Episode #116: Stephanie Barbé Hammer, author of HOW FORMAL? and THE PUPPET TURNERS OF NARROW INTERIOR

Episode #116! An interview with Stephanie Barbé Hammer, author of HOW FORMAL? and THE PUPPET TURNERS OF NARROW INTERIOR. Intro music by T. Fowler.

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Descended from Norwegian plumbers on one side, and broke bohemian Russian aristocrats on the other, Stephanie Barbé Hammer has published short fiction, nonfiction and poetry in The Bellevue Literary Review, CRATE, Pearl, East Jasmine Review, Apeiron, and the Hayden’s Ferry Review among other places. Stephanie’s prose poem chapbook Sex with Buildings, appeared with Dancing Girl Press in 2012. Her 2014 full length collection, How Formal? was published by Spout Hill Press. Her first novel The Puppet Turners of Narrow Interior appeared in March 2015 with Urban Farmhouse Press. A sometime performer, Stephanie can be glimpsed on the margins of  Erika Suderburg’s feature-length filmSomatography, as well as in her own short videos for writers starring her heteronyms: German organizational expert Mitzi Notnagel and her associate, polyamorous anarchist culture commentatrix Simone Baumbaumsziegfieldstravinskyshalom (neé Stein). A professor emerita at UC Riverside since 2014, Stephanie teaches at conferences and writers associations and divides her time between Coupeville Washington and Los Angeles California with her husband, interfaith blogger Larry Behrendt. She currently co-curates a monthly poetry series at Chevalier Books in LA with poet/performance artist Rich Ferguson. Stephanie is a 4-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize.

How Many Ways to Arrive: A Review of not so, sea by Mg Roberts

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Durga Press, 86 pages
Reviewed by Muriel Leung

“tell me how to root in sentence form, to distinguish pain from sacrifice

                                                                                                   ::

tell me where to dissolve”

–excerpt from Mg Roberts’ not so, sea

For Mg Roberts in her wildly emotive first book not so, sea, poetry is an attempt to reconcile a messy story of origin. On the one hand, origin is scripted by geographical traversal as the speaker emigrates from the Philippines. However, geography in terms of nation and borders is just one narrative strain. For Roberts, geography is not only the stuff of maps but also the textured landscape of place, the angled hurt of memory, and the indefatigable strength of the mothering body that endures birth, death, and everything in between.

It is why the text within not so, sea appears in the form of non-linear narrative and fragments parsed by white space. Fragmentation is necessary to construct this particular narrative of origin. It disrupts a linear and hegemonic narrative that privileges order and coherency. For Roberts, these fragments are jagged shards that begin with a “cut” in the book’s cinematic opening in which the speaker watches the story of her birth through performative distance. The cut at once signifies the cutting of an umbilical cord as well as the filmic technique of moving from shot to shot. Though these gestures may seem like discordant parts, they are assembled together to forge a new meaning.

This undulating movement between distance and longing characterizes the tonal complexity of the book’s fragments. In between birth and death, there is the narrative of a rich intergenerational history between women—the speaker, her mother, her grandmother, and her daughter as well. There is also the militarization of Asian countries that include the Philippines and Vietnam as well as the violent forces of racism in the speaker’s everyday encounters in the U.S. Frequently torn between spaces and time, the speaker forces herself to engage with what is most difficult in order to better comprehend her own history. She self-flagellates by watching post-Vietnam War action movies “to be closer to” an unnamed American G.I. that she addresses in a letter whose only distinction is by the number one. She ruminates on the Barbie Doll’s proportions and the expectations the toy’s measurements have placed upon young girls, particularly for the speaker’s daughter. In each turn, the speaker attempts to grow closer to violence as a way of touching it—which is a unique way of attempting to know it and master it in the hopes that she could uncover something in return that might make the future safe for her and her children.

not so, sea is a brightly dappled landscape of a text that matches its moments of clinical removal with floods of unrestrained mourn. Despite that grief, it is also a text of hope. In the lines from which Roberts draws for the book’s title, she writes, “Perched on this location, bowed against this site and elsewhere—not so, sea./ Pages turn creating distance. I must retell myself until I can see us in color.” The site that she names is non-specific but the syntactical obfuscation of the phrase “not so, sea” tells us that the sea can be both object and figure of address. The multiplicity of meaning here in the physical landscape is very much a marker of the potential of text. The process of “retell[ing]” though it may be bleak and terrifying, it is also necessary. It needs to be said because the alternative of silence also cuts. But this act of retelling is powerful for it names a distinct suffering marked by the perpetual sense of transiency and distance after immigration, removal of one’s innate sensibilities through the damaging effects of colonialism, racism and misogyny, and the cultural and familial demands in response to all this discord. Though there is a palpable fear of how this suffering will be passed down to a future generation, Roberts offers this generosity—an inheritance of pain is not without the fortitude to persist in spite of it.

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Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung is a multimedia poet and former teaching artist from Queens, NY. Her poetry and essays can be found or is forthcoming in Coconut, TENDE RLOIN, Bone Bouquet, Dark Phrases, and RE/VISIONIST. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship. Currently, she is a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University where she also serves as the Assistant Editor of New Delta Review.

On Jay Nebel’s Neighbors

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Reviewed by Leah Silvieus

If you were to find yourself chatting with Jay Nebel’s Neighbors (Saturnalia Books, 2014) at a BBQ, it wouldn’t be too long before you’d get the feeling that these are the kinds of poems that have seen a lot. Maybe it’s because they’ve actually experienced a lot, or maybe it’s just that they’ve learned how to pay attention. Maybe it’s both. The poems in this collection are raw and heartbreaking, in great part because they’ve learned to cut the bullshit. Nebel writes with a kind of worldly vulnerability that seems to be a result of chasing cynicism to its limits and then returning from the edge:

[…] I want the faith
of the blind hamster who sniffs over the edge
of the kitchen table and pushes off,
to believe as some of my friends believe,
in jumbo neon crosses and radio stations,
in the palm against your forehead,
falling backwards and underwater
revival, in the cleaniness of porn stars […]

(“The Cleanliness of Porn Stars”)

            Neighbors deals with the desire to be seen as well as the loneliness and shame that often accompanies that desire. In “Shopping at Macy’s,” Nebel describes a speaker “surrounded by young bodies, twenty-year old whips,” who realizes he is “nothing to these women, / just a middle-aged married man with tattoos.” Nebel lays these confessions out nakedly and with little comment, thus eliding the temptation to descend into self-pity. He concludes that poem with this striking line: “I am waiting for someone to arrest me.” Perhaps shame hangs heaviest if we get away with our fantasies, if, worst of all, we confess and no one cares or even notices. This risk of emotional exposure is one of the collection’s greatest vulnerabilities and one of its greatest strengths.

It’s not only in the back rooms and dark alleys that we witness the struggle for survival, Nebel’s poems demonstrate, but also in the lawns and malls and Home Depot parking lots where people waver between two seemingly irreconcilable extremes: quiet desperation on one end, recklessness on the other. “We’re at war and the world’s at war,” he writes in “Lawns”: “Every day I’m more like a beached / whale waiting for someone / to pull out his fishing knife and open me up.” We struggle to matter and to mean – to tell those stories that make us feel that we have an audience and are therefore a little less alone: “I’m working on the right finale,” he writes in “Fast, Hard, and Rated R” and continues later in the poem: “I refuse to be remembered as the mangy dog that crawled back under the porch / to die […] Give me heavy / metal and a long-haired guitar.”

The Old English roots of the word “neighbor” come from words meaning “near” and “dweller” or “inhabitant.” Like the title of the book, Nebel’s poems remind us that there is someone on the other side of that wall, across the lawn, down the street – others who are with us in our shame and desire and risk. In reading the collection, Nebel’s poems become kinds of neighbors to the reader, offering us “the awkward high five of reincarnation,” and with their own vulnerability dare us to be more vulnerable, dare us to be seen.

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Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus is a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and at the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received grants and fellowships from Fulbright, Kundiman, US Poets in Mexico, and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & WritingCURAThe Collagist, and diode, among others. Currently, she divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her athttp://leahsilvieus.wordpress.com/

Mongrel Cry: The Possibilities of Mongrel Poetics

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By Kenji C. Liu

Often, to write about something in English is to attempt to circumscribe it, to make of it a describable thing. So when asked to write something about “mongrel poetics” I wasn’t sure how to do so and I’m still not sure. But that’s fine. So let’s start this by saying outright that this is a tentative tract about something that has existed, changed, and continues to mutate. This is a strategic bracketing that will necessarily need to be unbracketed.

By now, many poets who spend time on the internet have probably noticed the Boston Review’s series on racism in US avant-garde poetics and the anti-racist/anti-colonial poetry manifestos of the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo (MCAG). Both are critiques of the self-centered longevity of racism and white privilege in US avant-garde (and certainly other kinds of) poetry, whose most recent and tiring manifestation was seen in Kenneth Goldsmith’s performance of Michael Brown’s autopsy, a white appropriation of Brown’s corpse.

The basics of the Boston Review conversation can be found online, so no need for me to repeat what has already been knowledgeably said. What I really want to look at is MCAG, or rather the possibilities their manifestos open up. Of the MCAG’s messages, these can be found at their website, Twitter feed, and Harriet the blog.

MCAG employs the strategic use of high intensity critique to interesting effect. In my view, it’s a recognition that more polite forms of engagement often go unheard. Politeness and respectability are the entry fees to middle-class whiteness, preconditions one must meet before whiteness deigns to listen. It’s a privileged refusal to listen unless the other submits to civilized (colonial) terms of conversation. MCAG is a refusal of that refusal, as well as a firm, sharp poke into the nest.

What might “mongrel poetics” look like? Is there a connection to feminist avant-garde poet Mina Loy and her poem “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose”? Perhaps. Loy’s manifestos and don’t-fence-me-in life seems to echo a found-familial relationship with MCAG. Elizabeth A. Frost, in her chapter “Crisis in Consciousness: Mina Loy’s “‘Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose’” in The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry, describes “Loy’s mongrel poetics [as an attempt] to breed feminist politics from racist and patriarchal rhetoric…. [a]dopting overwriting to mock.” There seems to be a lineage here of some kind.

Like much of Loy’s writings, some avant-garde poetics takes as its task the interruption of dominant and oppressive language and institutions through the innovation of language interventions. The practitioners of these interventions often have feminist, anti-racist, and/or queer commitments—for example, Myung Mi Kim or Bhanu Kapil. For an excellent scholarly consideration on this topic, see Nest and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets (2015, Kelsey Street Press).

What I appreciate about MCAG is that they open a space for a kind of non-prescriptive ferocity for anyone who wishes to take it up for themselves. In a recent panel called “Mongrel Poetiks” at CalArts &Now 2015 conference, the four presenters were extremely varied in their approaches, ranging from trauma release-based exorcism to vibrant academic mic drops. Whether gentle or militant in tone, this ferocity is immersed in anti-racist, anti-colonial politics.

Of course, there are those who are put off by MCAG. The problem with the way whiteness generally “reads” anti-racist tracts, no matter what the tone, is that it takes everything as a personal attack rather understanding itself within a system of institutionalized ugliness. So no matter how nuanced the analysis presented, whiteness whispers “you’re being called a horrible human being” and the conversation is over. This then allows everything from basic defensiveness (assertion of personal innocence or goodness) to refusing to be outraged that a black man is shot and killed every 28 hours. Meanwhile, the rest of us are trying to have actual substantive conversations.

So rather than the question of whether the MCAG is right or wrong in its approach or whether their critique is somehow a personal attack, how about a more interesting question? Assuming we believe racism, colonialism, and other oppressions should end (one should never assume), what does a “mongrel poetics” call for in our writing? If we hold ourselves accountable to an unjust system that impacts everyone asymmetrically—in many cases, through various kinds of death—how must our poetics change and erupt? Can we radically push language and form without losing ourselves in post-modern relativity and irrelevance? To riff off of Bhanu Kapil, can our writing generate, in whatever way possible, a deep “mongrel cry?”

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kenjicliu

Kenji C. Liu‘s writing appears in The American Poetry Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Pinch, Asian American Literary Review, Barrow Street Journal, CURA, RHINO, Split This Rock’s poem of the week series, and several anthologies. A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman, VONA/Voices, Djerassi Resident Artist Program, and Community of Writers at SV, he holds an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Social Transformation.

To Attend to the Fleeting Moment: Judy Halebsky’s Tree Line

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Reviewed by Leah Silvieus

Judy Halebsky’s newest poetry collection, Tree Line (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2014), evokes the sense of a moving meditation on the possibilities of distance. As a tree line inhabits the liminal zone of climate, Halebsky’s poems move within liminal zones of nature, language and human relationships. Drawing on traditions of Japanese literature and modern collage, Halebsky uses juxtaposition to reveal connections among seemingly disparate ideas, time periods and languages.

“This contrast or juxtaposition is central to the art of haiku. It allows for a space between what is written in the poem and what is evoked by the poem,” Halebsky says in an interview with Dominican University of California where she currently teaches. “With the season marker and nature-based images of the poem, the haiku address the human condition of fragility in a transient world. We are subject to the natural world, the forces of nature, and the ever-fleeting condition of life. A haiku calls us to attend to this fleeting moment.”[1]

Or, as Halebsky writes in In “Motel 6”: “haiku isn’t 5-7-5 / it’s two images that crash together / to make a third.” Halebsky remains keenly observant of the living world while acknowledging its brevity with sensitive detachment. In a poem written after Jack Gilbert’s “Failing and Flying,” she writes, “we lie so close your heart beats through my ribs / we walk scarred / we love only with what we can bear to lose.” Gilbert’s original poem weaves together a meditation on a fading relationship and the Icarus and Daedalus myth. In the stunning last line of “Failing and Flying,” Gilbert writes, “I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, / but just coming to the end of his triumph.” Like Gilbert, Halebsky explores moments of sorrow, grief and separation by slowing down their collisions and divisions to reveal the beauty inherent in their juxtapositions and negative spaces.

She writes, for example, in “Li Po Loved Two Things”: “Basho looking down over the falls / in another country / hundreds of years later / picking flowers for Li Po.” In this image, we are aware of both the distance and the kinship between these two poets who are unified across languages and geography by the simple gesture of picking flowers, of gift giving. It is the chronological, geographic, and linguistic distance between the two poets that makes possible this gift, Halebsky seems to suggest, and perhaps distance that makes connection possible at all.

In “Space, Gap, Interval, Distance” she writes:

        間ma
        written as the sun
        coming through the gate

as what we leave open
between us
so the spirits    when they come
will have a place to land.

Yo-Yo Ma, quoting the violinist Isaac Stern, once said in an interview [2] that music happens between the notes. The same effect is present here in Halebsky’s work. It is Halebsky’s delicate handling of the inherent brevity of life, connection, and language that lends her work its profundity. Tree Line rewards multiple readings as each continues to reveal more expansively the music that lives within the poems’, and our own, fleeting moments.

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[1] Halebsky, Judy. “Judy Halebsky.” Dominican University of California. Dominican.edu, n.d. Web.1 May 2015.

[2] Ma, Yo-Yo. “Music Happens Between the Notes,” Interview by Krista Tippett. On Being.org. On Being, 4 September 2014.Web. 1 May 2015.

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Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus is a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and at the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received grants and fellowships from Fulbright, Kundiman, US Poets in Mexico, and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & WritingCURAThe Collagist, and diode, among others. Currently, she divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her athttp://leahsilvieus.wordpress.com/

Episode #115: Review of BLACKBIRD FLY by Erin Entrada Kelly!

ErinEstradaKelly Episode #115! A collaborative review of BLACKBIRD FLY by Erin Entrada Kelly with Rachelle Cruz of The Blood-Jet and Cherisse Yanit-Nadal of the literary podcast, Blue Book Buzz. Intro music by T. Fowler. *** 20130820-191132.jpgCherisse Yanit-Nadal was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley– the eastern arm of Los Angeles County. She earned her baccalaureate degrees in English and Music from the University of California at Riverside and her master’s degree in Rhetoric and Composition from the California State Polytechnic University at Pomona. She returns to the University of California at Riverside to complete her MFA. She’s recipient of PAWA, Inc.’s Manuel G. Flores Prize in Writing and is a 2013 VONA Fellow. She is the West Coast Correspondent for DC Asian Pacific American Film, Inc. and has also served two years as Assistant Editor at Kaya Press. She can often be found singing behind her steering wheel on any number of L.A. freeways.

Nests and Strangers: A New Anthology Gives Voice to Asian American Woman Avant Garde Poetics

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Nests and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets, Ed. with an Introduction by Timothy Yu; Afterword by Mg Roberts
Kelsey Street Press, 116 pages

Reviewed by Muriel Leung

In these past weeks, conversations about race and poetry have been especially on high alert, from the enraged responses to Kenneth Goldsmith’s appropriation of Michael Brown’s black body in a piece performed at Brown University to the Mongrel Coalition’s loud denouncement of Goldsmith’s actions as well as their heavy critique of poetry movements like conceptualism that heralds a privileged form of (white) erasure. We ask ourselves what the poetry of the “avant garde” constitutes now that the political discourse of race has continuously ruptured the supposed neutrality of form and poetic practice.

Chiming in on this dialogue about experimental poetics and race is Nests and Strangers, a forthcoming anthology of essays from Kelsey Street Press on four pivotal Asian American women poets, Myung Mi Kim, Nellie Wong, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and Bhanu Kapil who have each in their own way altered the conversation of poetics and political possibilities through their artistic practices and life’s works. In this seminal project, Timothy Yu and Mg Roberts, the anthology’s editors honor the poetic contributions of Asian American women poets who have in some way contributed to the legacy of Asian American poetry, art making, history, and activism. Rather than asserting a fixed categorization of an experimental poet, the anthology brings in four contemporary poets and scholars, Sarah Dowling, Merle Woo, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, and Dorothy Wang, to discuss how innovation in poetry in the works of Kim, Wong, Berssenbrugge, and Kapil means more than just what transpires on the page but also through their lived experiences and subjectivities as well.

Perhaps this is where the heart of our current contention over race and poetry lies—the inability of others to see how poetics and marginalized experiences might intersect. In this sense, the project of bringing together these iconic poets and the writers who have so thoroughly been inspired by them bring a sense of organization to when this intersection gets murky when entered into a place of public discourse. Of course, as Asian American women, we know by our psychic experiences and connections that we have certain ties to language that recognize that our individual memories are tethered to a constantly shifting communal one. Yet one of the greatest struggles of writing as an Asian American woman poet in the world is the effort to assert that our presence matters in the way our experiences and memories matter—that they may not exactly take the shape and form one might expect in the performance of a work, but that our expression is derived from a significant and oftentimes omitted history.

Thus, Nests and Strangers grant us that assurance that personhood is not divorced from political or artistic expression for the Asian American woman poet. In Yu’s introduction to the anthology, he asks the pivotal question, “How can personhood emerge from the welter of contemporary discourse, particularly when that discourse continues to be shaped by racism, sexism, and colonialism?” Nests and Strangers traces this question from the early activist and community driven work of poets like Wong and Berssenbrugge to the poetic utterances of Kim and Kapil’s writing that transforms the space of diaspora, immigrant longing, and linguistic ruptures via the page.

Dowling, in her essay on Kim, explores the way in which her poetry makes visible the various denials of personhood when one’s language is constantly subjected to erasure. Kim’s poetics of “stutterance” through emphasis of difficult sounds, repetitions, and fragments, draw attention to the political sensibilities of language, to give voice to “figures who are tasked with simply enduring.” The persistence in struggle is echoed through Woo’s moving dedication to Wong’s work, which she declares as a “truly revolutionary art” for merging familial and community narratives with global politics in the necessary work of seeing one’s freedom as contingent upon the liberation of another. Wong does so through reinvigorating the “I,” which has become the white male American default, through her allusion to Walt Whitman’s famed work in “I Also Sing of Myself.” This reclamation of the “I” to give voice to the marginalized subject can also be seen in Berssenbrugge’s work though her approach varies from Wong’s. In Lee’s discussion of Berssenbrugge’s work, she describes her writing as a series of “porous interchanges between self and the world.” Berssenbrugge’s work maps the various ways in which one perceives the world, which is a political act that exposes our subjectivities through our means of interpretation. Lee’s essay on Berssenbrugge moves from a discussion of her rich biography that includes influences by various communities and artists to her innovative use of parataxis to establish a sense of continuity and discontinuity between human consciousness and the world. If Berssenbrugge’s poetry is about connection, then Kapil’s work explores these tethers in light of the violence of displacement, forced migration, and other ways of identity fragmentation. Wang on Kapil, writes, “What does it mean for an ‘I’ to be destabilized yet always connected to something larger…?” Written in an essay form that pays homage to Kapil’s poetic fragments, this last essay in the anthology offers up Kapil’s work as an example of a “future poetics” that interrogates the “post” conditions of our world and the residues of violence and trauma that it leaves behind. The “post” is not only the historical and political transgressions that mark us but the writing and capturing of them as well, and therein lies the years of poetry work ahead of us.

Aptly, the title of Roberts’ afterword to the anthology, “Notes Toward an Afterword: What Entrails” plays on the notion of final claims as well as the physical remains of such an artistic practice as poetry. If the essays themselves do not make it clear, Roberts’ statements remind the reader that for the Asian American woman poet, poetry is about guts—an embodied process that intimately involves the individual person and is inextricable from a politicized existence. The notion of an Asian American woman avant garde poetics is a continuous one that consistently refashions itself, and it will carry the resonances of not only the staple examples that Kim, Wong, Berssenbrugge, and Kapil have set through their writing and community contributions, but also the Asian American women poets who are attempting to archive the history from which they write and also to practice it so that this poetics is indeed a “continuum”—drawing together past, present, and future, without fear and with absolute daring.

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Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung is a multimedia poet and former teaching artist from Queens, NY. Her poetry and essays can be found or is forthcoming in Coconut, TENDE RLOIN, Bone Bouquet, Dark Phrases, and RE/VISIONIST. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship. Currently, she is a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University where she also serves as the Assistant Editor of New Delta Review.