OK. I am gearing up for the next flurry of events, as the last has gone embarrassingly well.
Last Thursday I submitted our nomination for Juan Felipe Herrera for California Poet Laureate, and was very happy to be able to exchange a couple of emails with him. I am really very confident in his qualifications, and I believe the wording in our application/nomination is strong.
Last Friday’s South and Southeast Asian Studies Department Commencement was nerve wracking, starting with participating un-robed, un-hooded, un-regalia’ed (I never do these things with regalia; I’m not enough of an academic for that!) in the faculty procession, continuing with Professor Jeff Hadler’s amazingly flattering introduction and discussion on my work (he’s apparently read everything I have published, and that is enough to be nerve wracked). I am sure I was insecure about my speech until the very end. But what I didn’t realize is that there appears to be a great love for story, myth, and poetry in that department; the undergraduate speaker (I am sorry I do not immediately remember her name) was a lovely young woman who also framed her speech within a traditional South Asian story, and in that way, my starting with poetry performance and discussing narratives throughout my speech was right on. I had a brief exchange with her after she was all done with her family’s picture taking and all, and we were both very happy that our speeches contained these common threads.
I am also happy to report that the improvised performance with the Gamelan Sekar Jaya musicians really worked. I’d originally thought of performing the rolling, looser prose of Diwata, since I was so concerned with conveying accessible narrative, but then I decided instead on the pieces with tighter metered lines, couplets set up as call and response, one “We” poem, and a pantoum. The accompaniment was right on, they were with me the whole time. Actually, it felt more like we took turns leading and following. I had asked the musicians if I should at least show them my poetry beforehand, and they said to surprise them instead.
All day, I kept having the most wonderful conversations with Professor Sylvia Tiwon, with whom I took one lower division Southeast Asian Studies course probably back in 1991 or so. She keyed in on so many of the popular and traditional cultural and mythological references, whose sprawl also made me insecure in the company of (disciplined) academics. But old stories are open like that, as I’ve learned from all the Ethnic Studies, Native American Studies, and Southeast Asian Studies courses I have ever taken. Why are there earthdiver myths and great turtles upon which the earth is created, and great ovens from which we, the clay creations of the deities, are born, in North America and in Southeast Asia — this has always been so interesting to me. And perhaps I do know that these belief systems and stories are determined by the natural worlds (climate, terrain, fauna, etc) which the people inhabit; here, I’d actually use the Tagalog term/phrase, “sa mundong kinagisnan,” or “sa daigdig na kinagisnan,” the world into which (we) have awakened. The fact that I leap between continents has always nagged at me, for its apparent lack of discipline, even when that is one of the major points of Diwata, and even when I know my poetic discipline is tight.
At the post ceremony reception, I ended up having all these conversations about poetry, the value of MFA programs for poets really wanting to expand their knowledge bases and build their poetics, versus the poetic industrial complex, interesting poetic experimentation that yields uninteresting poetry, the work to which our readers have to commit in order to access the poetry when faced with the absence of translation, and the absence of conventional Western narrative. And really, everyone I spoke to was so exuberant about poetry, about hearing poetry, and having it be included in this commencement ceremony. That this was very appropriate. And really, everyone’s exuberance to me was like an embarrassment of riches, to be surrounded by so many women who’ve been so moved by my work, when I have grown accustomed to the kind of women who socially dislike me for my work. Oh, the men were very warm and responsive too; it’s just that the responses of the women were able to break out of the appropriate professional and intellectual response and into the less articulable, less academic province of “poets feed the soul of a people,” and/or more (stereo)typically gendered female talkstory at kitchen tables.
Anyway, there was so much good discussion with the SSEAS faculty, as it happens when you actually get to sit and share a meal with folks. I have been invited back, sometime soon, once again to perform more poetry with musical accompaniment for the department.
OK. Next up:
(1) I will be speaking on a panel on marketing Asian American Literature for the American Literature Association Conference in San Francisco, and I will be reading with Shawn Wong and Helen Zia. These two events take place Memorial Day Weekend.
(2) I will be reading at Eastwind Books of Berkeley on May 31st, for the Field of Mirrors anthology. Complete list of readers is here.
(3) I will be at UC Santa Barbara on June 2nd-3rd, teaching poetry workshop, speaking to Celine Parreñas Shimizu’s Asian American Studies class, doing a reading/performance, and it also looks like I will be holding a number of one on one student conferences.
(4) I will be reading with Meg Withers, Truong Tran, Craig Santos Perez, and others sometime in June (I don’t know the exact date) at Modern Times Bookstore is SF for Meg’s Communion of Saints book launch.