A Response to “Cephalic”

This week, I read some poems by Orlando White. One in particular that struck me was titled “Cephalic.” I learned from “The Fourth Wave” that in many of his poems, White personifies the letters “i” and “j” as a man and a woman, respectively. It was interesting to see the ways that the relationship between the i, j, and the speaker changes in each piece. In most of the poems, as Wurth states, White plays with punctuation, enjambment, and white space to create a lively, almost fun effect. However, “Cephalic” stood out from the other poems that I read by White because it is written in a relatively rigid structure and regular capitalization and punctuation. The appearance of the poem on the page alone provides a much more serious tone than some of White’s other pieces. In addition, there is almost no colorful imagery present in this poem. The words “black,” “dark,” and “white” are repeated, and the only mention of color is when something “begins to lose color.” Also, the word choice and syntax that White utilizes is very calculated, almost scientific. The title, “cephalic,” is defined as “of or relating to the head,” which I originally thought of as relating to the dots above the letters i and j. However, another use of the word cephalic is in the medical term “cephalic presentation,” which describes a baby positioned head-first in its mother’s womb. This is considered the normal and most ideal position for a baby to be delivered in. After I found this definition, the poem took on a much darker tone. I began to notice language that was reminiscent of a child – “his entire minuscule body,” “squirms like a dark cocoon.” Furthermore, the poem seemed to suggest that the child did not survive long after birth, or perhaps was stillborn. The last line states, “behead the/ i and watch its dot head/ roll to the back of a sentence.” I found this sentence particularly violent, especially after I decided to research the world cephalic further and images of babies appeared. Even though I am not sure this reading is what White intended, I do believe that by using an organized and controlled layout, he created a much more somber space. It was definitely valuable to explore the way he uses word choice and syntax to illuminate this poem which is otherwise highly structured.

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The Art of the Apology

I loved Layli Long Soldier’s work so much- so much of it is about what is unsaid, both in moments when Long Soldier documents her own silences and in the official silences of redacted text. This made me think about empty apologies, the space they take and the space they leave.

As I made this, I was thinking about apologies, ones that I’ve given and ones that I’ve received, ones that I haven’t given and haven’t received. I started reading famous apologies of many varieties (to indigenous people, coming out of the #metoo movement, etc.). I found there’s immense bodies of research online about what makes a good apology, and shockingly few good apologies that actually exist. I made the below piece by writing out these bad apologies over and over each other. There are so many that they crowd each other out and become illegible, because they were never meant to be legible as apologies in the first place.


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Free CeCe! (more info)

What: Free CeCe!: A Screening and Discussion with CeCe McDonald
Where: RISD Chace Auditorium, 20 N. Main St. Providence
When: Friday, April 20th 6:30-8:45


CeCe McDonald is an activist engaging in work at the intersections of black liberation, trans justice, and prison abolition. Join us for a screening of FREE CeCeat 6:30 pm, followed by a discussion with CeCe herself and Gender Studies and Critical Social Thought Professor Ren-yo Hwang. FREE CeCe! is the story of CeCe‘s survival and criminalization of a transphobic attack, her ensuing incarceration in a men’s prison, the international campaign for her release, and her eventual release.

Additionally, there will be an OUT for Lunch event with CeCe at the LGBTQ center from 2:00-3:00 earlier that day: https://www.facebook.com/events/1860019520709749/CeceMcDonald_Web



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A cursed week of coincidences

Dear all,

I seemed to have honed a latent supernatural ability. My friend tells me it’s not all that strange… after all, I have been making lots of art recently, it’s bound to make more intimate my intuition and my surroundings. But I’m convinced that for a spell, my deepest inner reality will be projected outward.

The first manifestation (and last week’s homework):

After a family drama involving my newborn cousin and her being put up for adoption, I made this piece in her honor:



And as I kept working on it, I reached a point where I was really quite satisfied:

And when I skyped her to present the drawing and announce the new drawing which she would receive shortly by mail…. she told me something else:IMG_20180411_114240244

She would keep Gisele after all.


The second manifestation (and why I missed art of the book on Monday):

This one really hurt for days. I’ll be vague and say that I had a pang of guilt thinking of someone who had no business or likelihood of running into me at the supermarket, but my thoughts towards him seemed to summon him anyway, interrupting the half year of peace in his absence. This time, he came in and out of my life as gracelessly as he did the first time, always disguising his callousness with his unrelenting charm. It took an effort from many of my friends to help me recover from the shock of such a simple encounter. Among them, our classmate, My. Thank you, My. In the end, I had to erase this beguiling image I had of him after it proved itself so destructive to my self-image a second time.


The third manifestation (and the most relevant to this week’s homework):

CW: I’m shirtless here.


Here is an old drawing that I was very proud of:IMG_20180213_130118890

I worked on him not too hard, but he turned out really well, I think.

After all of this disturbance, this little self portrait found himself transformed into something much more dimensional, to my eye:


Enter Clepsydra, by Eunsong Kim:      https://www.poetryproject.org/15739-2/

From here on, I’ll compare the Eunsong’s poem with my experiences of the week.

This week, I touched oblivion, I swear it. I discussed with my mother the injustice of valuing some forms of evidence over others – like written or video records over oral or other forms of testimony. So please, do the unconventional thing, and take the “oblivion, variegated” that you see in my new self portrait as evidence that I’ve been to a very frightening place.

I also learned something new, and very, very elementary, about my favorite medium… that oil pastel erases. What a thrill! You may notice subtle changes in form between the before and after self portraits (mostly in the shape of the skull behind the jaw, which I erased and redrew many times. It’s true what ignorance can do to the impression of permanence; namely, support it without any evidence. Things really are “as permanent as possible before effacement,” something that youth is yet to learn, and perhaps I was not prepared to learn before meeting this man again in the grocery store. But I’m glad I did. Maybe everything can be effaced.

Of course, I had to recognize “the time from the womb, officially, in government documents.” I’m not sure how much more obvious that line could have been.

As well as to thank My for her intuitive ingenuity. You should see her artwork. Always shining somewhere between a garish coral and a conquering bacteria…  “coral for irredention.”

But out of all of these astounding, frustrating, and spellbinding manifestations, the one I took most elegantly was in the final line, which my friend echoed to me without suggestion, without provocation, and without knowledge of my connection to Clepsydra. It might have been the last thing she said to me before we slept.

She pet me and said, “my Sphynx”.

And I was healed.

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Chen Chen’s, When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities

This week, I decided to focus on the work of Chen Chen. This was actually quite the happy coincidence, as I had already started his debut collection, When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities. 


While I have not gotten through the entirety of the collection, what I have read has revealed it to be a beautiful collection that tackles Chen’s relationship with his own Asian-American identity, queerness, love, sensuality, and familial relations.

It is a gorgeously crafted work with language that effectively blurs the tactile and the abstract, creating pieces that are both poignant and experimental.

Below I have attached a few of his pieces, as well as a short bio that summarizes his MANY accolades.




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Flush in the Spiral of Black Holes, by Jenny Zhang


Apologies for the late post, I am still recovering from a weekend bout of the flu.

I can’t remember what initially drew me to this poem (maybe it was the long, winding prose  and repetitive language that itself resembled a spiraling black hole; maybe in my fevered state I was just really feeling anything that captured the loneliness of being trapped in a Grad Center single for two days … or anything that mentioned “puke” profusely)

In any case, I attempted to create some art out of what I felt towards the poem while I was still sick. I wanted it to invoke the metaphors of space, lonesomeness, mothers, repetition/spirals, and (to a degree) puke. It is below.


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A visual response to Vi Khi Nao’s Fish Carcass

This is the link to Vi Khi Nao’s “Fish Carcass” poem


For this week’s class anthology collection, I wanted to look at Vi Khi Nao’s poetry. I chose Vi’s poem, “Fish Carcass”, for its vivid gustatory quality. Formally, the poem is structured as a series of lists with each stanza opening with the refrain, ‘fish carcass/say’. This refrain is particularly striking because if its duality—the gesture towards life through ‘say’ and death through ‘carcass’. The overwhelming mix of food and tastes and feelings evoked a very visceral and yet familiar feeling for me. I am uncertain if this is because I am projecting my own narrative onto this poem, and onto Vi Khi Nao, having also been born in Vietnam and is also now living in the US.

I was inspired by this very visceral feeling to produce a collage/painting. The work is an abstraction of body parts and innards, overplayed and over painted. I tried to gesture towards the same discomfort evoked through the image of a carcass, playing with the texture of the paint. Below is an image of the work.



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