Saturday, June 23, 2012

New Tinfish Press book by Maged Zaher

Pre-publication sale--yours for $10, until the copies arrive at our office in Honolulu!
Go to, hit "purchase" and go to the end of the list that comes up.
Or send a check to Tinfish Press, 47-728 Hui Kelu Street #9, Kaneohe, HI 96744

Maged Zaher, The Revolution Happened and You Didn't Call Me, 2012, 67 pp., $15, designed by Allison Hanabusa

Maged Zaher is an Egyptian engineer who lives and writes English-language poetry in Seattle, Washington; his previous chapbook with Tinfish Press was co-authored with Pam Brown and titled farout library software (2007). Zaher writes with haiku-like brevity and precision about his return to Egypt shortly after the 2011 revolution. Already foreseeing the counter-revolution, his eye gravitates toward the absurd paradoxes of global capitalism and local revolution, as he moves from coffee shop to public square and then back. Anthony McCann writes of the book: “I find it hard to read this book without looking up and wondering who and what and where I am. It returns me again and again to wondering what a person is, what speaking is, and what we mean by ‘the world’. Deterritorialization is one of its main concerns and main activities, something that I think can be said about Zaher’s work in general, whether he is undermining the reality effects of nation states and their borders, or of corporate spectral omnipresence, or unpeeling his own personal multiply-deterritorialized lyric self. It is vital, lucid, and uncompromising work that leaves this reader feeling more alive and open to ‘our moment,’ and less secure than ever about what that might mean. Despite its often slashing irony, I find it a very tender book as well. The gentleness and the slightness of the form cradles a reader (this one anyway) preventing panic and interpretative foreclosure.


Nationhood is mostly a practice
Killing demonstrators (for example)
Or staying up all night
Sipping tea with reporters

I’m well-placed in the documentary
Except that these aren’t my desires—
The military trucks are intriguing
In their daily search for intimacy

Maged Zaher was born and raised in Cairo. He is author of Portrait of the Poet As an Engineer (Pressed Wafer, 2009) and Thank You for the Window Office (forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012).His collaborative work with the Australian poet Pam Brown, Farout Library Software, was published by Tinfish Press in 2007. His translations of contemporary Egyptian poetry have appeared in Jacket magazine and Banipal. He read his work at Subtext, Bumbershoot, the Kootenay School of Writing, St. Marks Project, Evergreen State College, and The American University in Cairo, among other places.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Jacket2 post on posthumous poetry publications from Hawai`i

When the author is dead: posthumous collections of poetry from Hawai`i

(with love & rage in equal measure)

Painting by Reuban Tam (1916-1991)

Just over a week ago, I put this request up on the Tinfish Press facebook page: “I’m looking for good models of books published posthumously, especially by poets who are not well known already. In what ways are these books same/different from books by living authors? How, in the end, does one work up interest in such poetry after the very literal death of the author?” Some 35 substantive comments later, I realized that there was probably a book to be researched and written in response to those questions.  Instead of writing one, I’ll be looking at two recent posthumous volumes from Hawai`i in this commentary, namely, Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (1947-1984) (University of Hawai`i Press, 2009), edited by Mei-Li M. Siy and Richard Hamasaki, and Language Matters: Tony Quagliano, Selected Poetry (New York Quarterly Books, 2012), put together by Quagliano’s widow, Laura Ruby, although no one is credited as editor on the title page. There’s a lot to remark upon: the way the poetry is presented, contextualized, edited, but also the odd, unremarked upon affinities between the two poets.  They both revered Kerouac, knew their Pound and his Imagism, adopted William Carlos Williams’s obsession with the local language, place. Their tone was often acidic, provocative. Both were idealistic and profoundly angry poets.

More here

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lacramae rerum: one year on

A year ago today I wrote two posts.  The first announced my mother's death. The second was not so much marker as an unfolding, tissue paper to the chiseled number that comes after the hyphen denoting her life's time: 10/25/1917 - 6/14/2011.

In recent weeks I've been editing many of the blog posts about her final years, constructing a second volume to follow Dementia Blog.  Like any editing project, it involves a lot of machete work, cutting out unnecessary words, adding in poems, taking out entire entries, trying to create a work.  In other words, taking that tissue paper and trying to render it into a sturdier material.  The work is about her life, but the editing process is about the work.  So hard to prise them apart.  The grieving gets mixed up in the process of re-making her life not as life, but as book.

This book, like the previous volume, is grief work.  But the grieving, like the editing, has been different this time.  Grieving is a kind of editing.  Moments of re-collection, re-vision, re-membering alternate with those of letting go, cutting, accounting for the poverty of there being no more time in which to construct a story.  The future will be all memory now.  The finality of her death is different from the finality of her Alzheimer's. The end of metaphor is different from the end of fact. Her body of thought went first, but the actual body's loss is like a deed, the title to which are these words about her. The words themselves feel more final. 

Because I was an only child, and because I did not know family outside my parents until much later in my life, and because my mother's friends fell away during her long illness, there is no one with whom to share stories about her.  It's an odd chamber, this.  No one to sit around a big table talking Martha with. (Some sentences need to end on prepositions.) To start now seems impertinent; no one wants to hear them out, because they no longer signify her, but her death.  Discomfort attends death, and death blocks memory's passages, even when the stories were damn funny.  This elegy has since been revised, too, but folds in many of her old tales, the ones she told before her memory was taken away, apart.

Literature requires necessity, even if life only becomes necessary by way of memory, its collection and redistribution along lines of meaning.  Life writing is so very different from life, even when its origin is writing in the present.  The blog form offered me permission to write now, as things happened, without a sense of there being something truer later on, if I only waited.  (I wanted to write about my experiences after time had passed, so I could understand them better is not a sentence I believe in any more, if I ever did.)  Wisdom has a present tense, too, but it's embedded in what happens, more even than what is thought.  It's what Katie Stewart calls "ordinary affects."

Editing, more than writing, requires a vantage, a scenic overlook. Faced with the death of a parent, one can't be assured of there ever being such a point. The editing is a kind of trail-breaking that might get me there, or closer to there.  And when I think back, I realize that life has its own editions. Alzheimer's revised our lives together, and a lot of what it cut out was weeds. Editing, like writing, has no end that we can imagine. It's the not-imagining that obliges us to keep going.  I can't, I will. Recollection sometimes reconciles; its loss is sometimes gain.

My son just came in the room, carrying his PSP loaded with a Major League Baseball Game. He and his dad will be customizing a cover for the game with his photo in it.  He wanted to show me a play he'd just made.  I said no, I'm writing.  I'd better undo that edit.  The ongoing is all.


The photograph was taken in January, 2011.

Friday, June 8, 2012

My contribution to the Asian American Literary Review

Last January I got the following invitation:
inquiry from The Asian American Literary Review
Dear Ms. Schultz:

Hello, my name is Lawrence-Minh Davis; I'm the editor of The Asian American Literary Review. For our upcoming third issue, we're putting together a forum based on the question below, and I'd really like it to include some perspective on writing by Pacific Islanders, Hawaiians, and Asian Americans in Hawaii, something I thought you'd be ideally positioned to provide, given your tenure with UH and Tinfish. The response could be relatively short, as short as 400 words, though longer would be fine as well, and you could feel free to stray from the prompt as you see fit. The deadline is late spring, maybe early summer 2011. I hope you'll be interested.

I look forward to hearing back from you. Happy new year!

Thanks, and best,

Editor, AALR

The issue is now out, so I'm putting on-line the contents of my response.  But really, buy one; there are a lot of fascinating responses, including one by my colleague, Gary Pak.

I've done tiny edits because I must, and added a few links to this and that.

Susan M. Schultz

[The opening quotation came with the invitation to participate.]

The notion of an “Asian American” literature emerged at the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s, when members of a generation just reaching their adulthood began to connect their commitment to left politics with creative expression. A few short decades later, we find ourselves witnessing a flowering of literature by Asian Americans that would have been hard to predict. Are there any continuities between the earlier generation of writers which first raised the banner of an Asian American literature and a later generation of writers which inherited it? Does it even make sense to talk about contemporary American writers of Asian ancestry as comprising a generation, and if so, what are some of their shared commitments?

—Min Hyoung Song, Associate Professor, Boston College, author of Strange Future: Pessimism and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots (Duke UP, 2005)

I am not an expert in Asian American literature. I am a publisher of “experimental poetry from the Pacific region,” as the mission statement for Tinfish Press, which I've edited since 1995, puts it. Tinfish does not publish Asian American poetry as such (or poetry by members of any other groups). But we do publish poetry by Asian Americans, which is why I've been asked to contribute to this round-table. Whether or not the poetry I publish can be considered “Asian American” may have to do with the hinge distinction Timothy Yu makes in writing about the critical reception of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee. According to Yu, in Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry since 1965, Dictee has been read as Asian American writing or as experimental writing. The poetry Tinfish publishes is experimental, but a good deal of the content of the work has to do with the experience of being Asian American. And so we swing on the hinge that Cha crafted.

Let me begin with a stark contrast, one I can quarrel with a bit later. Over the past eight months, Tinfish has been putting out one chapbook a month in our Retro Chapbook Series, which will end after one year. Three of our titles have been by Asian American writers, namely Mao's Pears, by Kenny Tanemura, yellow/ yellow, by Margaret Rhee, and ligature strain, by Kim Koga. These last two are both by women in their 20s, but the chapbooks could not seem more different from one another. Margaret Rhee's chapbook is about being Korean American (as well as about being queer). In the opening poem, “Nectarines,” she writes about the (unmarked) hyphen between Korean and American as being like a nectarine, half one organism and half another. As we find out in the poem, the nectarine was developed by two Korean brothers, the Kims. She then poses a racist statement by Jack London (who is always good for such insults) against the words of Terry Hong: “I consider myself Korean and American. A Korean American is a hybrid product of / both the U.S. And Korean countries and cultures.” According to her biography at the back, Rhee is a hybrid poet-scholar, as well. She “writes poetry in the morning, teaches ethnic lit in the afternoon, and researches race, gender, and sexuality at night.” Hence her “hybrid” might be said to encompass the categories of Asian American and experimental poet, bringing together the two halves of the reception of Dictee.

Kim Koga's bio note begins with her professional qualification, namely an MFA from Notre Dame. Nowhere in her note does she mention being Asian American. Instead, she lists publications and her curation of a reading series, as well as her work for Action Books. All we have to mark her as Asian American is her name. (As my children are Asian, but have my European last names—Webster Schultz—I know that names alone do not reveal one's ethnicity.) Her chapbook more resembles the work of the Korean poet Kim Hyesoon, who has written many poems in the voices of rats (including those in Tinfish Press's chapbook, When the Plug Gets Unplugged, translated by Don Mee Choi) than it does poems marked as “Asian American.” Koga writes about a beaver giving birth. The only people in these prose poems are referred to obliquely: “the beavers leave the gate open and hail away to cities and in habit your water. Fill cases of sewer detritus small pipelines of little bits of pink fleshes—come for teeth and shower nozzles—you bathe in squirming pink fleshes.” Where Kim Hyesoon's poems engage South Korean politics and historical events, Koga's poems engage contemporary ecopoetics.

Last year Tinfish published a chapbook by a 20-something Hawai`i writer, Gizelle Gajelonia, whose family came with her to Hawai`i from the Philippines when she was nine years old. Thirteen Ways ofLooking at TheBus takes several angles of approach. Gajelonia rewrites famous American poems, including Wallace Stevens's studies of the blackbird and Elizabeth Bishop's of the moose (here a mongoose), by moving them onto the bus system on the island of O`ahu. She often uses Pidgin, or Hawaii Creole English, instead of the standard. She also employs Tagalog, a language she has mostly forgotten but overhears on the TheBus. And she also engages issues of being Filipino in a place where many native Hawaiians feel that their land is occupied. Hawai`i is one place where Asian Americans are sometimes seen not as a struggling, or even model, minority, but as powerful interlopers. (The Asian Settler Colonialist model is not one I find compelling, but students in my English department have to reckon with it.) Her finest moment is a rewriting of The Waste Land to include the words of Hawai`i's last queen, Liliu`okalani. Finally, she writes a prayer for Ikaika, a boy on the high school football team that her speaker has a crush on.

Our one full-length book of this year is by Jai Arun Ravine, a Thai-American transgender poet (female to male), and then entwine. If Asian American poetry can be said often to be about issues of identity and family, then this book fits. But if racial identity is marked more as language—the book works a seam between Thai and American English, then moves into questions of documentation, like birth certificates and visas—then the book expands that category. As language and race are not inevitably joined (as the name issue elucidates, and Ravine has changed his name repeatedly), this book questions Asian Americanness as it goes. And, if Asian American literature of the 1970s was obsessed with food as a cultural marker, then Ravine's book, by presenting us with instructions on how to peel a mango, joins in and deviates from that tradition.

What the book and chapbooks I've been writing about so far have in common, oddly enough, is an emphasis on sexuality and gender, as well as engagements with language (Rhee's, Gajelonia's, and Ravine's, in particular). If 1970s literature came out of a liberation movement in part enabled by the Civil Rights Act of 1965, then the literature of the early 21st century builds on that movement by linking it to others—feminism and gay rights foremost among them. 21st poetry is highly synthetic, but its originality is in the ways in which ingredients are mixed, or mangoes and nectarines are created, and then peeled. It also grafts onto many strands of American poetry, by Asian and other writers, hybridizing, peeling, and consuming them as it goes.

One recent Tinfish book that deals directly with the Asian American experience is Kaia Sand's Remember to Wave, a long poem focused on a walk to the Expo Center in North Portland where Japanese Americans were first rounded up, before being interned in the interior of the continent. This book, down to its appreciative blurb by Lawson Fusao Inada, participates in an important tradition of Asian American writing about that awful, immoral period in American history. That it was written by a woman whose birth heritage is Norwegian only complicates the question. It complicates matters in ways that are typical, I hope, of Tinfish's publishing practice. We seek to explore history and culture, but we do not want overmuch to attach them to racial categories.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New post at jacket2 on Pidgin Poetry & Elegy

Poetry by Lee Tonouchi & Meg Withers

When I turn left on Kahekili Highway near my house on the windward side of O`ahu, I turn toward my son’s baseball practice and many of his games in Kahalu`u.  I also turn toward a community of coaches and parents who, for the most part, speak Pidgin English.  (The language is actually Hawaiian Creole English or HCE, but people in Hawai`i call it Pidgin.) Many dads come from work in the bright green shirts of construction and road-workers; the moms, who speak less Pidgin, still live in its surround.  If I turn right on Kahekili Highway, in the direction of Kāne`ohe Town and highways to Honolulu, toward my daughter’s soccer practices, I drive into a world of local people who, for the most part, do not speak Pidgin to each other.  Kāne`ohe is the suburbs; Kahalu`u is still country.  Baseball has a working class history in Hawai`i, especially among AJA, or Americans of Japanese ancestry; soccer is played in a suburban middle class present untethered to plantation or war histories. While the local bumpersticker that reads “Keep the Country Country” is in standard English, its sentiment is Pidgin.  The response, or “Keep Town Town,” might be read with a local accent, but it’s hardly da kine.  

for more, please hit the link here.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Birthday cakes & matzoh balls: the University of Missouri's strategic plan & the demise of the state university

According to the new president of MU, The University of Missouri Press will be shuttered. There's been an uproar, of course, but it feels postmortem.  (One echo of that uproar is mine, here. Ned Stuckey-French and a friend started a Facebook page in support of the press, which now has over one thousand members.) The rationale is being delivered. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune of June 1, 2012, MU's President Timothy Wolfe, "a former software company president, compared the move to Wal-Mart setting up a successful store in the same location where an independent store went bankrupt. The same products were sold, he said, but Wal-Mart's business model was more successful." He neglects to add the obvious, that Wal-Mart put the independent out of business as part of its business model. In a letter to "friends of University of Missouri Press," sent to anyone who complained, Wolfe writes: "In 2009, in an effort to save the press, University of Missouri administration also began working diligently with the press to redefine its business plan and develop new revenue streams. In all, five consultants from a variety of organizations and with different areas of expertise were hired by the university to provide input and guidance about how to sustain the press long-term."  And so it goes: the university hires no fewer than five consultants (and their retinues) and even they cannot turn a profit. The press is not a revenue stream. 

"Revenue stream" is not the only current in this stream of business language coming from President Wolfe, a former software executive with no university experience.  Like so many others eager to strip the university system of its financial weaknesses, this administrator knows how to spin a web of economic need to make it appear necessary that "inessential" parts of the system get cut (elsewhere he states that the press did not fulfill the university's mission). "With another year of flat funding for the university and an increasing realization that university resources must be aligned with strategic priorities, we made the difficult decision to discontinue our subsidy to the press beginning in the 2013 fiscal year."  If the press has not offered up a large enough revenue stream, that means that the university offers it "a subsidy," or--one can almost hear him utter the words--a kind of academic welfare.  And those queens will surely take advantage of their welfare checks.  

But a revenue stream is crucial to what he terms "new, more sustainable models" for publishing, which "[utilize] a new business model, [according to which] publications could include much more than text, such as simulations, audio and other elements." Because such a move, from a university press to none, is required in order to come up with a new model of publication(!), the action by the president was kept secret: "Out of respect for notifying the remaining ten employees at the press, this decision was not discussed publicly in advance, but please know it was vetted by system and campus administration, including vice presidents, chancellors, provosts and curators."  According to former employees, they had no knowledge they were being laid-off until they heard about the announcement from third parties. Such is the business model of "respect," I guess.  And it hardly goes without saying that these advisers to the president included only other administrators, so many of them, and no faculty.  That faculty are the people who actually read the books, use them in their research, teach out of them, and god knows, need to write them to get ahead in their careers (tenure is not far behind in this renovation, is it?), means nothing to this President.  And he is not alone.

My fascination with the demise of MU press has lead me to the University of Missouri's "Strategic Plan," which I've read with the queasiness of a Cardinals fan watching yesterday's no-hitter against her team.  (You can find the pdf of the plan by googling "University of Missouri strategic priorities.") This plan was written by and for administrators; faculty has precious little to do, aside from dream of ways to pay themselves in this "bad economic climate," and to think about tenure decisions.  The faculty input, as stated under section 3.2 "shall be conveyed to the campus and system administration to help shape future budget allocations."  The verb choice ("to convey an opinion") is curious, but of course apt. And "to help shape" offers no promises to take faculty input seriously, to put it mildly.

This strategic plan begins with a mission statement, which includes the usual: teaching, research, service, economic development.  The nobility of scholarship and teaching as "driven by a sense of public service" comes up in this paragraph.  What follows shows the extent to which this university--like so many others--uses "public service" as a euphemism for doing more with less, a lot less.  The vocabulary of the strategic plan, its lay-out (goals, followed by bullet-points, culminating in who is to do what to achieve the goal) belongs to business.  The first point under the subtitle, "Educational objectives," reads this way:

2.1 Leverage the interdisciplinary networks of the initiatives to create a climate in which students, faculty, staff, alumni and administrators engage across demographic, social and interpersonal differences through curricular and co-curricular activities that prepare students for lives and careers in a multicultural global community

Now, I teach English 100 (composition) once every four semesters and I hardly know where to enter that sentence, let alone how to get out of it with dignity intact.  But there's more, which follows the sub-sub-title, "Action Needed":

--Create a database that will track interdisciplinary networks within each initiative and across initiatives.
Responsible: Informatics Institute and members of "Architecture of Collaboration" (Mizzou Advantage-funded project)

I'm not going to argue that our economy is flush with resources, that we can expand all the programs a university has to offer, but I would argue that the strategic plan IS about creating jobs, not simply stream-lining.  Who is going to create the database?  Who is in the Informatics Institute?  Who belongs to the "Architecture of Collaboration," whose quotation marks scare me?  And what is Mizzou Advantage?  These are all sub-institutions that require funding, support, and personnel. 

Google Mizzou Advantage and you find a website devoted to public relations and to the all-important pursuit of revenue.  They're creating "networks" of collaborators in four areas, it seems, including food and the media.  We're talking real world here, not any airy fairy place of intellectual inquiry: "MU faculty and staff have formed networks of collaborators, both on and off-campus, to focus on real-world problems centered around these areas.  Their efforts will help secure external funding, recruit top students, attract prominent scholars and scientists, create jobs, and improve quality of life." As for students who benefit, the benefits will be "real," not intangible: "MU is also developing new educational programs in these four areas to give students a competitive edge in the global marketplace." Click the "partners" tab and you get a request for businesses to collaborate with MU.  And so it goes.

If you go to the Informatics Institute website, you discover an attempt to join computer resources across the campus and the region.  The institute itself has a director and several staff, of course.  I can't leave the site before quoting this bullet-point, about research objectives:

  • Building teams of faculty members and professionals to foster main informatics research thrusts;
It's very difficult to parry such thrusts, such spears to the heart of the English language.  I'm hardly the first, nor shall I be the last, to note the piss poor writing skills of most university administrators and their ghost writers.  But I feel blinded, or is it blind-sided, by these sentences, these objectives, these bullet-pointed, bullet-addled documents. I want to argue that we should all be reading these documents, parsing them, considering their arguments, engaging their authors.  If we do not, we're doomed.  (That we might be in any case goes without saying.)  One more choice administrative sentence before I go.  This comes from "Goal 2: Build the Mizzou Advantage, a set of five focused, interdisciplinary initiatives that capitalize on existing strenghts and bring new international distinction to MU."  It's the first sentence in the section "Food for the Future":

"Birthday cakes and matzoh balls, the economic power of U.S. agriculture, Cézanne's fruits, the importance of nutrition to health, humanitarian efforts to end hunger around the world--these all attest to the central role that food plays in every aspect of human life and our urgent need to better understand its production, distribution, consumption, and cultural meanings." The paragraph ends with this assertion of the importance of food: "It will draw faculty from other disciplines eager to work collaboratively on this theme, central to human existence."

The problem with writing like this is that it so lacks nutrients, even as it suggests we might eat cake. But how am I to tell a student that he or she must use detail, write with precision, use examples, when the very leadership of the university is writing sentences like these.  Hey, they've got jobs, and my students most likely will not.  Perhaps I should resign myself to that cliched and yet beautiful future pointed to by our outgoing Chancellor, Virginia Hinshaw, (seriously, click that link) when she writes in her last newsletter: "All of this [she refers to bullet points, of course] has been possible because we paddled hard toward a shared goal, and our momentum is now strong because of partnering, both internally and externally."

Note: The book jacket above is for James Caron's University of Missouri Press volume, Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter.  Jim is a colleague of mine.  He worked for many years on that book.  One of the University of Missouri Press's specialties has been in Mark Twain Studies