Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tinfish Retro Chapbook #10 (of 12), _the gulag arkipelago_, by Sean Labrador y Manzano


The gulag arkipelago, by Sean Labrador y Manzano, $3 from Tinfish Press

The tenth installment of our Retro Chapbook Series offers up Sean Labrador y Manzano's three sestinas, “Death to All Drug Traffickers,” “Male Order,” and “Mycorrhizal.” Manzano's imagination roams from Longinus to Marcos, baseball to Martial Law, passports to Sin, pineapples to puddles. Substitute Manzano for Ashbery in the following sentence by Joseph Conte (from Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry), and you've got the gist of his use and abuse of the sestina: “Ashbery's renovation of the sestina form is extensive and complete--he knocks layers of old thematic plaster off the brick walls of structure.” Manzano knocks off (as it were) layers of plaster to reveal a wobbling foundation of totalitarianism and diaspora. He writes that, “The roots of my 'Gulag Arkipelago' originate with how the Spanish used the Philippines as a penal colony. Similar to Australia.”


Sean Labrador y Manzano was born in Tripler Army Hospital aka The Pink Palace. Went to Likelike Elementary School, Aliamanu Middle School and Waipahu Middle School. Father was stationed at Pearl Harbor, then Barber's Point. In the 1920s, his Manong Pio, imported to the plantations of the Big Island—began the surge of Manzanos into Hawai`i. His work has appeared in Conversations at a Wartime Cafe (http://www.mcsweeneys.net/columns/conversations-at-a-wartime-cafe) and in many other venues.


from “Death to All Drug Traffickers”


sports not operated by drug traffickers, the Senator fancied Jim Rice leading
the American League in home runs, fancied Wade Boggs' batting average, fancied drafting
pitchers. In line Scouts are returning mamasans and tias seeking to fill billets in cloisters

and parlours. There are headhunters recruiting for phlebotomists or chambermaids,
pious and ornate. Sometimes among them are tourists, returning and new. In between
this silent line and the carousel revolving with boxes belonging to drug traffickers

and boxes not belonging to drug traffickers drift unclaimed, waiting
to be claimed is the customs agent. In between the carousel housed
by the terminal that exists and the waiting world negotiated by Sin,

is the customs agent.

Asked about his cover design (above), Eric Butler wrote the following: "It's a pretty literal reading, though an abstracted rendering: The Gulag Archipelago is, of course, a name stolen from the book about the Gulag labor camps in the USSR. So the figures on the cover are all people, the ones with the diagonal lines are officers, and the ones without are laborers. Everyone in a totalitarian system, of course, is oppressed and thus carry themselves with their heads bowed, refusing to stand out (oppression always relies on facelessness). And their uniform shape shows both their anonymity and similarity; the difference between 'us' and 'them' is always so invisible and arbitrary."

And here is our list of Retro Chapbooks.  You can have them all for $36.  Design by Eric Butler and printing by Obun, Honolulu.  Simply go to our website, click "purchase" and go to near the end of the list on 2co.com.  Or send checks to us at Tinfish Press, 47-728 Hui Kelu Street #9, Kane`ohe, HI 96744.  Please include $1 handling for each item.

12: Tim Yu's 15 Chinese Silences (forthcoming)
11: Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi (forthcoming)
10: The Gulag Arkipelago, by Sean Labrador y Manzano
9: Thou Sand, by Michael Farrell
8: One Petal Row, by Jamie Gusman
7: Yours Truly & Other Poems, by Xi Chuan, trans. Lucas Klein
6: Ligature Strain, by Kim Koga
5: Yellow/Yellow, by Margaret Rhee
4: Mao's Pears, by Kenny Tanemura
2.: Tonto's Revenge, by Adam Aitken
1: Say Throne, by No`u Revilla

There's so much amazing poetry in the Pacific region.  This series provides just a small slice, but it's  highly nutritious and tasty.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Walter Mosley, Game Six, the Seven Sins of Memory, and Mother Loss

[Cardinals players react to David Freese's game-winning home run in Game Six]

Yesterday we threw a party. I had long wanted to watch Game Six (click for the box score) of the 2011 World Series (best game ever) as art rather than as an adrenaline-pumping, jumping-off-a-cliff, heart-wrenching event, or what it had been on October 27. So we broke out the World Series box of DVDs, an early present for the kids (believe that if you will!), and began our trip down memory lane. Soon it proved to have as many trips and falls as memories, and the afternoon became an exercise in trying to remember what had happened when. When Diane broke out the thread from our then-live Facebook feed (off the Cardinals Hui) and began reading back my reactions to the game then as we watched it now, which is now then, things got complicated.

It didn't help that the live feed in Hawai`i had been knocked off the air for at least half an hour during Game Six, leaving us to scramble to find the game on the radio, but none of us could remember which innings were those we had not seen. It didn't help that we remembered certain heart-stopping events: Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal failing to catch a ball in short left field; David Freese missing a routine pop-up, which ended up rolling off the top of his red cap; the Rangers' pitcher missing first base with his foot, even as he caught the ball. But we simply could not remember where in the game's narrative they occurred. An inning would begin and we would say, "oh this is when really bad stuff happens," and then the inning would end happily enough. An earlier inning would have started and we would have forgotten, say, that Lance Berkman hit a home run. We were like a jury that knows a crime was committed, even that the principals were there, but can't for the life of them figure out what really happened or if the defendant is guilty or not.

"I know what you said now," Diane would report from her Facebook thread. "But I can't say!" (There were kids in the room.)

She continued: "this is where my boss wrote to say he assumed I was watching the Cardinals (lose)."

"This is when Sangha started slamming doors downstairs."

"And now you're saying you can't pick Radhika up from soccer because the game is still going."

I've always thought communal readings of poetry were best, because so many minds come to the poems from various points in the time-space-line that meaning accrues. The same process helped us put together what we had seen a mere two months ago. The suspense that had built up during the game on 10/27, especially at moments when the Cardinals were down two runs with two outs and two strikes on the batter (they are the only team to come back twice from such deficits), transposed into suspense over what we remembered and how well we remembered it.

Then the last innings unfolded. We remembered those better. David Freese's triple, Lance Berkman's hit, David Freese's walk-off home run, those we could summon up without the video, the conversation, the Facebook thread. Suspense over. The Cardinals pushed the Series to seven, we felt good about the states of our memory, and my husband declared that if we put the DVD of Game Seven in tomorrow, he thought the Cardinals had a pretty good chance of winning.

David Schacter is a psychology researcher, professor, writer who has had a lot to say about what happened yesterday afternoon. I've been reading his books, first The Seven Sins of Memory (2001), in which he categorizes our typical memory problems (like tip of the tongue syndrome, absent-mindedness, lack of name recall and many more), then explains how these sins are actually advantages. Many of those advantages seem to have to do with hunting and gathering, but still. I'm now reading his earlier book, Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past (1996), which should help me remember some of the material better. In order to remember, he claims, we need to create complicated contexts around the information we want to remember, or we need to feel emotional pulls to those moments that stick. Names are hard to remember, because they are context-free; we remember someone's story, if not their name, but we do not remember their name while forgetting their history. Our brains erase events we don't need to remember (if we're lucky, we remember the crucial events) but leave traces of what did matter. And so, Freese's "idiot play," as he called it later, remains in our minds, but without the sense of what inning we were in, except that his error occurred somewhere in the middle of the game. And his walk-off homerun is seared into our memories, even though the fact that there was a 3-2 count on him was remembered only by 12-year old Sangha. Diane said, "I thought he just walked up there and hit it out right away!"

As Cardinals fans, this mattered deeply to Diane and me. Why should it matter to anyone else? Pull the google map lever a bit and consider that a lifetime of watching baseball games becomes an anchor to autobiography. My former colleagues Arnie and Phil sat behind Bryant and me at a Cardinals-Padres game at Aloha Stadium in 1998 and told each other their stories by way of which games they had seen, and when. Arnie, as Arnold Edelstein, later wrote a review-essay in Biography about the autobiographical nature of being a baseball fan, about the way the dry numbers in a baseball encyclopedia evoke memories for him of his father's death. See Biography, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1991, pp. 272-275 (Review). Pull the lever out further and further, and you get to the point where memory and autobiography begin to fail; you get to dementia, where I spent years, obsessively watching my mother lose hers. You get to the place Walter Mosley began from when he composed the marvelous novel, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (2010). Famous for his detectives, Mosley has written a book in which the primary search is for memory. A significant part of the plot involves the fantasy of recovering lost memories--a pact with the devil for memory, but also for quicker death--but that's not the part of the book that I will remember, if my emotions have anything to say about it.

Ptolemy Grey is 91 years old. He still lives on his own in an apartment full of his past (read trash, read disordered papers, read hoard), full of present day insects and rodents, without a working toilet or bath, and in a mind inhabited by the paranoias, fears, and confusions of dementia. Mosley taps into the horrible poetry of this condition; Grey's internal monologues are beautiful, even as they make us fear for his safety. Grey turns help away, gets attacked regularly by a drug addict, lives in a stew of time that is at once the misprisioned present and a wash of past events that enter his frame like a tide, and then fall back. (These monologues reminded me of ways the depressive mind confronts the world, also in a wash of memories and fears and blind-alleys.) He tries to stay in the present by playing his radio loudly, but dares not turn any knobs lest he lose the stream and not be able to recover it. These sounds he sets against the babbling of his uncontrollable memories:

"So his memory became like secrets held away from his own mind. But these secrets were noisy things; they babbled and muttered behind the door, and so if he listened closely he might catch a snatch of something he once knew well" (12).

Ptolemy is a time-traveler with no need for a time-machine; his brain's disorder gives him a free, if often, terrifying ride through the past-as-present. That Ptolemy is an old African American man means that his memories are often traumatic; his childhood mentor was lynched, a little girl burned to death in a house. History has not been kind. His memories, as we say, are "bad." And his present includes the death by drive-by shooting of his great-nephew, Reggie, the man who cared for him and his failing memory.

The only way to solve the mysteries in the book is to give Ptolemy back his memory, if only for a time. As in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, there's gold involved, a real treasure that Ptolemy must shelter from rapacious relatives and entrust to the young woman who comes like an angel to save him. This makes for exciting reading, but Ptolemy himself is less interesting as a cogent character. The tragedy of the book's ending (layered within the comedy of its certitude, its completion) brings back the poetry of Mosley writing Alzheimer's through Ptolemy, whose memories are again as grey as his matter, as his memories:

"He held out his hand and the girl who reminded him of birds singing took it into hers just like he thought she would. He signed and maybe she asked a question. The music became a sky and the words the man on the television was saying turned into the ground under his feet. One was blue and the other brown, but he was not sure which was which. Everything glittered and now and again, when he looked around, things were different. Another room. A new taste. The girl always returned. And the door that was shut against his forgotten life was itself forgotten and there were feelings but they were far away." (277)

Walter Mosley talks about his mother's dementia here, and how it influenced his writing. Or watch:

Mosley's description of the person with Alzheimer's in this clip is compelling because it does not separate that person from the rest of us, but shows how the loss of memory is a shared experience. Failing to remember Game Six is not dementia, but falls on the continuum between total recall (itself a fiction) and total lack thereof. Hence, Mosley: "My experience of people in dementia is that a lot of their personality, a lot of their knowledge, a lot of their experience is still there but there’s not a direct connection that they can just reach out and get it and then bring it back. There’s a word, they know there’s a word, but they don’t remember what that is. There’s a word that describes something. There’s a thing that they have to do, there’s something that’s very important. It’s almost there within the range of their mind and they have to sit there and go through a really convoluted process of thought and memory to try to retain that—to regain it. And sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t." The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is a beautiful, tender portrait of dementia. One of the best I've read.

Toward the end of our party yesterday, I remembered two Cardinals games I watched on television in Washington, DC in June. I was in Virginia because my mother was dying--she died on June 14, 2011--and, oddly enough, the Cardinals were also in Washington to play the Nationals. On the night my mother died, friends took me home with them and I asked them to turn on the Cardinals game. They did. The Cardinals were ahead, but not for long. They must have put Ryan Franklin in to save the game, and they ended up losing in a rout. No, I call up the box score and it was Batista that night who took the fall. (For a very different rendering of that evening, see this post.) The next night I visited Kyle Semmel and Pia Moller in Bethesda. We watched another game. The Cardinals lost again. Losing and loss drove on twin rails those two days, though I encountered a couple who loved the Cardinals on the Metro trains both coming and going on that second evening. Only in September, when I went to a game in Philadelphia, did the Cardinals win for me in person--though they did so after Al Filreis drove us away from the stadium. They won that game in 11, after blowing a lead with two outs in the 9th. It was a foreshadowing, even as those earlier games had seemed a foreshortening, a kick in the stomach after the far far more significant mother-loss.

Note: In trawling the web for images of David Freese, I found this audio of his game winning home run off the BBC. The sonic dissonance is delightful.

Friday, December 9, 2011

On Synchronicity

In early November, I was in Chicago, having lunch with my friend Tony Trigilio, who teaches at Columbia College. Before his cat, Shimmy, died, she and Tony wrote a brilliant blog in the cat's voice--about everything from Donald Rumsfeld to Gertrude Stein and the pope. Then the other day I was driving on the H-1 toward the university off-ramp in Honolulu. I found myself behind a small SUV with a Columbia College-Chicago sticker on the back. I thought vaguely of Tony, Chicago, and lunch. We both exited, but I lost the other car. As I drove up University Avenue into Manoa, I found myself behind a car whose license plate read SHIMMY.

It had happened again. A website devoted to Carl Jung's ideas (many of which you can pay for) tells me that "the term synchronicity is coined by Jung to express a concept that belongs to him. It is about acausal connection of two or more psycho-physic phenomena." Or, as Rod Serling notes, "There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition."

This chance event, which connected me back to a moment a month earlier, is hardly earth-shaking, but it joins a long list of such events that I've noticed in recent years, more and more as I grow older and coincidence becomes less coincidental, more personal. A friend tells me she also notices synchronicities but doesn't talk about them much, since such perceptions are thought to indicate an unbalanced mind. Under "apophenia," The Skeptic's Dictionary reports: "
Those of us who have had the pleasure of spending some time with a person having a psychotic episode have often been asked to see the significance of such random things as automobile license plate numbers, birthdates, and arrangements of fallen twigs." I remember being told about a man with psychotic bi-polar disorder who thought of Robert F. Kennedy every time he saw white socks, which he remembered RFK wore. What's unbalanced about that?

I've got the license plate covered, I guess. And the automotive thread runs deeper than Shimmy's plates. A few years ago I was teaching Catch-22 in my American Literature Since the 1950s course. In that book, you may recall, there is a "man in white" in the military hospital who lives inside a cocoon of bandages, or swaddling clothes, his one leg in traction. No one quite knows if he's still alive, and so he gets yelled at, teased, and otherwise used as a foil for Joseph Heller's arch wit. On the way home from class one day, going the other way on H-1 from where I saw the sticker the other day, I needed to merge into the right lane to get closer to the Likelike exit lane. So I looked over into that lane. I saw an ambulance such as I'd never seen before, like a long station wagon with windows in the back, through which I could see . . . someone lying on a cot covered in white sheets, with one leg up in the air.

That semester took an odd turn for the synchronous, even as I nearly drove off the road after spotting the man in white. (I exaggerate for effect, having learned that from my mother, but more on her in a bit.) Let's just say that our readings of Maxine Hong Kingston and Toni Morrison featured episodes of amazing synchronicity. The week of China Men found me at a lawyer's office with a Chinese graduate student trying to stay in the USA. The week we read Morrison an email appeared in my box from a man in Alabama who was writing the memoirs of his time working for Stokely Carmichael (and who wanted publishing advice from me, of all people). The students starting finding the readings in their worlds, too.

After my mother died this summer, I wrote about what happened later that evening in this blog post:

Ellen took me home with her and Steve. They & Max asked about my father. I offered history: Michigan farm, auto plant, air force (when it integrated, he knew Tuskegee airmen), IBM, Western Union. Ellen said, Jerry Lawler. Jerry Lawler! My father's Irish friend, office roommate of Col. Dudley Stevenson, Tuskegee airman. Steve called Jerry; we explained the coincidence. He darted off to find a letter. Please, do you mind? I'm looking. Dear Jerry, the letter read. My father's voice, Irished. Jerry, you never put yourself above others, gave credit to them & did not take it. The experience of an Irish immigrant. Martha & Susan join me in wishing you a long & enjoyable retirement.

Not too long after, I got a Tinfish order from a Korean-American woman in McLean, Virginia, who lives very near the road my mother lived on for well over 30 years (and I for some of those). The other day, I met a Korean-American poet new to Honolulu, and found that she grew up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, the small town north of Pittsburgh where my mother was born and where she attended Allegheny College. I don't know what to make of this. Gestures from the beyond, happy coincidences, random chance events that attach to the velcro of personal experience? The question "what do they mean?" might be part of the answer, in fact. These events are not results (as in effects that follow causes) but triggers.

While the meaning of these events remains mysterious, their forms and processes do not. These are poetic links, poetic forms. Perhaps I write the way I do because the world is structured in this way. Or perhaps the world is structured in this way because my work in poetry has trained me to see it so. These are instants that contain meaning, though I'm hard pressed to say what these meanings are. Their message may have more to do with the making of meanings than in any stable meanings themselves. Making is usually more interesting than what is made, is it not? I find comfort in hearing my father's voice on the evening my mother died; I enjoy meeting unlikely people from the place where she was born and near where she died. But is comfort in itself meaning-full? Or does it come from a brief brush against what just might be meaning? The world's wit putting two things together that never seemed to fit before? The notion that the world itself generates meaning, that it's not all our minds? I just don't know. Nor does it bother me over much. I'm not Thomas Hardy, though I do appreciate his coincidence-laden books more now (at least in my memory of them).

I suppose that half the fun is in following the synapses, the lightning flashes, and then detaching from the meanings that arrive. As an adoptive mother, I often resent the discussions about "who gets what from whom," as if DNA were a certain marker of such qualities as humor or sense of direction or love for ketchup. But then again, I enjoy moments when I realize that my daughter's utter lack of a sense of direction is like my mother's (if she turns left, go right), or that my son's sweetness resembles my father's. Meaning is a guide, but it doesn't get us anywhere certain. Except perhaps on H-1 at rush hour, looking for more random chance events to occur.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gerard Genette do the narrative police in different voices; or, the 2011 World Series DVD

[Our Cardinals shrine, October, 2011, with Tortilla]

The St. Louis Cardinals clinched the Wild Card on the last day of the regular season, September 28; they won the World Series exactly one month later. During those four weeks, I watched almost every pitch of every game they played; when my husband, Bryant, and son, Sangha, were home, they did, too. Our daughter, Radhika, watched a lot of it, and had to find a ride home from soccer during Game Six because darkness fell during the baseball game and we would not leave our television screen. (If you're wondering about this detail, night games occur during the afternoon in Hawai`i.) So "watch" is too weak a word; I lived and died on every pitch. I screamed on some of them, and my son slammed doors downstairs in his room on others. When games got terribly stressful, I could hear Sangha outside hitting a ball with his own bat, doubtless imagining a good outcome for our Redbirds. October was the "baseball research" month of my sabbatical; if any administrators are reading this, the rest of my sabbatical was devoted utterly to my writing and research, I promise you that. Well, except for this earlier post . . .

That was the story. The DVD that arrived in the mail the other day is discourse. Who knows why the moment when Prof. Michael Levenson unveiled this distinction by way of Gerard Genette and Seymour Chatman, was so memorable to this poetry person during her muddled graduate school career? I don't remember much more than that distinction (see this entry on Genette's narratology for all that's been lost to me over time), but I'm thinking of it now as I consider the move from the postseason to its memorializing by MLB Productions, as narrated by Jon Hamm of St. Louis. The 2006 video was narrated by Tommy Lee Jones, whose intonation on "they had forgotten what it meant to be a member of the St. Louis Cardinals" was as perfect as Pavarotti's . . .

By now, the 2006 DVD has re-organized my memories of most of what happened that year. But 2011 is still so fresh in my mind and recently adrenaline-drenched body that the DVD works against memory, like backwash. To mix metaphors from flood to drought conditions, it feels like sandpaper between the synapses; I want to resist its intrusions, even as I watch it (again). Of course it leaves stuff out. That it provided me the occasion to teach Radhika the meaning of "foreshadowing," when Nelson Cruz is shown running for a fly ball during practice, many hours before he failed to rein in Freese's 9th inning triple in Game Six, is gravy, but not meat. Where suspense was most acutely constructed over time--strike, ball, ball, strike, then what?--the DVD replaces these acuities with the single pitch, delivered in super slow motion, heightened by music. Yes, David Freese (it's almost always David Freese) gets that crucial hit, but the drama's contrived rather than lived. My memory still lives in that present tense of mid-October, but the DVD wants it to abstract itself, become historical time, lose immediacy and then recover it through gimmicks. Not yet!

There's the matter of the squirrel. The squirrel did not simply author an odd event; s/he was a mythological being. (When Tony LaRussa suggested that the squirrel was female and was hanging out with Jason Motte's male glove, he was corrected by the tortoise, but more on this in a bit.) While there is a clip of the Busch Stadium squirrel running across the plate between Skip Schumaker and Roy Oswalt of the Phillies (this was the NLDS) we don't get the aftermath of that famous moment (prefigured when the squirrel ran behind third base the day or two before). First, here's the squirrel in action. It does not run, it leaps, all four legs sailing through the air:

First, Oswalt freaked. Second, the squirrel became a cult figure, emblazoned on rally towels and shirts, made into stuffed animals waved by fans at the stadium, covered in the St. Louis media.
The squirrel was captured when the teams went to Philadelphia, and taken to a park, so that he never again appeared on national television. Third, the squirrel acquired a twitter feed. It was not so good a twitter feed as Jason Motte's glove, Sir Glovington A. Wilson, which was not so good as Allen Craig's tortoise, Torty Craig's feed, but it was a twitter feed nonetheless.

Torty Craig's last tweet warmed this poet's heart: "'The shell must break before the bird[s] can fly.'" - Alfred Lord Tennyson | Our have flown to the greatest of heights. " But throughout the playoffs, TortyCraig wrote stories about the Cardinals' clubhouse, stories that moved in backwards order of his tweets (what say you to that, Gerard Genette?). The mystery of his authorship consumed a good deal of my time. I assumed he was outfielder Allen Craig (or Master Allen, as Torty called him), but sometimes he tweeted just after Master Allen hit a home run. I thought I'd busted him, calling out one of the Vivaelbirdos.com writers (who is studying for his MFA), but word came back, via Aaron Belz, that DanUpBaby had denied authorship. Aaron wrote a piece on Huffington Post about Torty Craig. Aaron, himself a Cards fan-poet-tweeter, knows poetry when he sees it: "Like a poem by Ezra Pound, it's compact, strange, and manic. Other tweets are downright absurdist: 'Sometimes Jason Motte's glove joins our conversations. That is to say that Jason & his glove talk & Jason & I talk. I can't hear his glove.' Welcome to the 21st century, we guess."

The DVD leaves out the poetry, the mythology, the tweets, time's chronological passage into suspense and sometimes nauseating anxiety (as during Game Six of the World Series, when the Cards came back not once but twice from being two runs down with two outs and two strikes on the batter, only to win on Freese's walk-off home run in the 11th inning). It replaces real time angst with sentiment, the sometime tedium of the game with constant action, lives in the climax and denouement without really touching the narrative arc (do I have this at all right, oh prose writers of the world?). So what does it offer, aside from the nostalgia we yearn for and now have?

It gives us Lance Berkman's shoes. I kid you not. The most beautiful moment of the DVD comes when Berkman (late of the evil Houston Astros) comes up in the 10th inning of Game Six. The Cardinals are down by two, again, and there are two outs, again; Nolan Ryan has risen from his seat in his black coat and is nearly smiling. The Rangers are about to win the Series. But Berkman has not yet gone down two strikes. He has not yet hit the ball into center field to tie the game--again--and he has not yet looked at the camera (sans playoff beard) to say, "there was nothing in my head, nothing." He is at the plate. But we don't see him there when the camera shows us his shoes, toes pointed toward the plate from the left side (his better side), cleats metallic gray against dull dirt. We see his red and oh so carefully polished shoes. This image is worth the price of admission. It is the image of suspense, in the course of a seemingly endless game, but it is also the image of love--time spent--for the game. Time we do not see went into shining those shoes. Time we do not feel went into the selection of those shoes. Nobody else's shoes were so bright. Berkman later tells us that these at-bats go quickly. But that's his temporal field. For us, the moment was excruciating, and the DVD embraces the moment, holds it longer than it should, but winks at us, too, bright light flashing off red leather.

Here, discourse earns its cleats, trumps story, if only for a moment, and then David Freese hits his famous 11th inning shot to win the game, send the Series to 7, and we're back in the land of serious nostalgia, men in white and red romping across the field of view, Freese throwing his helmet down between third and home, celebrants leaping, tearing off his shirt, the all-too-quick return to cliche (alas only Berkman and the losing Rangers' players evade baseball cliches in the film, Berkman too clever and the Rangers' too disappointed to utter the obligatory "team efforts" and "we came to play baseballs").

Five years from now, the red shoes will have trumped Game Six's suspense as it was lived in real time. But for now, the playoffs and the Series are embodied memories, still capable of jump-starting my nerves. Besides, the full set of games is on order--being shipped as I write this--and I'm planning a Game Six party for just after Christmas, after Sangha knows what plot I've been hatching for his Christmas morning. The party will happen in real time, the game in realish historical time, and the result--however well foretold by the archive--will seem as astonishing then as it seemed in late October. I can believe the Cardinals won the Series, but I still cannot believe they won Game Six.

Neither could the New York Times, for three minutes during Game Six. They put out an article with this bold headline: HAPPILY REWRITING TEAM HISTORY, which chronicled--in what they thought was historical time--the victory of the Texas Rangers over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. How do we characterize the narrative stance of the writer of this deluded paragraph?

Now there will be new pictures, iconic shots that will live in Texas sports lore. The Rangers blew the lead with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth before Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the top of the 10th. It lifted Texas to a rollicking 9-7 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, and shook the Rangers' status as the oldest baseball franchise without a championship.

No, there will be but one photograph, and this is it. No, wait, let me play you the video, in time:

For a while, my office computer was out of time. I'm on sabbatical, so I don't go in often, but every time I did, I'd turn the computer on and it would be stuck in September, 2011. The New York Times headlines were in that month, and so was the St. Louis Cardinals' home page. Jaime Garcia was pitching, and the Cards were chasing the Braves for the Wild Card. It was as if none of what I've just written about had happened. It was as if Kenny Goldsmith were teasing me with a conceptual month-before-the-Cardinals-won extended grab from every screen on the computer. Turned out the "work off-line" function had been turned on. When I unchecked the box, I was given back my present tense. Back in the world in which the Cardinals are 2011 World Champs, I feel a bit like Wordsworth crossing the Alps. Sublimity comes after. But not via DVD.

Game Six Forever.

[With thanks to the Cardinals facebook hui and farewell to LaRussa, if not quite Pujols. RIP Bob Forsch.]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Local Literature is Dead. Long Live Local Literature! R. Zamora Linmark, Janine Oshiro and new writing from Hawai`i

I used to torture my students by asking them to define the word "local." They would quickly realize the pitfalls of talking about the word, especially to someone like me who, by virtue of her monolingual standard English and her pale face, was resolutely not local. For "local" usually referred to someone of Asian or Hawaiian descent who grew up in Hawai`i and spoke da kine Pidgin English (more properly Hawaiian Creole English). It was also a class marker, indicating someone who was working class, rather than the wealthier haole (outsider, white person). But I'd ask the question because we'd be reading "local literature," or poems, stories, novels, plays, by writers like Eric Chock, Darrell Lum, Gary Pak, Marie Hara, Lois-Ann Yamanaka and others. Knowing the definition allowed us to explore the ways in which these writers used local culture and language, sometimes pushing against its boundaries, but usually referring back to the plantation days, when locals and haole were set apart. Bamboo Ridge Press was the primary purveyor of local literature; the term grew to be defined by a certain style, content, and manner. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this was a revolutionary move; by 1990, when I arrived in Hawai`i, it was still seen as suspect to teach the stuff. It just wouldn't fly in New York, which was how you defined "universal."

Lee Tonouchi was once a budding local writer, the rightful descendant of Eric Chock, Joe Balaz, Rap Reiplinger and the other comedians. Tonouchi burst on the scene in the 90s as a funny writer who insisted on writing only in Pidgin; he famously got his M.A. in English at UHM writing only in Pidgin and then taught at KCC and HPU in Pidgin and then wrote essays about being a Pidgin speaker and a dictionary that archived Pidgin words and phrases. He was a second generation Bamboo Ridge writer. They published his book Da Word, which took local literature from the plantation to the local mall, where most people had gone after statehood and the demise of agriculture in the islands. His Pidgin was infused with phrases like "it's da bomb," whose origins seemed more continental than Hawaiian. But still, here was the local, transmogrified.

Tonouchi's new book is called Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son (Bess Press). He will launch the book this Wednesday. I've read the book, as I was asked to write a blurb for it (it seems dozens of us were!), but it's been a while. I'm not going to use this space to review the book's content, but to remark on the way it's being publicized. The local is dead. Even if Lum begins his remarks with the word "local," as in, "Locals know that we are Orientals, not Asian Americans which is why we could never speak of ejaculation, losing a mother, or enemas to our Oriental Faddah. Tonouchi speaks what we never said but wished we had to our own father, mother, and grandparents." But then the vocabulary shifts; even though Lum will end his blurb with an assertion that Tonouchi "speaks for us all," most of his blurb refers to Tonouchi's Okinawan roots: "His work is more than a confessional, a treatise on Okinawan pride, or just a tribute to his ancestors. This crafty humorist captures the innocence and wonderment of our youth trying to explain the world in the kind of twisted logic that seemed to make so much sense at the time. Check out his explanation of why Spam is the SUPER Okinawan food." In the "About This Book," we read that, "it's the essence of being an Okinawan in Hawai`i." In the brief bio, we read that Tonouchi is "one full-on 100 percent Uchinanchu yonsei."

This is not really news. The term "local" was always problematic, never as inclusive as its proponents claimed. Furthermore, some of Hawai`i's writers did not want to be included in it. After a mid-1990s confrontation between Bamboo Ridge and critics who claimed (with justification) that the journal published mostly local Asian writers and largely ignored Hawaiian and Pacific Islander writers, Bamboo Ridge began putting out issues devoted to local Korean literature, local Filipino literature, and--finally--Hawaiian drama. The Hawaiian journal `oiwi was born, and Hawaiian language and culture really took off at the UH and elsewhere. Since then, Bamboo Ridge has published local Asian, Hawaiian, and white writers (Ian McMillan, at least, though not as white) in recent years. McMillan, oddly enough, may have entered the field as one of the last "local writers," since there is as yet no "white writer" category here. If "local" was not a pie that everyone wanted to claim, this new pie was sliced relentlessly. But Tonouchi had been Da Pidgin Guerrilla for so long, so strong an advocate for the language that marked the local as the local, that it's hard to see him breaking out the ethnic marker. He's now Okinawan.

While the breaking-up of local literature was perhaps necessary, the way it happened is not without its own problems. And so what becomes of "local literature," now that it's something of a dead (or at least somnolent) metaphor? As one local writer said to me once, it's not entirely a good thing to take a category that created a cross-ethnic group and defined writers according to where they were born and raised and what language they spoke, and to chop it up into so many new segments, defined by nationality, ethnicity, blood. Where did local literature go? Might we want to recuperate some of its power to the world we're living in, which is not tied to the agricultural plantation, but to the tourist plantation and to international capital (as the APEC summit showed us recently)? I think it may be possible, if we re-frame the local as something more like glocal (awful word) or at least as a literature that looks off-island for inspiration and--yes--for content, argument, and audience. Something like Linton Kwesi Johnson's work (hardly cutting edge at this point!), which addresses itself to the world in a local language, or like some of the slam poets in Hawai`i, who address world issues like global warming and violence from their perch in Honolulu. Many, if not most, global problems exist here--are often magnified by our isolation and small size--so why not take on globalization, climate change, linguistic and species extinction across the boundaries we so easily assign ourselves? There are also those "universal" issues that have taken such a beating, like existence, old age, dying, death, survival.

I have two very different books on my desk. One is by a prominent writer who grew up in Hawai`i, wrote an important book while a student at UHM, and then moved away. The other is by a lesser known writer (this is her first book) who grew up in Hawai`i, left for many years, and has now returned. The first writer, R. Zamora Linmark, writes about culture, language, queerness; the second writer, Janine Oshiro, writes about loss, death, the ecstasies or discoveries that trauma makes possible. Neither one is a local writer, according to the old definition. And yet they offer what might be termed the global-local, or the diasporic-local, in the case of Linmark, or the spiritual-local, a place-bound wisdom writing, in Oshiro's case. I do not want to make too grand an argument based on poetry found in these two books, but I'd like to suggest that they may point us in a direction that is neither "local" in the old sense nor "ethnic" in the newer one.

Linmark's writing contains the higher quotient of the (old) local in it. He writes in Pidgin, often, and about growing up in Hawai`i. He offers us Manoa graveyard and Thomas Square, the UH Warriors (ne Rainbows), their coach, Filipino plantation workers. [That link is to a blog post I wrote on Linmark's response to Coach McMackin's slur against homosexuals in a press conference at Notre Dame.] He translates Frank O'Hara's encounter with the sun on Fire Island into an encounter with a coqui frog near Hilo, Hawai`i. He plays with Lorca, but sets the poem in Hawai`i. He also writes about the Philippines, often in verse that more resembles Robert Browning's writing than Lois-Ann Yamanaka's; his dramatic monologues have a lot of the Last Duchess in them. There's something old-fashioned about many of Linmark's poems, not so much in their content as in their craftedness; he makes his poems well. But Linmark's new book, Drive-By Vigils, published by Hanging Loose Press in Brooklyn, New York (ah, he's made it to New York City, after all!), as were his first two volumes of poetry, is not an instance of local literature. It is something else. It's also a book that includes Hamlet, Montgomery Clift, Charles Bukowski, meditations on growing older (turning 40), Anderson Cooper, world travel, and many many other topics. We could frame the Hawai`i poems using the global ones as markers, or do the opposite, but neither direction quite works. Linmark lives in all these locations, actual places and identities and languages, and he's hardly alone in that. If he hears Lorca in the voices of local boys, then Lorca is there.

Janine Oshiro doesn't name her places in Pier (Alice James) but Hawai`i is one of them, Iowa another. Portland is in the mix, too. There's an oblique reference to Hawai`i's plantations in "Intermission," which is more about peeing than about relations between ethnicities or classes. Her uncle speaks to her as she pees in the cane field.

"Say excuse me, girl,
before you go in these fields.
You never know what came
before, you never
know who's there." (42)

Here, Hawai`i's agricultural, economic history is not fact, or story, but a haunting. Instead of making the move much local literature did, that of recounting just what DID come before, just who WAS there (even if it exists in the imagination of those too young to know), Oshiro moves into the realm of spirit. Her poems come out of the death of the poet's mother when the poet was a child. The house in which they lived is appropriate to the subject of haunting, spirit, because it's set in a climate in which everything comes apart, no matter how material it might be. In "Relic," she writes about the impermanence of her mother's life in terms of the impermanence of the things in her mother's house:

An astonishing number of
harmful things can happen
to objects made out
of paper: foxing,
excreta of insects,
lux--that is to say,
our bodies rust. (31)

She reverses the field of metaphor. It's not that engines are like us, but that we, like engines, come apart. Oshiro grew up in the back of Ahuimanu Valley (here she is on the porch of that house) where I often take bike rides. It's an area where everything is always moist with humidity, rain. Mold, mildew, these are cousins. If they're not cared for, houses sink into the earth, their single-wall wood constructions precarious as thought, as the categories we invent, consume, and then throw away. They become relics, which means they no longer serve practical purpose, are rendered holy.

Neither Linmark nor Oshiro is a local writer; Linmark's roots are in Honolulu, Manila, and San Francisco, while his shoots spread to Spain and elsewhere. Oshiro's roots may be here, but her poems do not name this place, do not speak its local vernacular, seem more interested in its spirit than its substance. These are not critiques but possibilities. Hawai`i is at once a location--one fervently self-attached, at that--and the nexus of many other locations, actual and spiritual. What Linmark and Oshiro show us, in very different ways, is how we might begin from Hawai`i to include other locations, other languages, other ideas in the frame this place offers us. It's an exciting move away, and yet back, exclusive and then in- . In another, similar, context (and with more polemical force than I can muster), Stuart Kelly writes, "Scotland might be about to enter the world. Hopefully its newest writers will want to see what the world has to offer." Substitute Hawai`i for Scotland and you might be onto something.

My hunch is that Lee Tonouchi's new book, while seeming to re-define him as Okinawan, will prove more expansive than the PR promises. While Tonouchi is moving into narrower ethnic territory, his work is gaining in emotional force. Where he used to write about going to the mall, the difficulties of speaking Pidgin, and made fun of local foibles, he is now writing--for the first time, I think--about his mother's death when he was a child. In that, and in other ways I look forward to discovering at Wednesday evening's reading, I suspect his work has more in common with Janine Oshiro's than one might think. The after-life of local literature may be something more akin to world.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"In God's name don't think of it as Art": On first (belatedly) reading _Let Us Now Praise Famous Men_, by James Agee

To give them as they were and as in my memory and regard they are
. If there is anything of value and interest in this work it will have to hang entirely on that fact. James Agee


When I put James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men on the reading list for Spring, 2012's Documentary Poetry course, I had not yet read the book. I am only two-thirds of the way through as I write this. More precise than almost any book I've read--the lists of animals, of clothing, of furniture, are astonishing--Agee's style cycles between Whitman and Faulkner and a rural Ginsberg, between Objectivism and raw subjectivity. He ushers in C.D. Wright's South decades before she began to write her prescient books. Reading it feels at times like being a hamster in a wheel; all the pressure is to move forward quickly, traveling back again and again to a starting point that disappears as quickly as it reasserts itself.

I expected the documentation; what I did not expect were the extended, sometimes self-corroding, sometimes transparently self-justifying, episodes of poetics. It's a self-defending artifact, doing and then reasoning about the doing. I want to think more about this reasoning because it opens a space from which to teach documentary poetry and prose. More than that, Agee brings together the actual, the ordinary, the factual and the spiritual, the intangible, the sacred, in ways few other documentary poets do. Using a word introduced to me by Leonard Schwartz, I will say that Agee is a "sobjectivist," finding subjectivity in the objects of the southern tenant world, and a need for precise, objectivist description in the persons of that world. If he loses the political force of using the few to represent the many, and so to press for change, he gains the moral force of thickly describing particular places and the people who fight to live there. While acknowledging that the ambition of his project takes him outside the provenance of language, he writes: "yet in withholdings of specification I could but betray you still worse" (89).

Nowhere does the perceived gap between material fact and spiritual presence seem as great as in situations like the those Agee describes, inventories, catalogues, details, worries over. He is writing about people who are dirt poor, whose houses offer only partial shelter against the elements, who do not own the land they work or most of the proceeds from it. To find beauty here can seem condescending, demeaning, naive. How to make it otherwise is one of Agee's central projects. Here he describes himself as a "cold-laboring spy," who

shines quietly forth such grandeur, such sorrowful holiness of its exactitudes in existence, as no human consciousness shall ever rightly perceive, far less impart to another: that there can be more beauty and more deep wonder in the standings and spacings of mute furnishing on a bare floor between the squaring bourns of walls than in any music ever made: (117)

Beauty to a tenant farmer is either impossible or it's a decoration taken from advertising and applied to the walls near the fireplace. Agee devotes a page and a half to the "pretty things" the Ricketts put on their walls. Ad copy tries to sell you expensive things, but it's cheap art. Agee is not, as he tells us over and again, interested in art; he wants some notion of the real to come through in his writing. And that real is beautiful, more beautiful than art. And so the houses are beautiful:

It is my belief that such houses as these, approximate, or at times by chance achieve, an extraordinary 'beauty.' In part because this is ordinarily neglected or even misrepresented in favor of their shortcomings as shelters; and in part because their esthetic success seems to me even more important than their functional failure; and finally out of the uncontrollable effort to be faithful to my personal predilections, I have neglected function in favor of esthetics. (177)

The moral problem becomes clear later, when Agee asserts that the house's beauty is set against its "economic and human abomination," but "that one is qualified to insist on this only in proportion as one faces the brunt of his own 'sin' in so doing and the brunt of the meanings, against human beings, of the abomination itself" (178). There's no purity here, no Wallace Stevens's-like elevation of poverty into abstraction. It's as if, in Agee's terms, poverty descends rather than ascends into beauty. And that's a problem. Agee's hatred for "reformers" is perhaps due to a sense that they, like Stevens, abstract their focus rather than materialize it. He refers to this as the movement to "Improv[e] the Sharecropper" (189). On the other hand, it's hard to sympathize with Agee's attacks on rural electrification (he loves lamps!) and on the toilet, for the American obsession with "sterility" to which it testifies.

The extent to which we need to elevate "abominations" into livable conditions, while acknowledging the beauty of these abominations is an unsolvable problem. The tent city on the sidewalk beside Old Stadium Park in Honolulu poses the same question. The tent city across from K-Mart off Nimitz is another. The line of tents up the Waianae coast is another. And another and another.

Yet Agee insists not simply on beauty in poverty, but the "lucky situation of joy" that occurs when the perceiver is put in a position to notice the actual world. Somewhere between the actual (even the non-toilet, the non-art, the car's exhaust) and the writer's perception of it there's a spark. "[I]n any rare situation which breaks down or lowers our habitual impatience, superficial vitality, overeagerness to clinch conclusion, and laziness," offers the writer that joy. Beauty in poverty is greater than beauty in art because actual conditions are real, and art is not. Agee throws imagination out with the (infrequent) bath water and offers as clear a poetics of documentary writing as I've seen anywhere:

I will be trying here to write [this is on page 213!] of nothing whatever which did not in physical actuality or in the mind happen or appear; and my most serious effort will be, not to use these 'materials' for art, far less for journalism, but to give them as they were and as in my memory and regard they are. If there is anything of value and interest in this work it will have to hang entirely on that fact. . . I am in this piece of work illimitably more interested in life than in art (213-214).

"I hate art" becomes "I love actuality."

Actuality can bite back. There are big problems with Agee's project, problems Jonathan Morse gets at on his blog, The Art Part:

In 1980, Howell Raines of the New York Times revisited the three poor Alabama families of whose lives James Agee and Walker Evans made immortal art forty years earlier in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Those forty years, it turned out, had reduced Agee's gusty prose to sentimental fiction. The pathetic little girl whose imminent death Agee movingly predicted, for example, was still alive in 1980 -- and a high school graduate, and six feet tall, and full of hatred for the artists who had once, long ago, picked up her tiny body, made it into a specimen, and then dropped it back into the dirt of Hale County, Alabama, and driven away.

Agee's multi-genre work did include "sentimental fiction," at least in retrospect. That is not its strength. What is strong, it seems to me as I read it now, is the density of detail--as if Agee were as much a shopkeeper as a writer, or maybe just a belated Melville--and in his self-examinations in the face of the task. He finds "the dignity of actuality" in tenant farmers and their few possessions, and posits beauty and sacredness in that actuality. The ad copy provides tenant farmers with small spots of beauty over their fireplace; in Agee's book it is not those pictures but the list of them that is beautiful. The fact of their being there is what makes them beautiful, and the desire for beauty behind them. As Elizabeth Bishop noted of the filling station, itself a beautiful, troubling poem, there is a (feminine) presence behind the doily in the oily shop. She's as interested in that presence as in the doily.

It's where invisibility meets the visible, the hidden hand meets the open eye, that Bishop (and Agee) find the spirit. It's precarious and troubling, but the unsettled (con)fusions are what finally join inventory to art. Book and photographs have shifted from the category of documentation to that of art (the Frank photographs sold at steep prices, according to Jonathan Morse, and netted nothing for their subjects). Or maybe it's in their wavering between art and actuality that the real force of our projects needs to reside. As Agee argues, description is not enough and yet what else is there? The what else is something we bring to the language, some notion of the sacredness of the actual, even if--especially--it is poor in substance or mercantile value.


The other day, the New York Times put up a video clip from a forthcoming Errol Morris film. We see and hear a man (aptly monikered Tink) who has been obsessed with the JFK assassination for many decades, but who is not a conspiracy theorist. He tells us the story of "the umbrella man" who stood next to Kennedy's motorcade at the moment he was shot. He tells us about the conspiracy theories that emerged from his being there, the only man in Dallas who carried an umbrella on that sunny day. And then he tells us that the man was found, years later, and testified before Congress. His umbrella had not had to do with weather, or even with the sun, but with his anger at JFK's father for supporting Neville Chamberlain, who carried an umbrella and who made nice with Adolph Hitler. Nothing is so wacky as ordinary fact, this man tells us on the film clip. Any event, if you look at it closely enough, becomes strange, opens up to our quests for meaning, our tortured intelligences. The man named Tink told this story with something like joy inscribed on his face. Ordinary explanations are way more strange than extraordinary ones, he told us.

Here's a book list for this Spring. Insufficient, I know! And here's a blog post I wrote on teaching documentary poetry.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee & Walker, Mariner Books
Dictee, by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, University of California Press
Don't Let Me Be Lonely, Claudia Rankine, Graywolf Press
Coal Mountain Elementary, Mark Nowak, Coffee House Press
I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning, Kristin Prevallet, Essay Press
from unincorporated territory [saina], Craig Santos Perez, Omnidawn
Things Come On: an amneoir, Joseph Harrington, Wesleyan
Green-Wood, Allison Cobb, Factory School
We will also read Murial Ruykeyser's Book of the Dead (1938) in pdf or xerox form. I will also recommend a slew of other texts for anyone who is interested.
After asking for suggestions toward a list of readings in documentary prose on facebook, I got the following recommendations:

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs or The Soccer War & Studs Terkel

W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn & Gary Young, No Other Life
Grand Avenue (a novel in stories), by Greg Sarris, Life Lived Like a Story (Life Stories of Three Yukon Native Elders), by Julie Cruickshank, and Immigrants in Our Own Land, Martín & Meditations on the South Valley, two books of poetry by Jimmy Santiago Baca.
Janisse Ray, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
Books by Juan Goytisolo
I welcome more suggestions. In the meantime, thanks to Ragnar, Molly, Sergio, and Pam for these possibilities.
Sergio Pereira sent the following list of documentary poetry and prose. What a treasure trove!

Dear Susan,
Here is a 'river-list' of books that I read over the years and perhaps some/most of them
can fit into the category of documentary poetry & documentary prose that you are working
with great talent and dedication.
Best regards,
Documentary poetry:
Clark Coolidge, The Act of Providence, Combo Books
Roy K. Kiyooka, Pacific Windows - Collected Poems of Roy K. Kiyooka, Talonbooks
Mitsuye Yamada, Camp Notes and Other Writings, Rutgers University Press
Jessica Hagedorn, Danger and Beauty, City Lights Books
Daphne Marlatt, The Given, McClelland & Stewart // Ghost Works (prose & poetry), NeWest
Carter Revard, Winning the Dust Bowl (prose & poetry), The University of Arizona Press
Gu Cheng, Sea of Dreams - The Selected Writings of Gu Cheng, New Directions Books
Breyten Breytenbach, Judas Eye, Faber and Faber
Harry Robinson, Living by Stories - A Journey of Landscape and Memory, Talonbooks
Harry Robinson, Native Power - In the Spirit of an Okanagan Storyteller, Douglas & McIntyre
Ko Un, Ten Thousand Lives, Green Integer
Miyazawa Kenji, Selections, University of California Press
Miguel Algarín, Love is Hard Work - Memorias de Loisaida, Simon & Schuster
Juan Felipe Herrera, Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler (prose & poems), The University of Arizona Press
Louise Bernice Halfe, Bear Bones & Feathers, Coteau Books // Blue Marrow, Coteau Books // The Crooked Good, Coteau Books
Joseph Bruchac, Ndakinna (Our Land) - New and Selected Poems, West End Press
Baisao, The Old Tea Seller - Life and Zen Poetry in 18th Kyoto
Kimberly Blaeser, Apprenticed to Justice, Salt Publishing
Duane Niatum, The Crooked Beak of Love, West End Press
Ricardo Sánchez, Canto y Grito Mi Liberación - The Liberation of a Chicano Mind Soul, Washington State University Press
Eric Gansworth, A Half-Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function - poems and paintings, Syracuse University Press
Wendy Rose, Itch Like Crazy, The University of Arizona Press
Gregory Scofield, Native Canadiana - songs from the urban rez, Polestar Book Publishers // Singing Home the Bones,
Polestar Publishers
Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Life Woven with Song, The University of Arizona Press
James Thomas Stevens, Combing Snakes from His Hair, Michigan State University Press
Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera - The New Mestiza (prose & poems), Aunt Lute Book Company
Luci Tapahonso, Sáanii Dahataal - The Women Are Singing (poems & stories), The University of Arizona Press
Luci Tapahonso, Blue Horses Rush In - Poems and Stories, The University of Arizona Press
T'ao Ch'ien, The Selected Poems of T'ao Ch'ien, Copper Canyon Press
Su Tung-p'o, Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o, Copper Canyon Press
Wei Ying-wu, In Such Hard Times - The Poetry of Wei Ying-wu, Copper Canyon Press
Cherríe L. Moraga, Loving In The War Years (prose & poetry), South End Press // The Last Generation - Prose & Poetry,
South End Press
Kamau Brathwaite, DS (2) - dreamstories // Elegguas, Wesleyan University Press
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Dark and Perfect Angels, Cinco Puntos Press
Maurice Kenny, On Second Thought - A Compilation (prose & poetry), University of Oklahoma Press
Matsuo Basho, Basho's Haiku - The Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho, State University of New York Press
Kobayashi Issa, The Spring of My Life and Selected Poems (prose & haiku), Shambhala Publications
Santoka Taneda, Mountain Tasting - Haiku and Journals of Taneda Santoka, White Pine Press
Ana Castillo, My Father Was a Toltec and Selected Poems, W. W. Norton
Simon J. Ortiz, After and Before the Lightning, The University of Arizona Press // Out There Somewhere, The Univ. of Arizona Press
Documentary prose (memoirs, essays, autobiography)
Leslie Scalapino, R-hu, Atelos // Zyther & Autobiography, Wesleyan University Press
Ted Greenwald, Clearview/LIE, United Artists Books
David Antin, i never knew what time it was, University of California Press
Ron Silliman, Under Albany, Salt Publishing,
Cherríe L. Moraga, A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness - Writings, 2000-2010, Duke University Press
Fanny Howe, The Winter Sun - Notes on a Vocation, Graywolf Press
Lyn Hejinian, My Life, Green Integer
Bernadette Mayer, Studying Hunger Journals, Station Hill Press
Michael Gottlieb, Memoir and Essay, Faux Press
Leslie Marmon Silko, The Turquoise Ledge - A Memoir, Viking Penguin
Etel Adnan, In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country, City Lights Books
Aaron Shurin, King Of Shadows, City Lights Books
Kamau Brathwaite, The Zea Mexican Diary, The University of Wisconsin Press
Jalal Toufic, Over-Sensitivity, Sun & Moon Press
Keith Waldrop, Light While There is Light - An American History, Sun & Moon Books
Fred Wah, Diamond Grill, NeWest
J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands, Oxford University Press
Carolyn Lei-lanilau, Ono Ono Girl's Hula, The University of Wisconsin Press
bell hooks and Amalia Mesa-Bains, Homegrown - engaged cultural criticism, South End Press
bell hooks, Remembered Rapture - The Writer at Work, The Women's Press
Breyten Breytenbach, Mouroir, Archipelago Books // Intimate Stranger - A Writing Book, Archipelago Books // Dog Heart - A Memoir, Faber and Faber
Breyten Breytenbach, The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution, Return to Paradise, The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, Faber and Faber
Gerald Vizenor, Interior Landscapes - Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors, University of Minnesota Press
Louis Owens, I hear the Train - Reflections, Inventions, Refractions, University of Oklahoma Press
Bill Reid, Solitary Raven - Selected Writings of Bill Reid
N. Scott Momaday, The Names - A Memoir, The University of Arizona Press // The Way To Rainy Mountain, University of New Mexico Press
N. Scott Momaday, The Man Made of Words - Essays, Stories, Passages, St. Martin's Griffin
Diane Glancy, Claiming Breath, University of Nebraska Press // The Cold-and-Hunger Dance, University of Nebraska Press
Diane Glancy, The West Pole, University of Minnesota Press // In-Between Places, The University of Arizona Press
Alurista, as our barrio turns...who the yoke b on?, Calaca Press
Juan Felipe Herrera, Mayan Drifter - Chicano Poet in the Lowlands of America, Temple University Press
Alfred Arteaga, House with the Blue Bed, Mercury House
Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, Vintage Books
Kenneth Lincoln, The Good Red Road - Passages Into Native America, University of Nebraska Press
W. S. Penn, All My Sins Are Relatives, University of Nebraska Press // This is the World, Michigan State University Press
Ray A. Young Bear, Black Eagle Child - The Facepaint Narratives, University of Iowa Press
Ray A. Young Bear, Remnants Of The First Earth, Grove Press
Carter Revard, Family Matters,Tribal Affairs, The University of Arizona Press
Linda Hogan, The Woman Who Watches Over The World - A Native Memoir, W. W. Norton
Joseph Bruchac, Bowman's Store - A Journey To Myself, Lee & Low Books
Anita Endrezze, Throwing Fire at the Sun,Water at the Moon (prose & poetry), The University of Arizona Press
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer - A Story of Survival, University of Nebraska Press
Melissa Jayne Fawcett, Medicine Trail - The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon, The University of Arizona Press
Darryl Babe Wilson, The Morning The Sun Went Down, Heyday Books
Mavis McCovey and John F. Salter, Medicine Trails - A Life in Many Worlds, Heyday Books
Eva Tulene Watt and Keith H. Basso, Don't let the Sun Step Over You - A White Mountain Apache Family Life, 1860-1975, The University of Arizona Press
Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallis, Mankiller - A Chief and Her People, St. Martin's Griffin
Jeannette Armstrong, Slash, Theytus Books
Refugio Savala, Autobiography of a Yaqui Poet, The University of Arizona Press
Matsuo Basho, Basho's Journey- The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho (prose & haibun), State University of New York Press
Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Place to Stand, Grove Press
Greg Sarris, Mabel McKay: Weaving The Dream, University of California Press

From Washington, DC, Dave Taylor sends another list of possibles:

Blood Dazzler, Patricia Smith
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman
Telling True Stories, eds. Kramer & Call
The Conversations, Michael Ondaatje with Walter Murch
which leads into film:
Buddha’s Lost Children, Mark Verkerk
In the Realms of the Unreal, Jessica Yu
Mysterious Object at Noon, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
The Source, Chuck Workman

Back to prose and graphic novel memoirs with:
Away from the Light of Day, Amadou and Mariam
Studs Terkel’s Working: A Graphic Adaptation, Harvey Pekar
Citizen 13660, Miné Okubo
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel