kundimanfellows

R.A. Villanueva Pt. 1 #writetoday

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.

[QUESTION]

Tarfia Faizullah asks, Do you think it’s possible to stop writing about the past?

R.A. Villanueva answers, No. And if we’re really honest with ourselves as writers, I don’t think we really want to stop remembering—to Eternal Sunshine our way around the aftermaths that matter.

Perhaps the reality is that the past makes and mars us in ways we can neither control nor anticipate. Better to find some “ceremony of words to patch the havoc” than to live as amnesiacs. Better to dive into the wreck than try to forget the sinking.

[POEM]

Swarm

We were well down the ventral axis 

          when Fr. Luke noticed. Our cuts 

steady through the skin, our scalpels 

          already through the thin give 

of the sternum. With each bullfrog 

          pinned to its block and double- 

pithed by nail, he had by then 

          talked us clean through the lungs, 

past a three-chambered heart couched 

          in tissue and vascular dye. We must 

have been deeper among the viscera 

          when he heard us laughing, 

not at the swarm of black eggs 

          spilling from the oviducts to 

slime the cuffs of our blazers, 

          but at a phallus, jury-rigged from 

foil and rubber bands hanging off the crucifix, 

          hovering above a chart of light- 

independent reactions. This was nothing 

          like the boys lowing through recitation 

their antiphon for the layman whose wife 

          we heard was trampled by livestock 

over Trimester break. Nothing at all 

          like Sr. Mary being made to face 

the bathhouse scene from Spartacus in slow- 

          motion or her freshmen rewinding again 

and again stock films of chariot drivers pitched 

          from their mounts, dragged 

to their ends only to float backwards, 

          hands bound up once more 

in the reins. The Dean of Men confessed 

          he knew of no prayer or demerit 

that could redeem such disgrace, 

          could conceive of no greater sin 

against the Corpus. Transgressors, all of you, 

          he said and closed the door behind him, 

refusing to look at us or the thing 

          which seemed to shimmer and twitch 

with each frog’s reflex kick against our forceps. 

          He held us there far beyond 

the last bell, waiting for just one among us 

          to want forgiveness or for a single boy 

to take back this mockery of the body 

          our Lord had made.

Originally published in AGNI, #70

[BIO]

R.A. Villanueva is the author of Reliquaria, winner of the 2013 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. A founding editor ofTongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, he lives in Brooklyn.

Tarfia Faizullah, Pt. 1: It wanted to learn / how to carry the word

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Muriel Leung asks, If you were the architect of a city with poetry as your only tool, what type of city would you build? Would you describe it for us?

Tarfia Faizullah answers, Detroit. 


[POEM]

The Scar

That’s when the scar stitched my shoulder whole

until it grew thick,

     a husk

never filling
              with breath
                            or light—

above me
        it twisted

like ant-eaten bark         It rubbed

between his thighs
              while mosquitoes brooded

Oh, their kiss-
                           hungry mouths             It skinned

              lake-water          like a scythe

It wanted to learn
                           how to carry the word

           cauterize

until the ochre sky wished itself
                                                     amber,

until the skin broke—

                             and that’s when the scar revealed a woman

trapped                 wet

               shaped like an ebony

                                                       tusk

Previously published in Makeout Creek.


[BIO]

 

Tarfia Faizullah is the author of Seam (Southern Illinois University Press) and and can be found at www.tfaizullah.com.

Muriel Leung, Pt. 1: What you say next—I am red / in the face. I will and can harp on a spleen.

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Cristiana Balk asks, You recently uprooted yourself from Queens, one of the most demographically diverse urban places in the world (and personally my favorite borough in NYC), to Baton Rouge, nestled near the heart of Louisiana. Has this significant shift in place changed, re-shaped your writing, from writing practices to the subject matters you explore, and if so, how?

Muriel Leung answers, I packed my bags with my ghosts in search of new ghosts. Someone said I would find plenty in Louisiana. In my first month here, I smashed my car mirror trying to dodge a banana tree. A monster cactus in my backyard lives and dies on repeat. I wondered if that was what they meant. Louisiana is still grappling with its reputation as a place of magic and haunting. I am careful not to be subsumed by this, but growing up in Queens, I bring with me so much baggage (immigrant stories, forked tongues, etc.) that feels magical and haunting to me out of necessity. For me, Louisiana is a collision of the real and the imagined too. I am fortunate for a literary community here (that includes my fierce mentors, Laura Mullen and Lara Glenum) who insist: “Write your ghosts and—“ Within this gesture—possibilities in the whirl.

[POEM]

Directions for a better life

Or simply you would complete me 
the sinewy voice milks the trees and ornery 
blossoms. What you say next—I am red 
in the face. I will and can harp on a spleen. 
In the sidelines of a purple desert, a mote 
erects itself between dashboard 
and a vein. Sometimes I believe 
in the virtues of a robotic dusk. I believe 
in dirty thoughts and my gummy hands 
going this way and then that. Are you feeling 
better now? Good. Rest your pretty head 
on a briar patch. Sweet nothings. I think 
when I whisper, someone is pushing 
a button and saying, Now move into 
the happily before they take down the sun 
and so I take his hand and pulse hard 
into the forever-morgue. My darling, 
I will go wherever you go.


[BIO]

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Muriel Leung is a current MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University and sends her tweets here.

Cristiana Baik, Pt. 1: Fifty-eight orchid species are native to the Lake Superior basin, their nomenclature of feminine seduction:

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Soham Patel asks, Why the long face? Why round belly laughs?

Cristiana Baik answers, Do I have a long face [laughing]?Two years ago, my partner and I drove a U-Haul from New York to Minnesota, which kicked off a long period of disruptions. I’ve moved more than anyone else I know, having never lived in a place for more than three years since going to college. In Chicago (where I went to school) I began to write poetry, which became intricately tied with experiences of displacement and being othered. Water is commonly a theme in my work, because bodies of water have always told me where I am. It’s been a universal marker, no matter where I’ve lived (Los Angeles: the Pacific; Chicago: Lake Michigan; Tuscaloosa: Black Warrior River; Duluth, MN: Lake Superior). This is a long-winded way of saying I’m sure the long face has something to do with constant destabilizations, which have also created fertile grounding for critical thinking and poems.

Round belly laughs: it’s about keeping it real.


[POEM]

Essentially Description

                          For Ian

We cross Blatnik Bridge
the view
of the bay opening
the lake
a porous border
where every ear finds a buoy
           a waveform to lean in towards

We knew
there was no looking back
just around

       Four-day drive, Woodside to Duluth
       Fifth day, the U-Haul crosses the bridge

It was autumnal, the atmosphere carnelian
washing the evergreens, steeples,
and industry
We walk to Sir Benedict’s Tavern
and drink in silence, realizing
this was home

                     the trope of a swinging door 

Ω

I recall writing poems
all essentially descriptions
of light splitting
the lake’s surface
spectral, an emerald
shield exposed
the lake telling me
in ripples
               the present rippling time
its so forths, so ons 

Ω

It’s only upon leaving that I learn the facts:

Lake Superior’s 3,000,000,000,000,000 gallons could flood continents

Over 300 streams and rivers empty into Lake Superior

Fifty-eight orchid species are native to the Lake Superior basin, their nomenclature of feminine seduction:

          Stemless lady-slipper
          Slender ladies tresses
          Purple tresses
          Heart-leaf twayblade
          Nodding ladies

These facts tracking my Midwest 

Ω

Then in a dream, the flood begins

The scene is a painting, a placement, a viewpoint:
                the edge of evergreens, birch, pine
                the edge cerulean, indigo, sometimes sleet-grey, sometimes all-white

There is sound, water’s refining
of limestone, sandstone, Thompsonite, agates

I wake to an inland sea
water the essential description
from Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego


[BIO]

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Cristiana Baik is a poet who resides in New York City. She works at ART21 and is the Managing Editor of Essay Press and The Conversan

Soham Patel, Pt. 1:To hear // It sounds like something breaking / in unison with the cat’s / meow

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


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[QUESTION]

Bushra Rehman asks, Soham, I loved your series which took place in a motel and concerned the lives of a family of characters. Could you speak to the ways in which location and the idea of family influence your work?

Soham Patel answers, The first drafts of the writing in Riva:  A Chapter came from a fiction workshop with Carol Guess at Western Washington University.  We were reading “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things” and something about the way the setting of the truck stops are written about in that book reminded me of one of my first jobs, which was cleaning rooms in my mom and dad’s motel—and so the character of Riva was born from there.  Ongoing:  location and family—they both influence the work because they are holding in my body.  I’m keen on how both at once have a certain permanence and also are always changing.  Sometimes the thought of a particular location place will remind me to breathe in another way and so the writing’s rhythm changes.  Sometimes the idea of family has me remember particularities of my body parts (my nose looks like my dad’s looks like my nephew’s) and that translates into the work by way of association, image, or idea. 


[POEM]

portrait in sound:

Blood-rushed, ears call in
framed fragment clips nightly
(purple lobe, remembered
piercing popped discord
mesh to silence). To hear

It sounds like something breaking
in unison with the cat’s
meow in the background:
braided luck and deliberation.

(To hear listeners shore up
and stop will mean no more
air in the bladder of the fish.)
She said the sensation was some-
thing like a throb in her heart.


[BIO]

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Soham Patel’s other chapbook is ‘and nevermind the storm’ (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs).    

Bushra Rehman, Pt. 1: Visions of you played / like two second sitcoms

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


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[QUESTION]

marlon esguerra asks,  For the writer, what is a lie? Does (or rather, how does) your telling and retelling of your stories alter your memory of a subject?

Bushra Rehman answers, Of course I am afraid like most writers that I will be accused of lying when I write. But I know it’s inevitable to be accused. Everyone has a version of the truth which is equally valid, even a person I would disagree with intensely.

So being a writer, like I am, who is slightly political-the slightly was a joke- I get accused of not telling the truth because I did not represent someone else’s experience accurately. This is the burden of representation in American literature for someone like me, a Pakistani writer from New York City.

Still, I write fiction, by definition a liar’s art. I love recreating my memories the way I remember them, like little dioramas in my brain, reliving my favorites and spinning some into daydreams to enhance the pleasure of reliving them. 


[POEM]

Simply Knocking on the Air

I willed you from the air
Or did I simply hear you knocking?

Visions of you played
like two second sitcoms
in my brain.

There you were in a diaper
on the stream rocks.

There you were
catching baby trout
in your fingers.

Before you were born,
I heard whispers
in the forest and dawn.

I reached back to grab hold
of the cord which tied me
to my grandmother.

She willed this too from the beyond.


[BIO]

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Bushra Rehman’s first novel Corona, a dark comedy about being South Asian in the United States was noted among Poets & Writers Best Debut Fiction, featured in the LA Review of Books among a new wave of South Asian American Literature and is a LAMBDA finalist. 

marlon esguerra, pt. 1: My teachers, all / warned me away from / allnoneevery,

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

W. Todd Kaneko asks, "Your performances are so dynamic and passionate. What is it about spoken word and performance that we should be thinking about as poets? Moreover, how do you navigate performativity with the written word as you are writing poems for the page?"

marlon esguerra answers, You can’t speed read a poem. You just can’t. I’ve tried. You try it some time. In fact, do it right now. Try it with a poem you’ve never read before; do it with one of your favorite poems; hell, do it with one of your own poems. Just suppress any subvocalization (internal speech) and go for it—chalk up as many words as you can.

 There ya go: Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. What did I just read?

 Poems are a form of speech, in every sense of the word speech. I don’t write poems for the page, or performance poems, or slam poems, or spoken word pieces. I write and I write and I write some more. I read my poems aloud when they’re young and timid and have no line breaks but the cadence of my breathing. I’ll stand and walk around, reading aloud—now there’s the cadence of my slow pacing. My partner writes and we read our poems aloud to each other. We don’t read news articles to each other—that’s a terrible use of one’s voice; that’s what speed reading is for.

As someone who has carved such a wonderful home and community in the spoken world, I navigate my known world in finding congruity between the subvocalized and vocalized; “between what I see and what I say,” as Octavio Paz said. My audience these days are less in number—sometimes my 10th period Chemistry class in the last five minutes before the bell, other times just a cat trying to commandeer my laptop as his bed. But page or stage, the community exists—you are writing and speaking it into existence. You find your loves this way. You find your voice this way. There’s no half-steppin’ it. So speak! 


[POEM]

a disambiguation of limbo
-after speed reading Mark Strand’s Keeping Things Whole

My teachers, all
warned me away from
allnoneevery, always
steered me safely
from alwaysmustnever.
dangerous territory, must
not confine my geography.

My father always gambled.
A priest never touched me.
Every church is a black box.
I must have deserved it, there
must be a universe where none
of this happened again and again
to always.
I have a degree in words.
I have an advanced degree in teaching words.
I have schooled and schooled and nonetheless
and none the worse and none the better
all these universes exist. They, or none, must.


[BIO]

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marlon unas esguerra lives & works in queens. When he isn’t running marathons or ultras, he stops long enough to write and teach high school english, U.S. history, physics, chemistry, earth science and robotics. He’s working on a collection of essays, short stories, and poems based on his first 15 years of teaching, entitled, “Freshman 15.” 

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Iris Law asks, Your forthcoming book is called The Dead Wrestler Elegies. What drew you to wrestling as a subject of your poetry and the overarching conceit of this project? If you were a pro wrestler, what would your in-ring persona be?

W. Todd Kaneko answers,

1. Because when I was a kid, I watched professional wrestling with my father.

2. Because professional wrestling is a marker of American cultural identity.

3. Because of legendary characters and modern mythologies.

4. Because people are still obsessed with what is real and what is fake.

5. Because of manly eloquence.

6. Because when I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be a professional wrestler.

7. Because I still want to grow up to be a professional wrestler, sometimes.

8. Because professional wrestling is the poetry of violence.

9. Because it’s still real to me.

10. Because.


[POEM]

Luna Vachon is Your Shadow in the Darkness    

   Our history is rich with pain and venom, violence and evil …
   from this day forward, I will hunt your very breath, I will be
   your shadow in the darkness. And then soon, very very soon,
   I will wipe you from this earth.”
       —Luna Vachon, professional wrestler

She is butcher and goddess, a throat
full of grackles, a vampire’s grin.

She is snake tongue, fistmonger and kill
bride—she is hunger. She is the lightning
eye, the rooster’s spurs. Your father
will show you his skeleton one day,
your mother the taint of her blood.

The cemetery is no place for women
slung out in halter tops and bare mid-riffs.
Where there is no such thing as death,
there is only death. She is that ravenous
spirit chewing your name.

She is the lunacy that comes
with grief, lizard tail and owl heart,
a hound driven mad by streetlights
mistaken for the moon. She is the ear
spider, the winter branches.

Her skin is the color of woe. She is
the tombstone, the meantime.
She is a hooked angel excavating
your father with obsidian claws.
She is your mother telling you a story.

First published in Rhino Poetry.


[BIO]

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor 2014) and teaches at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Iris Law, Pt. 1 rain pearling my gut like sweat,

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Eugenia Leigh asks, What is a yet-to-be-realized desire of yours as it pertains to writing? (e.g. a topic you have not yet explored in your poetry/prose but have wanted to explore or a different kind of life-circumstance risk you have not yet taken?)

Iris Law responds, I’d love to try writing a series inspired by Christian scripture and liturgy (a book of hours, of sorts). And it would be fun to extend my women scientist project (from my chapbook) to include contemporary women in STEM. Secretly, though, what I’d really love is to complete a long-form piece: a long poem, a hybrid novel, a book-length narrative series, a play. I have a short attention span and have trouble sustaining long arcs or complex threads. I’m terrible at projects that require attention to the big picture, but good at honing in on tiny details. My poems have always been short, and I tend to whittle them down even more through obsessive revision. But someday, I’d like to struggle through seeing a longer project to completion. I think it would help me to address a lot of my fears about what I can and can’t do as a writer.


[POEM]

A poem is like a kiss,

like the darting of pupils
just past the tips of one’s lashes
mid breath: too close, too quick,

the shadow of thought
too thick on one’s shoulders
to justify sight. I close my eyes

and listen to you recite—
to your mouth gently lipping
the tail of each word,

the soft fry of vowels
smoldering in the folds
of your throat. I can hear

a world in there, epiglottal
behind the dark-wet sheen
of each consonant’s strike.

You speak, and the warm
flush of sound pulses, light,
at the base of my ears.

You look at me with the pitch
of those ball-peen eyes
and the weather moves through me,

rain pearling my gut like sweat,
high-gale gusts exhuming
the breath from my lungs.


[BIO]

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Iris A. Law is the author of a chapbook, Periodicity, and a founding editor of Lantern Review.

Eugenia Leigh, Pt. 1: What I wouldn’t give to graze that silence.

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Michelle Penaloza asks, I have my pop icon obsessions:

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Who are yours? Have you ever written about them? (I have tried various poems about all of these people, but have yet to be pleased with any). Please answer with pictures of your celebrity artists obsessions, elaborating upon your obsessions as you like!

Eugenia Leigh answers, 

This question exposes my humiliating secret: I have little to no knowledge about celebrity culture. It’s true. I feel both ashamed and irrelevant, and I considered purchasing a box of old People magazines (is that what I’m supposed to read?!) to answer this question. I was raised in a hyper-strict religious environment & listened to only church songs (or the Beatles or Air Supply because my parents had their weaknesses) until I was 12 and discovered my alarm clock was also a fancy radio. Yes, I’m making excuses.

 One of the only poems I’ve written with a direct reference to a contemporary artist is “Every Hair on Your Head” (posted below), which was written on March 6, 2010, the day Mark Linkous, the musician behind Sparklehorse, took his life. I looped the song “Hundreds of Sparrows” over and over again at El Beit, a coffee shop in Williamsburg, and wrote this poem.


[POEM]

Every Hair on Your Head

Every hair on your head is counted.
You are worth hundreds of sparrows.

                        — Sparklehorse, “Hundreds of Sparrows”

The day you pushed a bullet through your heart,
the length of a day on earth shortened by a millionth of a second.

That same day, a NASA satellite captured an image of a dust storm,
Chile withstood its one hundred thirtieth aftershock in a week, and I
glimpsed a bird, twitching

on the floor of a Brooklyn metro station. Its eyeballs
bulged as if to literally absorb the ocular world

and I shuddered away. For hours, I saw that flinching
creature in my mind. I saw hundreds of similar birds
shimmering into the station to lie

next to it—a quilt of silvery bodies tiled wing to wing. On good days,
I want to be saved. Most days, I want

every savior in our hell—so they’ll know
torment in the bloodstream—death’s whistling, ceaseless,
blurring the cleanest heartbeats.       My first time, I was thirteen.

I tested five pills. My stomach barely ached, I ate ramen, lived, solved
math problems. But for days before that, I envisioned my body
smeared. Inside out. A swarthy, dazzling canvas.

What I wouldn’t give to graze that silence.

Did you do it standing up
or crouching?     Which was the bigger surprise— the gun punching    or the angel catching you?

Previously published in Best New Poets 2010.


[BIO]

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Eugenia Leigh is the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014).

Michelle Penaloza, Pt. 1

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Monica Ong asks, Time is limited, yet nowadays there is a limitless amount of great literature and art one can take in. What is your criteria for choosing what or whom to read, in terms of growing as a poet?

Michelle Penaloza answers, I am a bit promiscuous; I don’t know that I have any criteria other than “whatever holds my interest.” On my nightstand: Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele, The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, the Magic Shows issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Lucky Fish. I often discover what and whom I read through friends, writerly or not. I have a subscription to The New York Review of Books, which adds lots of books to my constantly growing list. Sometimes random things on the internet lead me to new poets and new books; I have a bookmarks tab that’s just labeled READ THESE for my running list of stuff I want to read. Basically, I say yes to almost everything; my criteria becomes discriminating once I’ve gotten started with something. The library is my dear friend. Also, [the visual below] might illustrate my answer this question. 


[POEM]

LESSONS IN COMMUNICATION

If you enter a house through the window
instead of the door, a ghost will follow you.
If two dogs bark at night, you know the ghost
wants to watch Doctor Zhivago, cry, and steal
all of your wheat toast, your Earl Gray, and your butter.
Should you suddenly feel a weight upon your chest,
the ghost would like to speak with you about its concerns
regarding your late night habits—you eat dinner too late
in the evenings, you smack your gums while watching television,
you are a terrible judge of character (really, the men you
bring home), you smoke too much, and you haven’t been to mass
in years. Also, you no longer make an effort to speak to the dead.
This, the ghost will say, is very disappointing.
To hush a ghost, you must spin counter clockwise three times.
Hold your palms upward and whistle Mancini’s “Moon River.”
You can never really make a ghost hush, but if you stand within
a circle of salt, knock three times upon a mirror and light a single
white candle, you can manage a ghost’s moaning, order it
to stay in the starlight, to stay on the other side of the windows’ glass.
When you get lonely, you can press your ear upon the darkness and listen:
cricketsbittermelongoldleafbullsbreathfoxglovewhatsightreefallrainclouddustdustdust

First published in The Weekly Rumpus.


[BIO]

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Michelle lives in Seattle, hard at work on her current project, landscape / heartbreak; also, this brings her great joy. 

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our  fellows  will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.  
   [QUESTION]  
  Brynn Saito asks,   Do you believe in ghosts?  
   Monica Ong answers,    I do. My family’s ghosts haunt me, bind me to intricate histories, and challenge me to ask difficult questions about where we’re going and when we’ll finally be   home  . I don’t go looking for them, but they often find me, leaving their fragments and traces in small objects, smells, and strange empty spaces. When I write I rely on them often, sometimes to feel less alien, sometimes to expand, other times to ask for a good recipe. Despite being prone to exaggeration, they do tell great stories, and inspire narrative elements in my work. I just wish they weren’t so camera shy.  

   [POEM]  
 Click on the image below to see Monica’s work on  Seneca Review . 
   [BIO]  
     

   Monica Ong  is a literary hybrid who explores medical narratives through the overlap of poetry, art, and technology. 

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Brynn Saito asks, Do you believe in ghosts?

Monica Ong answers, I do. My family’s ghosts haunt me, bind me to intricate histories, and challenge me to ask difficult questions about where we’re going and when we’ll finally be home. I don’t go looking for them, but they often find me, leaving their fragments and traces in small objects, smells, and strange empty spaces. When I write I rely on them often, sometimes to feel less alien, sometimes to expand, other times to ask for a good recipe. Despite being prone to exaggeration, they do tell great stories, and inspire narrative elements in my work. I just wish they weren’t so camera shy.


[POEM]

Click on the image below to see Monica’s work on Seneca Review.


[BIO]

Monica Ong is a literary hybrid who explores medical narratives through the overlap of poetry, art, and technology. 

Brynn Saito, Pt. 1: Go to the ends of the earth / girl / go like a leopard

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Cathy Linh Che asks, In writing, what are you most afraid of?

Brynn Saito responds, 

I fear that the poem knows something that I do not yet know. This is also my greatest hope. I get afraid that, through poetry, I’ll uncover something about myself that will completely alter the story I’ve constructed about my life. In the same breath, I’m afraid my own writing will, one day, cease to surprise me, cease to reveal an unknown. I’m reading Mary Ruefle’s cutting and beautiful book of lectures,Madness, Rack and Honey. In it, she talks about craft: a craft is a thing, she reminds us—a boat, or a ship, or a raft. “Great skill is involved in building a craft, for it is far from easy to make things that float of fly.” Every time I sit down to it, I fear both the failure of flight and the possibility of some wild orbit through the exhilarating dark. But I believe in my fear: fear is useful; fear is tied to wonder—that feeling of trembling before the terrifying angel (Rilke!), that rush of living on the edge of what is known. 


[POEM]

W.W. ON HOW TO BE FREE

Go to the ends of the earth / girl / go like a leopard

chasing her longing / go like the grasses grown

and cut and blowing over the valley by autumn

fire-winds / Go away from the valley / girl / go

to the city / go like a fighter / with gold ore

precision / with penny-like pain / with plenty

of power / Please ignore / what you can girl /

the growls in your absence / the men with their ice-blocks 

melting in arms / the men with their mine-field hearts /

The women like me / wishing you well / whistling

wisdom into your spine / learn to lie to survive / girl /

learn to outlast the flame / learn the art of surprise


[BIO]

Brynn Saito is a poet and writer living in the SF Bay Area. She wrote a book called The Palace of Contemplating Departure.

Cathy Linh Che, Pt. 1 In the Underworld, / I starve a season / while the world wilts

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

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Debbie Yee asks, Cathy, Are there real or virtual spaces you go to for research? What or where are they? What do they inform you?

Cathy Linh Che answers, 

Thanks, Debbie, for the question! My answer is roundabout, but I do get around to it. Here it goes: 

Like Paul Tran, and so many others, I was sexually molested as a child—and have felt the ripple effects into adulthood.

I write about my experiences because I’m uneasy with the silence. I’m uneasy with the abject and unfathomable horror surrounding the topic—as if sexual molestation is not something that happens to one in three girls and one in seven boys. At a table with ten folks, several people have been sexually violated at some point in their lives (whether we identify as victims, survivors, or something else), or are perpetrators. So, it’s not ‘unimaginable’—it’s lived experiences that we all share.

 When I have a concept or an image I want to explore, I look up definitions and etymologies on the internet. I do Google images searches. I turn to different mythologies and origin stories. I buy books and read up on psychology and psychoanalysis. I go home and inhabit spaces where these incidences have taken place. I look at personal experiences again and again—after all “research” is about looking closely and looking repeatedly.

Type in the word rape into the Online Etymology Dictionary and you get:

rape (v.)

late 14c., “seize prey; abduct, take by force,” from rape (n.) and from Anglo-French raper (Old French rapir)

When I learned that rape originally meant to abduct, or to carry off by force, I thought of the myth of Persephone in a new way.

I saw her abduction, then being carried off into Hades, as a kind of childhood rape story—and from there, I wrote.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in information about support services as a sexual assault survivor, please visit RAINN.


[POEM]

Pomegranate

I open my chest and birds flock out.
In my mother’s garden, the roses flare
toward the sun, but I am an arrow

pointing back.
I am Persephone,
a virgin abducted.

In the Underworld,
I starve a season
while the world wilts

into the ghost
of a summer backyard.
My hunger open and raw.

I lay next to a man
who did not love me—
my body a performance,

his body a single eye—
a director watching an actress
commanding her

to scintillate.

I was the clumsy acrobat.
When he came, I split open
like a pomegranate

and ate six of my own ruddy seeds.

I was the whipping boy.
Thorny, barbed wire
wound around a muscular heart.

Originally published in Split (Alice James Books, 2014)


[BIO]

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Cathy Linh Che would like to start a conversation with you. Email her.

Debbie Yee, Pt. 1, There was a drift of sugar desire in a once-small town.

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


Debbie Yee’s Green Tea Cupcakes with Red Bean Paste Buttercream

[QUESTION]

Paul Tran asks, I recently watched Natasha Trethewey’s “Why I Write: Poetry, History & Social Justice” on YouTube. the 52-minute lecture led me to George Orwell’s essay by the same title. Both got me thinking about the importance of “messages” in Asian American poetry. I define “message” as an argument or observation of the world that compels new understandings or visions of human existence, its operations and struggles. What kind of messages do you articulate or reimagine in your work? Why these in particular? And if none, what might their absence say? Why the choice to “not say”?

Debbie Yee answers, I hadn’t, until recently, considered my writing as having a message other than addressing my version of an existential crisis that resonates with few to twelve imagined people. But Orwell is perhaps correct in having identified political purpose as a driver. Whether intentionally or not, I’ve been re-telling “women’s work” from a 21st century feminist perspective through poems couched in observation or fantasy. They tend to concern maternal desire and absence, employing images of domesticity and home life quite a lot, usually set around the kitchen, garden, and the body. Except for a poem or two vaguely in the context of the law, my profession as a lawyer is extremely absent. I’ve often hoped I could turn on the law-poem spigot, but haven’t so far gotten any traction. That area of my life may largely be resolved and non-controversial in an internal sense, so I then roam into different terrain.


[POEM]

There was a drift of sugar desire in a once-small town. Sun-sweetened trees bore a load of pear-shaped children. The single-story buildings mottling the topography were gummy and edible, nestled along highways and footbridges paved in fruit leathers. The people gardened. They were simple and diabetic. They dreamt the way giants do. Their hearts wrestled with vast plots of untilled acreage. Their arms were fit to host suppers, could carry two seasons of bounty. Those who did laid the groundwork for a nest of kittens and bucks to fawn over. Those trees dipped and swayed in melodious day and continued this way well into the night, capturing in rhythm the town’s inhalations, exhalations, sighs and whistles. Underneath constellations, in a lunar rabbit year, the children snapped off from their birth branches arched over moonlit yards, slung rope and plank over their ancestors, fashioning swings for play, motion, inertia. The town was mid-breath in its history, conjectured a future by hand shadow puppetry as its talent at the county fair, its pies and cakes near-baked, its fruity, flavorful offspring at the ready.


[BIO]

Debbie Yee is an attorney, poet, mother, baker and crafts enthusiast living in San Francisco.

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


Editor’s Note: For today’s post, Kundiman Fellow Paul Tran discusses details of his experience with child abuse and sexual assault. A video of his performance above also includes a a poetic address of those issues.

[QUESTION]

Janine Joseph asks, I’ve been thinking recently about some of the first poems that shook and prompted me to respond. In the spirit of Nazim Hikmet, I want to ask you: What are things you didn’t know you loved?

Paul Tran answers, My father started molesting me when I was four.

I remember it all: a hand opening the shower door; my stomach pressed into a car seat; Terminator 2 playing over my screams in an apartment by Montezuma Road. It’s a nightmare that returns to me even now.

When he disappeared in 1999, my mother cut his face from our family photographs. She gave them to me in a grocery bag and said bo thung racThrow it away. Nho lam gi? Why remember? Nho chi co lam con them kho thoi. Remembering will only make you suffer. 

I still know what his body looks like—how his mouth curled right before coming. How even his cum smelled like Heineken. But I didn’t know I could forgive him. I didn’t know that years later, after I’d grown up and been raped by other men, after the memory and nightmare became indistinguishable, saying the violence’s name aloud—Rape. Incest. Almost murder.—was, in fact, my gesture of forgiveness.

And what do we forgive but a thing we didn’t know we could love?


[POEM]

The video above is of Paul performing “Ice Cream Man” during the 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.


[BIO]

Paul Tran is an Asian American historian, activist & spoken word poet from Providence, Rhode Island. 

Janine Joseph, Pt. 1: Can you smell the burning mustard plants, the foxtail and foxglove weeds on my skin?

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Eddie Kim asks, From speaking with friends and my own personal struggles, it seems that those of us who have gone the MA/MFA/PhD route experience difficulty transitioning into life after school. There seems to be an existential ennui or existential panic that accompanies graduation. What were your experiences like post MFA? Post PhD? What helped you through that transition? If you feel you haven’t transitioned out of it yet, with what aspects do you specifically struggle?

Janine Joseph answers, Here’s the truth: when working on my MFA and, later, my PhD, I kept one foot out the door. It was a preparedness I had developed when putting myself through college. I wrote the poems that got me into NYU after closing. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a job or had a job in place. What I struggled most with was prioritizing school—prioritizing poetry—over the very experiences that fed my writing life. The “real world” was where I felt indebted, where I never needed to be reintegrated. Even when I was working on my MFA I’d sit at the computer and, while messing around with the lines on the screen, be preoccupied with the progress of the DREAM Act.

I suspect now that it was the self-sentence of five years that helped me fully transition into a life, not just of school, but also of poetry. Committing to the PhD helped me to acknowledge the world around me—its possibilities and uncertainties—and then refocus. It’s not so much that I had to compartmentalize all of the distractions and obligations, but that I looked, too, and with greater intensity, at what needed the most of my attention. At the field where I could best do meaningful work.


[POEM]

Leaving the Non-Profit Immigration Lawyer’s Office

             2001

When the car drifted from the Santa Ana winds, I switched off the radio
                                    and pointed at the street poles swaying over the two-way stretch like palms.

                                                                       All night the wind brushed dry the hills with fire, and I kept driving,
                                   his hands steady out the window, taking snapshots of the red, whipping rings.

I power-rolled the windows down and let the smoked-grass scent seep
                                   into the upholstery, circulate coyote and birdsong through the air vents.

                                                Can you smell the burning mustard plants, the foxtail and foxglove weeds on my skin?
                                                                       I asked, hands open, the wheel orbiting under my palms.

Watch when I let go, I demonstrated, finger knuckles loosening around the leather,
                                   the car coasting left with pollen and butterfly debris.

                                                                                                 We’d be pitched into the brushglare, I warned, if I let go
                                                                  completely. We’d grate the chain link fence and itch the ashen shrubs

                                   Eye shuttered slow at tumbleweeds storming the under-
                                                                            carriages storming the road, B. said: Right, like you’d let go.

Previously published on Kenyon Review online.


[BIO]

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Janine Joseph has new work forthcoming in The Journal, Hyphen MagazineEleven Eleven, and The California Journal of Poetics.

Jason Bayani, Pt. 1

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


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[QUESTION]

Roberto Ascalon asks, "What’ve you got in your hands?"

Jason Bayani responds, Well that is the question is it not? What truly is in our hands? Or we think about the question and somehow when you ask this, what is in our hands suggests the future, what will be, that’s what our hands can hold. Or what is in our hands is something that is in process, it is current. We speak current or future, but what is in our hands can be what has always been in our hands or what has been, so where are my hands engaging time? I think that’s the question. What is in my hands? An infinite set of possibilities, all of space/time. I have, not only a universe, but all of the universes. 

Actually, it’s just my phone. I’m using it currently to send you beefcake photos of myself, Robert. Some of me doing some crossfit training, kettle bell curls, stuff like that.


[POEM]

Story  

As I can recall, every bit of telling 

memory is a certain fiction. The truth 

as best as I can build it. The Philippines is hot; this is true. 

Everyone looks at me and sees my father; this is also true. 

When I leave the farm of the woman who helped raise him (when 

the money was not enough), she: my grandfather’s sister 

chases after me as I trod down the muddy pathway back 

to our car. She cries and asks me not to leave her again. I feel

that this too is telling memory. The mist pulls into wide;

when the body reminds itself; learning her hands

outstretched to God; sun stumbling across 

the palm canopy. Her hands, they say

the story. All of her tears

folding into the rain.


[BIO]

Jason Bayani is the author of Amulet, published by Write Bloody Press. He’s a graduate of Saint Mary’s MFA program and lives in the Bay Area. You can find him at www.jasonbayani.com

Mg Roberts, Pt. 1: I begin again with omissions. I begin with the fragment,

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


[QUESTION]

Dan Lau asks, If an animal lives inside the spaces of your poem, what would it be and can you describe it?

Mg Roberts responds, 

Through an excerpt of something yet to arrive:
 
The Earth is lengthwise.
Arriving like a dissolved star, a collection of sounds interpreted or divined through curvature.
 
Folded under now in gesture, a starfish’ hard exterior overshoots the break in the rocks.
Tomorrow is still March.

[POEM]

from UNEARTH

I begin again with omissions. I begin with the fragment, which will never occur again, even in repetition.

I begin as a series of small bones projecting towards articulation. Finding something to say, linking direction and nothing at the same time: a vertebra. I want to write a book that describes the end of the disk, a small hole through which the spinal cord passes. I want you to be able to see it as I do. Pulsing.

In the peripheral landscape each parallel line attempts connection, searches for correspondence in dirt. Occupying a strange place I find myself physically insignificant in black and white stills reworked, bending.

Endlessly looped, and silent.


[BIO]

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Born in Subic Bay, Philippines, Mg Roberts is the author of not so, sea; and she’s about to have her third baby real, real soon.