980s English rock band Duran Duran. The poem is full of secrets and school cafeteria power struggles between boys and girls. Androgyny, femininity, insinuations of sex and sexuality at summer camp, the speaker “Thinking about my erotic awaking in the bungalow by nearly any one of Duran Duran, except Andy.” Other poems Shaughnessy read included “Gay Pride Weekend, San Francisco, 1992” (“We barely touched each other, we didn’t have to speak, the love me made leapt like a cat in the space between us”), “Never Ever” (“Maybe we’re going nowhere, but wherever I go, I see us everywhere”), and “Artless” (“Artless is my heart, a stranger berry there never was, tartless”).

Lo Kwa Mei-en
Concluding the program was Lo Kwa Mei-en, who read from her debut collection, Yearling (Alice James, 2015) winner of the 2013 Kundiman Poetry Prize. The poems she read from the book included “Ariel” (“Temper, temper, more of it, leather lashed to its own prow”), “Taxi Singapore Ohio” (“We leave mainland for traffic or fish, an island for snow”), “Addiction” (“What weather, what muscular weather domesticates a woman like a key and tin sparrow?”), “Era for Abandon” (“I am no current but a bolt, this time I will exit myself”), “Pinnochia from Pleasure Island” (“Now I think of what I’d die to forget…Now you make me dress the wound I turned myself into…Now you’d like to know my real name…Now the word for intake is that for swallow, smallest of the tongues for what’s real…Now you make me dress”), “Reader, Fauna” (For so long I’ve wanted to join you up on the treble clef…I can’t blame you for not wanting to go back…bring your own empty bottles…name the creature you saw birthing through the hell cloud”), “Man O’ War” (“You’re old, you slid into the stalls like a beloved bullet…Before the god of war, you kneel in blown Kentucky blue…The grass sweats gold…before you ghosts can see right through them”), and “Yearling and Armor” (“I am here at last dressed in plain mustard and tiger…Another year, another armor, though I was told otherwise…What if my face had been a sign so I painted it…What if I knew I would pay all for entrance”).

So concluded this moving and memorable evening of poetry by a range of voices including mid career, relatively early career, and debut poets, as well as poets nurtured by two of the premier organizations supporting emerging poets of color. (Most quotes are from the bloggers own notes and not based on written backup; the blogger assumes all responsibility for any errors in quotation.)

Michael Broder

Michael Broder is the author of This Life Now (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014), a finalist for the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. His poems have a appeared in American Poetry Review, Assaracus, BLOOM, Columbia Poetry Review, Court Green, OCHO, and other journals and anthologies. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband, the poet Jason Schneiderman, and a backyard colony of feral cats.



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