Monthly Archives: November 2010

People Who Can Actually Write Vol. 2

I’m coming around to the terrifying fact that there are people out there reading this thing. So I’m trying hard to post as much as I can, because I really do want to blog unto others as I would have them blog unto me. I use the “reasoning” that I’m too cool or whatever to post stuff like what I ate today or read today or what I think about North Korea, but the fact is I do read and listen to music and get things out of conversations and think about other places other than La Mirada or Hawaii. And I’m not really cool at all. If you think so, the drugs I’ve been putting in your lemonades are working.

Now the problem is I have no time. That’s a famous American dictum which I only give in order to spare you of the perhaps even more notorious American Excuses Which Will Definitely Prove My Point And Possibly Make You Feel Like A Nosy Weasel. But to compensate, I will post this one thing I used to do, which takes virtually no time (meaning about forty six minutes), called stuff I’m reading now by people who can actually write. Sorry if you are put off by the self depreciating title. Know that I am aware of what false humility is and how it is snatching our people up.

This time, I will include a brief explanation of why I’m reading them. Mostly because they are basically all poetry books that normally like to remain kind of nebulous, and I like to cause trouble.

This is a great series which is self explanatory so I will waste no time with further explanation of what the series is, because I have faith that you are all smart people. What is likely less obvious is how big of a deal it is that Yusef Komunyakaa is the guest editor, because he’s a fascinating individual (well, I don’t know that for sure. But his story and poetry are certainly fascinating) and his whole premise of putting together this volume was to prove to the world that American poets still have a clear message to say and not just obscurantist, existential modernist, esoterroric “maps to nowhere.” Refreshing to say the least. I’ve also recently got the 2003 version. They go up to this year, but I’m only buying things in used bookstores right now.

The thing about having a novel that everyone calls that author’s magnum opus (“Catcher In The Rye”), is that people end up only reading that one book, and then they think they have the author figured out. I do this and realized it to be stupid for several reasons. I will list two of them. 1. I don’t even have myself figured out. How can I possibly hope to define someone else’s literary voice, let alone personhood by one book alone. 2. If anyone can write, they tend to spread out good stories and very different characters and aspects of themselves in different bodies of work. If someone puts everything in them worth reading into one story, I’d count it as a miracle. A sad miracle. People tell me that about Allen Ginsberg and Howl. But his other work, arguably, is not anything less than very good. It’s just not going to be as cohesively legendary as Howl. But just because you discovered In-N-Out doesn’t mean you can’t go to Burger King every once in a while. Hmm, except that it does… bad example. The point is, here, you’ll find a J.D. Salinger that you don’t know, to the point where you realize, you never knew J.D. Salinger, and his prose is every bit as masterful here, in wonderful diversity.

Jorge Luis Borges has powers of literature that aren’t commonly held within normal standards of measurement. The large words he uses are miniscule compared to the ideas they convey. Every story so far that I’ve read in this collection has used the word “labyrinths” in it at least once, and pertaining quite significantly to each individual work, so it’s all related, and thematically, they deal with enormous and mind-bending modernist themes that make Inception look like a nursery rhyme. I have an online dictionary beside me as I read, but it’s always worth it. “The Garden of Forking Paths” is a good place to start.

Charles Simic walks a thin line between clear narrative function and amorphous meaning, but his finely tuned aesthetic certainly leaves images in my mind like perhaps no other poet does. He creates worlds and situations and rules and timescapes in his head and only reveals a small sliver, keyhold crack, whispered line to the reader, each poem a different dream he’s ruminated over. This is especially evident in his prose poetry, and while the ones in this collection are very standard format (whatever that means), it’s all mostly based on his experiences of his home in Yugoslavia, and provide an interesting look into this man’s madly inventive eye on the world.

Soon Joel and I will be reading and discussing a book by Madeleine L’Engle about art and the church, and perhaps I’ll post about that, if anything comes out of our yacking. Go forth and keep America literate and interesting. Or if not, at least well rested.

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extremely loud & incredibly close

The term “holiday season” is terribly convenient for the latter months of fall and winter. The significance of individual holidays gets lost in this lump sum vernacular which places a value on the idea of holidays as a whole rather than the specific reasons for having them in the first place. Giving thanks, or remembering old saints, or the inexplicable conception and gift of a sacred savior. They become various sauces over white meat chicken, rather than a diverse pot luck spread. As a result, I think thanksgiving tends to get lost in between it’s more popular siblings. Halloween has a rugged, theatrical feel to it, sort of like the bad boy finding himself at a masquerade. Christmas is arguably the biggest holiday of them all, measured by these unspoken degrees by which we weigh significance of classic events. There are hardly any films or songs about Thanksgiving. It’s cool to put up a disguise and explore darkness or the prospect of being other people, it’s cool to get things for free. It’s not so cool to give thanks. It’s this thing we know we probably should do. We enjoy it while it’s there, but Thanksgiving does seem to turn into this kind of checkpoint between the days we really look forward to.

Like most holidays, family is a big aspect of Thanksgiving and it’s interesting that, in a very small way, I often find myself feeling a bit like an orphan around this time. Of course, in reality, I have about zero realization of what a literal orphan child actually goes through, however with no money to fly back home for only a few days, I do basically just wait around and see if anyone offers me a home, relying on the hospitality of others to take me in. My japanese virtues tell me never to ask and never to accept until someone offers it to you three times at least, so this is harder than it sounds, but somehow every year people graciously adopt me into their home and share their food and space and time for a few days. People sometimes joke that they’ve adopted me temporarily. But I’ve never felt more adopted than this year.

My friend Joel Hasemeyer invited me to his house, where we would be adding to the cacophony of his fifteen or so brothers and sisters, about as many pets and visiting family and friends. Most of Joel’s siblings were adopted from foster care. In a few days their shy introductions turned into hugs and outdoor games and a tour of the house explaining each of the many pictures hanging on the wall. There were few instances I can remember that weren’t very loud, and sometimes Joel’s older siblings would give me this look that sort of said, amidst the chaos, “are you okay?” I wanted to say “of course, of course, I’m loving this, this is incredible.” The first reason was that my clan at home loves to conjure a formidable ruckus, and the clamor in Riverside took me back to the sound of my family in Hawaii. Walking out of each whirlwind family gathering, our ears will ring on the way home. I never grew up with the notion that ‘Asians are supposed to be quiet,’ although since coming to the mainland I’ve learned that that’s apparently somehow supposed to be true. In Joel’s house, every time something became difficult, an argument, a tantrum, I was subliminally aware of a kind of miraculous bond that held the family together. Despite a bumpy road, the gang was all there, and most of them were chosen and accepted from other parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t be there as family. I think in a sense this is true of all families. We were originally lost in a strange and broken world, yet we have been brought into the family of a God who calls us his own, even though we fight and scream, twisting every word and action he has for us. The fact that these people literally had a family built around this adoption principal, and that they were even now allowing me, a stranger, to be a part of their family for a short time, was a true gift and revelation.

However unfashionable it might have become, I couldn’t help but count blessings. Thanksgiving before a God who has given me the title of son and placed me among such beautifully woven siblings, beholding the mysterious wonders he orchestrates in the bonds and friendships of his children, praising him for both what I know he has done and what remains hidden about him, these things keep me grounded in reality. It keeps before me an ever present realization of impossible goodness that we have received. And beneath the food and colors and gathering, there is something truly uniquely spiritual and valuable about this holiday and why we celebrate it, which I’m glad I had a chance to take hold of.

National Geographic’s Genius Detector

Some shots from National Geographic’s 2010 photo contest are up on Boston.com. The full contest on the official page with all the entries is here. But I advise caution, because time goes twice as fast on that site.

In Open Fields of Wild Flowers…

Two poems.

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Fig Leaves to the Gala

Such winding spines,
what seed rushes not to tailor
curtains that beg to be pried awry.
The bonemade maiden rides close
and pomegranates dress for ruin.
How nectar mediates to find itself
slung beneath that soft light
harbored in the crown of an eve.
Her hands cradle the ripe wombs,
versed in the bearing speech,
new words learned at night.
Lulled with infant tears-
bright, loud; the oldest faith.

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Basin Draws

Selene pulls octopi from the reef,
her peach dress and all it’s roses
dark from wavelines.
Her tan wrists grow familiar
With the grip of many hands.
Billboards, silver cellulite
All those cold frozen images- thalamus
graven like some pagan Aphrodite.
Tyrannical rapport of press,
claving noisemakers
promise of knights
hollow, hollow
-Billie Holiday sings the Blues.
“’Walk me to my porch’
said the chicken to the fox…”
but her mother turned the page
and would not finish the story.
She lay awake wondering
for thirteen years,
sleeping only in thunderstorms.
At last a woman, she stands in the rain field
tied to no one
but the storm writer,
the only song that reminds her she belongs
in a painted porch somewhere.
Her silk roses dance
in her body’s stead.

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Sodom at the Coronet

The barglow plants a kiss on frail incense
drifting from its nest into each of my ten senses.
Cold smog makes curtains from street light
flickering in the oil crusted pools
-black water turning soot to clay.
The sheets disappear as I walk beneath,
like thoughts of the sun
and the sun’s people.
My memory is vacant already at seven o clock,
and in night’s most waning hours
my belief in the strung bows,
handwritten letters to the hometown girl,
and the dream of man’s freedom from the Earning cult slips
in pavement cracks, old as my grandfather’s shoehorn.

A man curled up in his pisscot
flashes the yellows of his eyes
and we both see my breath
plume and fade, like microphone evenings.
Heads or tails, the lights haunt by
from free ways to backstreets in the young shadow.

The spirit of the city is awake,
present, hammering.
Old but not ancient,
close like a scandal’s breath.
Finding a seat behind me in this theatre.
Smoking a cigarette at the foot of the staircase.
Treading below nude neon across the street.

I drink it raw like a sailor’s greenbottle spirit:
broke dreams of the big city shuffle by in cheap coats, like
receipts that nobody kept, blowing against the wind.
Saxophone jazz glides through the chemical sky
searching for some holy, itself an ode to the Backdoor,
but the fires of my wayward soul
remit this brew to bluewater.
And even in the dark, a royal susurration:
I am the color of shadows on a velvet curtain.
Just before the spotlight and electric event,
I am that hum you hear.
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