Dream Song #23

After Daniel Borzutsky


He was sitting in a large rocking chair placed in the middle of the room.

Now, he was an old man that I barely recognized.

He sat in my chair watching my TV

As if he owned me.


I was sitting on an old couch we had thrown away a long time ago.

There were still scratches on it from the cat,

Still that same cream and beige pattern I had known

All those years.


I stood up.

The wooden floor was creaking, creaking.

I heard a loud bang downstairs.

I ran.


H was there. M kept cooking, trying to stay calm.

The steam was so thick you could see it.

She was wearing her orange and red headscarf,



The white stove had long rusted over.

The refrigerator was crowded with old coupons and magnets I had made before.

Still, there was something familiar about that kitchen,

It was always warm. And friendly.


H was yelling. He told M

To salt the water.

But she didn’t.

There is no salt in oatmeal, there is no salt in oatmeal.


I came over. H was yelling louder.

He grabbed the pot and turned it over.

I jumped higher than I ever had, so high my head hit the ceiling.

I hit my head on the wooden shelf. I pushed H.


I ran.

My feet were burning on the pavement, burning on the night’s grass.

I ran up to the little tree in our backyard, the only tree that was left,

The only one.


All the trees had died, but they still stood like phantoms in the back of the yard.

Even the oak tree, which we thought would’ve stayed,

Left like the rest of them.

That was when we knew we were alone.


We couldn’t eat the seeds.

The tree wasn’t good for anything else, it was small and wiry, but

They were all red and supple.

They were only for the birds.


M came out with her hands covered in dish towels.

She said he left.

We stood for a little, looking at the field before us:

The dandelions, the grass, the broken roof tiles.


It wasn’t long before we got tired.

It was shortly after we realized everyone else had to be asleep.

We sat under the tree together, listening to crickets.

I knew what would happen next.


At first, I didn’t want to lay down because it would make my back wet,

But eventually I did.

I lied with my hands behind my head. It was the first time I noticed the blood.

I gave up.


We heard the machines whirring behind the fence.

They started humming steadily, steadily,

Until they were around us.

Until we couldn’t separate them from us.


We couldn’t see anything.

It was the dead of night.

That’s why it was the worst – not M’s burned hands or my tired legs,

But the fact that the night was the only one to whom we could relate.

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A Close Reading from What I Say

A close reading of The Neutralized Sore of the Unshackled Bear by Will Alexander:

I was compelled by the combination of natural and unnatural imagery in this poem. This dualistic imagery is introduced in the title of the poem in the phrase “neutralized sore.” A sore is an image of corporeal pain while “neutralized” recalls a chemical experiment. Importantly, the sore has not healed or disappeared, but merely has been made “neutral” and thus unthreatening. The poem uses an unspecified “he” pronoun to describe the subject, which seems to be the bear in the title. While at first it is unclear if the bear has a neutralized sore on his body or if he is himself a sore, the poem compares the bear directly to a sore in the last line. Thus, the weaving of the natural and the unnatural in the phrase “neutralized sore” is presented as parallel to the “unshackled bear,” suggesting a similar tension in the once-restrained body of the subject. 

The combination of the natural and unnatural is similarly evident in the lines “shackled secretary birds that carve footnotes onto the light of his eardrums.” Alexander dislodges the typically symbolism of birds as images of freedom as they are held by man made tools of bondage. Moreover, The terms “secretary” and “footnotes” recalls an office space, distinctly opposed to the natural. Thus, Alexander suggests a confluence of nature, instruments of human brutality, and the order and formality of an office space. The dissonance in these images evokes a deep, complex pain that stems from many sources.

So too, the line “apocalyptic sulfurs flooded his soul” blends chemical imagery, the mass destruction of an apocalypse, and the particularity of a soul. Here, the combination of the natural and unnatural evolves to confound the readers sense of scale. The warping of scale continues into the end of the poem when Alexander writes: “Ant chains turned into lead. Afternoon bled into night. Stars started forming.” These three short sentences feel similar in rhythm and in their description of transformations, but the scale of the images expand radically from sentence to sentence. This produces an uneasiness in the reader, creating uncertainty about the physical space of the poem.

The final line of the poem “he then began to walk, two steps forward, two steps back like a neutralized sore of infinity,” encapsulates the effect of the natural/ unnatural juxtaposition and scale shifts throughout the poem. Just as the bear moves two steps forward and two steps back, the poem itself moves between oppositional images but repeats the same types of contradictions. This structure conveys a feeling of anguish that is complex, irreversible, and unfixed.

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A response to diction in (Untitled) by Ron Allen

(Untitled) by RON ALLEN from What I Say

I read this piece out loud a couple of times, and each time I read it, I got very visceral reactions to the diction used. As I read this, I thought back to how Amiri Baraka talked about the sheer strength and intensity of speech in his essay “Expressive Language.” There are a few lines that distill this type of reaction for me:

“taste my wartorn flesh” (line 7)

“let my

song ripen

in the rage

of peace” (lines 27-30)

Reading out the words “song ripen” creates such a vivid and powerful image in my hand. When I read this, I liken a song (which I see as one of the most effective ways to utilize the inherent power behind speech) to a fruit that is ready to be enjoyed. It reminds me of something that has been nurtured and cared for and is now ready to be revealed to the world and appreciated.

Another portion that I found to be rather ironic and intriguing was the “rage of / peace” phrase. When I think of peace, rage isn’t something that’s automatically associated with it. I think the word “rage” adds to the power of the peace. In my eyes, it represents a powerful form of peace, one that can be likened to “rage” in its sheer strength.

Although I am still somewhat uncertain of the message behind the piece, I feel as though the diction used here (especially when read aloud) is extremely powerful and serves to exemplify the power of speech in poetry. Moreover, it elucidates very particular bodily responses, e.g. the “taste my wartorn flesh” line almost leaves a sour taste in my mouth after I read it.


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What I Say/Determined Invisibility Response (3/6 absence makeup)

Determined Invisibility (Mendi Lewis Obadike), p. 197

I went to several different schools as a kid, from daycares in Lubbock, Texas, to first grade in Ridgeland, Mississippi to third grade in Orange County, New York. As elementary school progressed, I gradually accepted and internalized all the hatred and presumptions that came with being the only Asian kid in the class, sometimes the only “real” Asian person the other students (and even some of the teachers) had seen in their life.

By the time I was 11 we’d settled down, and I attended a prestigious private New York City middle/ high school on scholarship for the next 7 years of my life. The culture shock was; well, shocking. Academics aside, I was now one of many Asians that made up my graduating class. And though going to a private school with large financial assistance often came with its own unique challenges, I ultimately embraced the privileged racial anonymity and protection that the large Asian population of the school provided. My race was never questioned or snubbed, I didn’t receive weird looks or side long glances; I developed the sense that I deserved to be in school. I deserved to be where I was.

Moving to Brown, many of my classes still afford me this ability to blend in, and I cannot deny that I am mostly accepted here. However, there have been instances when I’ve been horrified by the conduct of some of the faculty and students on campus, in ways that I haven’t had to deal with since I was in elementary school.

Things that happened to me, just during my freshman year:

  • My first art class at Brown; the teacher stops dead in his tracks, squints at me, demands “Are you a Japanese exchange student?” I reply no, and he replies “Are you sure?” He seems bizarrely insulted when I say yes, and refuses to speak to me after class; I do not come back. I no longer take art classes.
  • I attend the orientation meeting for a club; the woman who runs the club will only address me by first saying “I don’t know if you know this since you’re not from around here, but … “; asks me if I know what 9/11 is; speaks to me, slow and curdled, as though I am an infant even when I demonstrate my perfect English. She somehow is still surprised when I tell her I’ve grown up in America my whole life. She leaves; I do not come back.
  • On the way back from a concert, my “friend’s” brother calls me a “chink”; I am told my anger is an overreaction by everyone in the car, as they all light-heartedly laugh around me. We leave the car; I do not return.

I cannot pretend to have experienced the same level of discrimination as the black or latinx student population on campus. Light skinned East Asians are arguably one of the most visible and accepted POC groups on campus. But leaving a high school where my race was almost never brought up, and thrown into an environment where I suddenly had to acknowledge that I was “other”, made me feel like that 5 year old chink from Ridgeland, Mississippi, chased around the school yard and crying the entire time.

I’d subconsciously assumed, in my sheltered Asian privilege, that I would be accepted wherever I went for the rest of my life, had been taught “how not to run” for the past 7 years of my life. I had to re-learn how it felt to be a “benign – meaning powerless – but unsightly tumor,” had to relive “dreams of death” at the hands of a role model or adult.

Had to “remember to run,” when I didn’t even know I needed feet. I still trip over them every day.

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Candy Bar

“the question for us is not how to ‘break’ the silence but how to break the silence down.” – C. S. Giscombe


You are sitting in a Moroccan café. [It is ten A.M. You woke up early on purpose.] Rabat Sale and mint tea. [Your mouth as dry as dust. You stomach as empty as dust, too. But you can wait a little longer, I think. Please wait a little longer]. All over there are voices, voices. [I hope I didn’t wake you. I am glad the twinkle woke me]. They are literally like this – trashing guys. [I go to the window. The world is gray and dirty and bland like a wafer. Someone is yelling through a megaphone. I can barely hear them, but they have passion. Or maybe I dreamed that too]. It’s manipulative. [I go to the desk. Quiet, quiet]. Instrumentals on Spotify. [Listening to the radio is a waste of time. I never hear anything I like. Except] Finesse. [Go back to bed for twenty minutes. Actually don’t try to, but just lie there alone. Try to pray and end up sleeping]. You are here, even the tea is alive. [Everything is cancelled today. You are nothing larger than a seed]. I almost swallowed a leaf. [I spat ocean into the toilet this morning. I spat thinking about how everything costs something, even words, even heaves]. I can’t even break without aloe vera splitting my throat. [I warm the tea kettle. I hope out of my bed. So I will do something today]. A succulent in a teapot. [I made myself green tea; it’s so sweet; My aloe plant died, even after I gave it a name and my favorite rocks. My favorite rocks. That’s what made the loss harder. After it died, I broke off each leaf and spread them all over my face and hair. This is America]. There you are, reading, and there they are, working and walking and waving. [All you do is read, even on a Friday. I don’t want to underline anything unless it’s in pink. I can’t even. I can’t even wait for a cherry blossom to grow without getting distracted. In French, I can’t even say I’m distracted. I have to say I can’t focus myself. Take responsibility].  All there is is color. [I decorated my room by not. Everything is off-white or black. This is why I took film photography]. Red and green and wood and red and red. [I stole these sheets from my aunt. I don’t know what size bed they are for. They stretch so much and still they come off of the mattress. There are useless. I sleep on nothings]. Like aesthetic, or something that is not aesthetic, but desperately trying to be. [I don’t even know how to end a poem. I always have a little bit more nothing to say]. You can’t even listen without thinking of a response. You can’t even be quiet without thinking of what to say.

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Queer Poetics: An OUT for Lunch with Louise Akers

Hey ya’ll! I just wanted to give a quick boost to an LGBTQ Center event that I will be facilitating at the end of this week. The LGBTQ Center is very fortunate, as a part of our “OUT for Lunch” luncheon series, to be hosting an event with Louise Akers that will center the intersections of language, poetry, and queerness. See below for the graphic and full description and I hope to see ya’ll there!

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Queer Poetics: An OUT for Lunch with Louise Akers 

Friday, March 9th, 12-1pm, LGBTQ Center 

Louise Akers is currently a second year MFA candidate writing poetry in Brown University’s Literary Arts program, where she received the Keith and Rosemary Waldrop Prize for Innovative Writing in 2017. Louise earned her Bachelors of Arts from Boston University where she studied English and Art History. At BU, she earned the Departmental Prize for Excellence in English as well as the Boston University London Programme Director’s Prize for her thesis on T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. She is the Books Editor at Anomaly (FKA Drunken Boat), and has two poems published in the most recent issue of Mortar Magazine, an online literary journal.

Louise’s two passions are poetry and social justice. Her work in poetry deals with the inherent difficulty, or even impossibility, of stabilizing a subject positionality using language, and the insufficiency of language to communicate that position to another human being. This, for Louise, connects directly to her queer identity, which shifts and changes, as in a sort of continuous “coming out” process. As a poet, she likes to test out and extend the ability that language possesses to speak truth, especially given the implicit danger of expression in a language of colonization like English.

For this OFL, Louise will speak a bit more about these topics and her relationship to them, and the idea of queer poetics in general. She, along with those in attendance, will be able to read some work by queer poets, write some poetry of their own, and will have the chance to share their work with the group!

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Class Notes 3.6.18

Research / Allusions

“There are words in Japanese that are called up for me by words in the English (outside of so-called literal translations) which in turn affect my reading of the original English word and its meaning in a text.” —Moie

Yes, this! I have these intuitive correlations with words in Spanish and English that have nothing to do with any accessible meaning of the word, that are purely personal. I use this sometimes in my poetry in a kind of slipping between – without trying to make the connections legible to readers, I trust my voice to carry them through proximity or accretion. I think Mendi does this too.

“I decided to read the poem while listening to the song mentioned.” —Udoka


“I find it really odd that no years (if not of writing, then of first publication) are given for each of the poems. I understand that such information might induce the reader to make comparisons between pieces solely based on time period, as if they were all part of the same literary lineage. Yet, this still feels like a violent removal of context from each poem, directly caused by the process of anthologizing. As we discuss what it means to assemble and include poems in an anthology, I wonder how this omission of context changes the reader’s view of each text and their understanding of the anthology as a whole.” —Moie

What I Say

  • “Difficult black poet” as related to / opposed to experimental or innovative or avant-garde
    • “the most dangerous, exciting and/or excessive writers also tend to not make it in.” p. 2 [emphasis added]
    • contradiction, excess
  • What are anthologies for? Or what can they do? Vs. single-author volumes
    • “map the independent routes by which various poets reached their particular modes of aesthetic experimentation.”
    • make evident dialogue within cultural moment
  • How might an anthology:
    • “break the silence down” p. 2
    • “[mount] major challenges to white readers” p. 2
      (“Cary Nelson says that ‘the dominant pattern for many years for general anthologies of American literature has been to seek minority poems that can be read as affirming the pot’s culture but not mounting major challenges to white readers.'”)
    • create a history and construct cultural context for the “idiosyncratic minority artist”
    • “cannonize that marginal” p. 5
  • “Or what’s the range of reference to racial identity?” p. 3
  • Why would minority writers in general, and Black people, adopt this form?
    • “If the canon of American literature has served mainly to exclude, silence, or erase the full chorus of literary practice, the many cross influences, the many independent discoveries, the many formative influences coming from the non-dominant culture, why would we, as Black people, adopt this form? Is the response to canon making more canon making?” Erica Hunt, p. 5-6
    • “…it contains work that I don’t see reproduced elsewhere, meaning since then.” p. 4
    • who are the editors of this anthology?
    • “Their unaccountable existence therefore strains the seams of the seams of the critical narratives necessary to make them (individually and collectively) comprehensible, and thus teachable and marketable.” Harryette Mullen p. 4
  • “the idea of cultural truth” p. 6
  • “claim for authenticity … creepily erotic question—’What’s it like?'” p. 6
    • audience is still posited as white/male – access is the purpose/framework
    • “how race—in this case blackness—is valued and judged in public, how it’s displayed not by those of us who write from within it but by the industry.” p. 7
    • “…the needs of both blacks and whites to have someone like him who can authorize and legitimate … black culture” p. 7
    • “The desire for legitimacy was useless.”
    • access, authority, erotic & violent desire to control
  • Can we center marginality without depriving it of it’s outlaw status, it’s potential to destabilize?
    • “I do not see my position of marginality as a negative thing, however. From a marginal position, from a place at the edges of the mainstream’s arena, I—and all other marginals—am able to participate in the destabilization of boundaries, of categories (racial, sexual, class), to upset language in its official capacities…” John Keene p. 7


ossifying? concretizes?

carries with it this sense of the outside; carrying its own history of exclusion

how do we constellate experimentalism and racialized identity in this way?

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