What an honor to have been on Grace Cavalieri’s preeminent show where poets have a chance to highlight their work and process of writing and creating.
sonny stitt plays now’s the time and you believe you can fly you have discovered the magic flute to propel you, to cut through the tightened seal of time and space you can transverse the complications of your diminution here what your imagination will not allow your body memory will remember that you were of wings after all riding the north wind across these hemispheres making the seasons guadalajara lima saginaw detroit come embody light by jiwon choi august 2021
My first book, One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons, took me about five years to put together. This second book, I Used To Be Korean, took a little bit less time. But, golly gee, book writing just takes a long time, huh?
I wonder at how people put out all their volumes and collections. I am amazed at the speed of their output and it brings me to wonder about my snail’s pace. I do honor and respect my output for what it is: I am a preschool teacher who up ’til last July was trying to take care of my Old Ladies. But they are both gone now and “every day is like Sunday; every day is silent and gray.” That should leave me more time to write, you say? Well, in theory, yes it should. But it’s not working out that way.
I think about Harley Elliott, a poet whom I trust to set me straight on the way of our finite human condition. I do mean the way we deal with being alive and how we make the most of our time on earth. Harley has published 11 books of poetry with two books out in 2020!: The Mercy of Distance (Hanging Loose Press) and Creature Way (Spartan Press) so he must know about finding the way to more writing.
I think of Bob Hershon who wrote about fifteen books throughout his writing life. His work is a body of knowledge connoting confidence, a savvy outlook on life with little second guessing. I admire that kind of knowing. Bob’s way of seeing the world. You may not be born with it, but it can be borne within you. It’s been almost two weeks since Bob passed and I am just coming to terms with knowing that we won’t be hanging out in his backyard, sipping on reasonably priced wine whilst ducking wayward acorns from those sassy Boerum Hill squirrels.
I know I will honor his memory and legacy by writing as much poetry as I can.
In memorium, Bob Hershon, poet, publisher, friend and eternal student of the School of Keep On Keeping On:
A Bad Dinner
by Bob HershonThey gave me a bad dinner, not to make me a stranger
–Betsy Sheridan’s journal
They pelted me with rocks, not to take their love as my due
They burned my poems and papers, not to permit my self-love to
They denounced me to the FBI, so I would not grow smug, in
and take their good will as a given
They pulled out my eyelashes, so I would not blink in amazment
They blew their noses in my socks, so I would not strut
They carved my name on a headstone, not to forget that I was
one of theirs, and they begin to carve the dates
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
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
In high school I got sick off gin and swore it off forever.
Except I developed a taste for it in my thirties. The myth of drink for writers is intense. I am not immune to it, but it’s got less to do with my writing than with my psyche. But I can’t write when I’m shitfaced anyways.
I admire Bukowski and can concede that his affinity for drink may have had an effect on his work. Yes, drinking changes us, probably changed him––maybe he allowed it to became his companion. But certainly the core of Bukowski as a writer and poet was himself, his life experience, his childhood, his memories, etc.
My dad kept a bottle of Johnnie Walker under his chair for many years. I think he knew we knew, but did he care? I don’t care if you know about my bottles, I kinda wear them on my sleeve.
Maybe the bliss
that came with drinking came
only after a certain period
of apprenticeship. Eddie likened
it to the holy man’s self-flagellation
to experience the fullness of faith.
––excerpted from “Gin” by Philip Levine
I was in college when I first read Louise Bogan.
I still remember the feeling of being lifted up and bathed in a pure light. An awakening.
I bet that’s what flowers feel when they are about to burst open to the world after being asleep for all that time.
I identified with Bogan as a poet who struggled to keep the demons of her childhood in check. Actually it was just one demon: her unstable mother who fought with her father, disappeared for regular stretches, and placed her in unsavory situations. You can read about these Mother-horror tales in Elizabeth Frank’s Bogan bio, but what it comes down to is the most harrowing feeling of being abandoned as a young child that probably scarred her the most. That scars all of us the most.
You split into the heat,
Swift beyond calculation or capture
You dart into the shadow
Which consumes you.
–– excerpted from “The Dragonfly” by Louise Bogan,