Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Get A Free Copy Of The Tuk Tuk Diaries!

Because everyone likes free stuff.

In December, 2003, Unarmed, the adventurous poetry journal, printed their 6th chapbook, my collection of poems known as The Tuk Tuk Diaries: My Dinner With Clusterbombs.

Composed of 13 poems based on my experiences and initial impressions from my first visit back to Laos and Southeast Asia in 30 years, it was printed in a very limited quantity (fewer than 400) and they were given away for free as part of the underground guerrilla poetry scene of the Twin Cities at the time.

Recently, I found a very small stack of 30 copies that were tucked away, and as a thank you to my friends and readers, I'll mail you a free copy as long as supplies last.

Just drop me a message and I'll set one aside for you!


Historically, this was one of the first major chapbooks to emerge since the publication of Bamboo Among The Oaks by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and was available on the streets for about 4 to 6 months.

A few copies are known to have circulated outside of Minnesota but those are quite rare. One copy is definitely archived at The Poets House in New York.

Several, but not all of these poems appear, in modified and updated forms, in On The Other Side Of The Eye, so this provides something of a special glimpse at my poetic process. A surprising number of these poems have also never appeared online.

This is also a significant collection because of its speculative poetry elements (poems with influences from science fiction, fantasy, folklore and mythology) that have been present throughout my work, but here particularly used to discuss the Southeast Asian American refugee experience.

I should also mention it is unlikely there will be a reprint of The Tuk Tuk Diaries, as many of the original files were lost.

And there you have it!

Monday, February 25, 2008

[Interview] Ed Lin, Chinese American Writer

Originally appeared at TripmasterMonkey.Com

BASED IN NEW YORK, novelist Ed Lin provides some much need East Coast representation in Asian-American literature, which has skewed westward for so long. Lin is the author of two novels, including "Waylaid" (which director Michael Kang turned into the acclaimed film, "The Motel").

Tripmaster Monkey spoke with him about his latest novel "This is A Bust" (Kaya Press, 352 pages). Set in the slums of New York's Chinatown circa 1976, it's the story of Robert Chow, a messed-up cop who's out to solve a murder mystery. Sounds like a blockbuster to us!

Tripmaster Monkey: So this new book of yours, "This Is A Bust." Why should we buy it?
Ed Lin: Actually, with the attractive cover (photo by Corky Lee, design by Bryan Chez Ong), it's a pretty nice paperweight! The story comes free! Also, it's one of the few books from a Chinese/Taiwanese-American writer with a title that doesn't sound like a restaurant and a story that will change your soul forever.

How long did it take you to write "This Is A Bust"? What was your family saying in the meantime?
EL: I actually started writing this book before I was finished with "Waylaid." It was originally a reaction to the "Waylaid" narrator's anxiety to go out and get laid. "This Is A Bust" was very internal. In fact, the first draft didn't even have any dialogue and it was somewhat dreamlike. Including editing and rewriting, it probably took just over two continuous years. My family wasn't saying anything because I never tell anyone what I'm working on until it's done.

How many cups of coffee did it take to write this book?
EL: I'm a huge coffee addict; I probably drink about 4 to 5 cups of coffee a day and more on the weekends. I'd say I drank about a million ounces.

Do your critics actually "get" this book? Has there been anyone who's been waaaaaaaay off?
EL: Everybody's way off, but some like me more than others!

What's the secret to writing according to Ed Lin?
EL: Don't write every day. I know that all the how-to books about writing say you gotta get in 1,000 words per day, blah blah, but that makes it a rote kinda thing when it should be a "write" kinda thing. (Damn, I'm good!) Write when you're ready.

Who do you want to play you in the Hollywood bio-pic of your life? (Once the writers' strike is over, of course)?
EL: Daniel Dae Kim, Joel de la Fuente, my wife Cindy Cheung and Ken Leung could all play me à la "I'm Not There."

What's your favorite monkey?
EL: Marmosets.

Last question. Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston in a crazy fistfight on top of the Empire State Building: Who would win?
EL: America!

[Interview] Ching-In Chen, Chinese American poet

Ching-In Chen is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a Kundiman Asian American Poet Fellow. A community organizer, she helped to plan the 3rd national Asian Pacific American Spoken Word and Poetry Summit in Boston.

Ching-In is currently working on a poetry collection about the travails, heartbreak and adventures of a Chinese-American girl called xiaomei, The Heart's Traffic which was selected for publication by Eloise Klein Healy and will be published through the Arktoi imprint of Red Hen Press (slated for 2009).

She entered the MFA program at University of California Riverside in Fall 2007.

I met her in Summer 2007 as she was passing through Minnesota for the popular Split Rock Program. Ching-In's style is quite distinctive and The Heart's Traffic is likely to be an early contender for the Asian American Literary Awards in 2010. Here's an interview we recently did:

What are you working on these days, artistically?
Ching-In Chen: I just finished a completed draft towards the end of last year of a novel in verse about the adventures of a girl named Xiaomei. So I'm in the beginning phase (mostly research) of a few projects -- a poetic project on the global history of coolies and a historical novel of a Chinese-American family in the turbulent 1800s. I'm also in a playwriting class and am hoping to write a play about four friends who are students who get involved in the I-hotel struggle.

What's been the biggest challenge for you, as a writer?
CIC: My writing in poetry has changed a lot, especially in the last two years as I've moved more from a performance/spoken word feel to my work to work that plays more with the white space on the page. Recently, I've started to work a lot with fragmentation, multiple voices, and found text. I think that the more you write and push yourself towards your boundaries, the higher the bar gets set. And then there's also the consideration of both wanting to do work that's exciting for you (for me, right now, it is experimenting), but then wanting at the same time to keep it community-based. It's both exhilarating and terrifying, and it feels like we don't have that many models of people who've done it before us. Or maybe it's that, the paths or the models or the approaches HAVE to keep changing because the world and the community (and ultimately) our writing has to keep changing.

How did you first get into writing?
CIC: I had a very isolating childhood where I didn't fit in with a lot of my peer group. I think discovering other worlds through writing helped me survive those years and I've been hooked on words ever since.

What are some of your favorite themes and ideas to work with?
CIC: When I first started writing, I wrote about my family and my own experiences a lot. Themes like race, immigration, marginal spaces, inhabiting multiple worlds. I still work with those ideas, but I think that I've sludged through some of the surface stuff and am more interested in what's beneath. It's always been about reflecting the realities of my life and the lives of those I care about around me.

Who's on your reading list these days?
CIC: In 2007, the books that were most important to my work were Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee, Cathy Park Hong's Dance Dance Revolution, sharon bridgfoth's Love/Conjure Blues, Kimiko Hahn's Narrow Road to the Interior, Li Young Lee's The Winged Seed, Lynda Barry's 100 Demons, and, always, since I was 16 years old, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior. The book that's wowed me in 2008 has been Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I've become really interested recently in speculative fiction so my personal goal is to read all of Octavia Butler's work by the end of the year.

Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
CIC:Make an appointment with yourself and show up at the page consistently. For me, viewing it as writing practice (similar to meditation practice) and always striving to practice my craft is helpful.

Thanks for asking & making me think about my writing practice!

An Interview With Patrick Rosal

Filipino American poet Patrick Rosal is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive , which won the Asian American Writers' Workshop Members' Choice Award, and My American Kundiman.

His chapbook Uncommon Denominators won the Palanquin Poetry Series Award from the University of South Carolina, Aiken. His poems and essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies including North American Review , Pindledyboz, Black Renaissance Noire, Brevity, Columbia , and the Beacon Best. His work has been honored by the annual Allen Ginsberg Awards, the James Hearst Poetry Prize, the Arts and Letters Prize, Best of the Net among others.
What are you working on these days, artistically?
Patrick Rosal: I have a collection of poems called BONESHEPHERDS that's all but done. For the last year, I've been working on a novel-in-verse called The Lovers of Paz y Pelea. I'm hoping I can get some serious work with that done in the next year or so. I also I am in the middle of a project with a young Chamorro film director named Alex Muñoz.
He's directing an NEH-funded documentary about Filipinos who built a large part of Guam's infrastructure after WWII. I've also been writing essays, some about dance, some about teaching. I've got plenty of ideas, but there's rarely enough time to immerse myself in a single project, let alone any number together.

What's been the biggest challenge for you, as a writer?
PR: The challenges vary. Time is always in issue, because you have to have a roof and food, so you have to find a way to make dough. In my case it's teaching, which I'm as committed to as my writing. More centrally, I think my challenge is in the truth-telling. How do you get the poem, the essay, the story that is complicated and true, rather than the easy language, the fashionable language, the language of effects.

That last one plays itself out in many ways. I'm always putting a new challenge in front of myself. The voice in BONESHEPHERDS for example tends more toward rhetoric and meditation than in my previous two books. It was, at times, daunting to acknowledge and confront that voice. I didn't want to continue to write the poem I knew I had already mastered in the first two collections.

How did you first get into writing?
PR: I came to it reading and writing late in life. I transferred to a small Jersey school that had communications under their English curriculum so I had to take all these lit courses (which I had avoided at Rutgers). I really enjoyed them, more than I expected to. Toward the end of undergrad I took a creative writing class with a poet named Paul Genega, the most influential teacher I've had. I started reading and writing poetry seriously then.

What are some of your favorite themes and ideas to work with?
A lot of poems have to do with rage. I'm curious about the connections between personal and historical rage, rage as legacy. In that way, the investigation is a political one. I'm also curious about eros, in the way that Audre Lorde outlines it in her seminal essay "Poetry and the Erotic". Eros is a life force, a shared joy. I think there must be some connection between Lorde's erotic and James Baldwin's belief that love is a real political answer, not a love borne out of bullshit metaphysics or feel-good self-improvement, but love that is interrogative and brave.

Who's on your reading list these days?
PR: So much. I'm doing a reading course here at UT with a fabulous young poet named Donika Ross. So, with her, I'm re-reading Robert Hayden, Etheridge Knight, Thylias Moss (whose novel-in-verse SLAVE MOTH is riveting), Michael Harper, Rita Dove, and Gwendolyn Brooks. I just finished Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, a history book about boxing called BEYOND THE RING. I'm in the middle of Galeano's first volume of TRILOGY OF FIRE, a music history book about Equal Temperament, and a Pennsylvania poet named Christopher Bursk.

Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
PR: Coming to University of Texas, I'm finding a lot of young writers are very ready to reject and dismiss. In fact, that seems their first impulse. Maybe it's because I arrived to poetry so late, but I think that dismissal is a poor first impulse for beginning writers. They should be hungry. They should be open. They should be generous with their reading and they should be generous with themselves.

You have to know what you love, before you know what you refuse to love. I mean what kind of poetry, but I also mean modes of silence, solitude, dancing your ass off, being lost on strange avenues. I mean simple meals and extravagant ones, long kisses on cold streets, bad TV. I mean a good football game and the smell of new tar. I'm saying, live a full life. You don't have to live like an artist. You just have to live. Be disciplined in the life of your art, but do not sacrifice a real life in the world for that discipline. Reality is not a pressure on the nobility of poetry; it's the source of it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Scenes from February UCSD Reading

Thanks again to our amazing hosts at University of California San Diego for bringing my fellow writer Bao Phi and I out to a great audience at the International Center.

It was standing room only with almost 200 people throughout the evening as Bao Phi and I performed both classic and all-new pieces.

As I mentioned during the reading, this was a historic occasion: It is the first time I've formally read my work in California. I also had a chance to demonstrate several new pieces from my current book-in-progress.

It was a wonderful time and I'm deeply appreciative to everyone who came!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Rhyslings Should Recognize Whole Books

As a quick background: In the field of poetry, the respected Science Fiction Poetry Association coordinates the Rhyslings, two awards for "Best Long Poem" (50+ lines) and one for "Best Short Poem" (1-49 lines), and are presently the highest awards in speculative poetry one can receive.

(Speculative poetry broadly includes science fiction, fantasy, horror and other genre poetry.)

Anyway: I'm dismayed the association doesn't have an award for best full-length book of speculative poetry for any given year.

Over recent years, there's been a steady increase in books that easily qualify in my opinion.

Just off the top of my head, besides my own, I would cite:

Shanxing Wang's Mad Science In Imperial City (2005).

Cathy Park Hong's Dance Dance Revolution. (2007)

Jay Snodgrass' Monster Zero (2002).

Toby Barlow's Sharp Teeth (2007/2008)

I would even cite Sun Yung Shin's Skirt Full Of Black (2007) for containing enough poems of a speculative nature to at least merit review for consideration. And what should one do when one runs into a work like Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf?

I understand: the current setup for the Rhyslings allows for individual poems to rise forward and to be included in the Rhysling anthology.

But more than enough interesting things are happening in publishing that's bringing forward truly interesting, full-length books of speculative poetry the Rhyslings can recognize, and I hope some serious discussion will emerge on this!