Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New book from Tinfish Press

The Dandelion Clock, by Daniel Tiffany

It seems no mistake that a telephone (albeit a broken one) graces the cover of Dandelion Clock as Daniel Tiffany's poems are composed of calls and responses; each call the scrap of a Middle English lyric, even as each response sings back in contemporary American vernacular(s). While the linguistic textures find their origins medieval poetry, the art of sampling and improvising brings us back to the present, where “pocket rhapsodies” are stitched together of fabricated voices. “It is worth noting that the poems from which I have drawn the Middle English fragments,” he writes, “often survived only through citation in treatises condemning their vernacular origins.” Readers interested in language issues will want to read this book along with other Tinfish titles such as Sista Tongue, by Lisa Linn Kanae and Contemplations on Pidgin Culture, by Lee Tonouchi.

Cover art by Gaye Chan

Interior Design by Sumet (Ben) Viwatmanitsakul

The book can be ordered through the website, or from Tinfish Press, 47-728 Hui Kelu Street #9, Kane`ohe, Hawai`i 96744, or from Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, California (

Monday, April 26, 2010

Odd Doc Monday

For the family member of an Alzheimer's sufferer, documents come to stand in for a life. There is the document that makes me my mother's guardian; there are documents threatening me if I don't complete the inventory of my mother's assets for any given year; there are the tax forms I sign in her stead; there are the frequent Defense Department forms I have to sign to assure them my mother has not remarried. (I have taken to writing in the margins, "She has Alzheimer's and is in no position to remarry!") These documents carry an emotional weight very different from those acquired during two adoptions, although the diction and tone of bureaucracies are remarkably consistent. In each instance, persons are represented by, mediated through, documentation whose wording is tortured, banal. We are our finances, our certificates, our licenses. And yet still, somehow, the documents also carry a freight of feeling with them. To what extent am I my mother when I sign for her? What might it be like for her to fall in love again, could she do so? Why do I feel so angry when I'm called upon to prove not only that I've not cheated my mother out of her money, but that I may have added money to her account without recording where it came from? No matter how hard the writer tries to dampen her language, emotions flare. Even a document has a memory, but that memory is ours, something the document itself claims to forget.

So the letter I received the other day from our lawyer was at once filled with pathos and irony (mostly thanks to the lawyer's barely suppressed wit). I've copied it above. It seems that if you die this year, and this year only, the rules for dealing with your estate will be different from the 2009 rules and the 2011 rules. The lawyer sets out "old rules" and "new rules" for her reader, using indented letters and numbers in good legalistic fashion.

But the wording of this document achieves an odd brilliance on the second page, where the lawyer reports in section (2) of indent (c) that "the 'old rules' encouraged the use of IRS-approved words and phrases in your will and living trust which, under the 'new rules,' may have no meaning whatsoever, resulting in confusion and possible disagreements with the IRS." She follows this marvel of crazy logic with the dry remark that "you may have read that Congress was unable to agree on anything." That the "approved words and phrases" result in "no meaning whatsoever" and that "no meaning" results in "possible disagreements" goes against the very principle of documentation!

She saves the best for last: "Again, these new rules are only for people dying in 2010, so if you think that you, or a loved one, might be in that (unfortunate) group, we would suggest you call us to set up a meeting to review your documents in light of the new rules." Will our call, our meeting, result in our finding meaning, or simply in setting out what we ought to do in case meaning breaks down? I'm tempted to call and ask.

[You can click to enlarge the photos to make them readable, if not meaningful.]

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Recent notices of Tinfish publications

I wrote the following note to my colleagues in the English department at UHM.

Dear colleagues--I want to pass on a couple of wonderful notices for Tinfish Press publications. Both of the poets will be in our graduate program this Fall, Lyz Soto in the Ph.D. program, and Gizelle Gajelonia in the M.A.

Lyz Soto, interviewed by Craig Santos Perez on Harriet Blog:

Gizelle Gajelonia, from Gary Chun's article in the April 24, 2010 Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
_Thirteen Ways of Looking at TheBus_

aloha, Susan

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The dangers of the dangers of appropriation & etc.: teaching _Remember to Wave_ by Kaia Sand

Sins of commission and omission stain the literary history of Hawai`i. When Hawai`i became a state in 1959, James Michener had the novel to seal the deal; he also introduced A. Grove Day's anthology, A Hawaiian Reader, still available in bookstores and (most tellingly) at the airport. This anthology divided Hawai`i's literature into modern and "Ancient" works, moving from Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London into the afterthought of the creation chant, the Kumulipo. If not, strictly speaking, an omission of Hawaiian orature, this certain qualifies as a back of the bus move, one that has not been remedied by Mutual Publishing in the 50 years since.

Each generation has its renaissance, a rebirth out of the omissions (or commissions) of the generations before. Thus Bamboo Ridge was formed in the early 1980s to assert the presence of local literature, or poetry and fiction written mainly by Asian writers (though early on they published more Hawaiian material than is popularly acknowledged). By the mid-1990s, the need for venues for native Hawaiian literature drove the founding of `oiwi.

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but fails to do justice to the narrative I've just compressed into the size of a literary historical haiku. Suffice it to say for now that there are hot spots in discussions of literature here, and that these hot spots have histories. Yesterday I met with a hot spot where I did not expect one, namely in teaching Kaia Sand's Tinfish Press book, Remember to Wave, which I've blogged about elsewhere and whose description you can find on our site, here. Kaia's project was to walk Portland, a city she's lived in most of her life, and to find its secret histories. As she sits at the Expo Center watching a Roller Derby match, she realizes that this is the place where Japanese Americans were rounded up to be interned. Then she discovers that, at nearly the same time, a part of Portland located in a floodplain was bought by Henry Kaiser; this is where post-World War II African American migrants were shunted after migrating to Portland for work.

Most of my students responded positively to the book, its documentary process, the poet's evidently liberal politics. But a few did not. In responses to the book on our google group, some complained that there was no reason Kaia should care about internment, for example, because she does not have Japanese American ancestors. That her ancestors were Norwegian (a couple thought that Kaia herself was Norwegian) came in for negative scrutiny. Why the emotional link? they wondered, if she were not herself either a part of the event (like Lawson Inada, whose Legends from Camp we read earlier) or if she did not have family who were? Was she not appropriating others' stories, cultures, in the way that some writers here who are not Hawaiian appropriate Hawaiianness? they wondered.

I wrote some key words on the board, making links between categories like ethnicity and emotion; asking students to think about the history of Norway (!); asking them to flesh out the book's plot. I mentioned that the answers could easily be found in the book's introduction, which it turned out some of the students hadn't read (it's that time in the semester, among other problems). Most importantly, we talked about where we find Sand's POV in the book. Is she claiming Japanese ancestry? Is she telling other people's stories? How is she positioning herself? How is her position different from Inada's?

I couldn't resist talking about other issues with story-telling, the book First They Killed My Father, which was criticized because the author had written in such detail about her experiences as a small child. Or the problem of any history of a time before the author was born. The past is foreign to us in the way that other people sometimes are, isn't it? And how could Inada write stories about his own early childhood? Wasn't he actually telling other people's stories? Several students thought that the personal investment was enough; Lawson Inada had been there, and he's Japanese American. Why should Kaia Sand even care?

This, more than most of what went on in class, was a question I took personally. Taking things personally is a danger to a professor, as any of us who teach knows. It's the moment where dispassion meets passion and knees begin to jerk and words fly off one's imagined cuffs. So I said that this book takes the writer's subject position (in this case, white woman) and uses its strengths and weaknesses. Sand cannot write as direct witness without falling into the fake Holocaust memoir trap. But she can write/compose the book using the walk as her real and literary form, and she can present the past to us via documents, the language that is already there for us to re-read (re-reading is so much more powerful than reading, in this case). This course presents an invitation to take such walks and to wonder about the places you are passing over.

Thinking about appropriation has been a necessary part of becoming a citizen of this place. Asking students to think about who speaks about and for whom is a crucial part of our practice as teachers here. But inducing allergic reactions to works that might potentially appropriate is counter-productive. One of my students asserted that Sand's book is "controversial." I had no idea that it was. But if it is to her, then perhaps it's done good some pedagogical work. Do not assign labels easily. Read the introduction before you attack. Allow that empathic imagining is the poet's work, that her methods and techniques are crucial tools in getting her there. Take the risk of crossing a boundary, lest it grow too firm.

Here is Kaia Sand's response to my class, which I asked her to send:

Here are some thoughts... Let me know if I should add more--

I choose a responsibility to think about historical and present-day injustice. I believe it is dangerous to cordon off conditions about which I think according to shared ethnicity, gender, race, class, that it is dangerous to be fortified only by the familiar, the similar, the like (which is one way power replicates itself)

In his poem Legends from Camp, Lawson Inada describes internment as an "American experience," highlighting how important it is not to distance ourselves (whatever our relationship) from the fact of internment, but, rather, to see this as a part of national identity. I took seriously that internment history is part of what USAmericans inherit, that one reason to think about such history is a determination not to inflict such damage again and again. . .

I do challenge myself to continually think about my relationship to the "material" of this book, and to make sure that I do not try to "own" other people's experiences, that I try to account for my vantage point. This is part of why I emphasize the "inexpert" stance--that "what is left open/is left open"--that my responsibility toward thinking about histories of injustice (and current conditions) is inexhaustible, and that I am never "authority"--only committed.

All best,

Kaia's skepticism about authority can be seen in the way her book is not so much "authored" as collaged together. Her "I" is hardly anywhere to be seen. But the eye that she casts around her home town does carry its own weight, and that's a kind of unappropriating authority that we should all assume.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Art and Poetry at The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, April 18, 2010

[I cannot turn this program right-side up, so in the spirit of a piece Elizabeth Berdann sent me on email the other day (I said, "it's fine, but it's sideways," and she responded, "I wanted it that way"), I am presenting it as a rectangle. Turn your head and/or your screen, the better to read it.]

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 18, 2010, in the city of Honolulu in the neighborhood of Makiki, poets gathered to read work they had written in response to the Words Off the Wall exhibition at the Museum. I wrote an earlier post about the pre-write tour of the exhibition organized by Quala-Lynn Young. The post-write tour included "teams" of poets who had written on particular artists, chosen because of their concern for the body.

Team Fay Ku included Christina Low, Jade Sunouchi (seen above with the artist), Julie Tanji, Amalia Bueno, and No`u Revilla.

Team Elizabeth Berdann consisted of Neomary Soriano-Calderon (a 9th grader at Mililani High School), Susan M. Schultz, Jaimie Gusman, and Rachel Wolf. Allison Schulnik's team was made up of Tayla Yogi, another 9th grader, and Evan Nagle, a post-MFA newcomer to Hawai`i, by way of his girlfriend, Jaimie Gusman. Judy Fox provoked a poem from Jeff Walt, a Goddard MFA discovered at the reception desk of the museum, where he volunteers once a week.

I was unable to take down full accounts of the poems, but registered some single lines:

--Christina Low, from "Mer": "Make me a stone that sinks to the bottom of the sea"; later she said she saw the painting, "Alarmed Mermaid," once and then worked off her memory of it.

--Jade Sunouchi, from "Birdfeed": "wings partitioned into fingers," a fine image for metamorphosis. Here is the painting she and Julie and Amalia wrote about.

--Julie Tanji, who carried Japanese characters with her and held them up, yelled, "I am not invisible!"

--Amalia Bueno used Prometheus as her mythological reference for the Fay Ku painting that three poets chose to write on;

--No`u Revilla performed her poem about four young women braiding a horse's mane, largely from memory, and repeated the refrain, "I am your mother." She said she wrote about this painting because the one young woman seemed not to fit, belong, seemed outside the emotional energy of the poem. That was the woman on whom she focused her care.

--Jaimie Gusman wrote about Elizabeth Berdann's wall of 31 tongues, considering the tongues to be a map. Her speaker put the tongues on, over her head. As usual, Jaimie's work featured quick cuts between pathos and silliness, lyric and faux advertising copy.

--Rachel Wolf wrote about Berdann's "Ghost," the painting of an old person upside down on cloth. Among her zingers was the phrase "chamois shaman."

--Tayla Yogi, one of Steve Schick's 9th graders from Mililani, wrote a poem of various pronouns, "she/her/me/myself/I" to go along with the melting hobo of Allison Schulnik's video. Everyone was impressed by how bravely she and Neomary performed their poems.

--Evan Nagle took that video and made text values for the pixels, found phrases through webcrawler, employed a spam/poetic filter, and ended up with phrases like "save a puppy from the pound or something." His was the least representative of the poems--it was not in the least so--but an eye opener for the audience.

The reading was followed by a reception that featured cheese sticks, hunks of cheese, and fruit, mingling, and much photography before we dispersed and I, for one, returned to the Sunday "night" baseball game between the Cardinals and the Mets, which the Cardinals won.

[from left to right: Jeff Walt, Quala-Lynn Young, Jaimie Gusman, Evan Nagle, Christina Low, Rachel Wolf, Julie Tanji, No`u Revilla, Susan M. Schultz, Jade Sunouchi, Amalia Bueno, Neomary Soriano-Calderon; not in the picture because she had a softball game to play in was Tayla Yogi)

Many thanks to Quala-Lynn Young for organizing the event and to Shantel Grace for writing about it, over and again.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Interminable Baseball & Dementia & Queer Optimism & Metaphor

When last I wrote in this blog box, Michael Snediker was in the air back to the east coast and I was listening to the interminable game between my St. Louis Cardinals and someone else's New York Mets. That game ended in the 20th inning; only in theory can baseball games lack endings. After 18 innings during which neither team scored (it's nearly impossible to achieve so little, yet that also marks an excellent series of pitching performances), the Mets prevailed 2-1. The last innings featured a starting pitcher playing left field for the Cards, a utility infielder (or two) pitching, and announcers whose voices verged on hysteria. You can find the box score here; that the game tests the limit of "box" is only appropriate. It was a game played outside or beyond the box, maybe even beyond the diamond. For a close reading of the game, see Viva El Birdos, a wonderful Cardinals blog.

I received another series of boxes in the mail yesterday, part of the "Service Plan" of my mother's Alzheimer's care provider. In carefully numbered sections, 1-25, is set out (passive voice intended) the plan for care and the "expected outcomes." In academic lingo, these would be SLOs, or Student Learner Outcomes, but in an Alzheimer's home the goal is not to learn so much as to slow (not SLO) the process of disintegration. Beside each "Expected Goal" is a list of four possibilities: Maximize Independence, Maximize Orientation, Minimize Agitation, and Minimize Health Risk. At the end, there is an Other, specially tailored for the resident, but in appropriately bureaucratic language. For example, under "Personal Hygiene," the Other function is "Resident will be [sic] appear neat and clean," followed by "Expected outcome in 6 months." All of these outcomes are expected in 6 months as a matter of principle, or at least as formal closing to each numbered "box" of actions by the care home.

In bold, the reader finds language specific to "her," or as she is sometimes called in the document, "Mrs. Schultz." And so, under number 3, "Dressing and Undressing," I read: "Encourage her to dress herself. Help her as needed and lay out clothes for her to wear." There are also certain surprises in the bold language: under #6, "Bladder Management," I read: "Mrs. Schultz is incontinent of bladder. Wears pull ups. Will use grab bars when needed." And then, "Hospice to assist with this care at least twice a week." About 10 days ago I was told that the staff wanted to see if hospice would help with her care, but there was nothing bold about that inquiry. Here, in cold hard type, hospice care enters the documentation proleptically.

The dull language of the form at times captures something of my mother's personality. For example, under "10. Challenging Behaviors" (and which of hers were not, at some point, so!), we are told: "Mrs. Schultz does not like to take showers on her own and does not like to get her hair washed. Will need to redirect and encourage her to get this done. Otherwise is not exhibiting any challenging behaviors at this time." And in the next section, "11. Socialization and Activities,", in bold: "Encourage her to participate. Likes to read the Washington Post. She does not like to be approached to dance or actively get involved in an activity but is a passive participant." While this section appears outdated--she no longer reads or even glances at the paper, nor does she passively participate, but sits alone in a chair, her right elbow off the arm rest and in her lap--it does reflect the personality of a woman who insisted that each thing could be chosen. That will would make things right. That one could master one's soul and captain one's fate. That, while others might try to intrude, one had arms with which to push them back.

I mean to turn back to Michael Snediker's language of queer optimism in this post, somewhere, in large part because this document, like my mother's condition, is in so many ways grim. It's passively grim; as I was told last week, my mother is not "actively dying." Whatever she does now is done passively. Her verbs, like those of her document, are passively constructed, if they are constructed at all. However I think about her now, I can hardly feel that I am doing so actively, for even when I think, there is an end to my thinking that is not completion but impasse. So, in a minor key (I am trying to talk optimism, but thus far failing!), the language of the document tries to reassure the family member (myself) with its final (#25) section, "Special Individualized Services," where I'm told that my mother uses the Salon services. This was another point of contention, as my mother no longer likes to be touched. But when I last saw her I watched as her hair was washed and combed and then "set" in old lady style by a Filipina woman who talked to me about her grandchildren. The "Expected Goal" at the end of this section includes none of the Maximums and Minimums, but "Other: "Resident will have improved self esteem," below which I read, like the refrain that chimes at the end of each other section, "Expected outcome in 6 months."

In six months, my mother will have improved self esteem. What am I to make of this language, however formalized, however much a part of a form, a formula, a pre-form/fab construction sent to everyone like me whose parent or relative is in Alzheimer's care? What does it mean to have "self-esteem" when one cannot get out of one's chair, or even effectively watch television? What does it mean to have "self-esteem" when you do not recognize a photograph of yourself, but think you are someone else, whatever your mind still makes of the concept of "someone" or "else"? To hold oneself in esteem is to have, to hold, to register verb forms, nouns, pronouns. When one's language is reduced to formulas about everything being well and glad you called and everything's ok, then what is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is itself a formal quality, then. It's a term best used on forms. What it might mean in any individual case is over-ridden by the necessity of its existence. We cannot survive if we do not feel esteem for ourselves. The idea of an Alzheimer's patient who does not esteem herself proves too much for us to bear. The words intend to console, even as they are empty rhetorical features, sections on a form that is poetic only in the sense that it is written, and in form. Informed by a culture that demands that we love ourselves, even as we suffer in our anger and sense of having failed to acquire happiness and BMWs, and both at once, we shall at least have the form.

Interminable game. Interminable form. Interminable questions. Can interminability be the ground for optimism, this dying that is not active and seems (but only seems) to have no end? In the spirit of Snediker's queer optimism, I will say yes. Like him, I do not mean Disney's simulacrum of happiness, a song in a tunnel, a couple of strapped on plastic ears, a wild ride. Rather, I mean that after so many decades of difficulty between us, my mother and I are at peace with one another. She has been reduced to her kindness (and how can one call that, so simply, a "reduction") and I have expanded to encompass her. She is my daughter now, my ward, my dependent, in more than tax terms. More forms. When she dies, as she will, I will mourn her, not feel that something was missing, that if we had only, that failure to communicate caused us not to thrive. We have found an ending, and while there is pathos in it, and while for now it isn't even an ending, there is peacefulness in it for me and I hope--somehow--for her. (What, I wonder, is the verb form of "it"?) All endings are formal and, while the document about my mother diminishes her, the form of her ending cannot.

[Editor's note: I note that I never got to a discussion of metaphor here. What I meant to do was to suggest that the making of metaphor--an interminable baseball game IS dementia, for example--offers an instant of joy that alters the experience of interminable sadness or even banality involved in witnessing of someone else's dementia. More on this another time, perhaps.]

Saturday, April 17, 2010

17 Innings with Michael Snediker, Jack Spicer, Queer Theory, and Disability

Michael Snediker
was our Joseph Keene Chadwick lecturer this year in the English department; he delivered a talk on Jack Spicer this past Thursday. Along with this starring role, he played utility infielder by reading his poems at the M.I.A. reading on Wednesday and by leading a seminar on disability theory on Friday. How felicitous to have the author of a book on optimism speak to us during this cruel April of the soul in Honolulu, where cuts in education lead the headlines nearly every day. No furlough for Michael, who devoted hours to talking to my students, in addition to fulfilling his obligations to lecture and run a seminar.

Snediker is a theorist whose theories are creative and a poet whose poems bob and weave through theoretical notions, alongside descriptions of cauliflower and broccoli, water and nervous pastorals (landscapes of the nervous system). Most striking to this reader of his work is the way in which Snediker turns a long tradition that equates pessimism with knowledge, constancy with suffering, and asks why we do not consider our moments of happiness as of equal interest? Once he sets up this experiment, he finds such moments in astonishing places, the poems of Emily Dickinson and Hart Crane, for example. He finds worth in "the junk heap of happy poems" by Dickinson. One of my favorite chapters in his book, Queer Optimism, locates Hart Crane in the very vocabulary of Elizabeth Bishop, inducing smiles for me, like the smiles he interrogates in Crane's poetry. Lest we think Michael's extemporaneous and playful monologues are mere language games, he tells us that theory equipped him to become a gay man, not the other way around. This is not to say that theory becomes his belief system, but his method of weighing transiencies (I begin to write as he speaks!) in such a way that they offer up their joyful instances. (The audio emanating from my computer tells me that the Cardinals/Mets game enters the 15th inning with no score, and as I hope against hope that the moment of joy will be mine and not that of a Mets fan.) His is a mind in which the actual and the allegorical are in profound relationship to each other, in which sex and theory nuzzle, where his own episode of depression relates to the landscape of England (as he told my class) and to the lack of coherence described by queer theorists before him (Butler and Bersani and Edelman, for example). He defined "melancholy" to a seminar group as what might happen if he were to discover that his friend Susan had been a Mets fan all along, instead of a Cardinals fan. (This will not happen, no matter what the 15th inning brings, as we move to the bottom, Yadier Molina at the plate, the announcers giggling at memories of a game from the 1970s or 1980s that lasted this long, when the aptly named (?) Bake McBride ran from first to home on a pick-off attempt, cooking the goose of the opposing team.)

If not Bake McBride, then Demi Moore. Less is more. Half is more. Raise or raze. Long Island or New Canaan. New Canaan or Kingston. Kingston or Honolulu. Everything appears as possibility in Michael's intellect. Including the possibility that Jack Spicer is worthwhile not only for those who come to him with hope, but also those who approach him with disgust. Snediker hated Spicer when first asked to write about him, collected quotations that he especially disliked, culled them, read and reread the work and then allowed Spicer to educate him as a reader of poetry. Isn't this what we want for our students and colleagues and friends, this opening out that poetry promises, but whose promise must be accepted by the reader, cannot be forced on her?

The prodigal son in Spicer evidently mirrors that in Snediker, who went west mid-way through college to find himself as a gay man in San Francisco, even as Spicer's trip east did not go so well. Michael's description of Spicer wove in and out of the biographical and the steadfastly anti-biographical. His assertion that Language writers appreciate Spicer for reasons of biography and not the work was left to hang in the air; I would like to hear more development of that idea, though I can see that Snediker's Spicer is a poet who folds meaning to his chest rather than alienating and then educating his audiences via obscurity or other verbal obstacle.

Snediker's definition of optimism is not quite ours (as we go to inning 16 on my computer audio stream, a broken bat out having foreclosed the Cardinals potential win, man stranded on third base), not a Disneyland of the soul but instead a long but forward-moving drive (like Manos Hand of Fire's interminable opening scene). His use of the word "disability" is likewise untethered from subject positions (so and so is handicapped, say, and this is how they walk) but let fly into a description of how characters read themselves. If Michael's neck IS a neck because it hurts (after Blanchot's declaration that "a broken fork is most a fork"), then characters are best able to read themselves when they are dis-abled. Disabling is a condition of reading and interpreting oneself. Hence Snediker tropes suffering as a launching pad for the joy of thinking about literature within literature (and of course without it).

(The Mets have their first runner on third in 15 innings of this game. "Here's trouble." I feel optimistic yet, as the Cardinals will bat again in the bottom of this inning.) What was most striking about Michael was not the way he speaks of himself as the subject of theory and theory as an integral part of his life, as the way by which he reads himself (STRIKE THREE AT THE KNEES), but the wisdom that sits underneath a wild shelf of fancy lexical doodads. As one colleague wrote to me, "I'm an overnight fan - mostly of the way he kept bringing theory back to how we live." It's the way we live that means most, and seems most difficult to approach through the academy and its trivial (and sometimes untrivial) differences and bitterness. Michael's theory of living combines incision with kindness, the profoundly temporal (he was utterly present to my daughter Radhika yesterday and this morning as he brushed and braided her hair) with the atemporality optimism provides. Optimism may be short, but it is true.

As the 16th inning dawns, my friend Aaron Belz writes to say he hates that LaRussa has left two relievers in to bat for themselves with two outs in their innings, and the game goes on. The game's very fascination is now in its tediousness; my optimism at a good outcome is almost met by a strong desire simply THAT it end. Base hit to centerfield by Ryan Ludwick brings Albert Pujols to the plate (that most poetic of baseball names, as Sandra Dollar said to me in Denver last week). I am not finishing my blog post because the game refuses to end, but I enjoy the fact that I am writing Snediker through baseball as he's a Spicer scholar who does not know an out from an at-bat. Strike to Pujols. The announcer chuckles. Base hit for Pujols; two men on. Peter Gizzi writes about Spicer's use of baseball: "It turns out, in fact, that baseball works for Spicer as a model of individual and social composition; in the lecture he uses it to describe his practice of dictation and in his last book, Book of Magazine Verse, the diamond becomes an incarnation or synthesis of heavenly and earthly cities." But incarnation depends upon the grinding of time on the diamond, this game going into its fifth hour, at least. And a double play ends this inning, 20 players having been stranded by the Cardinals in this game. I have begun not to feel anything for this game except anxiety. But to paraphrase Michael, "These baseball players, to paraphrase Dante, show the way one might feel eternal, but also the way one might, more generally, differently, feel. (41). Poets and theorists, like baseball players, cannot predetermine their temporal fields. What they can do is read the ground ball or the bounce or the instant of happiness, hard earned after so many innings. Jack Spicer's radio drones on (the game was blacked out, even though it's nowhere to be seen on Hawai`i television) and he would appreciate the ways his voice informs Snediker's informs the baseball commentators (on the verge of hysterical laughter) informs mine. The game has not ended, seems not to want to end, but this post has ended at the bottom of the 17th with no score, six hours in.

[in the pictures with Michael are Cindy Ward (seated with MS) and Radhika Webster Schultz (standing)]

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dementia & AWP (no link, save the ampersand)

While I was away in Denver last week, I got an update from my mother's intermediate caregiver, the woman on the outside of her Alzheimer's home who checks up on her, makes sure she has clothes, sends me notes. This social worker has discovered over recent months that my mother can be fierce, will shoo her away when she gets too demanding (wants her to take a walk, for example). The last time I saw mom was in January, when she did little but sit in a chair, slumped over to her right, to stare into the community room in her residential wing.

This latest update:


I am due to see your mom tomorrow. The staff at Arden Courts got in touch with me to discuss possibly getting a hospice consultation for your mom. Hospice is not only for when people are actively dying and can offer a lot of additional support and supervision for clients. Your mom is still the same at this time, no real change. They thought it would be nice for her to have the additional support. She eats fair and is not that involved or interested in activities anymore. Her weight is stable though. My thoughts are, she may not qualify at this time, but I wanted to get your thoughts on having them do a consultation. [signature removed]

I reread it for the phrase "Hospice is not only for when people are actively dying." "Actively dying." I know what it means, but I want to parse it. Is her dying then passive? Is that what dementia is, an inactive verb for dying?

There has been such a slowness to her passing. It can hardly be called "passing," almost a permanent way station on the way to not being in her chair, not not seeing what is before her, save a few photos to make her smile (a dog, a cat, a child).

My friend Joe Harrington's personal and political histories run parallel tracks; his mother died the day Pres. Nixon resigned. Co-incidence to mark historical specificity. Given (and taken) a moment to contemplate for a lifetime. My mother exceeds her parallels now. Her passion for politics died, but she did not, yet, not actively in any case.

I ask my students to think about the larger problems their favorite tropes pose to them. Metaphor totalizes, is imperial in its force (we're reading Walcott's Omeros, where that matters), anaphora annoys, repetition treadmills, oxymoron cannot decide. The forces of our tropes to appropriate, to claim, to render same, like malls in the suburbs, their adobe faces bland approximations of others. My mother has no tropes now. Was irony, was sarcasm, was pun ("the lowest form of humor," she would say, adding a line about nuns and habits). Is now cliche, spent shell casing, language lab English. "I'm so glad you called and everything's ok."

I call home and Radhika calls me "grandma." It's mom, I say. "Hi, grandma," she says, laughs.

Family as translation: we give or adopt life, watch to see how children take up our language. We are not literal translation, now homophonic catachresis. There's something in the air, Bill says to my report that Claudia homophonically translates women troubadours. We are not the same; we have travelled.

I say I publish indigenous writers but not as indigenous writers. Family is not blood, even where blood linked me to my mother. Is now past resemblance. Though her voice resembles itself once the telephonic dusk clears.

In her inactive dying I say yes, have the consultation. As member of the Graduate Program Committee, I imagine her applying for a spot in our program. Her application needs the active verb to fly. Her application may be sent back. She may get a better offer elsewhere. She may worry there's not enough diversity in heaven. She may not choose.


The only guerrilla action at AWP this year occured when I was in the women's room and heard a woman screaming "motherfucker" at the top of her lungs, along with several other multisyllabic sweetnesses. Turns out she was standing on a chair in front of the Cave Canem booth reading a poem about her grandmother. Otherwise, AWP provided its usual official celebrations of the mainstream, with off-campus readings that were a bit more funky, including the Meadowlark Event I linked to Joe Harrington's blog about yesterday.

This year's AWP in Denver saw me chained mostly to my table under the klieg lights of the Convention Center in a vast hall adjacent to this year's Auto Show whose food spreads were better, whose price of admission was higher, and whose clientele test drove cars with enormous engines around a tiny block to a lot across from the Hyatt. My neighbors and housemates (at my cousins' Sue and Rick) were Bill and Lisa Howe, whose Slack Buddha press is an amazing DIY production. They publish wonderful writers between lovingly silk-screened covers. Sales were far better than they had been in last year's panic economy. I was also on a panel about publishing indigenous and Latin American poetry. Most of my panel mates were associated with Salt Press's Earthworks Series, and ended up at the table on the other side of me. Brandy Nalani McDougall signed books for a while on Saturday morning.

I took photos of everyone who bought a Tinfish book, and some who merely touched them. I love these photos for the way people held themselves and their books: one large young man held his proudly, like a little kid clutching a new toy; others held books at a distance; some frowned and pretended to read, while others held several purchases in a fan-shaped array. Here are just a few of the photos. You can see all of them at my public facebook link here.

Here are Brandy McDougall (r) and Ching-In Chen (l); Deborah Miranda (l) and Tim Denevi (r); Joe Harrington (l, in Cards cap) and Leonard Schwartz (r, in trench coat); Janna Plant (l) and unknown young man whose photo I love (r).

Tinfish Press is going through some changes at the moment, so I'm not certain how many publications we'll be getting out in the next year, beyond the forthcoming Dandelion Clock by Daniel Tiffany and Tinfish 20, which will be our last issue of the annual journal. Our art director, Gaye Chan, is leaving us after 13 years of doing brilliant work and mentoring young designers. She will be greatly missed; this collaboration has been one of the highlights of my career. I intend to keep the press going, if perhaps at a slower pace, and am also feeling some burn out (mostly over the budget and staffing situation at my institution) So perhaps I won't be in DC next year. But we'll see.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Mother of All Literary Weeks in Honolulu!

I'm just back from Denver, too tired to blog, so I'm borrowing Joe Harrington's post on the Meadowlark Poetry Marathon, which I and he were a part of, so please read his post here. He promises to update it over the next few days.

Then this coming week will be one of the busiest ever in Honolulu. Here's a teaser:

--ROUTES (Kahuaomanoa Press) and _13 Ways of Looking at TheBus_ launch at 39 Hotel between 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday! Our local transportation system as muse. Gizelle Gajelonia will be a featured writer.

--Poetry 411, Kuykendall 406, 3:30-6, all grad students and colleagues are
invited to join my class, at which Michael Snediker will be guest.

--MIA reading on Wednesday 7-10 at the Mercury Bar in Chinatown, featuring
Jaimie Gusman, Michael Snediker and many others.

--Michael Snediker lecture on Spicer and queer theory Thursday at 7 p.m. Art
Auditorium. Seminar on disability on Friday a.m. in the English dept at UHM.
Snediker's _Queer Optimism_ is a brilliant book and hey, he also writes

--Snediker seminar in Kuykendall on disability on Friday morning.

--Contemporary Museum event: Poetry Reading, Sunday, April 18th at 2:00pm
Well known and emerging poets will read new works
based on the artworks in the current exhibition.
Reception to follow at 3:00pm
RSVP – or 237-5217
Free to Museum Members. $8.00 daily museum admission for non-members. One
year student memberships only $15.00! (admits two)