Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Burns’ use of “serenade” to describe the one-sided snippets of dialogue shaped my reading of this poem, underscoring how often she must repeat these refrains of begging and pleading for the smallest amount of money (and recognition) necessary to survive. The repetition inherent to songs makes the line, “Brother, can you spare me a dime?” seemed all the more desperate, letting me guess the answer is probably no: no, you cannot have this small, hardly inconvenient amount of money to buy yourself something to eat.
That the person she asks probably denies her any money makes her use of the word “Brother” especially complex. Is she trying to create a sense of shared humanity with this random passerby? Is she ironic, using the word almost to shame the person who will inevitably say no? And how much does the assumption of the race of the Brother shape our reading of her use of such a familial term? If the Brother is a Native American, like her narrator, does the reader assume he is of a similar situation to her own, given the wildly disproportionate levels if poverty, alcoholism, and abuse in Native American communities (which she confronts in the previous poem, “Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question”)? If he is white, does the use of “Brother” seem less sincere, what with the wholesale decimation of the Native American community from which he ultimately benefits? If he is Black, is she attempting to relate to him using the popular (and less contentious) slang term that Black men use for other Black men? Or does she relate to him as one oppressed person to another?
While the above line doesn’t give away the other person’s race, and ranges from infuriating to poignant when we e-race the recipient of the question, the color of the person in the final line is obvious. The bookend of “so” and “huh” in “So you want to talk about gentrification, huh?” makes her incredulousness palpable to the point of comical, revealing a deep skepticism reserved only for those responsible for the very thing they want to talk about: i.e., the main benefactors of gentrification, i.e., white people. The image of a white person telling a Native American about displacement is also comical (in a laugh-to-keep-from-crying kind of way) and underlies a deep frustration many people of color have with white activists. Telling people of color about their own oppression is a common tactic, and is presumptuous at best and completely empty, tokenizing, and self-serving at worst. Why not tell other white people about gentrification? And why not do something about it, instead of talk about it?
I love love loved Diane Burns's poems this week. She so succinctly summarized the barrage of Otherizing questions white folks fling at people of color, and did so without once telling us what those white people said. She writes such deeply political yet immediate and funny works, I got shivers trying to figure out if I wanted to snirk or throw the book at someone. The interpersonal and political weight of these works is immense. I appreciate the opportunity to read them so closely.
Spic! Spic! I ain't noooooo different than a Nigger.
If there is no difference, there is definatelty similarity, which represents similar struggles and oppression. I feel that racial assumptioms are issues dealt with everyone. The subject matter is relatively real and timeless. This makes me think of Langston Hughes and how he was writing, the issues coming from real experiences and the expectations from audiences. I feel that Willie Perdomo is speaking from a genuine place and he recognizes his place in society. Assumptions of race and the theme of place is seen through a lot of the poems for this week. I feel like Diane Burns poem, Sure you can ask me a personal question, deals with a similar voice through identity and stereotypical views. Both poets own up to who they are as people with "this is my face" and can people just understand that?
The style of Diane Burns' "Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question" was really interesting to me in that it seemed to replicate a conversation. The first question "How do you do?" seems to almost be avoided with the reply "No, I am not Chinese." Through this sort of "non-response response," Burns depicts the many ways in which spoken language can imply these sorts of cultural codes and perceptions that are not as readily evident in written form. When reading the first two lines, one can almost imagine how uncomfortable this sort of exchange would look if heard. I felt like this sort of unsettling sense was carried throughout the poem and was really effective in conveying the blurred nature of boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate questions. I felt that this spoke more largely to a societal “regulation” of individuals by the dominant group. I understand this “regulation” to mean a set of societal codes and cultural norms that are conveyed through laws, policy, language, the media etc. to promote the interests of the dominant group in power. Within this poem, I see this sort of “regulation of bodies,” in this case being bodies that don’t adhere to a racial or cultural norm of visibility, to be commented on in an ironic and sardonic manner that conveys to the reader how these norms are culturally ingrained. The tension between the one asking the somewhat personal questions and the one providing the surface-level answers seems to depict this for me, although the identity of the speaker and the one responding is not explicitly stated or known. I find it interesting that the speakers’ position is ambiguous, and that upon closer look, one may read this as an internal conversation between the author and her subconscious – her subconscious expressing certain tacit, unspoken cultural codes that appear to “regulate” bodies that fit outside of a norm.
my appreciation for rudolfo anaya, however, which i didn’t think could possibly go any deeper, is changed now. i’ve always loved anaya’s novels, but somehow i never knew he wrote poetry. this poem really got to me, i understood it in a different way. i couldn’t tell you why he chose that particular style to write in, or his reasons for using this word or that, but it made sense to me because i understood the sentimiento. the love of the llano, the golden carp, ultima and her owl, the coyotes. the strange love of la llorona. i understand this poem because as walt whiman is for rudolfo anaya, so rudolfo anaya is for me. “your words caressed my soul, soul meeting soul, you opened my mouth and forced me to speak!” you believed in the Child of the Rolling Hills.
i love this poem because it is about new mexico. part of my home is there.
i love this poem for the "miracle child! strange child! dark child! speaks spanish child! has accent child! needs lots of help child!" and that child's resistance, sobbing "i'll show you" to the libraries and classrooms and all the people inside. he's telling me that all it takes is one book, one poem, one author to change "drop out child's" life. it could be leaves of grass or bless me, ultima.
welcome to Chinatown ladies and gentlemen,
the place where you tourists come to look
at the slanted eyes yellow skin scaling fish
or when she continues:
oh look the cute Chinese children with their schoolbags
hurry grab your camera to take a picture
next to a pagoda telephone booth
to show your grandchildren what you know
In a way, the reader of the book is implicated not only in frequenting Chinatown to "go eat chinks", but also in reading her work for some kind of grand sociological understanding or for a literary escape into the rabbit hole of Chinatown.
References to your home as a ghetto. Ancient
tenements. Sociological labels. A Chinese
I never really thought about the idea of slumming in literature, but have been fascinated by the idea of slumming as a real tourist practice, after having witnessed it first hand while visiting a friend in Harlem, and later while living in Brazil, where people now pay for tours of favelas. I actually just found an interesting NYT article on the history of slumming in New York that says this type of cultural voyeurism has gone on sine the 1880s, and has historically included places like Harlem and Chinatown.
Anyway, I know she wrote this "For the Chinatown people," but the way the language is pointed, makes me feel like she didn't write it for them as an audience, but rather speaking on their behalf to the rest of New York -- which is totally different from the call-to-action types of poems that we've seen. This is more like a calling out.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
I also appreciate the idea of writing being an ingredient that bends time. There is something reminiscent about transcendence and the emotion that people feel toward literature over time, being something that is always relevant. HIs lecture was very intriguing, not your average boring informational tone presentation. He brought life to his people and you can see his enthusiasm throughout. I think that his statement of "writers always writing even if it doesn't look like writing," is very powerful and also goes back to what people expect "writing" to look like. It is always important to recognize experimental writing and the leaping stages to create something unique to readers/audiences.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
even the way he makes his presentation is true to the xican@ way of meandering speeches.... he gives a mixture of lecture, history lesson, and personal anecdote that, at least in my own experience, is characteristic of xican@ speakers (whether they are official speakers or family storytellers). as herrera speaks of crossing borders, he crosses the border of traditional lecture to a colorful story-lecture, with many in-betweens.
i love listening to speakers such as this. of course the personal stories about the "vatos" and "my tio chente..." only deepen the meaning of his point: xican@ artists must be hybrids, fluid with borders, people that hold the tools to turn those borders into bridges.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
So I wanted to clarify blog posting, etc. before I leave town (I am gone 9/20 until 9/27). Some items:
- Week 5: Please DO post your responses to the Juan Felipe Herrera video, "A Natural History of Chicano Literature." You can post your responses AFTER watching it in class and discussing it with Natalia on Wednesday 9/22. (Of course, feel free to watch the video and post your response beforehand.) Additional information on Herrera: "Reclaiming the Sleepless Volcano."
- Week 6: It's back to the regular schedule. Please post your responses to Perdomo, Hagedorn, Chung, Robles, et al. by Sunday 9/26.
- Finally, please leave in a comment by FRIDAY 9/17 which week and poet you will present in class. Reminder: Weeks 10 and 11 are open. Schedule is here. (The alternative at this point is for me to assign you a week and poet.)
- Re: upcoming papers, you may come to my office hours when I return, or you may make an appointment with either Nicole or Natalia. I may need reminding to talk about this at the beginning of class on 9/29.
[PS: In case it helps, I've also been blogging about the issues we're discussing here.]
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
I sat with that question for a while-why did I care? And where did this assumption come from? Is it because the author compared his semen to milk, and milk comes from a woman's breasts? Is it how he called his sexual fluids a "bitter balm," and balm is typically a cleansing agent, and cleansing is a maternal act backed up by images of women like Mary Magdalen? Or is it my assumption of the "male gaze"? Ohh, that's interesting. I thought about that: when I read poems, I usually assume the poet assumes that I am a man. "HIV" is a sexual poem, and a very intimate sexual poem. Many straight men don't feel particularly comfortable talking about such intimate sexuality with other straight men, as discussions of intimacy "feminize" the author. Because we live in a culture that does not particualrly like femininity, especially in men, and especially in straight men, I figured the intimate sexual poem was not by a straight man.
But this isn't just an intimate sexual poem. This is an intimate sexual poem about HIV, written by a Latino man in the early-to-mid 90's, The only images I have of Latino men with HIV in the early 90's are gay latino men--in fact, immigrant gay Latino men--from Pedro Zamora on the Real World San Francisco to Antonio Banderes in Philadelphia. Whoa! It really struck me, how my presumptions about the poem, its author, and its audience were so clearly effected by the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality, through the lens of disease.
In light of our numerous discussions on whether we can/should read poems by people of color without racializing their poem, I found this poem illuminating for the various identities that emerged while reading, and re-reading, and re-reading my re-reading. And I wonder how often we remove (or add) other identities in our reading because they do or do not fit an image we have of that person. There are discussions in social justice circles of how the image of "a black person" is usually "a black man", and "a woman" is usually "a white woman." By stripping a narrative of race to get to "a humanity", what other identities do we submerge or subvert? Is it good to do that? Do we have to take away "Other" characteristics to get to humanity? And what does that human look like?
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
“We are at the Café, the Poets Café, the Nuyorican Poets Café, home for the tradition that has no home but your ear. The home of the art that has been homeless ever since Plato kicked the poets out of the Republic.” The idea of a poet having a home, in the ear, in one’s head, in one’s body, as home within a place that isn’t a fixed point, calls upon the power of the poetry to serve as a constant source of knowledge, inspiration, or awareness once initial exposure to it has been made. Bob Holman’s Invocation draws the reader in, reorienting the way in which poetry is typically viewed, as something not just on a page and separate from one’s life and body, but as something that is not only relevant to one’s life, but also inextricable from one’s life – as an expression, outlet, and source of inspiration all in one. Holman says, “This is where you actually see the Thing Itself explode and then watch the exploded bits themselves explode,” referring to this abstract “Thing” as both a uniform “thing” gained from the experience/poems of the Nuyorican Café, but also as an individualized “thing” that each reader/viewer may perceive. I am interested in this “Thing” and how that is explained as an entity that is unique to poetry, especially that out of the Nuyorican Café, and as that which informs one’s personal politics and life choices – “poetry is alive; poetry is allowed.” Miguel Algarin’s Introduction expounds upon this in his initial excerpt, “The Scattering of the Ashes: The Burial of a Poet.” I found this section really inspiring as it didn’t just “tell” the story of Miky’s death, but rather invited the reader into the experience of being a part of the community which experienced his death, and how his individual contributions to his larger community served as a source of hope even after he passed on.
There’s no other place for me to be
there’s no other place that I can see
there’s no other town around that
brings you up or keeps you down
no food little heat sweeps by
fancy cars & pimps’ bars & juke saloons
& greasy spoons make my spirits fly
with my ashes scattered thru the
Lower East Side. . .
“The poem began to leap off the page and become the thing itself – words were becoming action.”
This excerpt and quote seem to explain a “poem” in terms of words and this unnamed “thing” as action. This forces the reader to not only read the poem, but to internalize it in a way that encourages them to react with more than just thoughts or feelings, but with thoughts or feelings that can be directed towards something to enact some sort of result. In reading Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not A Luxury,” I was able to read Lorde’s analysis of how poetry can serve as a revolutionary tool in inspiring one to take action, but in Holman’s and Algarin’s preface to Aloud, I felt that they expanded upon that in “practicing what they preach” by writing of and relaying the message of this “thing” in a really tactile and tangible way. I feel that another aspect of this “thing,” is a common knowledge base held by the audience, this common knowledge being the positionality of Nuyorican poets as those whose identities, backgrounds, and experiences cannot be described with any single word qualifier or category, but most effectively through poetry and patterns of sound that may transcend static understandings of “immigrant” experiences or “Puerto Rican-American” experiences, etc.
The community can relate to their stories, take it in and do something differently to create change. Sometimes talking about the reality of a community, the hopelessness and doubts can create a since to change and become more of a "we" then an indivualistic take on problems that affect people collectively. Pedro Pietri writes
Here lies Juan
Here lies Miguel
Here lies Milagros
Here lies Olga
Here lies Manuel
who died yesterday toda
yand will die again tomorrow
that they are beautiful people
the geography of their complexion
He explains people that have died waiting, dreaming, hating, but never people who came together collectively with their issues to help one another and to support one another and I believe his message his clear about never forgetting about your land and your people. It is that interaction that creates social change and without it will be even more depressing without a sense of direction within a shared community and shared identity.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
as a musician, i've often found( in my own limited experience) that poetry is limited to the page. perhaps i just haven't had enough experience with spoken poetry, but there it is. this is completely personal. because of what i feel is the limitation of poetry, restricted to pages and binding, i've often felt that people of color are facing an uphill battle with regards to their art. how to re-create nations that were first built on orality by relying on the imposed written form of the conquerors? if a nation and a culture is truly to be rebuilt, the entire vocabulary must be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with the way we speak. as in using our mouths to speak!
this poem was a pleasant surprise to me because it articulated in a graceful way the finer details of this sentiment. the idea of thoughts being expressed verbally, and "not held inside and rolled around for some properly schemed moment." the beauty with orality is that you know it was not revised, edited, deleted in parts, added to.... it just is! some of the most beautiful stories and songs that i've come across have never been written, and are not meant to be! the most important piece of this poem to me, however, was in the end: "the tongue itself carries /the mind /pure and sure/ sudden and direct." this is how art began! with the spoken word! oral history! writing was not imposed as the only "valid" form of communiction and history until we were conquered. a fusion language (both writing and orality) must be created to express the modern-day peoples' needs, sentiments. afro-caribbean writers speak of the need for an "oral literature." i didn't quite understand that term until reading this poem.
Miguel Algarin’s Introduction further illuminates: “Poetry is not finding its way, it has found its way, back into everyday life.” Algarin speaks to the vitality of the word and the vital need of poetry in people’s lives. That poetry is a powerful weapon or even medicine when one has to face or to deal with the everyday oppressive conditions in the work place and other institutions. In the Nuyorcian Café all are welcomed to testify and to bear witness about what is going down in the neighborhoods. Algarin speaks to the resurrection of poetry. This poetry with a purpose, direction similar to Audre Lorde’s essay where poetry is definitely not a luxury, but has responsibility and has certain political power and movement.
Algarin mentions poetry delivers a way to promote tolerance and understanding between people. “The aim is to dissolve the social, cultural, and political boundaries that generalize the human experience and make it meaningless.” Poetry is taken to new heights and deeper depths, where there are new conversations and dialogue between diverse poets and communities. “These poems now create new metaphors that yield new patterns of trust, creating intercultural links among the many ethnic groups that are not characterized by the simplistic term black/white dialogue.” Poetry becomes a unifying force, expansive force with many different poets sharing the stage coming from diverse backgrounds. There is learning to be had from the community, through a poet's voice - learning you may never get in a text book, a history book. Poetry is a force to breakdown stereotypes and misunderstanding and it’s the poet’s responsibility to build solidarity and unity between diverse communities. Through poetry and art the poet discovers shared struggles amongst peers, neighbors, as well as amongst the outcasts and the outlaws of society. There is also a celebratory expression in these shared experiences even when one is mourning the loss of a beloved. Algarin urges this poetry of the nineties to be used as a tool, an outlet, a weapon, this poetry is being about “responsible for giving a direction, for illuminating a path” for those who are struggling, facing hardships because of racism, sexism, oppression or unemployment or employment in dead-in jobs. This poetry of the nineties has a clear intention: “Speak about how people hurt, yet at the same time give them a directive, a sense of future release.” In ALOUD poetry becomes encompassing, comprehensive and purposeful, inclusive for all. Although most of the poets write in free verse and the poetry is performed, Nuyorcian poetry embodies a breadth of form, theme and subject where I don’t think one could identify a distinctive poetic style.