I saw these in the now shuttered Posman Books housed in Grand Central Terminal. What were they thinking?
I don’t consider myself a person of a giddy nature. By now, I am of a pretty hearty nature, reasonably practical and sane (though can dabble in whim and fancy on occasion, prone to candy shopping and kitty Instagramming).
But seeing my first book of poems on the shelves of the Strand was a thrill.
On the road to nowhere?
I have been making literary products since my twenties. Though I started writing poetry in elementary school, it wasn’t because I was engaging in a commercial enterprise. I was writing these pieces because I wanted to make something. I wanted to create. Did I know back then that I was engaging in art making? I think I knew.
Certainly I’d not thought to call poems “literary products” during all my years of writing, but that’s exactly what they are, especially when you take the next step of trying to get them published in print or online. This is my currency as a poet.
I have been on chapbook and/or full manuscript duty for some years now. My first book of poems took about five years to put together and I’ve been on this road since. The mechanics of putting together a book is mysterious even though I’ve done it before.
If I were knitting or crocheting a scarf I could say the stitches are the foundation and you could say the loose pages of poems are the bones of your manuscript. This is a fair analogy. Though I haven’t picked up my knitting needles in some years, when I did I knew where the craft came from: a combo of skill, will and practice. But is that all there is? No hocus pocus from up high or down below?
I’ve been working on my second book of poems for over a year with a current chapbook on the side. It would be more romantic to say that Athena shot me with her arrow of war power, but I won’t know until I finish the book.
Did I mention
I was borne from the ashes
of the Old World
honor and blood
was my civilization
my small nation
a kingdom of big egos
even our bastards
–excerpted from “I Used to Be Korean” by Jiwon Choi
I am a teacher of four year olds. It has been my favorite age to teach ever since I started on the early childhood path, as far back to 1987 when I started as an intern at the Columbia Greenhouse Nursery School.
Our body holds memories of what happened to us when we were young, albeit some are murky and forget about chronological order. But they are evidence of what we were going through at the time. Living with my aunt and uncle, I felt powerless and lonely for my parents, and though my cousins tried to comfort me, it was not enough.
Even as a little kid you know you’ve got little power to change your circumstances and that’s what really sticks in your craw, and what you remember most about being a child.
My life suffocates
Planting seeds of hate
I’ve loved, turned to hate
Trapped far beyond my fate
–Excerpted from “Harvester of Sorrow” by Metallica
What does it mean to be an emerging writer? Is it that when you are new and full of hope?
And when is it that you can stop “emerging”? And who gets to decide?
I’m almost fifty, do I have enough time to evolve from my emerging status? When can I shed the husk of amatuer?
I talked to my publisher Bob Hershon who’s been publishing and writing for over fifty years about the plight of the emerging writer and he expertly noted that the moniker “new writer” is the better description. With a fifteenth collection under his belt, I can’t disagree.
But how can one be a new writer in their fifth decade?
I am writing my second collection of poetry and I am slow going. The first one took me over five years. And I’m super proud of my work, but it doesn’t make writing the second book any easier––layers of complicated feelings and memories that works as the cruxt of your work, but often the obstacle of your progress.
Can you get out of your way?
It is yourself you seek
In a long rage,
Scanning through light and darkness
Mirrors, the page,
Where should reflected be
Your eyes and that thick hair,
That passionate look, that laughter.
––excerpted from “Man Alone” by Louise Bogan
I’ve been submitting my work to Rigorous, “a journal edited and written by people of color” for a little over a year. It’s an online magazine with the flexibility and expansiveness to accept not only written work, but visual, audio and video arts. So smart.
I’d not really considered submitting my work to a journal dedicated to writers of color and I wonder why. Because it’s important this community we are creating through the simple act of creating and sharing our art. As writing poetry is such a solitary craft, as much of art is, I find a sense of gratitude for this cohesive network of writers. Sure it’s through the Internet, but it’s there.
In the January 2017 inaugural issue, one of the editors, Kenyatta JP Garcia, wrote of his affinity “towards the experimental, speculative and slipstream” in art, but that he’s mostly seen it done by “white folks”:
We rarely see the brown and black alternative approaches to art but it’s not for lack of trying. Most of us have been taught to ‘work twice as hard’ and many of us took it to heart…While not every piece is overtly political, every time we as the marginalized create something we are being political. Our arts speak of our experiences and worldviews. It speaks from a perspective that has been minimized and silenced. The act of creation is a push back against a system that has historically ignored us.
The act of creation is a push back against a system that has historically ignored us.
He continues to say that we need community and a support system in this “new era of American policy.” This policy of Trump that we must resist and help dismantle.
St. Eugene of the Color Blind
What ever happened
to that that light-skinned girl
your brother was dating?
The one your father used to call
“the Mulatto” and we were too dumb to be
embarrassed for him, for us
because that was the eighties and we
were in high school and doped up
on wine coolers. Your mom liked to
comment on her good manners, not like
your Canarsie floozies who hogged the chairs
in the kitchen and mooched all her Shasta.
You liked to say Eugene was color blind
like you were bragging about it
like he was the only one in the clan who
could be that way
but he broke up with her
after all that
when it was clear it was going to be
a hassle every time
to get through checkpoint Charlie
down by Breezy.
He wasn’t better than us
— by Jiwon Choi