A poetic response to Tyrone Williams’s “Cold Calls”

https://bit.ly/2wk7A1V

This is a poetic response to Tyrone Williams’s “Cold Calls” in the anthology What I Say. Reading Williams’s poem, I was particularly struck the lack of a body text and the centrality of the paratext, specifically, the footnote. The emptiness, or the prevalence of the white space seems to gesture at a literal white space, and the invisiblization/marginalization of the Other’s body. Inspired by this formal experimentation, I composed a poem that plays with the way that the body of the text communicates with the footnote to gesture at the jarring feeling that I have when performing in a space that is made for another body. The body can be read separately from the footnote to form two distinct poems or they can be read, woven into one another.

 

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Invasive Species Self-Questionnaire Response

ask or asks?

Who’s asking.

weed or beautiful flower?

The kudzu plant , “the vine that ate the south” (クズ) has been described as spreading at the rate of 150,000 acres (610 km2) annually, and is considered an invasive species in the south eastern united states. Initial treatment with herbicide may require up to 10 years’ supervision to ensure that it will not come back.

what happens when the colonizer’s blood runs through yours?

Make my blood run faster. Fill my veins with adder’s tongue (Old Korean Remedy).

oppressed or oppressor?

A weird in between; not quite half of anything; Who claims the zero sum space?

gook, chook, ching, chong?

All of the above; bite my tongue, watch Upper East Side girls call each other “Jap’s” (Jewish American Princess) while rich white boy narrows eyes, flattens nose, yells at me, “Chink” (Chink).

who made this taxonomy?

Who knows.

谁在乎.

“Referring to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, in which over an estimated 200,000 people died, the song used the phrase “screaming chinks” along with other offensive lyrics.// The 1969 top 3 UK hit single for Blue Mink, “Melting Pot”, has the lyric: “take a pinch of white man/Wrap him up in black skin. […] Mixed with yellow Chinkees. You know you lump it all together/And you got a recipe for a get-along scene/Oh what a beautiful dream/If it could only come true”.[24]//The derogatory word Chinky remains in use in Britain as slang for Chinese food.[11]

when you say: “no,” is that part of this performance?

This is not a dance. When I leave, my ankle does not ask for you to follow. If you say 你好 long enough maybe your 舌头 will falls out 嘴; 给狗吃舌; 后来,给你吃狗。

Go on. It’s all a game.

occupation or conflict?

Create conflict between 狗, and 人。

where do you want to be buried?

In a bottle at sea.

what is native?

The grass, vine, Kudzu, plant (Pueraria lobata,クズ, or )-

growing, rising, becomes.

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Layli Long Soldier’s Reading

Last week, I attended Layli Long Soldier’s reading in which she’d read from her book WHEREAS: Poems. I was particularly interested in seeing how Soldier would articulate the geometric spaces in her work as boxes/ frames/ perimeters are motifs that appear across the collection. And, during the Q&A, it was revealed that some of the texts cannot be performed, that the visual nature of the work simply cannot be translated into a verbal performance. In that moment, I was reminded of the limit of language and how there is always a loss in translation.

Soldier’s reading was very slow and patient. She was patient with each of her word, taking time to articulate the pauses/spaces in the text, and taking time to honor the importance of each sound. In the beginning of WHEREAS: Poems, Soldier incorporates an epigraph from Arthur Sze, “No word has any special hierarchy over any other”, which coloured her entire reading. There was a meditative quality to this act of slow moving through the poems. It pushed me, as a reader to change the pace of my expectation and absorption—being that I was always very eager to hear the next word, but was always in the position of waiting. This place of waiting reminded me of our class’s earlier discussion on how certain experimental poems more difficult, demanding more from the reader—making reading/listening a much more active position.

During the Q&A, Soldier also shared her approach in composing, which emphasizes intuition. Sometimes, the poems begin with a shape, others, just a word. This methodology is particularly inspiring as it places trust in an intangible space of feeling, and instinct, which is often negated or regarded as lesser than something that is driven by specific steps, or fully formulated ideas, defensible with logic. It is interesting to consider this alongside the way our class honors feelings and intuitions when reading poetry. If poetry is composed through intuition, it is only appropriate that we should read poems through something equally anti-logocentric.

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The Body and Migration

I watched a poetry reading on March 29th (this is a very, very late response) hosted by Asian American Writer’s Workshop, which included writers Vi Khi Nao, Brandon Shimoda, and Celina Su with a discussion afterwards moderated by Dorothy Wang.

The space was, from what I could tell, the room where many of their readings and talks were held. The book-lined walls, slightly dimmed lighting, and packed seating definitely gave an air of intimacy and familiarity to the event.

All the authors talked about community, migration, and estrangement of the body/person in one way or another; Nao spoke of her experiences with motherhood, Shimoda read from a piece on Japanese internment, and Celina Su read from works addressing the state, citizenship, and the recent Muslim travel ban.

The discussion definitely brought up many of the issues we discussed in class. This included whiteness (and more specifically white liberalism) in the avant garde, the position of Asian Americans in literature, and the perception of culture in works of art.

Something that really struck me was when Shimoda described how he wrote a book on a topic almost completely unrelated to anything about his culture, and how someone reviewed his work in the light of it being completely in the context of Japanese American culture. That reviewer was an Asian American himself. Shimoda then described how some things that you did not intend can become incredibly clear to someone else; how some things were “inescapable,” and how others projected both themselves and the author onto different works to try and find a piece of themselves within.

I remember being a child, watching Mulan on repeat; I remember being in highschool, desperately looking for Asian authors to read, to consume people and art that were “close enough”. I believe, however, that this search can have some negative drawbacks; we are so desperate to see a reflection that we cannot see what is really there. We are more interested in engaging with ourselves and those like us than the foreign and unknown. I know that I was personally far more comfortable (and to an extent, therefore subconsciously willing) to engage with the works of the Asian American writers this semester than those of other races/ ethnicities. How do we strike this balance? Should there be one at all? I am still trying to find the answer.

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(Arab) American Dream

My sophomore year of high school I was sitting in a Spanish class I absolutely hated, but I knew I would only have to sit through it slightly less than most days. My poetry teacher had written me a note to leave class early so I could sit in on a guest lecture she was hosting for her senior poetry students. I didn’t know the poet, but she assured me I’d love him.

 

Once I got to the creative writing room, I sat down at the table and looked up. The guest was none other than Fady Joudah. He came to discuss his recent translation of Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me: And Other Poems by Ghassan Zaqtan. It was one of the most magical moments; a proud Arab American was sitting discussing his life as a physician and poet. Not to be too dramatic, but it changed how I saw myself and how I continue to form my aspirations today. One does not have to choose between poetry and medicine. One can be Arab American and be open about it both in conversation and in writing.

 

I was immediately brought back to that beautiful moment when I opened the critical piece by Fady “Arab American Poetry as Minor” and saw the picture of Like A Straw Bird It Follows Me. And now writing this I realize how far I’ve come since that moment. Fady gave me a signed copy of the book and wrote an inscription to me in Arabic. I was touched by this kind gesture, but I was unable to read it. Now I realize I can go home to my bookshelf and discern what he wrote to me. My own relationship with “Arab American” identity has changed so much since then. As I started thinking and writing both critically and creatively about it. As I have started learning Arabic and establishing relationships with my family back in Egypt.  

 

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It’s funny that I have such a personal connection with both of the critical pieces for this week (and that the authors of both pieces live in Houston). The other piece, the introduction to Inclined to Speak, is written by Hayan Charara. About two years ago I reached out to Hayan Charara for a project I was working on—a book combining Arab American art with historical information. He very graciously agreed to let me include his poem “Usage” in the book. If any of y’all are interested, you can look at the final project here: https://issuu.com/beit4/docs/beit

 

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In Lyric Fire, the piece written about Joudah’s translation work, three other poets are mentioned Nathalie Handal, Kazim Ali, and Khaled Mattawa because they have also done a significant amount of translation. I decided to look into the work of Nathalie Handal after quickly at her biography.She was born in Haiti and is of Palestinian descent; throughout her life she has lived all over the world– the Arab world, Europe, and the Americas. I read her collection The Republics which is a book divided into two sections– Galaxies (république d’haiti) and Twilight (república dominicana). Her book grapples with the separation on (and of) the island particularly through persona poems.

One line that particularly struck me was “I was told God is in my blood, or was that an American myth?” from her poem “Glory.” How is that American dream constructed? How is that myth different for those in different parts of America? How about for immigrants? For Arabs?

glory

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Filling Out the Questionnaire (Marwa Helal)

INVASIVE SPECIES SELF-QUESTIONNAIRE

ask or aks?
ask.

why?
mama said aks sound ignant.

weed or beautiful flower?
dandelion. one in the same.
pretty kills.

what happens when the colonizer’s blood run through yours?
push it down to my feet. let it circulate nowhere near the head. can’t have that filtering through.
…either that or drain it.

oppressed or oppressor?
bystand. don’t make me no better.

nigger or cotton picker?
niggA. at least we get to wear gloves now.

who made this taxonomy?
the fragile. the greedy. constantly placin takses on me.

terrorist or freedom fighter?
looter. finders keepers. the others do it for me.
should I feel guilty?

when you say: “should I feel guilty?,” don’t you know the answer?
yes. was hopin you’d answer differently.

good. because i didn’t want to hold a mirror up to your self.
you already are.
you takin notes.

occupation or conflict?
occupation. i’d give the money back though. i promise.

where do you want to be buried?
cremated actually. put me with my family.
set me to wind and let me land                     everywhere.

what is native?
never was me.

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Make up post- Abolitionist Poetics with Jackie Wang

Today I went to a talk given by Jackie Wang, author of the book Carceral Capitalism. She read from the final chapter of the book entitled The Prison Abolitionist Imagination: A Conversation. She began by quoting Mark Fisher saying something along the lines of “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” and then applied this to prisons. From this starting point, She imagined a series of almost enchanted conversations (outside the realism of the present) to challenge the idea that abolition is “unrealistic”- she takes up this critique to use poetic language to make the conditions of unrealism in which abolition becomes the only possible logic. She does this by engaging in conversations across time with Rosa Luxemborg, Mahmoud Darwish, Mike Brown’s mother, Heather Ann Thompson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Assata Shakur, Huey P. Newton and more. Putting these voices alongside each other and her own images of roses made for a kind of fever dream of possibility.

Listening to her read these poetic conversations felt enormous, even in a cramped and boiling room. Her project, to denaturalize prison through poetic language, touched on imagination as a shield, a politic, a desire, a threat, a freedom, and a form of interdependence. The vector of this imagination was poetry, which Wang at one point described as [paraphrased] a vibrational experience to create desire for another world.

I feel like the question of “realism” seems to come up a lot whenever abolition or other radical politics are mentioned. Deeming it unrealistic becomes a self fulfilling prophecy- once spoken as unrealistic, the space of its reality is shut down. It strikes me that the burden of imagination is always on those trying to make radical change- it’s easy to ask people to imagine the world staying the same, or even ending entirely. The work of fully feeling an imagined world inside your body is much harder. Imagination is work, and the burden of this imaginative work falls onto those most affected (and of course, the world should be remade by and for those who experience directly and therefore know best its harms). But giving legitimacy to imagination as a mode of labor, of resistance, and of abolition was both deeply inspiring and made me think about who is forced to imagine, because the world has precluded a livable reality.

In my life, I’ve often labeled imagination as escapism. But Jackie Wang’s talk made me want to challenge myself to view imagination as labor and escapism/dissociation as an embodied desire for another world.

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