Bay Area Asian-Pacific-Islander-Amercan Poets and the Avant Garde Led by Barbara Jane Reyes

Sunday, December 18th, where were you Bay Area poets?

Small Press Traffic hosted an event curated by Barbara Jane Reyes, the author of Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010), recently noted as a finalist for the California Book Award. Reyes was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books, 2003) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets.

Reyes presented a panel discussing Bay Area Asian-Pacific-Islander-American Poets and the Avant Garde. Participants included: Jai Arun Ravine, Margaret Rhee, Eileen Tabios, Truong Tran, and Jean Vengua.

Barbara began the afternoon by telling us of her own ambivalence about discussing ethnicity and poetics. She said she desired to deepen and make more complex the discussion around this intersection. She noted that sometimes a complex discussion is met with resistance. Sometimes avant-garde poetics is not discussed or tolerated within some sections of the APIA poetic community.  Class also plays a role as Reyes noted that APIA poetry has its roots in a politics that seeks to speak to the masses. In this context, sometimes the avant-garde is perceived as being intellectual and abstract with political alignments outside of the APIA community. With this background and set of provocations, Barbara turned the discussion over to the panel.

Jai Arun Ravine started us off. Jai is an engaging young writer who communicated enthusiasm and a set of poetic and artistic practices and endeavors deeply engaged with the complexities of identities, particularly at the intersection of multiple trans-identities.  Jai's blog describes Jai this way:

Jai Arun Ravine is a mixed race Thai American writer, dancer, video and performance artist. They received an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University and a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (English/Creative Writing, Dance, Asian Studies) from Hollins University. They are the author of แล้ว and then entwine (Tinfish Press, 2011), the chapbook Is This January (Corollary Press, 2010) and the graphic poem project The Spiderboi Files. A recipient of fellowships from ComPeung, Djerassi and Kundiman, their short experimental film Tom/Trans/Thai recently exhibited at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, Thailand. Jai grew up in Charleston, West Virginia and is currently based in the San Francisco bay area. They are a 2011-2012 Staff Writer for Lantern Review.

Jai treated us to a prezi presentation highlighting the numerous projects Jai is navigating. You can see these for yourself here: http://prezi.com/hxuhhi9qa7h5/jai-arun-ravine/

For a look at Jai's "Fan Christy" Karaoke project, click here.
And the "Tom/Trans/Thai" trailer here.
For even more, look here:

Jai's interest in the body, the multi-voiced, the non-conforming, that which crosses genre and queers categories of all kinds is very exciting and I look forward to reading and seeing more of Jai's work.

Next up was Margaret Rhee who read to us from a piece in progress that discusses two writers who have been important in Rhee's development as a poet. She cited both Fred Moten and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Rhee also made reference to Timothy Yu's amazing book (which I thoroughly enjoyed) Race and the Avant-Garde. Jai might also have mentioned Yu. Rhee noted her desire to move toward a more queer, more discomforting understanding of APIA poetry and suggested Yu was an example of someone headed in this direction.

Eileen Tabios began her talk by explaining that she is someone who tries not to criticize what others say about her work, whether she agrees with their interpretations or not. She noted that she traffics in capitalist kitsch and is interested in aesthetic attempts that seek to widen the boundaries. Tabios also said that some elliptical poetry which marks ethnicity gets categorized and exoticized as avant-garde. In her own work, Tabios noted she wants to write from a more archetypal place, one that might be understood through the image of an indigenous Filipino figure of a human with one hand raised, a figure that when viewed from a particular perspective appears to be connected both to earth and sky. Here the human is understood as connected to all; here there is no unfolding of time. "No one or nothing is alien to me" said Tabios. The avant-garde, she suggested, separates and in its very terms leaves something behind for something else. Tabios does not want to have to discard or leave behind anything. Tabios showed us a piece of artwork by Jenifer K. Wofford entitled "MacArthur Nurses" that she sees as achieving what she herself seeks in art and in her own work.

 In this work, Tabios sees Filipino nurses figured as an avant-garde of the Filipino diaspora. She pointed out how the nurses are not presented as individuals but the many.

Eileen has published her presentation from this event. You can find it here

Jean Vengua was the penultimate presenter. Jean, as her blog tells us, has taught at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and Gavilan College. She is the author of a collection of poetry, Prau, and a chapbook, The Aching Vicinities. With Mark Young, she co-edited the First Hay(na)ku Anthology, and The Hay(na)ku Anthology Vol. II. In the mid 1990s, Elizabeth H. Pisares and Jean Vengua formed Tulitos Press and published and edited the Debut: the Making of a Filipino American Film by Gene Cajayon and John Manal Castro, and The Flipside, by Rod Pulido. Her poetry and essays have been published in many journals and anthologies. She currently lives and works in Elkhorn, CA, near Salinas.

Jean shared some of her work, from her book Prau , or it might have been from Diario. She also discussed her current project working with U.S. Filipino periodicals. Again, her blog provides a helpful context. Jean's website explains:

 Commonwealth Cafe.info focuses on U.S. Filipino periodicals in the early 20th century, their migrating communities of writers and editors, and their influence on the emerging “Filipino American literature” (as it would later be called by the post-WWII generation of writers). The research reflects my interest in recovering U.S. Filipino literary heritage. Denise Enck, multi-talented writer and webdesigner, designed the site. The website is accompanied by a blog of the same name.
Jean discussed her interest in using what she called both the dreaming language of poetry and the utilitarian language of the newspaper.
Lastly, Truong Tran began his talk by saying that he was unprepared, explaining that of late he has been doing work with his hands rather than language. On his blog, Truong explains his current project The Lost and Found:
A Day In The Life

On days when I am not working as a poet and teacher, I try to wake up early. I empty my oversized messenger bag of books and papers and the previous day's half-eaten lunch. I place the strap over my left shoulder, with the bag firmly secured to my back. I begin to walk. I walk for as long as it takes to fill the bag with stuff: branches, findings from the local thrift stores, choice items left in boxes on sidewalks and, if I'm lucky, something I've never seen before. Once the bag is filled, I return home, empty the contents from the bag, creating mounds of what some might consider piles of junk. I see them as source materials and the beginnings to my art making process.

I am committed to using these recycled materials as an environmentally conscious artist but also as an artist who strives to make art accessible through both its practice and use of materials. Quite frankly, I get a kick out of forcing these disparate objects to come together, compromising and accommodating one another in their process of becoming something new, something beautiful.

I refer to what I do as art making because I do not paint, draw or sculpt in a traditional or learned consideration of artistic craft. My craft is founded in the doing. I glue things together. I make things fit. I dip things in wax. I cut. I build. I weave. I think. I fill things up with paint using ketchup bottles. I stare at things in hopes that these things will talk back to me. This is what I do. It makes me happy. It allows me to lose myself in the process of doing. It makes me sad. It allows me to find myself in the process of seeing.

I insist on it being called art at the end of the day (Truong Tran).

Go and visit Truong's blog to get a peek at some of his artwork.

Truong did discuss a current writing project that entails returning to earlier work, specifically his first book with the goal of erasing otherness from the book. He noted that this project strikes some people as deeply problematic but that he sees it as empowering. He is contemplating the design of the book, using a French fold, with the text black-lined on the outside, a design requiring people to cut open the book to get to the language that remains on the inside.

He then read something from Placing the Accents that when erased is transformed into "Placate."

All in all, a great, chilly Sunday afternoon in the Mission with engaging discussion after panel presentations which, sadly, I cannot reproduce here.



Min said...

Wow, wish I could've been there! It sounds like everyone is working on such exciting projects. Thanks to them and X Poetics for sharing.

na said...

Thanks, Robin, for your attention -- your presence.

I've posted, btw, my panel presentation at my "Babaylan Poetics" Blog at