Forms of Asian Americanness in Contemporary Poetry

•May 25, 2016 • Leave a Comment


My review of Dorothy J. Wang’s Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry is in the latest issue of Contemporary Literature.

This is from the beginning:

There is a curious scene in Scott Derrickson’s 2008 remake of the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still in which issues of race, foreignness, linguistic difference, and the extraterrestrial entangle. The newly arrived alien Klaatu (played by Keanu Reeves) visits a McDonald’s restaurant in human guise to meet alien sleeper agent Mr. Wu (played by James Hong).The conversation begins in Mandarin as the aliens discuss humans’ destructive and stubborn nature; they decide that their mission to save the planet by exterminating humanity should proceed. “Any attempt to intercede would be futile,” says Wu, who has been living on Earth for seventy years; “they won’t change.” The dialogue shifts into English as Wu announces—against Klaatu’s protestation—that he prefers to remain on Earth and die, as he has come to love humanity despite its shortcomings. The racial and linguistic coding of the scene is unmistakable: for Wu and Klaatu, who are phenotypically legible as Asian and Eurasian, Chinese is the uncompromising and bellicose language of alterity, while English, as a discursive medium for reflective, even poetic, sensitivity, humanizes them. “Human life is difficult. But as this life is coming to an end, I consider myself lucky to have lived it,” says Wu in his final lines of the scene.

Derrickson’s film underscores the fact that Asianness in America, whether manifested racially or linguistically, has been, and still is, associated with the threatening, radically distant, or duplicitous, a point that recurs throughout Dorothy J. Wang’s important book Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry

Excerpt from “Disorientations” in past simple 11

•May 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment


An excerpt from my manuscript-in-progress “Disorientations” just appeared in Jim Goar’s excellent e-journal past simple.

“Disorientations” collages together—and so “disorients”—two postmodern Orientalist texts: Kent Johnson’s Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada, a yellowface simulation of hibakusha literature, and Roland Barthes’s Empire of Signs, a semiotic treatise based on an invented system Barthes calls “Japan.”

Vicente Huidobro in the Boston Review

•April 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

v huidobro

My co-translation (w/ Ignacio Infante) of the avant-gardist Vicente Huidobro has just appeared in the Boston Review. The BR is posting great new poetry content every day for the month of April. The translated excerpt comes from Huidobro’s long prose poem Sky-Quake–and it directly follows the beginning portion of Sky-Quake, which was recently published in Asymptote.

The Found Poetry Review IMPROMPTU Prompt

•April 19, 2016 • 1 Comment


Every day this month The Found Poetry Review is posting an experimental writing prompt by “some of the most forward thinking poets, writers and critics.” It’s part of a National Poetry Month project they’re calling “Impromptu.”

My prompt (on experimental translation) is being featured today. Here’s an excerpt from it:

When we speak of “translation” we usually refer to the process of turning a text that is written in one language into another language. But if we think about translation more broadly, we can imagine a diverse range of experimental processes that can spark new writing. All you need is to find a source text and invent a method of transforming, altering, or changing it.

To use a very recent example—Paul Legault’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 2 (Fence Books, 2016) is an English-to-English translation of John Ashbery. The book is “a memory translation” in which Legault attempted to recreate Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror—a volume renowned for winning the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1975—by “writ[ing] down each of Ashbery’s original poems, from memory.” Ashbery’s “Grand Galop,” for instance, begins, “All things seem mention of themselves / And the names which stem from them branch out to other referents. Hugely, spring exists again.” Legault’s “Grand Galop 2,” in turn, is a kind of branching out from the original: “Everything seems to mention itself / The way people are trees of people / Connected through days as if by a force / Of some huge version of spring let out / That held us there.” Legault’s book follows the cultural logic of the sequel and the remix in order to pay homage to an influential American master, to acknowledge the extent to which contemporary poetry continues to translate Ashbery’s groundbreaking writing into a myriad of afterlives.

In terms of experimental translation, the practice of “homophonic translation” is well-known: it is translating a foreign language text by loosely imitating its sound rather than by following its sense. In homophonically translating Rimbaud’s famous sonnet “Voyelles,” Christian Bök turns the line “A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles” into “Anywhere near blank rage / you veer, oblivial.” But there are many other methods of transforming a found text.


Joseph Donahue’s Antithetical Poetics

•April 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This weekend’s edition of Hyperallergic includes my review of Joseph Donahue’s recent books Dark Church (Verge Books, 2015) and Red Flash on a Black Field (Black Square Editions, 2014). Both are beautiful volumes worth owning and reading. Last Sunday, I heard Joe give a brilliant paper “Acousmatic Orphism: Sounding Out Susan Howe” at the Poetics: (The Next) 25 Years Conference at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. I will certainly be looking forward to his collected book of essays.

Vicente Huidobro in Asymptote

•April 15, 2016 • Leave a Comment


The new April 2016 issue of Asymptote looks really beautiful. It has a generous excerpt from Vicente Huidobro’s bilingual long poem Sky-Quake: Tremor of Heaven, which I translated with Ignacio Infante.

Sherwin Bitsui at UAlbany, 2/18/2016

•February 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Sherwin Bitsui at the New York State Writers Institute, University at Albany, SUNY. February 18, 2016.

Last Thursday afternoon, Sherwin Bitsui gave a fantastic reading at the University at Albany. Many thanks to the New York State Writers Institute for making the event possible. I had a chance to introduce Sherwin, and here’s a snippet of what I said:

…Bitsui’s poetry…is a poetry of metamorphosis and becoming. True to the titles of his books [Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press, 2003) and Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)], his poetry shifts and flows as it floods the senses. It constantly revises and reshapes itself as if in response to changing conditions. At any one moment, an image or sound or motif is on the cusp of transforming into something else. This is to say that Bitsui’s poetry is best appreciated as a continuous aesthetic experience, as an experience that unfolds and unfurls within time, an experience that coalesces into nodes of graspable meaning and then expands centrifugally into new atmospheres of sense.

Sherwin read from his first two books and then shared with us a nice preview from his new manuscript called “Dissolve.”

The new poems have a wonderful crispness and elegance; their imagistic constructions–while still preserving a sense of the wildness of Flood Song–have a refinement and tightness to them. Even as the images dissolved and were overtaken by new ones, they still left a strong and lasting imprint on the mind. I also thought that Sherwin’s metaphors in “Dissolve” evoked both surprise and inevitability at the same time–certainly a magnificent feat. I’ll be looking forward to “Dissolve” with great interest!


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