2017 Asian American Literary Festival

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington D.C >> Rob Casper: On the head of the Libraries and Poetry and Literature Center, let me just say how thrilled and bewildered I am to kick off the last day of the “Inaugural Asian-American Literary Festival” What a wild three days it has been! Most of you have probably gotten not so much sleep and hopefully you’ll recover tonight after some more fun I want to thank all the organizations involved for making this a reality, specially the Smithsonian Asian-Pacific-American Center, and I want to give a shout out to Lawrence [inaudible] Dewis who has been — Lawrence! Come on! Come on! [ Audience cheering and clapping ] I was going to say, officially Lawrence has been my hero, for his efforts to make this happen We’ve had a lot of meetings, done a lot of work, figuring all things out and you know, I’ve worked with a lot of people in my live in Literature events, and no one has been as calm and as magnanimous, and as capable, and as [inaudible] to figure things out as Laurence has, so, again [ Audience cheering and clapping ] Let me tell you a little bit about the Poetry and Literature Center here at the Library, we are home to the Poet Laureate Consultant and Poetry and we put on 20 to 30 programs annually To find out more about our programming here in D.C, especially for those of you who are native to the capital area, please go to [inaudible] which is outside in the [inaudible] and visit our website www.loc.gov/poetry And now, to explain a little bit about this morning’s program, I’d like to welcome Lisa Sasaki, she is the Director of the Smithsonian Asian-Pacific-American Center Thanks so much [ Audience clapping ] >> Lisa Sasaki: Good morning everyone, I just wanted to welcome all of you on behalf of the Smithsonian Asian-Pacific-American Center We are all a migratory Museum That means we don’t have a physical space, or, a location currently what we do is, we travel around the country, doing what our mission is, which is to amplify the voice of Asian Pacific American, to be able, to make ensure, that we are a part of the American Story And I think, there is no better place that that happens, than in literature, and, as represented by all of the amazing writers, and poets, and authors who we’ve seen over the last two days, and today as well, we see how they’re able to give voice Often times, for the first time, and in ways that the average person isn’t always able to do About some of the things we are facing, Asian-Americans, which is: What does it mean to be American? What does it mean to be Asian-American? What does it mean when you are “the other”? What does it mean when you don’t look like everybody else? What does it mean when you’re targeted simply because of the way you look? Or the religion that you practice? Or the gender that you identify with? These are some of the topics that are super important, for us to be able to discuss and I can thank the authors who are here, who have helped us explore this through the last three days I would be remised [phonetic] if I didn’t thank all of the people who have helped us, [inaudible], of course, Library of Congress thank you so much; one of our major partners But we’ve had other supporters as well, which includes AARP and the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities, Phillips Collection, Dupont Circle, they were our hosts yesterday, as well as, other parts of the Smithsonian: like the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, who all have hosted us throughout the duration of the time And of course, the Poetry Foundation, for their support as well But what I’m really up here today to do, is to introduce our speaker for today, as well as sort of the structure for this morning So, first we’re going to be having a lecture by Karen Tei Yamashita, which is entitled “Literature as Community: The Turtle, Imagination, and the Journey Home” Followed by that we’re going to have Cathy Che from Kundiman come up and introduce “The Fiction Readers”

and is going to be featuring by three Kundiman fellas so, we are excited about that But first, let me tell you a little bit more about Karen, I know most of you already know who she is, and somebody who rarely needs introduction, but it’s my honor to do that this morning Karen Tei Yamashita is the author of “Through the Arc of the Rainforest”, “Brazil Marrow”, “Tropic of Orange”, “Circle Case Cycles”, “I Hotel [inaudible]” and the forthcoming “Letters of Memory” which I have the honor of holding in my hands this morning All published by Coffee House Press I Hotel was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award, an award that the California Book Award, the American Book Award, the Asian Pacify American Award for literature and Association for Asian American Studies Book Award She’s been a US artist for Foundation Fellow and the co-holder of the University of California presidential chair and feminist critical race and ethnic studies She’s currently the professor of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz Please welcome, Karen [ Applause ] ?? Karen Tei Yamashita: So, is that going to start? There we go Thank you so much, thank you for the introduction and thank you to Lawrence [inaudible] Davis, the Asian American [inaudible] Review, Smithsonian Asian American Center and the Library of Congress and all of the co-partners in this program and conference, it’s been a wonderful conference these past few days And thank you to all of you for coming from so far away to be here today Thank you for your invitation, I am very honored A while back [inaudible] professor of literature interviewed and asked me apologetically if I considered myself to be an Asian American writer, and I didn’t understand the apology, and he explained that several of his interviewees became somewhat in sensed at the question, remarking that they were American writers who happened to be Asian American I asked myself, “Where is Asian America?”, and what is Asian America if it is not a political construct? It is a naming of a category to recognize the immigration and participation of Asia and Pacific Islander peoples in American society and political life over the past 150 years Initially the literature assorted is grounding with in the American Continental history and geography, but it has always been called referenceable to the necessary crossing of the oceans, both, Pacific and Atlantic, without which it cannot be fully read or understood This navigation in the relationship to the Americas has not been necessarily pacific, but often a relationship and result of colonialism, racism and war As such, Asian American literature is at heart, a literature of politics and resistance So, I guess, what I am, on apologetically an Asian American writer [ Applause ] So, with that question out of the way [laughter], I want to begin with what’s been asked of me on intimate lecture a way of thinking about Asian American journey, particular to me Of the exact day and year, I cannot say, but I’m sure of that my aunt [inaudible] took me on a drive form her then, home in Rosemont [inaudible] California, to visit my cousin Ted [inaudible] at his gift shop on Solano Avenue in Albany, on the border with Berkeley I’m pretty sure that my aunt [inaudible] also came along, and perhaps we met [inaudible] wife Barbara at the gift shop The other purpose of that trip was to climb the steps to a small apartment on the same street to meet with the author [inaudible] years later I would discover in Kate [inaudible] letters her war time correspondence with one of her best friends Kate Uchida, Yoshiko’s sister

I took for granted the connection of the Yamashta family to the Uchida’s connections through the church and UC Berkley and to their war-time incarceration at Topaz in Utah These connections were part of a tightly net association of Japanese immigrant communities in San Francisco and the East Bay Now, years later, we descendants can find ourselves tracing the weave of our relationships and near encounters Through the Nii Sei [phonetic] conversation started, we often made fun of as kids That conversation started was always, “hey, what camp were you in?” We thought camp could’ve been a tribal event of initiation or something Why weren’t we sent to camp? I realize I can’t see I know that choosing K had planned this meeting with Yoshiko Uchida because they were proud aunties who thought I was a writer All these years later this memory is both comical and sweet to me, and meanwhile Yoshiko Uchida — who met an Ernest Sansey [phonetic] kids just out of college had no idea In those years, Uchida was the most successfully published Japanese American writer of her generation I might name other Nii sei writers, Isa Yamamoto, Toshio Mori, Wakako Yamouchi [phonetic], Nitsue [phonetic] Yamada but all these writers only Uchida lived by her craft Not that she was swimming in royalties, despite her many published books she probably received a few cents on every copy sold She lived alone and very modestly She was, I thought, a real writer I remember asking her why her stories were not anthologized in recent collection’s life I.E. Perhaps there was a hint of bitterness in her answer, but her audience was considered juvenile Children’s literature had been a genre form she chosen to enter the publishing world, but it was still writing gifted with sophistication; years later she would publish her adult memoir, “Desert Exile, the Uprooting of a Japanese American Family” In the 1950s my parents relocated from Oakland to Los Angeles My father, the pastor to Japanese American church Centenary Methodist on 35th and Normandy Avenue, my folks and other young Nii sei couples had returned from the war and camps to try to jumpstart their lives in this old center of the Japanese American community in Los Angeles We lived on 5th avenue near Jefferson, a street line with Japanese American businesses, groceries, butcher shops, pharmacies, dry cleaners, candy shops and restaurants Every day my sister and I walked past these storefronts on 6th Avenue elementary school Our classmates and neighbors were a mix of Japanese and African Americans, but for the most part we lived an insular life within the church, its Japanese American congregation and our center In 1949, Uchida published her first book, “The Dancing Tea Kettle” and other Japanese folk tales I assume that spoke to have been the first book of Japanese folk tales written in English So, we learned to read with “Dick and Jane” and “Dr. Seuss”, we also grew up with Uchida’s stories Of these tales the one story that continues to puzzle and resonate for me is “Urashima Taro [phonetic]” Uchida tells the story “Long, long ago, in a small village of Japan, there lived a fine young man named Urashi Mataro He lived with his mother and father in a thatched grove house, which over looked the sea Every morning, he was up before the sun and went out to sea in his little fishing boat On the days when his luck was good, he would bring back large baskets of fish which he sold in the village market One day as he was carrying home his load of fish, he saw a group of shouting children They were gathered around something on the beach, and were crying ‘hit him, poke him’ Turned around over to see what was the matter and then on the sand he saw a big brown tortoise The children were poking it with a long stick and throwing stones at his hard shell.” This is how Yoshiko Uchida’s version of the Japanese folk tale begins As the story goes, Taro saves the tortoise from the bullying children, returning it to the sea “One day while Taro is fishing, the tortoise appears, and as a return gift of thanks, invites Taro

to visit the princess of the sea Taro climbs onto the tortoise’s back and travels to the bottom of the sea to see Princess fed Taro with food and music and dancing, in all the seasons of the year Taro lives in this luxury for three years, which seems to him like three days, but at last Taro feels he must return home to his parents and take his lead, and as he leaves, the princess gives him a small jewel box, stuttered with many precious stones, and warns him that if he returns to the palace of the sea — that if he wishes to return to the palace of the sea, he must never open that box” Well, perhaps anyway, you know the story Sometime after the Watts riot and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and after my father’s stroke and disability retirement, my family moved to Gardena, an old on-clay but Japanese American strawberry and flower farmers, turning their land into the suburbs By then I was in high school and cynical enough to agree with my friends that Gardena was the armpit of America This brings me to speak of a few of my Gardena high school friends — in particular, Kathy Yamamoto and Garret Hunkle [phonetic] Kathy was always writing, she was the editor of the school newspaper, but before that she was the editor of a fan letter for the Beatles I figured Kathy was a writer because it was in her genes Her aunt was Hisaya [phonetic] Yamamoto and Hisaya’s best friend was Wakako Yamouchi, who also lived in Gardena Like the relationship of my aunts to Yochiko Uchida, I never paid much attention to Kathy’s relationship with these two illustrious Nii-sei writers Some years after high school I heard Garret complained to Kathy, why hadn’t she told him about Hisaya and Wakako? Introduced in sooner when we were in high school Kathy replied with amusement, “Garrett, I didn’t know you wanted to become a writer Hey, I thought you wanted to blow up the world.” He did. One Gardena summer, Garrett lived in an apartment block, a block away from Wakako Yamomuchi’s house, walking back and forth and forming a mentoring and writer relationship that has lasted a lifetime In 1982, Garrett published this poem for Wakako Yamomuchi, in his first book of poetry Yabbo light [phonetic] The title to the poem is “And your soul shall dance”, honoring Wakako’s short story, a story she eventually crafted into the dramatic play by the same name “Walking to school beside fields of tomatoes and summer squash, alone and humming a Japanese love song, you’ve concealed a copy of photoplay between your Algebra and English texts Your Niisak [phonetic] saddle shoes, plaid dress and blouse, long sleeved in white, with ruffles down the front, come from a Sears catalogue and neatly complement your new tony curls All of this sets you apart from the landscape, flat valley grooved with irrigation dishes of tractor grinding through alkaline earth The short stands of windbreak eucalyptus, shuttering the dessert wind from a small cluster of wooden tracks, where your mother hangs the wash” “You want to go somewhere, somewhere far away from all the dust and swerving machines and acres of lettuce, somewhere where you might be kissed by someone with smooth, artistic hands When you turn into the schoolyard, the flag pole gleans like a knife blade in the sun, and classmates scatter like chickens, shoed by the storm brooding in your horizon” I believe that what Garrett captures here is the same desire both he and I shared for something beyond the confinement of our provincial roots and origins, even though we would have to return again and again in order to leave Leading the old armpit of my California home,

I went to school in Minnesota, Carlton College, and one day Alex Hayley, the author of the autobiography of Malcolm X, arrive to give the convocation lecture Though it seems an impossible memory, I believe we were riveted to our seats for the next three ours, while Hayley spoke of his relationship in writing with Malcolm X. in the first hour, and then for the next two hours he told decadent storytelling of the transatlantic crossing of his named ancestor Kunta Kinte [phonetic] I’ve never forgotten that day sitting up in the Skinner Memorial Chapel filled to capacity That we came and come from somewhere had meaning In the next few I will take my transpacific crossing to do what my family called “Katie’s root swing” Figure out where we came from and why but finding out my roots turned out to be a mixed bag because I had thought it would be the same thing as finding belonging If I had not entirely belonged to my Japanese American communities in LA and Gardena, I was a really bad fit in Japan In my continued years at Carlton, two professors there were special mentors, American literature professor Bob Tisdale and anthropologist Paul Riesman Many years later I realized that it was Tisdale who quietly believed in me, despite my huge anxieties He was behind small invitations to meet writers at his home and supported my proposal for the Watson fellowship, that would send me to Brazil And it was Paul Riesman who made me understand my role as a stranger, in the powers of observation, empathy, that role might support The lessons my teachers provided took many years to understand I was sent away with two odd and desperate but now obvious books Claude Levi Strauss’ “Tristes Tropiques” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “100 years of solitude”, and I would have to travel to the other side of the hemisphere, a time travel of sorts, to meet another community of Japanese immigrants who had acculturated Brazilian If these Japanese immigrants were Brazilian, what did it mean to be American? This is the question I pondered while researching the Japanese Brazilian community and writing and rewriting the novel Brazil Modu [phonetic] I arrived in Brazil at the end of the American 60s, a period ripe with ideological, racial and political turmoil, the Vietnam War, hippie communalism and civil rights movements I met a community of Japanese Brazilians who lived through similar experiments, idealizing a new civilization and practicing communalism from the 1920s on These people could’ve been my grandparents — my parents What had happened to their community and how did they survive the war years? What I learned were dozens of resilience, hubris and failure Over the many years since I’ve maintained interest in scholarship and writing about Asians in the Americas, I’ve only recently come across maybe Asian American writing that haunts the psyche of Brazilian discovery Encounters of the indigenous and civilized science and belief, sexuality and race story and history, and while her story resides in the pacific, in her novel “The people in the trees”, Hanya Yanagihara [phonetic] binned these narratives in her writing with complexity and danger This segment from “The people in the trees” reminds me of the folk tale of Hurashima Taro, which kindly extends darkly and magically to explore ideas of immortality “As my father stood near the shore very sad, he suddenly saw something sliding beneath the water surface To my father’s great astonishment, the thing rose, and my father saw that it was an enormous turtle — the biggest he had ever seen Both taller and wider than he was, its fetus large has law-wide spurs, paddling the water in brisk, forcible strokes, and staring at my father with its slow, yellow eyes My father was so amazed he found himself unable to move But then the turtle waggled the top half of its body to the lent and my father understood that he was to straddle the turtle’s back and the turtle will take him

to Ibu-Ibu” [phonetic] “My father had never felt exhilaration like the kind he experienced riding on top of the turtle The turtle swam gingerly through the shallows, careful not to scratch his feet on the great oceans of coral But once they were in open water, his swimming became swift and powerful, and they passed coups of sharks, pots of whales and once that magnificent flee of other opaiba icas [phonetic] Hundreds of them, he just did, as the one he was riding, who lifted their heads from the water and stared at him, as if in salute, with the multiplicity of glowing eyes” Hara captures here the idea of the turtle as a magical but also an inscrutable being upon whose back we climb hoping to find our destiny Perhaps what lies ahead is an adventure or an escape, or the moment of our death The turtle is the great vehicle, on silence they ship The responsibility of our journey is only our own, real or imagined About the time that the Brazilian government — or military returned the government to a civilian democracy, I left with my Brazilian family to immigrate into Los Angeles As predicted, LA had become a diversely cosmopolitan city, it’s growing majority complexion turned Latino And by the time the 1992 riots burned across our landscape, we knew the media had completely mischaracterized the conflicts as black and white or black and Korean As Brazilians, we were part of the Latin American shift, and I saw to understand that shift in a novel called “Tropic of Orange” It was during this time that I met and have ever since been inspired by the east LA poet Sesshu [phonetic] Foster Sesshu narrates as only Sesshu can an alternative reality in his non-novel “Atomic Aztec” — I’d better drink another glass “Perhaps you are familiar with this — with some world stupider realities among an alternative universe is in which the Aztec civilization was destroyed That’s the possibility — I mean, that’s what the Europeans thought they planned, genocide, wipe out our civilization, build cathedrals on top of our pyramids, hump our women — not just our women but analyst people, designate them with small postesels [phonetic] and shit pits Welfare lines, workaholism [phonetic], imbecility and slave them into silver minds and Potosi, the gold minds in El Dorado and Disneylandia [phonetic], on golf courses and country clubs — chingados [phonetic] All our brothers — you get the picture” “The European figure, they wipe us out Planee [phonetic] and slave our people down at Tacoma Liquor Store, crush our resistance, then claim it was all an accident Just their luck, they pretend they just happen on their way to India to buy some carom and some nutmeg and spice; like you just accidently happen to designate whole civilizations and worlds just to set a nice breakfast table — hot coffee, cinnamon toast, Chinese silverware Did we care if they had a plan B? Hell no, because in no way does this fit our aesthetic conception of how the universe is supposed to run It’s just plain ugly The Spanish believed they had superior fire powder — gun powder, crossbows, steel, armor body, Arabian horses, gallions built on convoys” “All this was true, but we asked to have our ways and means, we have access to the meanest, nastiest, psycho [inaudible] voodoo Jump blues, human sacrifices, proletarian fam guard parties Angry coffee house, poetry, fantasy life intensified by the masturbation and comic books on all our armies, flower warriors, jaguar legions, jujitsu and of course, the secret weapon In a nutshell, the Spanish didn’t have a chance” The imagination sometimes revealed itself intensely and vibrantly insane, but it’s only sane — but it’s the only sane sight where we can do war Bloody hand to hand combat, express grief and anger and find solace and reconciliation In the mid-90s I met Ryuta Imafuku [phonetic] writers color and cultural critic, who invited and sponsored my family a six-month stay in Japan to research the return migration of Japanese Brazilian factory labors During that period, Ryuta invited me to write online monthly installments about anatomy search and travels, and those essays found their way into circle case cycles

It was Ryuta’s insistent but always gentile prodding that encouraged me to see and explore the growing Brazilian Dekasegi [phonetic] community and to see that community in despotic movement, in the context of both historic and contemporary japan If I had learned my lesson, as a young stranger in years past, I was given the confidence and freedom of an old stranger The twisting triangulations of my world are constantly changing and flexible, although it’s possible to name other writers who live with such mobility, I feel closest to the shifting homes of Arizamora Linmap[phonetic] mark, moving about from Honolulu to Manila to San Francisco, to Miami, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Tokyo and all these pursuing the chaos of language with clay and dark humor “A recurrent immigrant story is that laborists leave their children behind with grandparents or relatives and then send for their children years later, when they are able to afford to do so This is the last scene of Zack’s novel “Leche” The protagonist, Vince returns from Kalili [phonetic], Honolulu to his childhood home in the Philippines, San Vicente, where his grandfather has died to find the empty of his family and childhood passed In the photograph, what happened to the wall to wall photographs that show generation after generation of the Lewis clan? Where are the hand painted photographs of turn of the century relatives, one who came to the tropics as a soldier to fight the Philippinos and another to teach them? And the airport group shots of himself, Alvin, Gene, Yaya Leti [phonetic] and Don Alfonso in front of the fountain on the afternoon, they were sent off to their parents Whom do they belong to now?” “He reassures himself that they’re upstairs where the bedrooms are, the runs up the wooden staircase, head straight forward to the room as if he lived there all his life — it too was empty, as empty as the succession of closets and cabinet drawers he pulls open, hoping to get assaulted by memorabilia, smelling of moss balls, but nothing No one dusty shelf of books or issue of comics — empty” “Fighting off tears and with a heart that doesn’t know when to give up hope, he searches room after room, wall after wall, for halls punctured by nails upon which used to hang the guilt and picture frames he checks the inside of doors for shadows of the photographs that had once been tacked there He took everything with him, to his grave — he tells himself, he didn’t want me to return and reclaim what was mine My family history, objects from my childhood, nothing salvage, nothing, except this house, smelling of mule waxed floors” Zack mourns here the loss of home while showing the predicament of mobility of the transnational, as a stage of new, global citizenship, often celebrated but also for many, migrant labors, a state in limbo, and great precarity [phonetic] So, it seems that here the great turtle with its shell as home has a different lesson How we must also travel within our bodies, even if marked by ethnicity, gender and color In the late 90s I began teaching at UC Santa Cruz And along with learning how to teach I made forays, into San Francisco to research the Asian American movement as it is was birth in Chinatown, Manila Town, Japan Town and then the universities, the factories, culture and political institutions spawned in that period And I would have found — and I found the center of that narrative in the international or the I-Hotel As with other projects, I sat out to be a gathering machine, recording Marriott stories of anyone willing to talk to me I never recorded anyone on a recording machine My method has been to record with my body, and to remember, well, everything, bodily expression, insinuations, syntax, cadence and story The most difficult recording was the one I tried to accomplish with the poet Al Robles

I met with him at Vesuvian [phonetic] North Beach next to city lights and sit close with him for hours, while I tried to pin down the most preposterous stories By the time they grew dark, he stood up and said, “hey Karen, let’s get some dirty food”, which meant that we would go to Chinatown and slip into a greasy diner for chop suey I think I dropped him off at home around midnight and headed back to Santa Cruz I was exhausted, I’ve been recording from maybe 12 hours, maybe I didn’t get Al’s stories right, but he was, as his friend said, the poet Monka [phonetic] that tendered a loin and I miss him dearly Al with the help of Roselian [phonetic] at the UCLA Asian American studies center, published one book of poetry, “Wraping with 10,000 caravans in the dark” and this is the first stanza of that signature poem “International hotel in the Mongol heart in east the mind of the Philippines where old and young Philippinos live, hang and roam around on daylight cutouts in the mud Eating, sleeping and working, Philippinos scattered all over, brown faces pile high, moving like shadows on trees, concrete doorways, poohas [phonetic], barber shops Guitar music echoes through down deep in your Mongol heart and ease their mind Chinatown across the way, 60,000 or more live in rooms the size of tea pots, searching, stretching east, west, north and south Thousands are crammed in damp basements, alleyways behind, run down barrels of ancient Chinese mountain wine, thousands of Chinese children run, soy sauce streets, long black-haired listening like a cool stream of quiet moon watches” “Short crop of hair, morning spring faces, underneath fresh soaked clouds; all those tiny footsteps keep the winter valley warm Similar to the turtle algae, the old Philippino batches the Mongol are kind of mythical stages as cut about Watcher buffalo, roaming so rarely in the halls and teapot rooms of the international hotel, mud replaced by concrete doorways, barbershops poohas, soy sauce streets” In the past years I’ve been forced to think about the future, probably because many of my students want to write science fiction and fantasy What the academy has rebranded as speculative My colleague Nika [phonetic] Perks pointed out that I’ve been a speculative writer for years, I just didn’t know it, and with the help of Steven Honsong [phonetic] I published “Anime Wong”, fictions of performance This work remembers my collaborations with director Sushiko Hoshi, ideographer, Karamaeda [phonetic] and composers that kept Beabe [phonetic] and Glen Horiuchi [phonetic] And the dozens of actors, dancers, designers, stage personnel and producers who joined our performance projects presented at venues in Los Angeles for Asian American audiences Recently, more Asian American writers have taken a turn to the speculative, and I have followed with admiration the work of Chang Ray Lee since his book “Native Speaker” Most recently his novel “On such a fool sea” imagines the present future of vacated and bided cities and the global exchange of labor in a completely secular society, governed by class and capital What follows are edited selections that introduce the collective narrator are the protagonists of Chang Ray’s novel “It is known where we came from, it is known where we come from, but no one much cares about these things, but things like that anymore We think ‘why bother?’ Except for a lucky few, everyone is from some place but that some place it turns out is gone You can search it, you can find pits or bits that show what the place last looked like In our case they gavel color shop town of stoop shouldered buildings on a river bank in china, shore hills in the distance, rooftops and nests of wires and junk The river tea still, a swath of black, and blunting it all is a haze you can almost smell, a smell you think you don’t want to breathe in”

“So, what does it matter if the town was raised one day? After our people were truffed [phonetic] out, what difference does it make that there’s almost nothing there now? It was on the other side of the world, which might as well be a light year away — though probably it was mourned when they were thriving People are funny that way, even the most miserable kind of circumstance can inspire a genuine throb of nostalgia And then there is the tale of Fan, a young woman whose cause has been taken up by a startling number of us She’s now gone from here, and whether she’s enduring her suffering or dead is a metaphor her household, whatever their disposition” “They’re gone too We can talk about her openly because hers is no grand tragedy, no apocalypse of the soul or of our times, yet there are those who would like to believe otherwise, that each and every being in the realm is a mock of micocosum [phonetic] of the realm, that we are hardened and chastened and elevated by a singular reflection This is a fetching idea, metaphorically and otherwise, most often would sit for promoting the greater good But more and more we can see that the question is not whether we are individuals We can’t help but be, this has been proved case by case We are not drones or robots and never will be, the question then is whether being an individual makes a difference anymore.” “That it can’t matter at all and if now whether in fact we care — to try and care about such things Let’s suppose another way of considering here, which was that she had a special conviction of imagination Few of us do to be honest We wish and wish and often we furiate [phonetic] but never very deeply, for if we did we’d see how the world can sometimes be split open in just the way we hope That it and we, in fact, are unbounded — free” Perhaps it’s not obvious but what I have attempted here to do is to weave a personal history with encounters of community, remembered and imagined as literary registry Why I ended up writing? I’m not sure It wasn’t genes or a passionate choice, it’s probably the only thing I’m really equipped to do But in reflection of this journey I have traveled within and been a part of many communities, perhaps is the familiar stranger, providentially there and not there An empathetic observer, wanting to learn, carry to record — that has been my particular role and contribution There are many writers whose names and words I might have also shared today But given the time, those mentioned here are a few of those with whom I have grown up and grown old Immigrants, refugees, exiles by the fortunes of life, have set forth on the backs of immortal turtles to distant places or perhaps not so distant, but alternates display bummed out realities never again to return, or discover that return is never possible Asian American might be an imagined island or an undersea palace Perhaps it is Hania’s Ibu-bu, Sesshu’s East LA or Al’s I-Hotel, or it is Zach’s limbo, Garrett’s somewhere, Chang Ray’s unbounded world As Yochiko Uchida has retold the story of Urashima Taro, Taro returns from the sea palace on the back of the gray tortoise to his village and finds it completely changed And where his batch for home should’ve been, there is an empty lot full of tall weeds He quirs an old woman, who he calls a story about a young fisherman named Urashima Taru, who went out to fish and never returned This she uses must have happened 300 years ago Confused but thinking that the jewel box gifted to him by the princess must hold an answer, he opens the box Suddenly there rose from a cloud of white smoke, which wrapped itself around Taro so he could see nothing, and when it disappeared, Urashima Taro appeared into the empty box but he could scarcely hear sea

He looked at his hands and they were the hands of an old, old man His face was wrinkled; his hair was white as snow This year coffee house press will publish letters to memory, and while I’m unable to characterize the book, my editor Carolyn Casey has said, as I say “it is the word based on an archive of family correspondence documents and photographs, the center of which are letters written between 1938 and 1948, capturing the family’s war time dispersal from Oakland California, to Topaz concentration camp in Delta, Utah And beyond the schools and work, in the Midwest and east coast, and for a portion of the family, their eventual return to California The form my book has taken is epistolary — that is fictional letters and what follows is the first part of letter until after “Dear Kohele [phonetic], you’re a preacher’s kid When we met we recognized each other immediately that pique je ne se qua, like we’re supposed to be doing something significant eventually or actually, like we were raised with everyone looking on politely resentful, assuming we knew — when we didn’t and thus perpetual strangers in a world of blessed woe, primed by difference to serve One day I heard your lecture, and I turned to you after in marvel — ‘you gave us sermon’ You answered ‘all my lectures are sermons’ I thought ‘mine too, maybe’ Frustrate picas, but you must have really been frustrated because finally you entered the seminary and got a master at definity [phonetic] I could never do this, well you believe, which is kind of necessary One day I came home from junior high school and announced at dinner that I discovered a philosopher named John Paul Sartre, and a great idea caught existentialism I can’t remember what my dad John said, but that was the beginning I had been that kind of pique Heading out in another direction where turns out anyway to be the same I figured you understand and that you’ll know the skinny and funny of it Recently I saw yet another staging of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and I wondered about those good and bad daughters, silent tribute versus false fanning and this reading of love and honor Do daughters naturally aspire to be Cordelia? Or is this an impossible and romantic notion of set-by-character and circumstance? “No, no, no, no” cries Lear to Cordelia, broken and unwilling to further challenge his fate ‘Come here’ encourages her ‘let’s away to prison’ and then these last words to his daughter, ‘We too alone will sing like birds of the cage ‘When bow does sassy blessing, I’ll kneel down and ask of thee forgiveness So, we’ll live and pray and sing and tell old tales and laugh at gilded butterflies and hear poor rogues talk of court news and we’ll talk with them too, who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out And take upon us the mystery of things, as if we were God’s spies, and we’ll wear out in a wall prison packs and sex on great one that eve and flow by the moon'” I am drawn to memories in which we live and pray and sing and tell old tales and laugh But this was the laugh, oh but to laugh at gilded butterflies, this must be the satirical laughter that I am prone to But John would say that this is not truly laughter, not the laughter that preoccupied his thinking It is not laughter at, but laughter within, I think, that concerned him I am growing old, searching for this kind of laughter, and where is he now that this laughter is needed most? Meanwhile I have found myself beholden to the lost possibility that we take upon us the mystery of things as if we were God’s spies

Perhaps this has been the meaning of these letters, though surely no mystery is revealed here Simply we have been together before time to try Thank you [ Applause ] >> Lisa Sasaki: Thank you so much Karen, that was just — I was just sitting there thinking and sort of contemplating this idea of the legacies that we all stand on right now, the writers, the family members, the letter writers, the heroes that have come before us, who I think we’re constantly thinking of in — even as we move forward into the future So, now I’d like to go into the future right now with our next part of our talk But before I do that I wanted to just make a quick invitation for this evening The Asian-Pacific American center would like to invite all of you — anybody here, who has participated in the festival to join us this evening for an informal closing gathering at “Ten Tigers Parlor”, this evening from 05:00p.m to 07:00p.m. We would love to have you there, we’re going to be remediating on the festival and coming up with grand ideas for the future So, please join us Kathy, if you could join us up here to introduce our next leaders >> Kathy Lin Che: Thank you so much and thank you Karen for that intimate lecture I was so — I feel like all my neurons are on fire and I feel just so honored to have that sense of history So much of what we do so, hi, I’m Kathy, I’m the executive director at Kundiman [phonetic] We are an organization that serves Asian American writers specifically Our mission is to — we’re dedicated to the creation, cultivation, motion of Asian American literature but specifically I think what we look to do is really to nurture and mentor and teach the next generation of Asian American writers and I think having a sense of our history is so important so, thank you Our next three — so, we have three readers from Kundiman who will be presenting their work Each person has such a different story to tell so, I’m very excited And I had hold up their bios on one of these devices — here they are OK so, I’m going to read all of their bios in sixth session and they’ll come up in the eight so, our first reader is VT Hung VT was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts His parents are both people who opened the first Vietnamese grocery store in Boston He received his education from BC High — Boston College and the Lynch School of Education, the Boston Public Library And WGBH Channel 2 He’s Kundiman fiction fellow and Margin’s fellow at the Asian American writer’s web shop in NYC and currently he’s completing his MFA in Creative Writing Syracuse University in Fiction I decided not to give — I changed my mind, everybody welcome VT [ Applause ] >> VT Hung: Hi, everyone I am — my background’s an education so, I’m going to let you know that I’ll be reading two short pieces of fiction The first one is one page, the second one is four pages so, you know, get ready When I told some of my friends in the program that I was going to be reading today they said “make sure you read something that has sex or violence, because that sells Like, that’s going to be really popular” I can’t promise you all that but I can tell you that there’s going to be cats and sadness so, like, just as good Like, it’ll be — it’s fine So, before I start, I want to thank you Karen Tei Yamashita for her beautiful, important lecture, and I can’t believe I’m on the stage that you were just standing on I want to thank you Lauren Smith Davis, Nydia Cook and all

of the organizations and staff involved in making this successful reality, the Smithsonian A-pack and Lisa Sasaki, Kuni [phonetic] Man, Kathy Linh Che, Ryan Lee Wong, the Asian American writers workshop, Ken Cheng and Jyoti Nadarajan [phonetic], and for all of you coming to support Asian American artist and their work And lastly shout out to Balok and Tudiq [phonetic], the provinces where my Vietnamese refugee parents were born and to Dorchester Mass, where I was born and raised I can’t believe we’re out here in the library of Congress What a Boston — all right So, how I generated this piece — this is the one-page piece Last year I moved from New York City to Syracuse to begin my MFA program and I went through a very long breakup and had a lot of trouble finding sleep This piece is called “2:16a.m.”. “On my life, I waited to be kept up at night And it finally happened At first, I told myself it’d been a mistake, but after a week of waking up in the middle of the night, I took the red line teleport to the sleep exchange center in the Floating Medical District I drew a number from the ticketing machine and waited my turn to meet with a dream official, who checked my records Unfortunately, no one had reported my presence in their dream The official assured me that records were up to date, with data gathered each morning from dream monitors ‘It might have been that you were just an extra in the background of someone’s dream That happens more than you’d expect’ the dream official said ‘OK’ I thought, So, maybe I wasn’t the lead role in someone’s dream, fine but my restlessness continued It lasted another two weeks, then three and after a month I resolved to find out who was keeping me up But how’d I go about it? If I asked them politely, would they stop dreaming? Whoever they were, they’ve been consistent Maybe they were falling in love with me, if they weren’t already In the end, I decided it would be best to wait another week or so For now, the routine brought me some comfort I fall asleep and the night wakes me, the moon keeps me company and then I remember that when you cannot sleep, it is because someone is dreaming of you.” All right, oh All right so — [applause] The next story, which is four pages long, double spaced, is called “Tiger, Tiger” “The portal dropped the child an unfamiliar ground” — that’s right, there’s a portal “Against all decrees of high science and witchcraft, her uncle had summoned it Our world is finished’, he said, ‘you and what I had trust you now will be the last reminisce of our civilization’ He opened the child’s rug sack and placed inside it a large parcel ‘Do with it what you wish’ The child adjusted the straps on his shoulders to settle the weight on her back Outside the three-night moons were falling from the sky toward her planet If she felt distressed, her face betrayed nothing But her uncle sensed it, and in these final moments he broke with social procedures and attempted sympathy ‘While this is certainly not the time to disorient my faculties with sentimentality’ — he said — then he paused ‘my niece, what I mean to say is if we should meet again in the next life, I hope’ — before he could finish, the white maids rode through the gates and an explosion of smoke and lighting had struck her uncle down dead The force of the blow knocked the child through the portal The sound of rushing water will care She was in a clotted forest surrounded by tall towers of limestone She’d lost track of her rug sack and searched for it, before locating it by the riverbank Streams lumps had formed inside it and were shifting around, slowly, like an owl snake uncoiling its feathers, the top of the rug sack flew open and out tumbled two tiger cubs The child was struck by how small they were, how they lacked mastery over their motor skills But the most extraordinary characteristic about them was they emitted not a single sound Not a meow, squeak nor purr — they were silent tigers After they shared a deep drink from the river, the child scoot them up and secured them back inside her rug sack She found a road and road it for many days The tiger cubs were so quiet, if it hadn’t been for their intermittent wrestling matches, she would’ve assumed they expired

By the time she reached the port town the tiger cubs were perpetually falling asleep Every so often, she reached behind her to scratch their ears and pet their bellies to ensure they could still wake They did not find the rest that they’d hoped for in the port town The citizens demanded payment before they would provide the child with food and shelter “Unfortunately, I have nothing”, she said, standing up straighter to keep her rucksack and tiger cubs out of sight Her stomach contracted with hunger, and she felt the paws of the tiger cubs kneading her back She thought of her uncle’s last words, the world they lost, the difficult choice she now had to make She found the section of the market where animals were sold, and lifted the two tiger cubs out of her rucksack Many collectors inquired about them, but when the tigers’ vocal derangement was revealed, customers left “Of what use are mute tigers?”, They said The merchants were closing down the market stalls for the night when a gust of wind blew through the town, a woman shrouded in a tattered cloak limped slowly toward the child and her silent tiger cubs In exchange for one of the tigers, she presented the child with a machete “It is enchanted”, the cloaked figure said before slipping away into memory The child and the remaining tiger continued on in this new world When the child wielded it, she could cut through the thickest tree truck, the densest seal, but they kept to themselves and focused on the mundane but peaceful task of living The child collected firewood while the tiger watched her from a tree The tiger a into lakes and rivers to catch fish, and the child cleaned it with her machete They raced across the forest together, the child clinging to the back of the tiger They played the way cats would, pouncing, racing, fighting They moved on when restless They slept out on open fields and watched shooting stars, tracing it with their fingers and claws like they were the ones tearing up the sky Sometimes they wondered about the lost member of their trio, but never discussed it in the language that they shared “Dwelling in the past is not essential for surviving the present”, she could hear her uncle say The child grew into a woman, the cub into an adult tiger, but still they were hunted by a lingering sense of loss Consequently, they never wandered too far from each other Like the sun and the moon, when one appeared, the other was not far behind When they reached the city between two mountains, an assembly of witches and warriors approached A white mage was wreaking havoc at the edge of their world and they were going to stop him Would the young woman warrior and her battle tiger join them? The two conferred privately before arriving at a decision “Certainly!”, the child said to the assembly, “Our own home world is lost We have grown accustomed to this one and would prefer that it not end prematurely” The child and her tiger covered many lands with the assembly of witches and warriors and fought hard against the sorcerers and goblin soldiers of the white mage They rushed headlong into war, clearing entire battalions with their combined ferocity The tiger’s sharp claws and fearsome teeth, the child’s strength and skill with her enchanted machete, these helped to turn the tide of crucial battles In the final confrontation, however, the warriors and witches were thoroughly laid to waste, their contorted corpses were scattered at the feet of the white mage in his throne room — I have destroyed countless worlds, and will continue doing so — he said — Who are you to suggest otherwise? — The child braced her enchanted machete and struggled to her feet Suddenly, she felt a touch on her shoulder beckoning her to stay down It was her tiger, whose fur was covered in deep gashes and purple patches of blood — The silent tiger from a lost world — said the mage — How utterly useless — The tiger lurched from the center of the throne room to face the white mage Then, it crouched close to the ground, and exploded into a sprint Just as it was about to pounce, the white mage conjured a frost spell, and hurled a shard of ice at the child In an instant the tiger changed course midair and leapt out in front of it The ice tore into the tiger’s soft belly and remained there until it melted The child dragged herself over to her tiger and turned her back to the white mage to shield her wounded companion She alternated between scolding and thanking the tiger Sensing this was the end, she cried for her world, her uncle, and her tow tigers She scratched behind the tiger’s ears and stroked its tail

The tiger nuzzled her calloused hands — Please, forgive me for separating you from your sibling when you were merely cubs — she said — I was immature and lacked the requisite sources, material and intellectual, to keep your bond intact — Looking at her, the tiger purred until the ground trembled, and then died In rage, she picked up her enchanted machete and hurled it at the white mage It pierced through his magic defenses and struck him in the chest The white mage burst into flames, and his magical powers dispersed, ripping open another portal A voice called from beyond, “Hold a time and place in your mind, and step through” The child picked up her enchanted machete, and stepped toward the portal — The white mage is dead, and my tiger has deserted me — she said — Never did I envision standing once again on the crimson shores of my home planet to gaze upon the three-night moons” Machete in hand, a time and place held in her mind, she stepped through The portal deposited her in a port town She found a tattered cloth in the ground and wrapped it around her shoulders She remembered where she needed to go The merchants were closing down the market stalls for the night, and in the section where animals are being sold, a child stood holding out a rucksack She limped slowly toward the child and traded her machete for one of the two silent tiger cubs — It is enchanted — she said before slipping away into memory Thank you [ Applause ] >> Lisa Sasaki: All I have to say is Vt does have a kitty, and I just imagined that he wrote that just like tumbling around with your kitty, and that’s very cute so thank you for that Our next reader is Mark Keats Mark Keats was adopted from South Korea at the age of three He earned his MFA in Fiction at the University of Maryland and is a recipient of a Kundiman Fellowship His work has appeared or is forthcoming in [inaudible] with Ron Corderly [phonetic] and others, and he’s currently a PhD candidate in the English and Creative Writing Program at Texas Tech University I know he’s currently dissertating So, please give Mark a warm welcome in the middle of his dissertation! [ Applause ] >> Mark Yeats: This is not intimidating at all, right? [laughter] I would also like to thank Karen Tei Yamashita for her lovely lecture, I think it’s very appropriate It’s very shocking to me, a literary hero and also someone whose books are on my reading list, it’s sort of very interesting to sort of accepting that continuity of Asian American literature, to be part of that I would like to thank the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the Asian American Literary Review, and especially Kundiman I had not heard of Kundiman I still don’t know quite perhaps who first told me about them, but [inaudible] if it was worth, you know, applying again because I was not part of the first fiction concord, and he said resoundingly “Yes, apply It will change your life” And so, I did, and I participated last year, and it certainly did change my life I think the first thing it did ultimately was to suggest that there’s this community of other Asian American writers out there that are struggling and succeeding, and pursuing writing, not just sort of as a side project, but for their career, and I was just overwhelmed by that I would also say that I’ve never felt that comfortable in a group of people, and so it’s a lovely experience to fell just sort of yourself I’m going to read three short pieces The first piece is called “Adoptive Fragment number five” When you ask, they will say, “Your birthmother, she made a tough decision” You’ll think, “But she decided” When you ask your adoptive mother, she will say, “I’ve always loved you I’ve always known” She will kneel down and put her arms around you, and look you in the eyes, “I choose you” You will think, “You decided” When you ask your adoptive father, he will not speak right away It has never been his way Instead, he will hold his coffee mug midair, purse his lips, consider his response He will say, “Well, of course, what your mother said is true We saw your picture and knew” You will think, “Yes, of course”

“You knew, and you decided” When you ask your adoptive older brother, he will shrug, smile uneasily, say, “What’s it matter? You’re my sister “Yes”, you will think, “It was decided” When you ask your dog, she will look at you calmly, her tail thumping lightly, she will bark once and again, and you will know somehow that the translation will be that, “it has always been decided” This next piece, and I do want to give a shoot at, this piece was published in [inaudible] and they’re based out in Burke, Virginia, which is pretty local here, and to their editor Cara Lakowski [phonetic] who was a big part of this story, and when they published this, it really made me feel like a writer finally, right? When you publish something — “Lessons from Oregon” The [inaudible] is rain I don’t have to tell you about that, right? It doesn’t reveal itself until after October Then, it rains a lot, but during September, the month I was supposedly born, the weatherman said that it would be gray and menacing, the rain wouldn’t happen until Thursday this week And I had trusted him, his voice, his way of predicting [inaudible] As I walked to work on Tuesday, wondering how I came to be teaching elementary school children about parts of speech, it rained hard Then, as if it wanted to surprise me, show its capriciousness, stopped once I reached the school’s large glass door Hair matted down form the wetness, another teacher opened the door, looked and said to me — Where’s your umbrella? — The man said it wouldn’t rain until Thursday — She responded — Silly boy, always bring your umbrella — Lesson one — always bring your umbrella [inaudible] Assumption — you have an umbrella [inaudible] Coffee is clearly better here, I think It doesn’t matter when I drink coffee anymore Sometimes after I drink, I fall asleep, as if I drank to fall asleep And when I dream, I dream I have three cats, three brand new cats I’ve always been a dog person, so I don’t know what the dream means [laughter] It bothers me that I’d have so many cats [laughter] But now after a few months, I can’t sleep So, I drink more and think of those three cats, their names, their personalities I run on the apartment’s treadmills at two in the morning, and come up with names like Larry, Louis, Leopold, all names that might reflect where I was raised Lesson two — adjusting to the time difference will take longer than expected Lesson 2.5 — get a cat, maybe two because the apartment doesn’t allow dogs — Sure — I say to my mother, who happened to forget about the three-hour time difference, but I’m awake — the insomnia I boil water to run the French press Does it really make a difference if it’s 3:30am here, 6:30am on the East Coast, when your mother calls? — How’s my favorite son doing? — She asks — I’m your only son — I say — You didn’t answer the question — she says [laughter] Lesson three — you can’t hide from your mother, even on the West Coast [laughter] mom calls again early — Did you check the top cabinet? — I say, looking out my window I hear the cabinet door ease open, then close shut — Thank you — she says — I don’t know what I’d do without you — You seem to be doing OK — I say — did you make a decision? — She says — are you going to meet her? Oh, I almost forgot — she adds — your cousin Laura, she’s pregnant — Lesson four — be born or adopted into a family with siblings Lesson 4.5 — get mom a hobby, maybe a cat [laughter] Lesson 4.75 — when you’re adopted, birthmothers will find you [laughter] The school where I teach English, Fiona asked me why I talk funny She has a large mole near her bottom lip, with her hair pulled back in pigtails, and the kind of earnest expression synonymous with first graders and their questions — Funny? — I repeat, looking at her, unsure if I can really hear what she hears — Fiona — I say, about to talk about regional dialects, before I realize I don’t know how to explain that to a first grader Lesson five — stop talking funny [laughter] Also, no more stickers for Fiona [laughter] It’s fiction It’s OK, right? [Laughter] I named my cats Louis and Clark; the irony is that they’re indoor cats and I live in a studio [laughter] When they follow me around, I pretend that I’m the Columbia River, so I sneak around the apartment with them in toe Sometimes I create an obstacle for them and say, “This won’t easy [Inaudible] and marking new lands is never easy”, but they just rub against my leg, wait for me to bend down and pet them Lesson 6 — get a hobby and/or get out more A cannon beach on an unclear day [inaudible] my house reminds me of one of my favorite painting “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” It’s been six month since I was laid off and move to the west from the East Coast, away from family and friends, away from familiarity, away from the letter that had arrived telling me that she was looking for me, and I think as my shoes make sets of impressions on the firm and sooty-looking sand, as the strong wind fills my shoes with imperceptible pieces, “I think all we needed was

to keep pretending that we didn’t exist, that we didn’t need each other, that it was OK, that we forgave each other, that that sometimes happens in life” But when that letter came, the distance that the [inaudible] became a momentary lapse, merely a delay between the things we had meant to say, the things some of us hoped to say, and I hear it in my head when I imagine and hope that she will say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” Lesson seven — there are unforeseen consequences to everyone’s actions In this last piece — actually, I wrote it for my wife, who is in the audience struggling to have some sleep, she worked a night shift as an ICU nurse last night, so I’m grateful that she’s here It’s real brief, it’s called “Family Traits” It’s an elusive thing, one I assume we will see when the baby comes, if the baby comes So much depends on the baby, I think, for us to see In my friends’ family photos, it’s almost always the eyes, and sometimes it’s the nose, the cheekbones, the way they all smile, sometimes serious, sometimes, not so much, perhaps, even caught in the moment You can’t hide that, I think, no matter how much my friend tells me she’ll never be like her mother or father Even in my family I can see it, though it’s less genetic The way we sometimes slide our hands through our hair, raise our eyebrows a little, exhale It’s in the way we eat, and though I don’t go to church anymore, the way I fold my hands and bow my head a little It’s in the constant worrying and unnecessary apologizing for the simplest thing The dog, too, has gotten in on the act, as if he’s forgotten his previous doggy life in West Texas and absorbed [inaudible] East Coast Sometimes, when he sits by the slider and peers out, it’s hard, you say, not to think about me in the other room reading, looking at a window, and wondering also what they look like, what they both look like And, of course, I find myself thinking about your parents too back in Korea, and the face I fell in love with might be separated into two Thank you very much [ Applause ] >> Lisa Sasaki: That’s so great Thank you, Mark Actually, I just wanted to just mention that Kundiman, we have for 14 years sponsored a retreat So, that’s how everybody knows each other It is at Fordham University in the Bronx, and people apply and 18 writers per genre, poetry and prose come together, and study with like six total, but three writer who are a bit more established So, it is a community but we also are very much looking to — programs like these help enable us to reach a wider audience and to welcome more people in It’s an intimate program, but we want to continue to welcome people into the cult, so thank you OK, our last and final reader, our last and final last [laughter] I’m a writer too, apparently Our last reader is Sejal Shah Sejal’s essays have appeared in the Asian American Literary Review, Brevity, The Kenian Review online, Waxwing, and several anthologies, including the just released “Mad Heart, Be Brave: Essays on the Poetry of Agha Shahid Ali” Recently, she has been sending out two manuscripts, “How to Make Your Mother Cry: Stories”, and “Things People Say: A Book of Essays” She teaches at Writers and Books, a community-based literary center in Rochester, New York, and serves as the co-chair of Kundiman North East Everybody welcome Sejal [ Applause ] >> Sejal Shah: I always have a lot of stuff Can you hear me? OK, I’m going to be reading from “Mad Heart, Be Brave” which is edited by Kazim Ali, and its essays on the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali First, I wanted to thank also the organizers of the conference, to Lawrence, the Smithsonian, to Kundiman, to Sara and Cathy, especially Kundiman welcomed me as a fellow in poetry five years ago, even though I did an MFA in fiction, but my background is also poet, so this was before there was a fiction retreat, but Kundiman also changed my life

To Kaya, and to Nila, to the Asian American Writers Workshop and [inaudible] to the Library of Congress and [inaudible] Casper, to the Asian American Literary Review, and to the discipline of Asian American Studies, which saved during my MFA, and to Kundiman which has been a home for me these past five years, and thanks to all of you for being here I’m going to take a picture of you [laughter], smile! This is amazing [laughter] So, a special shout-out to [inaudible] from the Margins for editing and publishing the original essay And it’s based on my remarks at Shahid’s memorial, [inaudible] in 2002 This is for my grandmother Also, get your library to order this [laughter] The title’s called “The World is Full of Paper, Write to Me” You might recognize those words from Shahid’s poem “Stationery”, and if you haven’t read it, you should Shahid was the first and only person to call me a yankee I first met Shahid in 1996 at Harvard University It was a winter evening, in my memory, Shahid wears a narrowed jacket, something pale in color, and he glows the ways snow glows on certain winter nights He read from his collection, “The Country without A Post Office”, which held the political violence in Kashmir in its backdrop Afterwards, I told Shahid I had applied to the MFA program at [inaudible] and that I hoped to study with him — Come, come — he said Shahid was warm, charismatic, irreverent, I fell for him the way you fall for someone across the room at a party and then feel compelled to approach As soon as I saw and heard him in Cambridge, I was transfixed My name was a part of his name, I decided it was destiny [laughter] Knowing almost nothing about Kashmir and the Indian military occupation, I thought of Shahid as simply an Indian American writer I hoped to find in him a mentor At the time, I had met only one other South Asian writer, Bharati Mukherjee, who declared herself an American writer only, rejecting any hyphen or descriptor such as Indian American or South Asian, Bengali American, or Asian American She wished to be understood and accepted as an American writer, as American as anyone else I couldn’t blame her When I arrived in [inaudible] in the fall of 1997, I immediately asked Shahid if I could take his poetry workshop Although I was a fiction student, Shahid said — Sure, why not? — Don’t worry, it’s only five pages That was the first Shahid often rewrote our poems, starting from the bottom, working his way to the top He suggested new possibilities for each of us, reading his revisions in a lilting voice This rewriting occasionally hurt my feelings [laughter], often bewildered me, and mostly infuriated me [laughter] In my poem “Alexander Street”, the first line became “Instead the 28th” Shahid crossed out so many lines in another poem that out of 25 lines only eight remained [laughter] There are copies of his comments on my workshop poems in the book, and yes, here’s another that got reordered I never sent these out Rob was in that workshop with me I’ve never read this with someone else who was there too I was horrified In college, my poems have received every literary prize awarded No one had taken my writing apart line by line, and dismantled their basic architecture, what I thought of as the poem’s intention and integrity Still, I could see that Shahid was doing something interesting

I must’ve realized that I needed to pay attention because even after 15 years, after almost 20 years, I had still held on to all of Shahid’s written comments on my work One month into the semester, Shahid delivered a piece of advice to me, announced to our entire workshop, “Never use the word ‘soul’ in a poem” [laughter], he declared and then grinned He was both teasing and completely serious I winced, I had just brought in a villanelle, “Onyx, Obsidian, Flocks, Coal”, in which “soul” was one of the repeating end words — [ Laughter ] 3 [Laughter] I have remembered his dictum through the years and have heard myself saying it to my own students We want our poems and stories to be soulful to possess qualities of the infinite in them, but it’s difficult for the word “soul” to do the work of that desire Though miff by his handling of my poems, where was the unadulterated praise? [Laughter] I was, like everyone else, still taken by Shahid, admiring both his exquisite poetry, and his generous nature In workshop, he recited each of our names as though it were a poem, brilliant, somehow miraculous, and mysterious, complete in and of itself It’s the wonderful Carry St George Comer, Andrew Varnon, Robert M Casper, Daniel Hales Twice that fall he invited our class and other friends and admirers for sprawling dinner parties, people spilled over from room to room When I offered to cook, Shahid laughed and said, “You American-born Indians are the most terrible cooks” [laughter] I was taken aback, but had to laugh One evening when the stove burners were not working, and the food had to be warmed up somewhere else, Shahid charmed us for hours, as only a good host could, playing Hindi film music, and ABBA Why not? The perfect Shahidian combination No one minded not eating for a while, we may not have even noticed He broke into songs — Hey — I said — I know that song — and began dancing the Barathanatyam steps I had learned as a child [ Sings ] [ Applause ] Shahid clapped his hands in encouragement, — Bha, bha — he said finally The subcontinental applause I had sought [laughter] finally [laughter] In my copy of “The Country without A Post Office”, he filled the entire front page with his effusive script in blue fountain pen ink, “For Sajel M. Shah, Shah of shahs So royal, so princely So regal, dash So, she who couldn’t go to Spain is going to Italy, ah! He decorated this note with long dashes flourishing on either side of the “ah!” spanning the width of the page Later he continued in another pen, “and now where is the lipstick? Purple of color Sajel has the magic” Who else could have written about the purple lipstick I wore that year in a way that transformed my name, travel plans, and shade of lipstick into near poetry? It was what we all wanted, what anyone wants from someone he or she admires, and certainly what I wanted, for them to see the magic that is only you As a professor and teacher myself now for many years, I understand his rewriting, as painful as it was for me, as another form of attention, even as another kind of love It is a strategy I use too in the workshops I now teach Shahid was trying to lessen my dependence on narrative, my desire to tell a story within a poem

And to instead allow the poem to unfold, to breathe, to live through the generation of lyrics possibilities During my first year of graduate school I had reason to call Shahid once or twice at home His answering machine message was simply, “I knew you’d call” [laughter] The first time I heard it, I hung up [laughter] Shahid had, as usual, caught me off guard His voice left me speechless and smiling Shahid’s message was to-the-point and too short, like his life We flocked to him, poets and writers, ambitious dreamers I see him in his kitchen turning toward me in a royal blue sweater, his shirt sleeves unbuttoned and pushed back He is cooking for us I’ve snapped a photo and caught him off guard in the picture, but he’s still posing, still gesturing, still lovely, still young He would probably hate me saying so He would hate me saying so, but I think his eyes looked soulful [inaudible] “I knew you’d call” [ Laughter ] The first time I heard it, I hang up [ Laughter ] Shahid had as usual caught me out of guard, his voice left me speechless, and smiling Shahid was to the point and too short, like in his life, we [inaudible] poems and writers, ambitious dreamers I see him in his kitchen turning toward me in a royal blue sweater, his short sleeves unbuttoned, and pushed back, he’s cooking for us I snapped a photo and caught him unguard in the picture, but he still posing, still gesturing, still lovely, still young He would probably hate me saying so, he would hate me saying so, but I think his eyes looked so fool [phonetic] I knew you’d call [ Papers ] Thank you to all who mentor, and to all who teach and to all of us who were students also Thank you [ Applause ] >> Rob Casper: For those of you who weren’t here for the amazing morning event, my name is Rob Casper, and I’m the head of the Poetry Literature Center here at the library I could not be prouder to host the last public even for the inaugural Asian American Literary Festival here in Washington, D.C. It has been a labor of love and hugely important undertaking, and I want to thank all the sponsors, especially the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and Lawrence Min Lee Davis [phonetic] for making this festival a reality We’ve spent many, many days and nights talking about how to make this, and to see you all here today is just beyond inspiring First, let me ask you to do what I did, which is to turn off your electronic devices so that we don’t have any problem with interference Take a second to that Second, I’ll tell you a little bit about the Poetry and Literature Center As the home of the US Poet Laureate, we just announced Tracy K Smith is our 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry! Yay, Tracy! [ Applause ] As the home of the Laureate, we have a special place in our hearts for poetry and we prove it through our annual series of literary programs To find out more about the series and other events here at the library you can sing our sing-up sheet which is outside in the foyer, and you can visit our website, www.loc.gov/poetry And now, on to this great, wonderful, exciting event This morning we honored Kundiman, and featured a trio of their fellows which was just incredible This afternoon, we turn to poetry, and just as we had acclaimed writer Karen Tei Ymashita start things off this morning with a beautiful and moving lecture, we have asked poet Kimiko Hahn to set the stage this afternoon with a lecture titled “Angel Island: The Roots and Branches of Asian American Poetry” Following Kimiko, Poetry Magazine art director Fred Sasaki, who has been at Poetry Magazine for 17 years, so let’s give it up for Fred Sasaki! [ Applause ] He’ll hop up on stage to introduce the final reading The final three readings have happened throughout the festival with contributors to Poetry Magazine’s blockbuster July issue, and he’ll tell you this, but I’ll tell you too — there are copies of the issue for sale for three bucks, you should get one, you should check out the great contributors in print as you are experiencing them on stage Kimiko Hahn is the author of nine books of poems including “Brain Fever” published by W.W. Norton in 2014 Her many honors include an American Book Award, the Shelly Memorial Prize, the PEN/Voelcker Award, a Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, and Association of Asian American Studies Literature Award, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation Kimiko is a distinguishes professor in the MFA program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College,

the city university of New York I’ve known and worked with Kimiko, most recently at the poetry side of America where she currently serves as president of the ward of governors Kimiko, for those of you who don’t know where, is a dream-big motivator with a knack for bringing people and communities together She is also a self-proclaimed lover of science and behind the scenes fan of McCobb A scholar and writer who celebrates tradition while reveling in play A devotee to her students, and one of my dearest and most cherished cohorts After asking me, I heard her present for the National Book Festival when I first started at the Library of Congress, back in 2011, I’m so happy to welcome her today to this festival Please join me in welcoming Kimiko Hahn [ Applause ] >> Kimiko Hahn: Oh, thank you Thank you, Rob Not just been a year I think at least one decade, if not one and a half, or so Alone with everyone else who has else spoken and read, I too feel honored, and thankful, and especially to Lawrence and Lisa, and Rob, and Hanya, let’s all celebrate them [ Applause ] And also thank you to all the organizations and the other people who made this a reality It’s just incredible, and brilliant What an urgent time for a radical soul, what a time to reaffirm that our histories are that of obedient Orientals, in fact, not any kind of Oriental We carved protect poems on the walls of our detention center We rebelled against the lunas in a field of vulcanic back soil We protested when forced to live in a horse stall, we said, “No, and So” You also volunteered for the Armed Services to prove patriotism forming the 42nd Infantery Regiment Combat Team, which I think my uncle was in, the most decorated unit US history is “go-for-broke” We embroil it, we were born right here, we assimilate it, and we challenge the assimilation as paradigm What a radical moment for us to be together Over the past several elections, candidates have either connected or missed grassroots movements Yes, grassroot organizing again, for the basics, from loading rights to immigration rights to healthcare, I’m so honored to be here at Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and also the Library of Congress, the Apex mission is to be a cultural laboratory envisioning [inaudible] as a form of community organizing That is so brilliant, I love that I’m going to say it again, [inaudible] as a form of community organizing Thank you Our former Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera said of his own coming-of-age, and offbeat education — “Listening to the poets around and ahead of me, I was taking note So, you know, society was our workshop” I’ve been invited to give a sense of our collective story from my personal, and modest point of view How unlikely that a little Eurasian girl, you know, [inaudible] born and isolated in Pleasantville, New York would be here to address you Thankfully, I came of age in the 1960’s and 70’s Thankfully, after a year living in the Japan, my parents enrolled my sister and me into Japanese language classes, and Japanese dance lessons,

at the New York Buddhist Church on Riverside Drive in Manhattan How could my parents have known that in dance class I’d meet Aichi Kochiyama and come to know her radical family Her mother, Yuri Kochiyama, well known for her radical politics, held the dying Malcom X in the Audubon Ballroom, Saturdays in the city were my workshop By high school, I was pretty steep in Japanese culture, more than most Asian Americans of my generation My politics were limited to rock and roll Not too shabby if you consider ten soldiers and Nixon coming for dead in Ohio, and we don’t need to escalate You see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate, but how could my parents have figured that after dance class I would hang out in the dojo with the judo boys, or as Grace Jones would purr, “checking out the race” [laughter] And, by the way, I’m really envious that Karen had photographs Mei-mei and I were quite the hotties back then [laughter] and I wish we had had picture of us! So, I’m sorry, next time [laughter][inaudible] So, thank you [laughter] I was fishing, wasn’t I? [Laughter] So, getting back to checking out the race [laughter], enter a young man, a Japanese American radical whose mother had been incarcerated in the infamous Topaz War Relocation camp Dating him, I hung out at Chinatown food co-op meetings with the likes of Peter Quang [phonetic] and sat in on Marxist study groups, and culture was never marginal The city on Saturdays is where I felt alive In 1970, the basement workshop on Elizabeth Street was opened by artists such as Tomie Arai, a distant relative as it turned out, and writers such as Fay Chiang Here are the opening stanzas from Fay’s poem “Chinatown” “Mahjong and dice on the tables upstairs, confusion of trucks, and cars, and calls, and children, and cats, and dogs, and stream of people falling off the mountain of gold Eddie died yesterday, another street kid shot his fucking brains out and Eddie’s in heaven east river Did you know about Mrs. Tong jumped off a building looking for peace six stories above mott? And hey, old Louie just passed away in his sleep, the fool, sleeping with the gas pipes on, again Did you hear about Lee? that he couldn’t take his henpecking wife, and screaming babies, and rotten kids, and his waiter job, and promises that couldn’t be bought with pennies that he split before his head did?” From these Asian American circles, I became acquainted with those on the West Coast Not surprisingly, their militancy was ahead of the movement in New York There were poets such as Mitsuye Yamada who wrote this poem “Evacuation” As we boarded the bus, bags on both sides, they’d never packed two bags before on a vacation lasting forever The Seattle Times photographer said — smile — so, obediently, I smiled In the caption the next day read “Note smiling faces, a lesson to Tokyo” And there was Nellie Wong, here’s an excerpt from “Away from The Blue Swans” “Away, away from antlers, dried lizard necks hidden like pearls in herbalist shells, women warbling Chinese songs, their voices drifting out the hot summer air, hanging onto men in grey felt hats with silver dollars dangling in their pants’ pockets Crossing the boundaries to the TMD on 11th in Broadway, past Jack’s Footlong Hot Dogs, smelling popcorn at the antics of Abbot and Costello Arm in arm, our bravery slung by our mother’s warnings

Uptown to the paramount in all it silver, and purple, and red velvet carpets chewing spearmint through the double feature and returning to Chinatown sucking preserved plums, and agreeing to lie” And across the Pacific, in the Hawaiian Islands of mother’s birth, there was burgeoning Asian American writer scene, and the group “Bamboo Ridge”, and here they are, Bamboo Ridge, people We love you! [ Applause ] One of the writers from the same generation of poets who I just read was Juliet Kono, and she’s here Juliet, I love you [laughter] And she had her very excellent collection “Hilo Rains” published as a double issue of Bamboo Ridge Journal Please listen to this excerpt from “Smoke: An Apostrophe to The Speaker’s Mother” “You were 13 Your father has made you quit school You can no longer play with the other girls You must now cut cane like a man, and every day you watch the lunas burn adjacent field where yellow flames crackle and lift high into smoke, filling your coughs Soot rains, the skies look overcast as if someone has tossed a throw net over you and hauled you in, a good day’s catch for the next day’s work, and the next.” You may have noticed that every poet who I’ve been reading so far are women, and that’s because these are the ones that in effect became my mentors, so I’m going to continue in that vein In concert with community organizing, writers and educators published newsletters, mimeographed, journals and anthologies, the first one I’d ever held was [inaudible] published in 1974 by [inaudible] and Sean Huang, I think Garrett called them the gang of four yesterday 10 years later, Native American Joseph Bruchac published an anthology of Asian American poetry, “Breaking Silence” These anthologies became the start of my self-education in Asian American poetry The legendary West Coast radical Janice Mirikitani opens her poem “Breaking Silence” with the executive order “Take only what you can carry” and she uses quotes from her mother’s testimony before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Japanese American Civilians Here’s an excerpt from “Breaking Silence” “And then, all was hushed for announcements Take only what you can carry We were made to believe our faces betrayed us, our bodies were loud with yellow screaming flesh, needing to be silenced behind barbed wire ‘Mr. Commissioner, it seems we were singled out from others who are under suspicion Our neighbors were of German and Italian descent, some of whom were not citizens It seems we were singled out’ She had worn her sweat like lemon leaves, shining on the rough edges of work, removed the mirrors from her room so she would not be tempted by vanity Her dreams honed the blade of her plough The land, the building of food was noisy as the opening of irises The sounds of work bolted in barracks, silenced ‘Mr. Commissioner, so when you tell me I must limit my testimony to five minutes, when you tell me my time is up, I tell you this — pride has kept my lips pinned by nails, my rage coffined, but I assume my past, to claim this time, my youth is buried in [inaudible] ghost visits Hamachi Gate, my niece haunts Tune Lake’ Words are better than tears, so I spilled on, I killed this, the silence” No surprise that many

in the movement didn’t consider a biracial poet truly Asian American I wasn’t completely at home in those circles, not completely So, determined to learn my craft, I put in undergrad time at the University of Iowa There I studied with Marvin Bell, Louise Glück, Charles Wright, and the then graduate student, Rita Dove These were radiant workshops, and they were also, except for Rita, pretty darn white From there, I returned to New York to find more of myself Poets were reciting poems on the street and continuing to ally themselves with social issues Pedro Pietri, one of the original founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café, handed out poems written on condom wrappers This is before the AIDS crisis Louis Reyes Rivera told me more than once, “Kimiko, take your palm off the damn page” The city was again my workshop I would also meet radical feminists like Patricia Spears Jones, Sandra Esteves, and Frances Chung From Frances, posthumously published, “Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple” a poem, “Double Ten” “Early morning, the Sunday sound of an accordion A conversation with two Ukrainian women about calling the plumber, taking baths in our kitchens You like the green stone around my neck Later on, the [inaudible], a black man struggling along singing a Chinatown ballad as I sing one of Philly’s songs In her kitchen, warmer than mine, a strong smell of black mushrooms” In 1981 I organized a panel of Asian American writers for the National Writer’s Congress, sponsored by the Nation Institute, just the Nation Magazine, I believed those genuinely liberal writers didn’t truly comprehend the depth and turbulence that would simmer up, especially by so-called minority writers Not only did I meet Jessica Hagedorn, [inaudible] I connected with poet comrades, Luis Rodriguez who would go on to found Tia Chucha Press and Community Center, and also Michael Ward who is now at the African Diaspora Museum And later Jessica invited me to read at Basement Workshop, yay [laughter] How could I have known just how cool it was to be the warmup act for [inaudible], who at that moment became a fast friend? For starters, we organized political cabaret in Harlem Around this time too, there was a changing aesthetic in the air Jessica’s pet foods and tropical apparitions would present in print the kind of lyrics she sassed out in the clubs Her poetic voice would later grow into characters from her novel Here’s the last two stanzas from the poem “I Went All the Way Out Here Looking for You, Bob Marley” [laughter] written with the endnote “Kingston, Jamaica, 1977” “And this just isn’t fair because you are the only one I trust I have to know Were you shot in the arm, like they said? And don’t they know they can’t kill music like that? They should heed from America and relegate you to the Sheraton Hotel’s Junkanoo Lounge as a malnourished [inaudible] And this just isn’t fair because you are the only one I trust, and I haven’t even met you yet, and I am waiting” There was a continuing debate on whether one had to write about Asian American issues to be an Asian American writer Thank heaven for Mei-mei and her innovative spirit You will hear her later, but meantime here’s an excerpt from — a newer poem than back in the day, it’s an excerpt from, “Hello, the Roses” “The rose communicates instantly with the woman by sight, collapsing its boundaries,

and the woman widens her boundaries Her rate of perception slows down, because of its complexity There’s a feeling of touching and being touched, the shadings of color she can sense from touch There’s an affinity between awareness and blossom.” Thank the heavens too for lending us Theresa Hak Kyung Cha whose Avant Gard polyphonic cross-genre “Dictee” was published in 1982, the same year she was murdered Here’s an excerpt “She would take on their punctuation She waits to service this Theirs. Punctuation She would become, herself, demarcations Absorb it Spill it. Seize upon the punctuation Last air. Give her Her. The relay Voice. Assign Hand it. Deliver it Deliver.” Cha was a first-generation Korean Of course, all along, different waves of immigrants mixed into the Asian American groups of 2nd, 3rd, 4th generations Two of those brilliant writers, [inaudible] who came here, who was born in Kerala, in Southern India, and came here And Miomi Kim, who of course was born in Seoul, Korea Myong and Mei-mei unlike some of the other poets I’ve read broke through into the MFA scene Then, along came Marilyn “I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin Oh, how I love the resoluteness of that first-person singular followed by that stalwart indicative of “be”, without the uncertain i-n-g of “becoming.” Of course, the name had been changed somewhere between Angel Island and the sea, when my father, the paper son in the late 1950s, obsessed with a bombshell blond, transliterated “Mei Ling” to “Marilyn.” And nobody dared question his initial impulse, for we all know lust drove men to greatness, not goodness, not decency And there I was, a wayward pink baby, named after some tragic white woman swollen with gin and Nembutal My mother couldn’t pronounce the “r.” She dubbed me “Numba one female offshoot” for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die in sublime ignorance, flanked by loving children and the “kitchen deity.” That’s the opening to Marilyn’s — probably one of her most well-known early poems “How I Got That Name: An Essay on Assimilation” Marily’s poetics were an exuberant mix, an elegant strictness learned from classical Chinese poetry, and also apprenticing at Iowa with Donald Justice, and Jane Cooper It is with Marilyn that I most share aesthetics, although where she calls on the formal to be reckless, I could do the opposite The first time I made the acquaintance of Marilyn’s work was when I was co-poetry editor at Bridge Magazine in Chinatown I was also studying Japanese at Columbia University, which did not lead to a PhD, mainly because I couldn’t focus on learning my congee I had one foot on campus, and the other in the streets or more literally at the Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam Avenue, which is still there! [Laughter] Where I’d sit with a yellow legal pad and pen writing what would become “Air Pocket” and “Earshot” Although I did not become fluent in Japanese, I did begin on awareness that my incipient poetics were a part

of my body Classical Japanese aesthetics as much as William Carlos Williams In fact, as an aside, even my new work prompted by science abides by a Japanese aesthetic, which I write about in Brain Fever, in an essay During this time too, there were several growing political-cultural movements Artists called against U.S intervention in Central America, anti-apartheid organizations and several allied with organizing around issue about homelessness We organized greetings, publications, went to Nicaragua, danced, had babies, looked for teaching jobs, hung out with Adrienne Rich and June Jordan Curating pushes one to widen circles of people and aesthetics and that is just were I found myself When Basement Workshop shut its doors, I open “Word of mouth”, a series that found a home in the Chatham Square Public Library Curating allows one to meet much admired writers, for me, I was pleased to have a full house for Trinh T. Minh-ha, who was born in Hanoi in 1952 The innovative filmmaker and poet who wrote the groundbreaking book of theory, Woman, Native, Other: Writing post coloniality and feminism Also, my contemporary, Cathy Song, one a 1992 yield younger poet award for Picture Bride Here are the closing lines from a later poem: “Don’t talk like you came from the pineapple fields, meant we couldn’t tall with our mouths, full of broken sentences, couldn’t shove “yuh?” Like food heaped onto spoons Don’t talk like you just came from the pineapple fields, meant we had to speak proper English We remained silent instead, our tongues harnessed by the foreign shoelaces of syntax, restrictive as the new shoes Father brought home for us to wear But, you may wonder, “what happened to the whole roots theme in my title?” You know, who knows what the roots are, until someone has the courage to dig or someone notices something that seems out of place” Back in 1991, the first edition of Island was edited and translated by Him Lai, Genny Lim and Judy Yung This in exception of the anthology, The Big Aiiieeeee [phonetic]! literally brought to life both original Cantonese and translated poems that were carved onto the walls of Angel Island Detention Center by Chinese hoping to immigrate between 1910 and 1940 Here is one of the many poems, wish we had more From the book Island: “Instead of remaining a citizen of China, I willingly became an ox I intended to come to America to earn a living The Western styled buildings are lofty; but I have not the luck to live in them How was anyone to know that my dwelling place would be a prison?” Going back a few years from the 1991 publication, in 1988 financial redress was awarded to 82,000 of the 120,000 detainees of Japanese ancestry who had been incarcerated in war time detention centers They’re followed a renewed focus on those who struggled to survive and because of what poetry can do, give song to protest and passion, we have books such as Poets Behind Barbed wire, here is one of the translated poems: “Fifty and more of us prisoners gather here to burn incense on an empty sardine can

For the repose of a departed soul.” These are poems that were written in the detention centers and then later translated Karen mentioned Yoshiko Uchida, the memoir Desert Exile, in that memoir there are poems by her mother whose pen name was Yukari: “Four months have passed, and at last I learn to call this horse stall my family’s home” Rereading the work of Violet Kazue de Cristoforo was surely one of the most exhilarant I was stunned to recognize a literary root that hadn’t struck me when the collection came out in 1991 Here is one of the pieces: “Strong sunrays barracks are all low and dark, sun rays The arrival of spring and summer is typically late in the high plains of Tule Lake, the largest of the ten internment camps built to house more than 18,000 detainees on about six miles of black volcanic ash After the long, gloomy winter days the intense glare of summer creates a strong contrast and makes the low, dark, tar-papered barracks seem even more dismal and disheartening for the internees.” The section in which appears a Poetic Reflections of the Tule Lake Internment Camp, 1944, sorry, this section appears on this section of the [inaudible] titled Poetic Reflections of the Tule Lake Internment Camp, 1944 What may not be apparent by this title is that poetic reflections are a form in Japanese literature You may know it as Haibun, a mixed genre that typically combines prose and Haiku Here is another one of her pieces It’s a little bit longer So, we start with the Haiku and it looks like a title but it’s a Haiku: “Flowers on Tule Reeds and Sandy Flats Brother Confined over 200 Days, Brother’s Imprisonment” The November 4, 1943, warehouse incident, caused by reports of thefts of food for the internees by War Relocation Authority (WRA) personnel, resulted in confrontations and disturbances at Tule Lake Brother Tokyo, an innocent bystander, had been asked to help restore order among the agitators As he was about to do so, he was arrested by WRA Internal Security Personnel and accused of taking part in the disorder During a night of brutal interrogation he was cruelly beaten and, not only was he denied medical treatment for his injury, but he was a prisoner in the “Bull Pen” of the camp stockade — a place for maximum punishment for serious offenders Following the occurrence, army troops took over control of the camp and martial law was declared at Tule Lake Then came spring, the snow melted and the Tule leaves sprouted and grew By July the reeds even had blossoms Brother Tokio was still confined in the ‘Bull Pen’ after nine months of imprisonment without trial or a hearing Fall was about to come again and, under those conditions of dark uncertainty and desperation, everything was measured in terms of the growth and death of the Tule reeds.” I have been writing in a form known as the zuihitsu, a classical Japanese form

that is neither poetry nor prose although a piece can resemble either or a combination Haibun, for example, is considered zuihitsu Also, Bash?’s The Narrow Road to the Interior, which is a title I stole for my collections For me, to find a writer, to rediscover her, who expressed herself in this form, was a shock of recognition Again, I feel deeply connected to a literary heritage that includes cross genre work I recognize this foremother for what she is A writer, a pioneer, and an Asian American woman who defiantly gave her name as Violet Kazue Matsuda de Cristoforo, formerly Kazue Matsuda, Internee ID No 29001 I want to thank the organizers for asking me, inviting me to write this, this summer Half over has been my workshop Just as Juan Felipe continued in the comment that I began with, society was our workshop, it is always our workshop whether we write alone or whether we write out in the open it is not possible without social combustion, social change, social human beings with voices and hearts, and struggles and conflicts and happiness and joy and riding on horses in full regalia In closing, I have a gift for you, and you may have copies of it, is a Cento This is a form where you swipe lines by other writers I have taken a line from every poet in the anthology, and it’s all in the same order of the anthology: “Angel Island: A Cento” Thank you poetry magazine [laughter] — Angel Island: A Cento “Let the walls hiss/and smoke when/I return to shore Someone is scolding a dog, barking now for/decades — I don’t have emotions right now, I like that he expresses himself to me as a kind of witness in transition — by “women,” he meant Arab and Muslim women A cop arrested her, trapped her in the back of the police van — hope wrapped in old newspapers and thrown away like offal, cleaned from a fish the size of a man This place in which I dream the new body, whole and abiding, all the girls go suzie Dance is a body’s refusal to die — as foretold by the Muslim woman from Hornachos, shutters over the eyes, (the CD: Converge, Jane Doe) Once, I was afraid of being changed Now that is done To be an artist, you must not blunt your, troubling vision, no matter how queer [Speaking French], where do we come from? When the rains arrive, we should be delighted to be taken/in drowning, in devotion The car radio plays its one song The song, therefore, is important Where are we going, Wayne Kaumualii [phonetic] Westlake? Can’t they hear kalapani in my voice — I am trying to be marvelous Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, ¡wow! The trick of the model minority, walk away I try to imitate them at home, mira mamá, but my mother yells at me, says they didn’t come here so I could speak some beggar language Now that the hillbilly whisper guides me which way to turn how far up the turn is for the bird, everything hangs in the air ‘Ay Dios’, she exclaimed, surrounded by photos,

niños and nietos, where I’m the only chino — You speak of a very good sort of Englishness, who are you to mix up languages? Grouse, crow, craven, or have in the past — His tongue tingled ripely To make you a noun forever A cunning rabbit needs three holes, but I have never seen the field All my life I hid in the library reading about Greek heroes smiting their enemies Mother died a refugee, she thought the status was a promise of return Tonight, spring infuses fall, and memory’s wick — observatories rise above the snow, militarized I think I could wrap my arms all the way around the 24,901 miles circumferenced Earth And circle and contain I worry that when I love him he will die too The radio in the kitchen is stuck in the year I was born The capitals of the world are burning.” Thank you so much [ Applause ] ?? Fred Sasaki: Thank you so much, Kimiko Let’s have another round of applauses for Kimiko Thank you, that was beautiful [ Applause ] So, wow, what an especial few days these have been I want to say how marvelous it’s been to see so many Asian-American writers and readers in one space, so good job everybody So, I am Fred Sasaki, the art director for Poetry Magazine And, Poetry Magazine, if you don’t know was found in 1912 by Harriet Monroe, coming out of Chicago And also, I want to say a quick hello to our friends on the internet, I understand this is also a webcast, and so, after the show today you can click on poetryfoundation.org and check our newly redesigned website and subscribe to the magazine You can purchase the issue that we are talking about and we will enjoy readings from in a moment, but you probably be even happier if you subscribe to a full year of Poetry Magazine So, pardon the cliché, but in poetry we continuously strive to make it new and, so, this July/August issue debut is a brand-new cover program created by pentagram and along with the website, and also online you can check out a suit of podcast and other features So, like it was said early, I have been with Poetry Magazine for 17 years Believe it or not Along with Stephen Young we started off in the Newberry Library, kind of talked our way in the stacks building, in a small room with a window probably about this wide It’s been such a great journey to go from there to now free-standing building in the Superior Street in Chicago, a building made of windows essentially, and then to be here at the Library of the Congress with you all It is such a pleasure, and I want to say that within those 17 years, and I’m biased, this is my favorite issue that I’ve seen published during that time [ Applause ] I would actually go so far as to say this is the best issue [laughter] that I’ve seen so far But, without further due, I will introduce to you our readers who will be reading work that is in this issue I won’t read their bios, for that you will have to spend $3 after the show and pick up the issue of your own, which you will love So, in this order coming to stage is Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau, Paisley Rekdal, Kazim Ali, Khaty Xiong, Sally Wen Mao, Rajiv Mohabir, and Gerald Maa Thank you so much, thank you for coming [ Applause ]

??Mei-mei Berssenbrugge: I’m very happy to be here, thank you everyone My poem “The new boy”, was written in New Mexico and it’s in four sections: “You may find at the market a casual comment swerves into?conversation that’s deeply metaphysical with a young man by produce He wears a white T and jeans, ordinary yet careful about his food — Every time I meditate, I begin in space among the stars — he says — Many of these being — he continues — are not physically 3-D, so it’s frustrating to describe them I have the impression their silver color comes from within They look at me with tremendous love from almond-shaped eyes There’s no sunlight The whole cloud structure is luminous and the ground crystalline A lot of purple and blue, like twilight — It’s a complex, partly inarticulate narrative, perhaps because he feels I won’t believe him, yet he’s spontaneous I don’t need to question the reality of his story He’s sincere There’s more energy now as heat, connectivity, radio waves, data, X-rays, and all kinds of interactions We operate with higher electrical current inside, which can?rejuvenate you physically by the nature of connectivity, moving?freely around the body The next week, smiling, mid-sentence, ‘seeing Earth from deep space, blue and alive’ More often now, ETs are discussed at the co-op, also, coincidence, spirit molecules, time tunnels, and quantum uncertainty, since we’re close to The Institute I like that he expresses himself to me as a kind of witness in transition He’s read my work, and thinks me more knowledgeable than I am, since my poems aren’t true — Pleiadians create new visuals through which I can imagine — he says — My care is required for witness to resonate energetically with listener, however nonchalant I appear The more compassion one has for non-normal experiences of others, the sooner consciousness will shift toward the stars To him, this means shifting the ethical structure of communicating a narrative ‘I think of myself in a service capacity'” “One silvery insect was seven feet tall; I shook his claw and we conversed Sometimes reptiles hoard crystals to send and receive information Lipids in a membrane behave like that, channeling the atmosphere At home I write, ‘The membrane is like a liquid crystal to the sky’ Next week, in line, he’s with a beautiful woman with a worn face who knows me — She’s not well, and she wants me to visit them and their animals

They know they don’t end when they die — she says — It’s sad they’re leaving, but it’s voluntary, they’ve relatives on other planets, sentient beings with the right to vote Have you ever watched an animal and suddenly it disappears? He chips in Witness involves a significance equivalent to truth The whole idea of visiting another planet, communicating with a being from another world, to me that’s spiritual When they speak, they subtly vary certain sounds; I hear words, but their sound carries different meaning to my body Some words I read weren’t there when I began Use these new words, enhanced by your imagining, to allow our dimension to emerge — they told me — Imagination stabilizes the shift — In Santa Fe, in Tucson, Lima, La Paz, people see extraterrestrials When I step outside, a velvety multitude of moths and insects, transparencies, on my screen door whirls up to the porch light Milky Way shines 3-D with white clottings and dark rifts, covering the ground and trees with phosphorescence Comets, asteroids from deep space, planets moving at will, contribute to this glamour of wonder He shows me how to pull frequency, starlight, down through his body into the ground, and I try it; I’m more open now I can carry more light, which fuses with similar energies in mass consciousness Earth will radiate this consciousness as a star or a sun on horizons of his other worlds — Let us hold that portal open for you, in the form of your little crush on him, of light streaming down, and feel a surrounding new ideal — they say to me — Now, imagine yourself in the Pleiades You wish to give a present to the source, like compassion or rainwater from home — Early on, I divined that this book already exists in the future After all, I’d thought of it; it’s a probability, somewhere, complete, on a shelf My intention is to seek that future edition and consult it to create this one, the original, for you.” Thank you [ Applause ] ?? John Yau: I’d like to thank everyone who invited me but especially, Timothy, you sent me an email inviting me to contribute to this issue At first, I thought he was playing an April fool’s joke but then I realized it wasn’t April I’m going to read two pantuns, “Something to Look Forward To”, I imagine this is written by a man about my age but perhaps not: “A blue and green city, with the sun rising behind it, just not swiftly enough Don’t worry about being perfect

Just make sure you have some juice left in the pump I have many other remedies on hand, not just history’s bags of sumptuous soot Hello, I am beauty’s representative; I work in the self-improvement sector Don’t worry about being perfect Just make sure you have some juice left in the pump How do you see yourself on the material plane of observed phenomena Hello, I am beauty’s representative; I work in the self-improvement sector Have you ever been sideswiped by a bad investment in love.? How do you see yourself on the material plane of observed?phenomena? You might need a reevaluation, an estimate, or an era to expire Have you ever been sideswiped by a bad investment in love? Before you decide that you are nothing more than a clump or splatter, you might need a reevaluation, an estimate, or an era to expire Have you learned how to remove yourself from every mirror you pass? Before you decide that you are nothing more than a clump or splatter, let me tell you about the palm trees on the horizon of your future Have you learned how to remove yourself from every mirror you pass? A blue and green city, with the sun rising behind it, just not swiftly enough Let me tell you about the palm trees on the horizon of your future I have many other remedies on hand, not just history’s bags of sumptuous soot” And this is called First Language Lesson: “As you may have inferred, Ka Pow is not a spicy chicken dish Meanwhile, you are an accident waiting to repurpose yourself Who are you to mix up languages? This is not a smorgasbord, you have to remember that you are a cylinder, a form of fodder Meanwhile, you are an accident waiting to repurpose yourself Why do you need an expensive phone? It won’t help you in the future You have to remember that you are a cylinder, a form of fodder, our company motto: ‘other than you, no waste shall go to waste’ Why do you need an expensive phone? It won’t help you in the future Have you ever thought of joining the circus? You might find a home there Our company motto: ‘other than you, no waste shall go to waste’ Choosing suitable punishments is an unavoidable necessity Have you ever thought of joining the circus? You might find a home there If you are speaking about my place in the universe, that’s not right, choosing suitable punishments is an unavoidable necessity Hasn’t the sky repeatedly proven to be the most excellent manager? If you are speaking about my place in the universe, that’s not right Memories are iridescent insects infiltrating your dreams Hasn’t the sky repeatedly proven to be the most excellent manager? Little sphinxes, I have instructed you to the best of my ability Memories are iridescent insects infiltrating your dreams, as you may have inferred, Ka Pow is not a spicy chicken dish Little sphinxes, I have instructed you to the best of my ability Who are you to mix up languages? This is not a smorgasbord” Thank you [ Applause ] ?? Paisley Rekdal: It’s true, the phone doesn’t actually help you in the future [Laughter] Thank you everyone who’s been organizing this, it’s just been a fantastic event I was going to read the poem that appears in Poetry Magazine, Driving down to Santa Fe: “Quick swim up through my headlights: gold eye, a startle in black: green swift glance raking mine A full second, we held each other, gone

Gone. And how did I know what to call it? Lynx, the only possible reply though I’d never seen one The car filling with it: moonlight, piñon: a cat’s acrid smell of terror How quickly the gray body fled, swerving to avoid my light And how often that sight returns to me, shames me to know how much more this fragment matters More than the broad back of a man I loved More than the image of my friend, cancer-struck, curled by her toilet More than my regret for the child I did not have which I thought once would pierce me, utterly Nothing beside that dense muscle, faint gold guard hairs stirring the dark And if I keep these scraps of it, what did it keep of me? A flight, a thunder A shield of light dropped before the eyes, pinned inside that magnificent skull only time would release Split back, fade and reveal Wind would open him Sun would turn him commonplace: a knot of flies, a rib cage of shredded tendon, wasp-nest fragile The treasure of him, like anything, gone Even now, I thumb that face like a coin I cannot spend If something in me lived, it lived in him, fishing the cold trout-thick streams, waking to snow, dying when he died, which is a comfort I must say this Otherwise, I myself do not exist It looked at me a moment A flash of green, of gold and white Then the dark came down again, between us Once, I was afraid of being changed Now that is done The lynx has me in its eye I am already diminished.” Thank you [ Applause ] ?? Kazim Ali: Hi, everyone It’s really wonderful to be here with all of you in this room, and after that amazing two lectures, and such a privilege to be in this amazing journal I’m afraid that I’m going to go rogue but I’m up here already, there’s nothing you can do And just read you a poem that I’ve been working on and it’s not in this journal, but it’s available It’s called Golden Boy I went on a run through all the monuments the other day down here, so I just been thinking about monuments and came to me that I wanted to read this poem to you, so I hope that’s OK actually OK. Golden Boy “Almost afraid I am in the annals of history to speak and by speaking be seen by man or god such and that in light be paid I talked the Manitoba Parliament Building in Winnipeg where I grew up what beacon to dollars food or god does shine I hollow halo starvation this nation beneath the body hollowing its stomach to emptiness, and in breath the river empties Who’s so spoke to craft, born a long, long echo and echelon in grains of light and space We with one and other wait the soul, not the spirit Breathe through spirited wet, or when, why, true, we’ve, woe, we’ve woving a dozen, a tent, these tents pitched on the dead be made biped by pedant may purge atop the temple pool proving what’s proven These riches we eat, and cherries and prunes what washes over woven ocean Afraid I’m most sere desired Sired in winds, seared in warn Once in wild [inaudible] sworn We parley to man be [inaudible], be bent, come now to document your meant intent your indented mind hall, oh, start you’ll wait eons there in prayer, money, morrow,

more you owe and in overtime God spends the spent rivers melt into summer Sound out the window, sound out the spender Where does the river road end? And in what language can prayer or commerce be offered? Ender of senses, expensive atop, plural spirals be spoken or mended, broken and meant for splendor, my mentor.” Thank you [ Applause ] ?? Khaty Xiong: Hi, everyone Thank you so much for being here It is an especially especial day because it’s also my birthday [ Applause ] So, thank you again, everybody, organizers, Poetry What an honor to be in the same room as the readers who have been here today, and the last two days, three days of the festival I’ll be reading two poems I lost my mother about a year ago on May 16th, 2016, to a very violent car crash She was on her way to actually visit my late brother and his widow, and his children and she never made it And my family, they’re in California, and I have been residing in Ohio the last decade, combined years So, it was very odd to receive this phone call in the middle of the night It felt like a dream And the first thing I immediately thought of was my mother’s spirit, and her garden, she was a shaman, a medicine woman She healed people So, actually the week leading up to the weekend of her funeral I was home and I made my way through the house and found myself in her garden and already immediately the garden had started to wither and die And California summers are so brutal, and so hot So, I found myself there and I was accompanied by a little mouse that decided to join me for just a few seconds before I scared it away So, this poem is called “In mother’s garden”: Quietly now a mouse in the garden that has come to mourn with me or bite at every insect twisting in this heat as you lie close and uncaring in the army of the common housefly Let it be known that in death you harrowed in love & in so doing traded your ears for blackened ones, your crown the shade of a new moon Let this spell be known as the fortune of a missing tortoise, brutal limbs and wounds of multiples Then, to soften alongside the watermelon rinds on this blighted day, your body presently absent including the mouse I have startled into darkness Who will help me love the castor bean tree now? Which of these plants will speak for you? Ignore me while I weave between rows, swatting at the light I have chased into the corner of your makeshift shed still full of your fortune, the abundant secret of mouse droppings Meanwhile, stay dressed help me be decent Come away from dreams, far from streets quick, arise in one piece! There is shade Even the sun could not spoil you.” And then I’ll be closing with a poem that I brought shortly

after returning from her funeral, I currently live in Columbus, Ohio, and they have a beautiful conservatory and botanical garden, if you ever been there it’s really beautiful And, I weirdly just found myself kind of wandering through the space because the monks believed that the deceased may often visit you in the form of flora and fauna, and I knew it was soon to be visiting and hoping to see her But it was a healing moment for me to have found myself in this space “On Visiting the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens” “I have come to collect the various species of America: ruby-spotted, tigers, kites and pipevines??an armory of wings & two-week bodies The room swells openly and I ascend to the top?? I am separate from the boy who swats persistently Tucked in the corner of a window, a white morpho, the only kind to perch long enough for me to satisfy my collecting??its lunar afterglow still hanging as I pulse and pace to get a closer look I am separate from the boy who climbs a nearby tower and shouts for his father Perhaps I am half of this?a set of dots for eyes, spine for spine, my insides half my father’s? half my mother’s Kuv tus ntsuj plig [phonetic] unlike the fate of quick bodies, sovereign cavities, mother whose torso fell early in harvest??a bed of muscle to hold her from splitting in two??and do we hear it? As in a fever the boy runs back & does not see the white morpho the way I must see it: my personal moon stone-ripe in this foreign corner, mother as fauna forever,??inhuman and gazing Then my body, a chariot, pulled by a pair of orange helicons sweeping towards the main water feature, complete with koi This place in which I dream the new body?whole and abiding??I am reaching for the boy now as warden to both the living and the after living, the privilege in every gesture??like mother’s first gifts: name and citizenship, poetry always in departure, the song about the moon falling over, fast in flames.” Thank you [ Applause ] ?? Sally Wen Mao: Hi, I’m Sally I just want to thank everyone that has organized this incredible festival And I also want to acknowledge that it’s really strange to be standing on this fancy podium and reading this poem called “Inauguration Poem” So, close to the inauguration And in this poem, I took all the words — well there was a newspaper that published all the words never before spoken in an inauguration until this year, and I took all those words and I put them in this poem And, I just want to say that it feels so radical to create this space in this location, to create this space

that asserts on how important language is and how words are, and how words and language is related to power, and how words and language can exploit power but also kind of reclaim it And I hope we come away from this weekend with that in our hearts, like that idea that our words and our language can reclaim that OK, so, this poem is called “Inauguration Poem” “A girl stalked a sheep in a field The sheep began to bleed and the whole field smelled like carnage A butcher had moved in and slaughtered the sheep Red, the stain on her dress Empty, her basket The depletion of resources winter sowed??the house on the hill in disrepair In the vacated house, the girl tried to flush the blood down the toilet but the infrastructure couldn’t completely erase the evidence of life The girl studied Islamic history, the origin of arithmetic The stain turned the girl into a lady in her country’s blighted first-world landscape History’s pages were open, one by one they ripped When she asked the spout for water, it rusted She grew cold She grew weary She grew sad If only she could ban the butcher in solidarity with the bad children, the refugees and outcasts Instead she drove into the city, the urban sprawl swallowing her She went into a store, got caught stealing a candy bar Surveillance footage showed she had no remorse She justified: We all live on stolen land Why not one bar of chocolate, subsidized? Then she remembered prisoners, their tombstones unmarked A cop arrested her, trapped her in the back of the police van Trillions of atoms spinning inside her body, an unrealized commodity for strange men’s agendas Order, dystopia, blueprint of urban catastrophe The streets, without strangers, all barren The trees, without protection, all windswept.” Thank you [ Applause ] ?? Rajiv Mohabir: I kind of wanted just take the microphone cap so I can keep it in my pocket at night and have all of your wonderful saliva and words in my life forever This is so fantastic Thank you everybody for coming here, thank you for the wonderful talks, thank you for the wonderful poems, my goodness Thank you for this wonderful issue, holy god And to be in Poetry Magazine with such names like I don’t even know what to say other than, Holy shit! But I definitely want to thank the organizers for sure, to Lawrence, and Mimi, you’re both wonderful light and thank you, I’m appreciative And then also I want to thank Timothy, you, Lawrence again and [inaudible] for selecting my little poem to live in this issue, and it’s called “Coolie” I am from a community of south Asians taken to the Caribbean in the 1800s to cut cane, and so, this poem is written in a form that I developed while I worked with Kimiko at Queens College, I’m calling it a [inaudible] poem, it’s based on kind of folk music that if you have gone down to Queens, any place, you’ve probably heard it, like on streets, coming from cars And I developed the form based on the song Kaise Banie by Sundar Popo, a Trinitarian singer

And thinking about form carrying history, this is a kind of form that carries my history And it’s written in three different kind of movements, such languages The verse is plantation Hindi or Caribbean Bhojpuri which it’s a language that I come from The next is Creole or Guyanese English, that I come from as well, and then the other one of course is English So, it starts with a chorus in Caribbean Hindi, what I’ll do is that I’ll read it in the verse and then I’ll read the translation, but since it is a chorus, at the very end of the poem, I’ll read it again in translation Coolie, which is a bad, bad, slur for Hindu-Caribbean people So, please, yes, don’t repeat [ Laughter ] [ Speaking foreign language ] “They made us hold of the name coolie, like a cut-glass it bit us coming to Guyana With this whip-scar iron shackle name Aja [phonetic] contract-bound, whole day cut cane; come night he drink up rum for so until he wine-up and pitch in the trench’s black water and cries, “Oh [inaudible]!” until sugar and pressure claim his two eyes The backra manager laugh at we??so come so done I was born a crab-dog devotee of the silent god, the jungle god, the god crosser-of-seas White tongues licked the sweet Demerara of my sores Now Stateside, Americans erase my slave story; call me Indian Can’t they hear kalapani [phonetic] in my voice, my breath’s marine layer when I say? They made us hold of the name coolie, like a cut-glass it bit us coming to Guyana.” Thank you [ Applause ] ?? Gerald Maa: It’s good to be here So, when Lawrence told me to read from this issue I turned to Emily Dickinson, because for the longest time the poem in here, its title was an appropriated lines from Emily Dickinson Wanted to consult these lines again just, touching the base of a poem I wrote years ago And after that I played a little sortilege with Dickinson, you know, flipping at random for guidance, you know like Methodist do So, if I’m a Methodist, I’m a Dickinson Methodist And it is just astounding how consistently I get profound, it is And I chance upon a poem that could exist, you know it just broke all the expectations that I had for Dickinson of the Dickinson poem In a large part, because of its historical timeliness which I thought which everybody thinks is anathema of a Dickinson poem, right? And, so, the poem goes: “The mob within the heart Police cannot suppress The riot given at the first Is sanctified as peace Uncertified of scene or signified as sound But growing like a hurricane in a congenial ground.” And, so, I mean, I should have stopped there, really [laughter] But, you know, as deeply cynical as I am these days, as I can be these days, I do have to admit to myself that often times I have the privilege of crossing congenial ground And I think that kind of the key to that poem is taking genial of the roof for one of my most loathed words, one of the words I hate the most: Genius Genial is the root for genius And prefixing it with a word that attributes that to a crowd And, so, one of the takeaways from these three days is these words not only in the podium but words that I heard across tables, you know, overdrinks,

small talk in the hallway that does a lot of “ethics in work”, you know This is on tape so it’s on to perpetuity so I’m glad, this is the only thing that people ten years from now will remember or can find of me I’m happy But one of the things I learned from these three days is that any form of politics imaginable that I know that I want to be a part of would be congenial in that way And, so, it’s a certain bit of authority but please let’s applause the crowd and the host before I — [ Applause ] OK, now to the lesser work, my poem here it’s a three-part poem I’m going to read, just stick with the last part In a service of time, and is a little bit longer It’s a travel poem to a place in Thailand, a city called Pai I learned from Adrienne Rich that dates are important, so, you know, I made these travels in 2005 Wrote this poem, you know, a couple of years after that Now let me find the poem I’m only reading the last section Yes? Takes time You’re my elder and I review you on the page [Laughter] The first words he has ever spoke to me as a command, so I must hear it [Laughter] I’ve been hearing your commands in the page for so long, it’s weird to have it in person OK, well [inaudible] OK, I’ll read it in whole Thank you It’s called “The Blighted Star Fruit”: “To pass through astonishment and know much too late And because habit makes us strange, I find myself searching on a landscape that generates questions beyond its ability to solve That dark post out there might be this poem standing as you would?lead in the 4th grade play??under theater lights and your shadows that petal around you And what should be most memorable isn’t So, I recall those prolonged moments of silence, incongruous And revealing as metaphor, most frequently For instance, waiting at the bus stop in Pai in a midmorning the hue of the roadside guardrails that dot the cliff’s side like Morse code Before leaving with trees, those felled, ones half-painted white, the burnt trunks — That passed by like the so many phenomena of our days blurred together into a motion At times, convincing as a nickelodeon’s, I waited under the thatched roof of the station with other travelers With each in our common solitude risen around like that Haydn piece In the tunnel I descended into on my way out onto Broadway from the 1 train some months ago, it seemed of Hopper Star fruit on the ground discolored, withering, blighted Three of the town’s strays hobbled by before midday’s heat stalled the town like some lost Stephano, Trinculo, and their lamed, Dark sycophant?– ?at least that’s what they were for me It wasn’t comfort, never comfort, but something else And when each moment with expectations for more Than it can hold leads to the next, and soon??as then — expectation fills up the day as does your breath a balloon, the day floats with such care and strange hours And both pleasure and pain are motions of the soul — plato wrote, ?poetry’s banisher, beauty’s guard.” Two. “My hands grow differently used While one hand thumbs pages, the other hand steadies open the book It’s the other hand that rests on the desk, forearm paralleled to the table’s edge, all the fingers, except the thumb holding the blank field One hand’s mole a gnat flattened between pinky and ring finger The other hand’s palm-side, below the skin enough it’s likely a splinter left for years Just one hand fits my Discman, plugged in while watching those around, no news-as-white-noise here to occupy my sight Kids who bus to school hours away tooth picking slivers of chili-dappled mango slices in A triple-sweatered lady palming back her hair in a thick Thai pre-dawn June; the one foreigner other than us, earphone couched; and her shape, dozed slack,

coat-blanketed, neck against my side One hand rests Half a day ago, under a mosquito net, flushed with the desk fan sitting on the rattan floor, one hand kept on the steady act of beckoning behind the tongue-swelled clit, uncreasing the ridged roof, almost like the mouth’s roof as it slopes down toward teeth, like rubbing the dampened cave wall, finger-darkened, as the guide turns his back to us The other hand traced its crook?– that delta-creased pad set between thumb and fingers, hand’s most fleshy zone? — ?on the torso The other hand then stilled her hip, mosquito net, weighted, walling out stitches of ants, from its hook, a viscous drape like that through one hand’s two fingers Oddly, only one hand drums along the CD, Converge, Jane Doe, as the crowd would rupture outward into a circle pit?– ?a vortex in reverse — if this were a concert The other hand just bides its time Milton’s clumsy other hand, God’s other hand that lessing chose, and that Spaniard’s other hand riddled useless at Lepanto, a bullet lodged into that scurvied poet’s chest, the other hand remembers and betrays The other hand cries out, which was Keats’s living one? Neither hand scarred yet, even after thumb-knuckle tempted a sander in shop class, impulse from imagining too much One hand’s cushion bears the pencil, my friend whose tasks are split between his hands, “I eat with my left hand, punch with the other”?– says we whack off with the hand we write Each hand on different shaded denim thighs, The unclipped nails crude halos of sun-blocking hills One hand lets forth words; the other hand holds it back.” Three. Chased by a three-legged dog to the temple stairs, past all the fallen star fruit, the veined tips the last to wither, the through-light flesh sun- and bug-eaten We crossed paths with a one-legged man?– ?wordless sounds, in that permanent wild gaze, crutching down the stairs, 400! As we stopped to catch a break mid-flight Our breath would last us a run-through of the temple, and, in the first hallway?– him?!, his phatic calls, tics and unwilled smile facing the morning that just passed, the sun no longer in front of his propped body, but above it, the valley overabundant with the real light that stole our day The fog too lifted against my sight We paused Having just climbed the hill, we agreed to leave our shoes on despite sandals stationed on the stoop, and then we turned towards that hall — Let’s go — he ends, befriended, prayer Phaedrus-empty ?The driver gases the bus off the parking brakes to idle back out the station; the attendants scoop up the wood wedges and clatter the door shut The passengers all shift In the chapter among the deformed and footless, Zhuangzi [phonetic] ends, arguing for the greatest of men, a man void of feelings: ‘The Way gave him a face, Heaven gave him a form, can’t you call him a man?’ Yet there are things I love: The sun, you, travel And back again, the thick fog parts us from the obliterating Turner sun Pretty soon, come day, the motorbikes, The Rough Guide says, ‘all tourists should try will buzz by those three dogs’, all lethargic, the largest too tired to dry-hump His red tip unsheathing, there’s no neutering here The black one, bald in spots, wouldn’t even fight it off The mottled one coiled back like the dog that badgers Bosch’s wayfarer, andaged, poor bastard, with his gnarled stick, not looking at us, but rather caught looking back, And above his head a doorway — ?no, the gallows??– The same one Brueghel’s final peasants romped beneath? My turn now to sleep I can dab off from my jeans, your drool just reaching my thigh as you do, with care, from our sheets when?– yet that stuff, all that stuff of ours still spots our many beds with different aged salt-rings, each gasp less a sound than a failure at silence Before us another strange town, while for others school, home, maybe work, a field, someplace normal, there, someplace beyond sight from its roadside stop

Abroad a month, toward a year in another country, Anne?– ? Anacrusis: these days I’m lost in, reminded of my presence as if catching a stranger’s wave to the yet-to-be-seen man behind you as yours.” [ Applause ] ?? This has been a presentation from the Library of the Congress Visit us at loc.gov