Episode #113: W. Todd Kaneko, author of DEAD WRESTLER ELEGIES

Episode #113! Featuring an interview with W. Todd Kaneko, author of DEAD WRESTLER ELEGIES.

KANEKO_Photo2_Color_web_250

W. Todd Kaneko is not cool enough to be a rock star, not tall enough to be a professional wrestler and not virtuous enough to be a super hero. He is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014). His poems, essays and stories can be seen in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, Boxcar Poetry Review, Barrelhouse, The Collagist, Paper Darts, Menacing Hedge, Blackbird, The Huffington Post, Song of the Owashtanong: Grand Rapids Poetry in the 21st Century, 99 Poems for the 99 Percent, Bring the Noise: The Best Pop Culture Essays from Barrelhouse Magazine and many other journals and anthologies.

He holds degrees from Arizona State University (MFA, Creative Writing) and the University of Washington (BA, English). A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, his work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. He is currently an Associate Editor for DMQ Review and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Originally from Seattle, he now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the writer Caitlin Horrocks.

Modern Geographies and Other Intimate Objects: Feliz Lucia Molina’s Undercastle

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Reviewed by Feliz Molina

For those in search of celebrated 90s nostalgia, imitation Elvis, karaoke, and intimacy of touchscreens, Feliz Lucia Molina’s Undercastle provides a dedicated homage to the collective static of a transient life that hops from “palm tree electric/ post-heart” California to Manila of “mega mall hording leftovers from America” (redacted), accumulating these object-memories. For as much as the collection lingers on memory, it is also as much about the obstructions and possibilities of technology and reference in the present—the self that cannot untangle itself from time, space, and distortions. This resonant effect is preempted with a trifold of postmodern wisdom in the forms of Emmanuel Hocquard, Hélène Cixous, and Alice Notley whose gathered presence suggests that linguistic static is significant to this work and that its poems will try anyway to “enter that world” despite interference.

Though this opening sets us up for obstruction, the subtle humor and conversational engagement of the ensuing poems establish an arc that welcomes a reader like a fellow passenger onboard a flight that makes pit-stops at “Strip Mall Heaven” with “Saint Lucia patron saint of contact lenses” and the “Hologram Lover Hotel” of the titular poem, “Undercastle.” For a collection that deals so thoughtfully with place, these landmarks serve as points of hyperreal observation in which the literal and the metaphorical become indistinguishable manifestations of anxiety and desire. If anxiety is provoked by the relentless capitalist and consumer-driven culture that makes the Sunglass Hut feel suspect in “Dear Jean Baudrillard,” then surely there must be longing for that which makes the world bearable. Molina names desire as the impulse that cuts through the interferences and what makes this particular brand of longing unique is its inextricability from interference. In “Marginalia as Balcony or Swimming,” Molina writes, “We were users and swimmers and lovers,” lending credence to all forms of labor that make up a life or living.

While desire is a strong impulse throughout the collection, what prevents Undercastle from falling into the trappings of the overly sanguine is the occasional lightness with which it imbues its deep longing. In “Teddy Ruxpin,” a young girl is perturbed to find that a sibling has put an MC Hammer tape into her stuffed teddy bear. What ensue are a girl’s quietly funny and unexpectedly sweet attempts to reconcile her upset with a moment of sexual awakening, culminating with her masturbating to MC Hammer’s “Turn This Mutha Out” as it blares from her beloved bear. This admission is no simple corruption of the famed childhood toy of the ‘90s, not when its tender prose seems to logically point us to the inevitability of this gesture. Similarly, “Instant Ramen Instant Message” expresses such deadpan humor in its description of “Skype nannying,” which includes one hundred and seven nationalities of children and showing off a fourth tallest TV tower in Europe located in Berlin. It’s a poem that’s very much about how a community or home forms despite the challenges of distance, which is the twinned difficulty of globalization and spotty internet connection. For as grand as these problems may seem, Molina offers us the final words “a small red heart,” a gentle offering for a patchwork life.

In addition to the charged sincerity of the text, there is also the strikingly eerie yet gorgeous cover photograph of Undercastle taken by Japanese photographer Haruhiko Kawaguchi, which features the poet and her partner in an entangled embrace wrapped in a plastic bag with the air suctioned out of it. It’s a concept that might make a claustrophobic heart queasy, but its gesture is also resonant with the collection’s brave tenderness. It takes a great leap of faith to give one’s body to stillness and the terrifying enclosures of plastic. We too need to be this bold and strange and intimate.

***

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 Race and Art: Failures, Difficulties, and the Attempt

racialimaginary

Reviewed by Muriel Leung

Over 40 writers and 12 artists contributed essays and artwork to the discussion of race and the creative imagination in the forthcoming collection, The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind (Fence Books, 2015) edited by Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap. In 2011, Rankine penned an open letter for the New Media Poets website on race and art and gathered writing from a wide array of writers on the subject that eventually became this larger project of creative responses to a complicated and divisive issue. That the focus is on the “imaginary” points us to its double usage—at once referring to the imagination that powers an artist’s ability to invent as well as the tenuous definition of “race” in the fraught political history of its understanding in the U.S. As Loffreda and Rankine state in their introductory letter:

What we mean by a racial imaginary is something we all recognize quite easily: the way our culture has imagined over and over again the narrative opportunities, the kinds of feelings and attributes and situations and subjects and plots and forms “available” both to characters of different races and their authors. The racial imaginary changes over time, in part because artists get into tension with it, challenge it, alter its availabilities. (Loffreda & Rankine 2014)

By compiling these letters, essays, and art, the collection’s editors create a space for a necessary conversation that presses upon the urgency of both white artists and artists of color to speak on the stakes and consequences of the “racial imaginary.” They discuss the familiar trappings of artists creating art about race that, despite malicious, neutral, or benevolent intents—factors that are arguably futile but nevertheless occupy a great deal of space in debates about race and art—perpetuate and cause injury. The purpose of this collection is not to embrace the watered down politics of diversity and tolerance in the name of a totalizing “humanity” that erases how differences become violently declared in the embodied experiences of people of color in the U.S. bur rather highlight the various failures in attempts to talk about race and art and how these failures can ultimately be more generative than silence.

The scope of voices across this collection showcase a brilliant eclecticism of views on race and art with each artist possessing shared determination to (1) speak thoughtfully and honestly on race and the creative imagination (2) challenge harmful reproductions of racism, sexism, classism, and other institutional forms of violence in writing and consequently in our lived experiences (3) shift the conversation on how we talk about race and art away from a set of prescriptive tactics and more towards openness and possibility that does not preclude the responsibility with which we regard each other’s humanness—or as Loffreda and Rankine state, “history is not an act of the imagination.” It is perhaps this last objective that is often greeted with contention for what some would argue as a challenge to the presupposed limitless quality of art-making. For every argument that eschews the significance of responsibility in art-making, there’s a perspective that directs us to the debilitating detriments of this thinking. Such is the case in Ronaldo V. Wilson’s account of being accosted by police at a Los Angeles gas station for being a black man driving at night and the negotiations one makes at the moment of this violent occurrence; how every instance after is an attempt to grapple with this trauma, “of constant interpolation, slipping in, where one slips away, examining how one escapes and begins to process the story of survival, from contrition to understanding.” It is what Hossannah Asuncion calls the dilemma of “choosing a violent failure or a violent failure—to say something or to not say something” in her struggle to write about race. The stakes for an artist of color are written into flesh, through embodied experiences with race in the U.S. It is a privilege to evade the responsibility of examining race in one’s own art. Or as A. Van Jordan questions, “If you don’t intend to write about race but consider yourself a reader of work dealing with race, what are your expectations for a poem where race matters?”

It is important to note that this collection honors the rage, frustration, sadness, and determination of the artists of color represented, especially as these responses converse with the admissions, accounts, and critiques of white artists. Rachel Zucker opens with the French origin of the term “essay,” which means “to try” and as such, her essay reads as an attempt through footnotes and admissions to ascertain where her reasoning fails as she grapples with her identity as a Jewish woman writer and when “This essay is starting to feel like a white apology.” Frequently, white artists in this collection point out when their tone exacts their racial privilege as is the case when some critique the way they fall into the trap of congratulating themselves over even broaching the topic of race when the artists of color must contend with greater pressures to do so everyday. Kristin Palm ponders “where, in [the writing] community, is the room for stammering and stuttering? For humility?” Her question alludes to the fear that most white artists evade the topic of race because of the absence of accountability structures. Yet this “stammering and stuttering” feel necessary and can be productive if white artists are open to engaging with their failures to speak.

The Racial Imaginary shifts the balance of the conversation from modes that tiptoe around white privilege without challenging the power structures in place that make race such a volatile point of discussion. In the organization of the collected writings and artwork, we are led through a series of artists acknowledging that their thoughts on race are always in progress. The collection’s refusal to propose a fixed idea of race—by doing so would reinscribe the injury of homogenizing its very complicated notions—concludes with Dawn Lundy Martin who forges an analogy between the mixed company onboard her Greyhound bus trip and the ways different racial identities can coexist alongside one another. Or more eloquently stated: “You’re all in this shitbox together.” This gesture is composed of as many collisions as there are connections, and here, in this undeterminable space, is where the collection’s offerings end so that the dialogue it has started may continue off the page.

***

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.

Episode #112: Nathaniel Osollo, author and illustrator of SHADOW PEOPLE

Episode #112! Featuring an interview with Nathaniel Osollo, author and illustrator of SHADOW PEOPLE.

Nathaniel Osollo - Image courtesy of Amaravadee Poolswasdi.

Nathaniel Osollo – Image courtesy of Amaravadee Poolswasdi.

Many years ago, on a distant star, a small boy was born. His home was one of intellectuals, artists, poets, and storytellers. The boy became schooled in the arts. Such faith he held in them that they granted him great power. With the arts he could move worlds and open minds. One day a traveller from the future appeared to the people of the star and proclaimed, “There is no future in art.” Disillusioned and distraught, the society fell apart. Creativity disappeared and was replaced by economics and politics. The boy got a real job. It was laborious and lacked creativity. He did not remember the past – no one could. But no matter how bleak, he had a future. One day the boy, now a man, was fired and everything came back to him. He remembered the arts. He is rebuilding his power and is coming to restore the creative world again.

Links mentioned on the show:

Evan Spears:
erspears.tumblr.com

Sheika Lugtu:
http://www.sheikalugtu.com/

Online store/Shadow People:
https://mkt.com/eyedraugh

2014 Favorites: Muriel Leung

It’s that time of year!  We’ve asked guests and contributors we’ve featured on The Blood-Jet Writing Hour in 2014 to share with us their favorite books, literary magazines, and reading series from the year.

This post features poet and editor, Muriel Leung, poet and TBJ Contributor.  She writes:

“Four Chapbooks to Read by Four Badass Women Poets”

What are my favorite books that I have read this year? I have had Oprah-sized fantasies about being asked this question, and though I can promise no one in any audience anywhere their own personal copies of each book (or copper tea sets or computer tablets), I am elated to brag on behalf of the following below. These are chapbooks published by small presses—some are e-books, some hand-stitched—by amazing women poets. This year, I vote we give women’s poetry collections produced through small presses their due appreciation and recognize chapbooks for the artistry that go into making them. To boot, I want to make suggestions, in honor of the holiday season, of favorite food, drink, and music items to pair with each book—what else is reading if not an all-senses-on-deck experience? Enjoy!

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1. Was there once a leash that led to nothing other than my affection and around a rectangular pond we strolled in such fabrics as are assembled by people? No. There was just a hole. Hello in there. What time?

– from Danielle Pafunda, When You Left Me in the Rutted Terrain of Our Love at the Border, Which I Could Not Cross Remaining a Citizen of This Corrupt Land (Birds of Lace, 2014)

Pafunda’s chapbook possesses probably my favorite title of all time as it exquisitely portrays the repeated failures to reach out to a lover across obstacles that seem at once colloquial and fantastical and are nevertheless, relentless and devastating. Predominantly written in prose poem form, Pafunda approaches the form like a box, filling it with every object possible, teasing that boundary between emotional sufficiency and excess. The book is thrilling, sensationally intimate, and incredibly relevant to the fissures that have come to define the trouble of how we love and connect with each other in modern times.

Published through Birds of Lace, the feminist press is also known for its gorgeous broadsides and chapbook bundle offers. You can shop for Pafunda’s book as well as others here.

How to best enjoy this chapbook: Bake a five-layered funfetti cake with this suggested recipe. When you cut into it, a rabbit will pop out. Do not eat the rabbit. Eat around it. Put on Hole’s “Use Once and Destroy.” Make a White Russian—sometimes drink only the vodka; sometimes drink only the milk.

2. Let me tell you this secret                  all of my eyes had lived before me after 

me all of

These eyes had lived

– from Metta Sáma After “Sleeping to Dream”/After After (Nous-zōt Press, 2014)

Begin at either cover and read until the end. Turn the book over and read another collection entirely. I love a book that toys with the idea of how we traditionally read and Sáma’s chapbook takes the idea of what she calls the “reverse ekphrastics” to lyrically stunning new heights. In After After, Sáma fixates on Argus Panoptes, the hundred eyed giant of Greek mythology and in After “Sleeping to Dream,” the classical takes a modern turn with contemplations on art that traverses natural, bodily, and domestic planes. The level of play operates not only linguistically but also in the handling and reading of the book—a joy in each turn.

Run by poet Marthe Reed, Nous-zōt Press also features other great titles in its online shop here.

How to best enjoy this chapbook: FKA Twigs’ “Water Me” plays while you enjoy a piece of pineapple upside down cake, sliced horizontally from the middle first. Brew some mulled wine and invite a lover over at night. If they turn bird and disappear in the day, then so be it.

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3. the box is blank

tomorrow it will be blank

and everyday after

you must fill it with words

you do

you put words in

they are your words

you are anonymous

[erase]

– from Laura Theobald, Eraser Poems (H_NGM_N Books, 2014)

With expert economy of words, Theobald can make loneliness feel so raw to the bone. Direct and deceptively simple in diction, she exercises a vocabulary of pleading, wanting, and loving in a repeated attempt to fix hold of a “you” that consistently slips away. There’s a precision to knowing too that the language tries to access but before the knowing can be exacted, erasure occurs. This is a collection I can read sitting down in under an hour but I often return to it again and again, each time learning something new not just about erasure, but its other—what keeps.

You can download Theobald’s e-chapbook as a PDF file online here.

How to best enjoy this chapbook: Find two slices of olive bread and cut a hole in each center. Cut a hole in salami. Cut a hole in tomato. Cut a hole in spinach. Put them together to make a sandwich. Eat only the hole. Enjoy it while listening to Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.” Drink all the dry Riesling you want.

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4. I don’t think I like the feeling of this… this mascara in my eyes

it will go away soon. we’ve got bigger things to toast.

 

I am                              the gaps between your packed buttered

teeth

 

lmfao creying but this isn’t that funny

 

            lmfao but i’m creying

 

                        lmfao oh shit im really creying

 

– from Min K. Kang, The Diary of a K-Drama Villain (dancing girl press & studio, 2014)

I laughed out loud more than once while reading Kang’s chapbook, which parodies stereotypes of Asian women while flirting with technological interfaces as sources of humor and reference. In poems like “Occult Universe,” Kang refers to Yahoo! and tarot cards to find answers to the inanity of racist inquiries like “why are Asians so smart” and “I was asked if my vagina ran sideways.” While these gestures are violent in offense, Kang’s humor diffuses the rage of these inquiries to subvert the balance of power—that we, Asian women, get to laugh at the absurdity of racist mythologies is an empowering experience that we are rarely afforded.

Kang’s chapbook is available through dancing girl press & studio’s online shop here.

How to best enjoy this chapbook: Lechón. Take the whole suckling pig with you to your next bath. Eat slowly with your hands. Don’t share. If this is your first time, warm up with a Mariah Carey lip-sync to “Fantasy.” You can vogue, lapping up soap bubbles, but only if you want to.

***

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.

Episode #111: MariNaomi, author and illustrator of DRAGON’S BREATH and KISS AND TELL

Episode #111! Featuring an interview with MariNaomi, author and illustrator of DRAGON’S BREATH and KISS AND TELL.

Check out MariNaomi’s comic, TURNING JAPANESE, on 2D Cloud’s website here.

A panel from TURNING JAPANESE by MariNaomi

A panel from TURNING JAPANESE by MariNaomi

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MariNaomi is the author and illustrator of the award-winning graphic memoir Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 (Harper Perennial, 2011),Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories (2D Cloud/Uncivilized Books, 2014), the upcoming bookTurning Japanese (2D Cloud, 2015), and her self-published Estrus Comics (1998 to 2009). Her work has appeared in over fifty anthologies, including I Saw You: Comics Inspired by Real Life Missed Connections, Cheers to Muses: Contemporary Works by Asian American Women, Eisner-nominated No Straight Lines, Ignatz-winner QU33R and Action Girl Comics. Her comics and essays have been featured on The Rumpus, The Weeklings, LA Review of Books, Midnight Breakfast, Truth-out, SFBay.CA, The Comics JournalThe Bay Citizen, XOJane and more. Mari’s work on the Rumpus won a SPACE award and an honorable mention in Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Comics 2013.

MariNaomi’s artwork has been featured in such venues as the De Young Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco’s Asian American Museum and the Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles. In 2011, Mari toured with the literary roadshow Sister Spit. She splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In her spare time, Mari has created and maintained the Cartoonists of Color Database and the LGBTQ Cartoonists Database.

2014 Favorites: Michelle Chan Brown

It’s that time of year!  We’ve asked guests and contributors we’ve featured on The Blood-Jet Writing Hour in 2014 to share with us their favorite books, literary magazines, and reading series from the year.

This post features poet and editor, Michelle Chan Brown, author of Double Agent.  She writes:

14 Things I loved in 2014

(left to right) Eugenia Leigh, Sally Wen Mao, Michelle Chan Brown and Cathy Linh Che are the Honey Badger Don't Give a B**k Tour!

(left to right:) Eugenia Leigh, Sally Wen Mao, Michelle Chan Brown and Cathy Linh Che are the Honey Badger Don’t Give a B**k Tour!

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(Books featured – left to right): Double Agent by Michelle Chan Brown; Mad Honey Symposium by Sally Wen Mao; Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows by Eugenia Leigh and Split by Cathy Linh Che

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  1. Not to use terms like “fierce” and “stunning,” which are cliches of poetry-love, but to use those terms for the collections of my fellow Honey Badgers. We did an East Coast/South book tour in July; each reading was a chance to marvel at something new. Sally Wen Mao’s “Mad Honey Symposium,” Cathy Linh Che’s “Split” and Eugenia Leigh’s “Blood, Sparrows, and Sparrows.” Get ‘em.
  2. The Young Writers Workshop at the University of Virginia. I was lucky enough to teach there, or be taught, by my students – hilarious, odd, quirky, brilliant, raw. These high school students wrenched me out of any lingering cynicism about the “use” of poetry.
  3. On Being. It’s not just Krista Tippet’s dulcet voice. I turned 33 this year – the Jesus year, yes – and as I try and slow down and observe and construct meaning, these interviews, with poets, monks, yogis, scientists, on everything from the value of play to the importance of community, have been integral for my own spiritual quest. Jennifer Michael Hecht’s interview, against suicide, is a must-listen.
  4. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for A Time Being. Each section of this complex, accessible, virtuosic novel spurred me to shake my head and wonder, how does she make it look so easy? I interviewed her for Sycamore Review and was humbled by her wisdom and authenticity.
  5. Kundiman
  6. The Pratt Library – specifically, the Poe Room – in Baltimore. A dazzling space, housed in a former department store, and librarians and curators whose grace, warmth, and beautifully-crafted introductions left me wondering – for me? I read with Kamilah Aisha Moon, whose wrenching, lyrical work is another 2014 highlight.
  7. Drunken Boat. It’s difficult to choose what to publish from all the fine work we receive, but I’m particularly proud of the Debt folio, and the poems of Cynthia Cruz and Kara Candito.
  8. Politics and Prose in Northwest DC. It’s the Rolls Royce of independent bookstores. I spent a good portion of my nineties childhood lipping through From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in the dark, fragrant coffee shop below the store and eyeing, indiscreetly, the Eddie Vedder doppelgängers sipping chai . They’ve managed to retain all the magic of those early years, and their reading series, while VIP-heavy brings in Terry Gross’s co-conversationalist and provides an irresistible chance for Beltway-celebrity ogling.
  9. On the other end of the spectrum, the reading series Poetry Sucks! in Nashville, TN. Why don’t I live in Nashville? Go eat a meat and three, and hang out at this record store/music venue/poetry showcase. Tattoos, winged eyeliner, and genuine niceness
  10. Back to DC: Split This Rock is a wondrous organization. As is BloomBars.
  11. This poem, by Laura Eve Engel.
  12. I’ll be moving to Kazakhstan soon (a Fulbright), and although it’s not from 2014, this book by Professor Kate Brown – A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland - has been essential.
  13. The atrium of the American Portrait Gallery, for writing.
  14. With this album, by Aphex Twin.

***

MichelleChanBrownBW-1

Michelle Chan Brown’s Double Agent was the winner of the 2011 Kore First Book Award, judged by Bhanu Kapil. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Cimarron Review, Linebreak, The Missouri Review, Quarterly West, Sycamore Review, Witness and others.

A Kundiman fellow, Michelle received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was a Rackham Fellow. She was a Tennessee Williams scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and received scholarships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Wesleyan Writers’ Conference. Her chapbook, The Clever Decoys, is available from LATR Editions. She lives with her husband, the musician Paul Erik Lipp, in Washington DC, where she teaches, writes, and edits Drunken Boat.