Wednesday, April 18, 2018

#AWP2018, Installment #2: Tiana Nobile

"the spirit of the staircase" by Tiana Nobile

When I visited the Asian American Workshop Center's table at AAWP Tampa 2018, I was greeted by a bubbly young Korean-American woman who entertained all my weird questions.  I introduced myself to her and asked if she had a book for sale here and she lit up and presented me "the spirit of staircase" as shown above which upon first blush, appeared to me like a graphic novel when I started flipping through it.

But what caught my attention (as I'm sure it did for many people) was the brazen index of poems:

I.  Is it true Asian pussies are sideways?

II. Go back to China!

III. I used to work in Korea. Ya'll make really great cars.

IV. I used to watch Thai porn with my Taiwanese ex-girlfriend. Then we'd fuck.

V.  Where are you really from?

VI.  I've never had an Asian before.

VII.  What are you?

These titles coupled with Brigid Conroy's paintings, which are light and whimsical, takes the edge off the political stance those titles evoke.

But upon deeper inspection of Nobile's poems, she seems to respond to those ridiculous questions and statements that culturally insensitive people, particularly men, have posed at some point to the "otherness" of the Asian diaspora.  

They imply the notion of fetishism of the exotic, the notion that there is the ultimate sexual wherewithal and images of the uninhibited Asian women.

Tiana Nobile has addressed the misnomers and stereotypes that have plagued Asian and Asian American women for so long and is still being astoundingly perpetuated.

Interspersed between these profound poems are poems that reflect the feeling of being invisible when she wrote:

"I'm a ghost in a raincoat, faint blur 
against     pavement   in     another
country   my   mother  is  watching
t.v.   in   silk   pajamas   the   color
of  flowers.  She  rubs  lotion  into
her   callused    toes    and    listens
closely   while  grinding  her teeth."

Nobile and Conroy both hail from New Orleans. Nobile is a Kundiman fellow who both collaborated to create an exquisitely profound collection.  An embodiment of poignant responses to classic stereotypes.  A must read.  I'm glad I met her and had a chance to discover her work. 

You can learn more about her chapbook and her artistic statement here:

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Who I Found at Tampa's #awp2018: Installment #1

It's April, National Poetry Month, and I thought I'd dedicate my next posts to reviewing a couple Asian-American writers and other poets whose works I've discovered this past 2018 AWWP (Association of Writers & Writers Program).

It was my first time ever attending the event and because this time for once, it actually convened in my area, therefore, had no excuse but to attend at least one day.  I was overwhelmed, swirling, like a kid in a candy store for I was surrounded by books and my artsy fartsy tribe!

I got a chance to run into the women at the Sundress Publication's table.  One of my poems have appeared in their earliest online magazine back in the late '90s.  While there, I  stumbled upon the work of Jim Warner, entitled "Actual Miles" published by Sundress Publications.  He's a Filipino-American poet.  How do I know?  Well, when I was thumbing through the pages, his poem "subic bay" jumped out at me.

Jim Warner's "Actual Miles"

subic bay

open crucifex arms.
just plastic couch covers--shag carpets. Avocado

horizon swallows sound.
a swirling panic spirals, twister'd Olongapo
streets hold one hand over the slum alley'd, thumb
over full cisterns.

Unlearning the story of rotting mangoes,
multo is the word for ghost; not forget.

From the fire escape, shoulders lengthen against
oxidized steel--stretched and confessed like creeper
vines browning in droughted heat.

No crowns, just crows. No kings,
just King James in Tagalog.

Unravel neighborhood fabric
suturing through native tongues;
these gentrified orphans leave scars.


This is a poem, a poem I can relate to and Jim Warner, a poet I can identify with.  I did not meet him or know him, but from what I gather he may have been a military child, of mixed race: Filipino/American, like me.  I have been to Subic Bay, the U.S. naval base, and my dad was stationed at Clark Air Force Base by Angeles City where both, outside their gates, were lined with drunk G.I.s and brothels.  Therefore, Filipino slums outside U.S. military bases were pretty much the same all over the Philippines.  I wrote a similar poem about Angeles City and of my mixed race origin in my poem "Mango Man".

There were other poems in this collection such as "rice farmer"...although my mother's family were fishermen, going anywhere in rural Philippines echoes these images he conjures up so well:

       "poor drink and poor forget.
Hands harden when bolo-less
soften with cheap boozy grace.
       Poor drink and poor forget
troubles and empty pockets
soften with cheap boozy grace,..."

A similar theme about my mother's fishermen family, of poverty-stricken drunken uncles and fragile aunts, in my poem "At Low Tide".

Tim Warner's "Actual Miles" is like a coming home for me.  We share the Philippines and the U.S. as we morph from one culture to the next with poetry and writing as our vehicle for expression to connect the worlds.  It is lyrical, heavy, and tugs at you to go many directions like the narrow alleyways of Olongapo.

You can order his book here:

Sundress Publications interviews Jim Warner:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Deep Reading

What is deep reading, exactly?  Basically, it’s submersing yourself, in a contiguous block of time reading a sizable book of text (not just mere images) from beginning to end.  Oh, you think: that’s easy! Or, you’ve done it plenty of times.  If you done it recently and regularly, then kudos to you!

But for some, have you noticed that your attention wanders so fast when trying to sink into a good book that you had to put it down as soon as you started?  You’ve chosen a topic you want to read about, a topic you want to learn and educate yourself on, or a novel you heard about and wondered what the hype was about, but the book sits on your nightstand for weeks on end, if not months, only collecting dust.  

I am glad you are reading my blog posts and would love you to come back; however, I challenge you to make a goal to read a book a month and then two books a month, if you are not a reader, or an avid reader.  I know people read at different speeds and some have learning disabilities that make this highly difficult.  I know I am a slow reader myself.  I have fallen out of good habits here and there, trade one habit for another, but deep reading should be up there with diet and exercise.  

In the past, reading a book for pleasure was the norm to expand one’s knowledge.  Today, social media and news online allows me to devour a wealth of information in passing, but that’s it.  It’s fleeting and not ingraining.  What’s noticeable, however, is my loss for time.  Before I know it, I have spent hours noodling through articles on the internet and have not truly educated myself on anything, just the news of the day, and the occasional viral videos of pandas and baby goats (which tickle me, by the way).  

Most of what’s written online are also wrought with spelling and grammatical errors, that it’s no wonder that the current president of these United States, cannot spell, let alone do some real deep reading either.  But politics aside, not only is good reading good for our society, but it is good for your general well-being.  As a writer and teacher, I often hear students tell me that they hate reading.  Especially in this digital age, I know why.  

In my most recent blog posts I have posted various books for my readers to consider on the topic at hand because I want learning and inspiration to continue long after you have read my short blog posts.  Some of you may ask what deep reading has to do with art or music or writing.  Reading books at length about these topics has everything to do with it!  If you were to take a Master of Fine Arts whether in creative writing, visual arts, music or theater in college, you will be doing a lot of reading and a lot of doing. You will also be learning from artists of the past, comparing styles and techniques, learning from the classics and the contemporaries.  A well-rounded education for artists and writers is important to establish your voice and style and your vision.

A well-rounded reading diet about various topics for the average person is ideal. It doesn’t matter if you buy actual books or an e-book and if you must, an audio book. Your mind will be engaged in mindfulness and you will come away with it full.  

Here are the benefits of regular reading:

1) Discover/improve yourself
2) Improve society/world
3) Reflecting what you read improves memory
4) Makes you more attractive 
5) Can make you a better communicator

So, read like you’re in college and read for your personal pleasure.  This is the deep reading I speak of.  Make the time to exercise your mind.  Most of all, read and be happy!

Once you’ve made a habit of reading on a regular basis, here’s some journals to keep track and reflect on the books you’ve read:

"The What I Read journal is ideal for jotting down thoughts and keeping track of all the books you’ve read and can’t wait to start. It’s great for keeping checklists, taking notes, and deciding what to read next, and it’s the perfect size to take with you anywhere."

"With checklists of award-winning novels and recommended reading for every genre (spy novels, romance, sci-fi, humor), this classic reading journal also includes plenty of pages for keeping track of all the books you've read and want to consume next."

"The ultimate journal and resource for book and list lovers, My Bibliofile includes checklists of recommended reading, activities, and entry pages for recording all of the books you've read and making note of the books you want to read. Recommended reading lists from a variety of reputable sources (Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker, and National Book Award winners, Oprah's Book Club picks, Modern Library's 100 Best Novels, BBC's Best Novels, etc.), as well as lists of favorite titles for various genres (horror, sci-fi, detective fiction, international classics, etc.) mean you'll never have to wonder "What should I read next?""

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Is it Poetry?

polaroid camera on table

From Bukowski to Instapoetry

Barfly Bukowski

When Charles Bukowski entered the writing scene in 1939, he was considered an underground, low-brow writer who submitted to magazines and underground papers.  Most of his themes were guttural and sexist, wearing that gritty, greasy sailor masculinity on his sleeve. He drank excessively, swore and objectified in real life as well as on paper. He was criticized for lacking metaphors, but his anecdotes were interesting as well as his raw and offensive grit. Quite opposite from academic poets, postwar poets who entered academia, he stood apart, impassioned and bitter at the fringe of society, drank and smoked his life away.  Posthumously, he has gained some of the notoriety he longed for. He had produced many volumes of work, dabbling in many genres, he was championed by respectful editors in the end.

Polaroid and Tulips photo

Instapoet: Rupi Kaur

In today’s world of social media phenomena, it’s no surprise that there may come someone with a cult following just like Bukowski. Except without alcohol, violent sex, the Queen of Instagram’s Instapoet, Rupi Kaur, the twenty-something Indian-born Canadian poet, has built her empire of millions of fans and became Amazon's high selling poet.  In the same vein, however, she is criticized for not being stylistic enough and lacking imagery.  Kaur claims she represents global feminism and intersectionality and exudes the stereotypical puppies and flowers femininity, quite the opposite of sexist Bukowski.  The commonality among them, however, is the non-acceptance of the academe.

Which begs to question: what makes poetry poetic?  There are layers of complexity such as tones, imagery, and vocal cadences to name a few, that even haikus, as small and short as they are, are jam-packed with intensity.  With that said, Bukowski comes closer to poetics than Kaur’s for his depth, irony and experience.  However, these are poets who have gathered a cult following in their lifetime in two different eras, background and gender.  Does Kaur’s poems give an allusion of poetry in this digital age? Perhaps. Does it harm poetics?  Perhaps not.  Some may say that her poems have inspired her audience who would have otherwise may have not come to not enjoy this art form at all.  Perhaps may even inspire a great poet who isn't the Ariana Grande-like, of watered-down poetry, basking in her Instagram, viral, SEO, content writing fame, who is truly avant garde.

"With passion, wit, and good common sense, the celebrated poet Mary Oliver tells of the basic ways a poem is built-meter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense. Drawing on poems from Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and others, Oliver imparts an extraordinary amount of information in a remarkably short space. “Stunning” (Los Angeles Times). " 

"An illuminating and invaluable guide for beginners wary of modern poetry, as well as for more advanced students who want to sharpen their craft and write poems that expand their technical skills, excite their imaginations, and engage their deepest memories and concerns. Ideal for teachers who have been searching for a way to inspire students with a love for writing--and reading--contemporary poetry."

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Breathings of Your Heart

As a writer and visual artist, I constantly scour the bookstores and art stores for inspiration like a kid in a candy store.  It's a constant battle to keep inspired.  Before I know it, I am knee deep in my mediocre life forgetting I am lost in the grey and banal existence of working a 9-5 job, juggling a household, remember to eat right and exercise all a while hoping I get enough sleep--let alone write? Create art?

But there in the modicum of desire lies my fantasy of a writer and artist life.  What are they really?  Is it the masculine existence to live feverishly and crash and burn like Jack Kerouac or Earnest Hemingway? Is it the kill-myself-in-the- short-end like Virginia Woolf?  I think in today's world it may actually be the slow death of unguided, anxiety-riddled, bombarded by useless information dichotomy.  We eat too much carbs, carcinogenic meats and processed foods, work in menial, uninspiring jobs, that we end up dying by our own demise subversively anyway and instead of alcohol as our poison, it is opioids and loneliness. 

I waste away noodling through the interwebs instead of my writing or art-ing, but I have this blog, and at the very least I am working my way through the drudgery, the painstaking process of starting the process.  I know I will find my way again.  Some stops are longer than others.  Once I situate myself with the right amount of inspiration, I am there again. My most productive was when I was in college producing my own volume of work in my MFA program.  Thereafter, I have produced in short spurts.  In the meantime, I collect books, novelties, trinkets, and quotes to squirrel away upstairs for more leaner times.  

Want some inspiration?  Here are some books & novelties to surround yourself with and refer to.  May you "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart".

"This literary tapestry of the human experience will delight readers of all backgrounds. Moving year by year through the words of our most beloved authors, the great sequence of life reveals itself—the wonders and confinements of childhood, the emancipations and frustrations of adolescence, the empowerments and millstones of adulthood, the recognitions and resignations of old age. This trove of wisdom—featuring immortal passages from Arthur Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Jane Austen, and Maya Angelou, among many others—reminds us that the patterns of life transcend continents, cultures, and generations."

"Letter Board – Black Felt with 290 White Plastic Changeable Characters – 10 in. x 10 inches Square Wood Oak Frame – 4x6 inch Canvas Bag Holds Pieces - Vintage Inspired Display by Type Writer"

"This carefully curated book, packed with original research, is a go-to resource for thoughts on a variety of subjects, including originality, punctuation, reading, daily routines, rejection, money troubles, the creative process, love, truth, and more."