On Names

I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
--from "Facing It," Yusef Komunyakaa

Last month when the Best American Poetry 2015/Michael Derrick Hudson scandal broke (Hudson, who had been included in the anthology, admitted that he employed the pen name Yi-Fen Chou “as a strategy for ‘placing’ poems”), the Asian American Writers’ Workshop launched, in a parodic move, a White Pen Name generator. I just used the generator and got the name “Richard Anderson.”

But I was recently reminded that we don’t always need to deliberately generate a white-sounding name; sometimes it gets generated for us:


Seeing the above typo from the New Directions website made me mentally chuckle as I considered how having a white pen name could be a great strategy for “placing blurbs.” I also remembered that when I was in grade school, my last name would routinely be confused for “Delong,” which, from what I can gather, is a surname of French derivation.

The Best Am Po 2015 controversy makes me think of another public controversy–the one surrounding the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The now iconic Memorial Wall was designed by Maya Lin, who won, through anonymous entry, the 1981 design competition as an undergraduate. According to Lin,

The memorial’s starkness, its being below grade, being black, and how much my age, gender, and race played a part in the controversy, we’ll never quite know. I think it is actually a miracle that the piece ever got built. From the very beginning I often wondered, if it had not been an anonymous entry 1026 but rather an entry by Maya Lin, would I have been selected?

I remember at the very first press conference a reporter asking me if I did not find it ironic that the memorial was for the Vietnam War and that I was of Asian descent. I was righteous in my response that my race was completely irrelevant. It took me almost nine months to ask the VVMF, in charge of building the memorial, if my race was at all an issue. It had never occurred to me that it would be, and I think they had taken all the measures they could to shield me from such comments about a ‘gook’ designing the memorial.

Had Michael Derrick Hudson been an architect, would he have submitted to such a competition (that was non-anonymous) with the name “Yi-Fen Chou”?

Of course not.

Trees Are Alphabets

Below is information about a fantastic-sounding exhibition that will open on the 26th at The Bronx Museum of the Arts. E.J. McAdams’s striking title (which comes from Roland Barthes) reminds me of Nabokov’s character (from his amazing short story “Signs and Symbols” ) that is stricken with “referential mania,” a condition in which “the patient imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence”: “Phenomenal nature shadows him wherever he goes. Clouds in the staring sky transmit to one another, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees. Pebbles or stains or sun flecks form patterns representing in some awful way messages which he must intercept. Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme.” This, of course, would be a terrifying, unbearable condition, but it is one that, nevertheless, sheds light on our own very restricted vocabularies and systems of meaning. Certainly it would be productive for us to intuit systems of reference not solely about our own human nature. Trees are Alphabets begins to imagine what such systems might look like.

Trees Are Alphabets
September 26, 2015 to February 7, 2016

Perhaps inspired by his earlier work as a NYC urban park ranger, E. J. McAdams is interested in how we attend to the forces in our environment. Therefore, the attempt to read natural or built elements that surround us has become a major focus in his work. For his installation at The Bronx Museum of the Arts’ Terrace, McAdams was inspired by French philosopher Roland Barthes’ observation that “According to the Greeks, trees are alphabets.”

Trees Are Alphabets considers how the sun, rain, wind, and soil constantly transform the shapes of trees since evolving in primeval forests. McAdams sees in these transformations a vision of an epiphenomenon – like a text – that is forever changing. For the duration of the exhibition, McAdams will write with tree branches, in the hope to make space for a resonant poetic emanation to emerge out of this human-tree collaboration.

About the artist

E.J. McAdams is a poet, artist, and collaborator who lives in Harlem.  He explores language and mark-making in the urban environment using procedures and improvisation with found and natural materials.  One of his text-collages was included in the mail art exhibit “Focus Latin America: Art Is Our Last Hope” at Phoenix Art Museum.  An ongoing series, TRANSECTs, was featured in The Volta and About Place Journal, and published as a chapbook by Sona Books. He was a founding board member of the interdisciplinary Laboratory of Art Nature and Dance (iLAND) from 2004-14 and curated the Social-Environmental-Aesthetics (SEA) reading series at Exit Art that featured poets, visual artists and activists in conversation from 2009-11.

Bernar Venet and the History of Conceptual Poetry

weatherIn writing about Language to Cover a Page: The Early Writings of Vito Acconci (2006), edited by Craig Dworkin, Marjorie Perloff remarks on how much Acconci’s writing practice foreshadowed the so-called “uncreative writing” of Kenneth Goldsmith and other contemporary conceptualists:

How uncanny [. . .] that thirty-five years before Goldsmith produced his book The Weather (Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2005), a transcription of a year’s worth (December 21, 2002-December 20, 2003) of hourly weather bulletins on WINS (1010), New York’s all-news radio station, Acconci should have produced a numbered text called “Act 3, Scene 4,” that begins like this:

1. The sun rises today, Thursday, December 26, 1968.
2. At 7:18 A.M., sets at 4:34 P.M., and will rise
3. tomorrow at 7:18 A.M. The moon sets today at 11:49
4. rises at 12:10 P.M. tomorrow and will set tomorrow
5. at 12:38 A.M. Warmer weather and clear to cloudy skies
6. will cover most of the eastern portion of the nation
7. today while snow is expected to fall on the western
8. lake region, the Northern Plains States, and from
9. the upper Mississippi Valley to the plateau region.

And it goes on in this vein for another ten pages…

Perloff goes on to say that Language to Cover a Page “provides the missing link between the first forays into a non-representational, non-expressivist poetics and its current incarnations.”

Yet Acconci wasn’t the only conceptual writer in the 1960s who appropriated weather reports. Bernar Venet, who is most well-known and celebrated as a sculptor, has done similar works.  Continue reading

On Nathaniel Mackey’s Blue Fasa (New Directions, 2015)

My review-essay on Nathaniel Mackey entitled “Root Work” appeared in the Boston Review yesterday. This is from the very beginning:

Nathaniel Mackey’s Blue Fasa is the latest installment of an ever-expanding “life work” in the tradition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Ezra Pound’s Cantos, and William Carlos Williams’s Paterson. Mackey, a recent recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Bollingen Prizes, has been adding new sections to the long poems Song of the Andoumboulou and “Mu” for decades. These two strands first emerged in Eroding Witness (1985) and were explicitly intertwined in the National Book Award–winning Splay Anthem (2006). What Mackey now calls  “a long song that’s one and more than one is a tale of the tribe with a planetary scope, an expansive lyrico-epic worthy of the cultural demands of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Mackey’s long song speaks to a range of conditions of uprootedness across time and space, conveying the affect of such diasporic experiences through a powerful musicality…

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Jane Wong’s Impossible Map














This is from the good people at Fact-Simile:

Jane Wong’s Impossible Map is now available.

The careful, quiet-yet-expansive voice of the poet called for a form that could echo both the minute movements and larger overtures of the work. The pop-up effect of the Turkish map folds within performs the expansion and contraction of language that Jane so deftly employs.

The poems are printed on EnviroKraft recycled paper. Artist and paper-maker Nicole Donnelly locally harvested the mulberry branches for and crafted the bark-like Amate covers for this breathing, organic text. It’s bound with nylon thread in a limited edition of 100.

Visit our website to learn more and to order your copy (and receive a special limited time pre-sale rate).

Celebrate the release of Impossible Map with Jane from wherever you are in the world at Fact-Simile’s virtual release party June 9th.

Using our free conference call line, dial in to this virtual live poetry reading from your phone:

Enter Dial-in Number: (641) 715-3580
Enter the Meeting ID: 479-309-276

Jane will start reading her poems at:
6:30 pm PDT / 7:30 pm MDT / 8:30 pm CDT / 9:30 pm EDT

For more information, please visit the event page.

Lines of Sight: Visual Art in Asian American Poetry


Christine Wong Yap. Untitled (one half gallon), 2006, paper, 8 x 8 x 1 inches / 20 x 20 x 2.5 cm.


I’m very happy about the recent publication of “Lines of Sight: Visual Art in Asian American Poetry,” a folio I guest edited for The Margins. The folio presents writing and art (some of it previously unpublished) by Christine Wong Yap, Debora Kuan, Eileen Tabios, Jennifer Hayashida, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Shin Yu Pai, Walter K. Lew, O Chung, and John Yau alongside visual works by such artists as Yves Klein, Diane Arbus, Kiki Smith, and Toshiko Takaezu.
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Shark Porn


Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991)


Stephen Burt has a recent review, “Poems about Poems,” from the Nov/Dec issue of the Boston Review that begins,

If you write a book of poetry about sharks, you might get attention from readers who care about sharks. If you write a book of poetry that is explicitly and consistently about poetry—its institutions and conventions, how we decide what counts as poetry, what we expect it to do—you might get extra attention from readers who care about poetry, which is to say from anyone likely to pick up new poetry at all.

Who, you might ask, would want to write poetry about sharks?  But there is, of course, Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror, which contains quite possibly the most sublime instance of shark pornography ever written.  This is from Georges Hugnet’s translation, published in 1965 by New Directions:

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