Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Albert Saijo memory card: on taking Kaia Sand's North Portland walk

The day before yesterday, I took the walk Kaia Sand developed for her Tinfish Press book, Remember to Wave. The walk begins near Portland's Expo Center, now the site of roller derbies and expositions, but once a center that housed Japanese Americans before they were sent inland to be "interned." I wrote about the walk a couple days back (scroll down!). As I left Portland today on the Amtrak Cascade, we passed near the Expo Center before crossing into Washington State. The ride up the coast is beautiful; near Tacoma you feel nearly as if you are scooting across the water. There are islands, ferries, birds. The ride ends in Seattle in the shadow of the baseball stadium. Oh to see Ichiro play in his American home town!

Here is a memory card I wrote in Portland, which riffs off a phrase from Albert Saijo's Bamboo Ridge book, OUTSPEAKS. It's about our walk, and about how a knowledge of history can alter, or at least complicate, our view of the natural world. It's about signs. And it's about a little girl of whom I'm very fond who accompanied us in her off-road pink roller skates; according to Kaia, Jessi--nearly nine--knows the walk as well as anyone. It's also about the deafness of signs, those that cannot respond to us either by speaking or by taking in the sounds the present offers up. History is not abstract; it is a white noise. The journey from Saijo in his youth to Ichiro in his clatters in one's head like wheels on steel tracks.

Saijo's line comes from his bio note; as a teenager, he was interned at Heart Mountain with his family. Henry Kaiser's creation of Vanport is lauded on a sign sponsored by Kaiser Permanente; its tone differs considerably from other accounts of the housing area located on a flood plane, where many workers died in 1948. You can read Kaiser Permanente's narrative here, as well. The site now offers shelter to wildlife, as to golfers and dog walkers with their eager animals.

BEAUTIFUL BIG SKY COUNTRY HIGH PLATEAU SURROUNDED BY MTS. The girl in pink roller skates found a railroad track leading inland from the Expo Center toward Minidoka. She worries about ducks who live in the water against which we're warned. Silhouetted bellies, an arc of geese under cloud, marshland reclaimed from mortal flood. The sign tells us workers got health care. It sits beside a dog park; a deaf woman tells us police are claiming the park for a training center. She's going to write a letter. Positively no trespassing, reads another sign. When someone's certain she remembers, the psych professor says, she's wrong. When I talk to the deaf woman, she responds. I cannot talk to Henry Kaiser on his sign; history renders him deaf, me dumb. He looks out at the grass, the dog walkers, the few tourists. He cannot hear the truck route, or the trains.

For Jessica Wahnetah

--25 February 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

Warehouse Cafe, SE Portland

Consider this an experiment. While blogging is in some ways a very public activity, I always blog alone. But now I'm seated in a bustling cafe in Portland, resembling what I've heard of the television show, Portlandia, in its emphasis on the organic, the mellow, the friendly, the enthusiastic, the unironic, where overheard conversations are about healing, zen and healthy dance options for one's daughter. The last time I was in here, a musician was singing to children about the need to floss, lest they acquire gingivitis. As I write this I feel an odd tension between my own tendencies toward irony and an equal sense that this earnestness can be a very good thing. The woman who served me coffee told me about a pro-Wisconsin protester rally downtown today and about the phone banking she's doing for women's health issues.

Speaking of irony, last night Donald Rumsfeld was on the Daily Show. Jules Boykoff & Kaia Sand, my wonderful hosts, get the show on itunes, so we saw the whole 45 gory minutes of the show, nearly all of which were devoted to Stewart's attempts to get Rumsfeld to admit that evidence had been cooked up and propaganda waged in the effort to get the USA into war in Iraq. Rumsfeld, while looking older, was a cool customer, alternately admitting to the truth of Stewart's critiques and "nuancing" them into neutrality. Rumsfeld is good with words--I once wrote an essay on him and contemporary American poetry, and two song cycles have used his "lyrics"--in ways that the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, is not. It's as if the ability to snow the public requires less and less snow. It's like a blizzard in Portland, in other words, during which one takes a long walk in the sunshine, while looking for tiny patches of the white stuff, already blackened with dirt. And so we require "pranksters" to suss out the truth, the spoken truth, not the stuff you can simply see for your own eyes. Why we require hearing it is fascinating; why hearing itself sometimes fails to persuade us is more troubling. As Bryant said this morning on the phone, "Rumsfeld is a war criminal who admits it and is on a tour selling books about it." If anyone has a free copy of the book to send me, I'd appreciate it. I haven't wanted to read a book this much in years. At least not one that's called "non-fiction."

This morning's Star-Advertiser relays the information that the National Parks may preserve internment sites in Hawaii. I remember writing an essay on internment poets from Hawaii and having an editor call me on it. His friend had told him that Japanese Americans in Hawaii were NOT interned, so why was I writing about it? I recently started a memory card sequence based on lines from Albert Saijo's work; he was interned as a child, although he only came to Hawaii later. And, as these synchronicities go, I went on Kaia Sand's walk yesterday with her and her daughter Jessica, the walk that is featured in her Tinfish Press book, Remember to Wave. We drove to North Portland, then walked to the old Expo Center, just beyond some amazing installations by a local artist, torii held up by posts covered in old newspaper articles about the absence of "Nippos" and other slurs. This Center is where Japanese Americans were warehoused (why am I in the Warehouse Cafe?) before being sent inland to Wyoming and other remote locations. We walked to the Columbia River, than in a circle back past the PODS she writes about. She stopped to talk to a POD truck driver, then we continued to the marshlands that were Vanport, where the flood wiped out an entire community of mostly African American workers. (The revisions on the Kaiser Permanente sponsored sign are astonishing, though I don't know that I can access my photos of it yet. There's a happy narrative to this unethical placement of workers in a flood plain, believe me.) By a pond we saw the signs contained in Kaia's book about how deadly the water is to the unborn; silhouettes of pregnant women are there to alert them of the water's toxicity. The ducks paddle on. Canada geese fly in formation overhead, honking. "This place is not bucolic," Kaia says and I see how history transforms the natural world into a more complicated stage. But still, it's gorgeous, this marsh, the dogs running from a large dog park, the clouds, the geese, the little girl in pink roller skates who goes with us.

Earlier in the week I read for Kaia's students and others at Pacific University in Forest Grove. The student body is 30% Hawaii residents and the town comes to seem a cold extra island that has moved inland from the Pacific. When I first began to talk about dementia and Alzheimer's with audiences, I assumed it would be older people who would know from experience what having a loved one with the illness is like. But no, about a third to a half of the students have relatives with Alzheimer's. The next day, Kaia and I went to a Psychology class--it was Kaia's brave idea to create interdisciplinarity out of her reading series--taught by Prof. Erica Kleinknecht. She is teaching an entire course on Mind and Memory, a course I wish I could take. She introduced a section of the course on episodic memory, and then asked me to read and talk about my work. She also requested that I read the lovers' dialogue from my more recent blogging. I also read a couple of memory cards and talked about their link to episodic memory, the way they weave back and forth between present and past, drawing up, or improvising from memories that emerge and then disappear again during the day. Prof. Kleinknecht's students were bright and curious, though I had to call out the young women, who were letting the men ask all the questions at first. One young man perked up when I started to talk about George Oppen, and wanted to know more about where I was going in my thinking about Oppen's Alzheimer's. Stay tuned.

In Portland I have also met a radical economist Cardinals' fan, a scholar of German film, a former U of Portland soccer player, a fellow poet who is a scholar of British history and his son, spent time with my sister-in-law and her family, and met other good folks. Tonight is the reading at the Spare Room, with Donald Dunbar, about whom much good is said, organized in part by Endi Hartigan, who hails from Kailua. Tomorrow I head to Seattle by train. Just wish I had the Webster Schultzes all in tow. Love you much, Radhika, Sangha, Bryant. (Tortilla.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mother news, 2/23/11

From my mother's social worker:

Martha was in her usual chair slouched to the side. She acknowledged that she knew me and said hello.
Today I read from The Little Prince which had pop ups. She read back the title to me but when I asked her if she would like to read some of it she refused. She didn't appear to be interested too much with the text but did show some interest with the pop ups so I worked with them. We looked at each pop up and some of them she smiled. After awhile she appeared restless so I stopped. I held her hand for a short bit but then she started to move away.

According to the nurse she has been stable. Occasionally, she goes to Activities but on a very selected basis.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why memory?

Somewhere on Lauren Berlant's blog she writes, almost in passing, that memory is of no concern to her. I don't remember where to find it, but I hunt. She titles many of her posts "comb-over," which I love because my in-laws' dog, Harry, looks like a middle-aged man with a comb-over, possessed as he is with an extra layer of poodle hair over his dachsund/chihuahua fur. And I wonder if there can be metaphor if there is not an obsession with memory? Surely there can be, but not for me. I've been writing memory cards again. Just finished a series of 10 that riff off (allegedly) random phrases of George Oppen, taken from the Michael Davidson edition of the Collected. Memory cards depend on memory, but also on the intrusions of the present into memory; sometimes it seems to me that I live backwards in that way. I'll be driving over the H3 in the morning remembering some odd thing from childhood, or some non-odd thing, like my father's presence (out of his absence), and then I'll sort of remember seeing the mountains wreathed in cloud, Kane`ohe Bay, the Marine Corps base, the Pacific Ocean, when I realize that's not memory, that is now. The cards operate on a similar principle. Intrusions are assumed to be what's most significant. Jazz sets out a melodic line (unless it's free jazz) and then juggles it, plays with it, hems and haws at it, transforms it finally. At which point the piece ends, because what is music without transformation but the silence after? I wonder why I'm listening to Bach as I write this, though he would often, as a dusky voice on npr tells me on another drive over the H3 to pick up my son, recycle themes, use them over and again, once for voice, once for violin. This morning there was a piece on by de Falla which was seriously odd. Even the announcer said so afterwards. Where there had been voice and guitar he had replaced voice with trumpet. So it sounded like a flamenco dancer lost in New Orleans. Or yesterday, again on the radio, an Englishman was talking about the bird in his garden that lives in Asia; only nine of them have been seen in England in a century! He was charging 5 pounds to lay eyes on the bird, then giving the money to the bird association (lest we think him too entrepreneurial). Memory is what sticks out as not fitting--any more--but to put it in context (the context of now) makes it fit otherwise. Which may or may not be a fit. (Oh god, not a Honda.)

My obsession with memory is probably biological in origin. When I suffered severe depressions, the ones that come with anxiety to keep you awake for months, heart poundingly awful eras, the fierce engine pushed forward memories. They came in random order, but when they came, they entered my head in oddly organized fashion. So, if I looked at my bathtub, I would see a slideshow of bathtubs from my experience, including the one with clawed feet I'd seen in a relative's house as a child. That I didn't remember what relative is another story, indeed, the story about forgetting the significant things, or those that you might consider significant. Memory creates significances, but sometimes takes them whole cloth them out of the recycle bin. Bach again: I loved him most when things were at their most chaotic. He made sense, but he was also very complicated. I'm listening to him now, did I tell you?

The last set of memory cards I did was based on George Oppen's poems. Did I say that? Of course I did, but you would have had to read another post to know that. They began with the nearly obligatory Oppen phrase, "the lyric valuables." As it was end of January, that led to an odd play between mystical language and the Super Bowl. But suddenly Oppen's words triggered poems that were all about Egypt, dementia, a revolution, Radhika's spelling test, more revolution. The only break I've allowed myself in the rule of starting from another poet's language came on 11 February, when I wrote, "The vocabulary word of the day is euphoria." It was a word I insisted my children learn on that day; we heard it over and again on the television and in our own conversations. Euphoria is utterly present. There is no past tense for it. And it always passes. In love and crowds, it is that utopian instant whose beauty is determined by intensities of union and the certainty that it shall pass. (That might take us back to the Super Bowl, but it won't.)

So memory cards endeavor to preserve, if not euphoria, then its trace. The personal beauty of this is that no longer is memory a cloud tinged with acid, a kick in the gut whenever it roils over into a new series, sequence, slide-show. Memory is, without too much affect. It's all in the effect, now, or most of it. So here is the moment in memory cards when memory doesn't so much fail as it concedes. (The full set will appear in the Australian journal, Mascara, guest-edited by Keri Glastonbury.) I will add links to the poem to give it web-memory.

The shape is a moment is a monument in process no flash no focus but a flag of our disposition that winds around the square circle inside of box inside of cloud faces like voices coming and growing louder then quiet when Al-Jazeera turns to sports then back to euphoria in the circled square young woman in a shawl on youtube (this was 25 Jan) exhorts men to be men and old women in the square mouths wide open and middle-aged men sweeping white dust with huge fronds and the body functions for once as a system blooms like a flow chart needing more space the lines across which are not final but dipped in martyr's ink no one wants to leave the square or the circle they sleep propped against tanks against pavement against sharp angles violation of geometries of this body working this body with its stark white bandages over noses and cheeks and foreheads this coming into shape which is so beautiful to see

--12 February 2011

I haven't found Berlant's remark about memory, but that's likely because I gave up looking for it. I don't need to find it because I remember it, however vaguely. I remember it because it surprised me. Like many surprises, it was a wake up call. Smell the roses, which are (damn it!) roses. But then, something tells me, store them up to present them later as re-collections. FTD ain't got nothing on this sloganeering. (Slogan was Sangha's vocabulary word from Charlotte's Web last night. My father, who grew up on a farm, cried when he read that book, he so loved pigs.)

But that's another card.


Tomorrow I leave for Portland. I will be reading at Pacific University on Monday, talking with a psychology class there Tuesday, reading again in Portland on Friday, in Seattle on Sunday, and in Olympia for Leonard Schwartz's class on Monday.

And looking ahead, off Joe Harrington's fine blog: SUSAN M. SCHULTZ. Topeka. Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 7:00 p.m., Blue Planet Cafe, 110 SE 8th Ave. Free (but 'twould be nice to buy a latte or something).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Back to Tinfish Press! M.I.A. Reading, February 9, 2011

In recent weeks, this blog has been hijacked by its "owner" into a space for writing exclusively about dementia. I will now return it to its original purpose, as a record of Tinfish Press's recent activities.

This past Wednesday, the MIA reading at the Mercury Bar in Chinatown, curated by Jaimie Gusman, featured readers from the new Hawai`i Review (#73 ably edited by Donovan Colleps) and Tinfish issues. Before the reading, the Tinfish board met outside Govindaji's vegetarian restaurant, where the editor could eat nearly nothing due to her allergies, for a conversation on this past year's activities. More on that and some future plans later on in the post.

In many ways, this reading was typical of Hawai`i readings: the subjects-matter included land, colonialism, language suppression (and rediscovery), land, food, local landmarks, ethnic identity positions, land, food, cultural tensions. All those things, in other words, that seem mostly to lack at the huge readings at MLA and AWP. Many of the writers combined their dishes into what exotic Europeans call a potpourri:

Craig Santos Perez wrote about Guam by way of canned meat, devoting one poem to Vienna sausages and another to corned beef. But the "indigenous food practice poems," as he called them wryly, got at issues of colonialism (who brought the sausages anyway?), family (who cooked the corned beef anyway?), and language (who named the shit anyway?). Tiare Picard got at words themselves, and beneath the words their sounds, as she did brilliantly in Tinfish 18.5.

Jade Sunouchi's prose piece, set in Mexico, got at a tension familiar to Hawai`i residents between tourists and local vendors. She threw a pinch of gender and a dash of class into her lyrical prose. Amalia Bueno wrote about teen-pregnancy by using names of local establishments in Waipahu.

Jaimie Gusman read an elegy for her Aunt Rose from a marvelous series of poems called the Anyjar Series. She followed that with a romp through one woman's love life. Monica Lee read a very funny story on male/female non-communication (the man and the woman are thinking the same thoughts, but prove unwilling to share them with each other, until their relationship becomes one of boring sameness). Joe Tsujimoto went next with his own poem about food and the sexes delivered in the gravelly New York voice that never ceases to surprise this listener.

This was the last reading at the familiar Mercury Bar venue, which has done well by its readers, but has grown louder and less hospitable to them and their listeners. On to Fresh Cafe as of next month!

[This photo does not present an editorial comment on the reading, as it preceded the event; it's Radhika with Gaye Chan doing their Stinky & Smelly routine.]


And now for some future plans, an email I sent to Tinfish friends this morning:

OK, enough rest already [this refers to the sabbatical that the editor and her press are currently enjoying].

Tinfish Press is preparing to launch a new chapbook series. It will be very retro, simple, cheap, small print runs (100), sent for small donations (aka for free) to people on mailing lists yet to be established. We will try to do a bunch of them fairly quickly, perhaps one a month for a time. Eric Butler has kindly agreed to be the designer; he lives in Hawai`i, has worked in publishing and in making zines for quite some time. I trust he'll come up with compelling designs appropriate to the inexpensive format. You can find out a bit more about him here:

One of the benefits of this series is that the chaps can be very short in length. So poets and writers who do not have heaps of work already on their desks can have their poems circulated in this way. Writers with something to say who don't require great length can make a point quickly. I think back on something Ron Silliman said once, that when he publishes in a large journal, he never hears from readers. When he publishes with small mags of just a few pages, he gets a lot of responses.

As ever, our focus will be on experimental poetry from the Pacific region. Short manifestos or proses are also welcome. I'm asking you to consider sending work but--especially if Tinfish has published you recently--I ask that you recommend poets to us. Be our eyes and ears for good material. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. We're open to work by students of whatever age (children, high schoolers, college students, and the rest of us life-long learners). The work can be political, personal, or any combination.

We're looking for 5-20 pages of work, preferably 8-15.

We have no idea how long this project will last. But that's half the fun of it. Let's get more work out there!

I'm sending this call to those of you considered long term "friends of Tinfish." But feel free to spread the circle.

aloha, Susan

PS Alain Cressan--many thanks for the inspiration! Je te remercie pour les beaux livres d'Ink!


Also look in the near future for the non-winners of our No Contest, not judged by our non-judge, Craig Santos Perez. The first volume in the No Contest series of two books will be by Jai Arun Ravine. The poetry in this book will cross more boundaries than I knew existed!