Mongrel Cry: The Possibilities of Mongrel Poetics

tumblr_nlc61t7QmN1u76uhro1_1280

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?”

***

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

91aLm-QP99L

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.

***

[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.

***

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

.

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.

***

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.

Review: On Hours by Mark Rahe

On Hours Front Cover

Reviewed by Kenji Liu

On Hours by Mark Rahe is like the poetry memoir of a religious hermit, but one who doesn’t mind living a little closer to town than usual.

There’s a focused, contemplative quality to the narrator’s general orientation to the world, observing what’s directly in front of his face and never straying too far from that starting point. Each poem is complete in its capture of a particular moment, often ending with a quirky tangent that lands the narrative in a surprising place.

Many of the poems feature gentle yet remarkable shifts in relationship between observer and observed—a turn where an object is lightly animated, personifying a desire. For example, “The Cloud of Promise” seems to describe a plateaued period in the narrator’s life, for example by using a negation (“The door is closed. There is / no door”). But then the poem turns in the final line, declaring “This cloud is promising[,]” introducing an inanimate object that offers a way out of the preceding tension.

Like “The Cloud of Promise,” the poem “Down” interjects an unexpected quality that retroactively evokes new meaning. “Down” takes us down a tub drain with a visual and descriptive swoop, carrying the reader through a compost-pastoral to deposit us into “While my fan oscillates. // While my sweaty chest is bare of you.” — suddenly casting the previous stanzas in an erotic light.

For me, the highlight in this collection is “Man at Baseball Game, Alone.” It’s a great study in how the environment in a story is its own character, with peanut shells, wax paper, popcorn, setting the stage of what for many people is a day of relaxation. Then, with a single observation, the poem shifts:

The cuffs

of the father
are the return of a hand to your face.
The ballpark is the place

where he never bruised you.

After this painful turn, the preceding pleasantness of baseball game sounds are reframed as if a mute button has been released—suddenly “Everyone yells, everyone spills / trash.” The final sentence, “You came here to find / something gentle” becomes a plea.

The attention On Hours brings to the minutiae of life is basically gentle and non-judgmental, and many of the poems in the first two sections are almost a Bashō-like travelogue, though not because a lot of physical movement happens.

Still, these poems are not without want or need. The third section shifts into a few harder topics, such as death or alienation from a loved one—though it doesn’t stray too far from the quirk of the previous sections. Here, the collection’s matter-of-fact tone works by serving as a scaffold on top of which feelings unfold. The emotion of it is contained, but a kind of passion still radiates from underneath, demonstrating how affect can be evoked without being too obvious.

On Hours is relaxing, like following the familiar wanderings of your own mind during a warm afternoon. It’s low in drama, but high in interesting turns and shifts, making it a quick but rewarding read.

The characters animating Rahe’s poetry become interlocutors and sounding boards for the narrator’s tangential musings, all of which eventually return to land in just the right place.

***

KenjiCLiu

Kenji C. Liu is a 1.5-generation immigrant from New Jersey, now in Southern California. His writing and art arises from his work as an activist, educator, artist, and cultural worker. A Pushcart Prize nominee and first runner-up finalist for the Poets & Writers 2013 California Writers Exchange Award, his writing is forthcoming or published in The Los Angeles Review, The Collagist, Barrow Street Journal, CURA, The Baltimore Review, RHINO Poetry, and others, including the anthologies Dismantle and Orangelandia. His poetry chapbookYou Left Without Your Shoeswas nominated for a 2009 California Book Award. A three-time VONA alum and recipient of a Djerassi Resident Artist Program fellowship, he is completing a full-length poetry book. He is the poetry editor emeritus of Kartika Review.

Episode #114: Yumi Sakugawa, author of YOUR ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO BECOMING ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE

Episode #114! Featuring an interview with Yumi Sakugawa, author of YOUR ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO BECOMING ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE

tumblr_inline_n9lhmj7mMo1qg82jh

Claudia_Cover_COVER_copy

Check out Yumi’s comic on Claudia Kishi here!

Yumi Sakugawa is a comic book artist and illustrator based in Southern California. A graduate of the fine art program of University of California, Los Angeles, Yumi is a regular comic contributor for The Rumpus and Wonderhowto. Her illustrations and comics have been featured on Buzzfeed, Lifehacker, PAPERMAG, Apartment Therapy and all over Tumblr. Her short comic story “Mundane Fortunes for the Next Ten Billion Years” was selected as Notable Comics of 2012 by the Best American Comics anthology editors. She is the author of  I THINK I AM IN FRIEND-LOVE WITH YOU and YOUR ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO BECOMING ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE. Visit her on the web at http://www.yumisakugawa.com.

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.