I'm far behind in this blog, and I'm doing
it "backward" from the point of view of the blogosphere. It
should be updated regularly with the most recent entries at the "top"
of the web page. I am embarrassed at how long it has been since I came
back to write about the writing life. I have good excuses, but I am not
at liberty to describe them. Here is one thing I've wanted to say for
Colorado as a literary region seems to be
very quickly growing self-aware of its own strength. This is sort of like
the moment when, in the science fiction movie Colossus, or The
Terminator, the supercomputer becomes "alive" and "networks"
with other computer networks. But Colorado as a literary "center"
is not becoming a Colossus due to a sudden influx of great talent or money
or institutional support. Many great writers, journals, institutions etc.
have been plugging away here for many decades, even at University of Northern
Colorado, formerly the home of Colorado North Review, which published
Bukowski and many other great poets and writers. There is no shortage
of long term "star power," either, thanks especially to some
of the Beatniks and their millions of ardent fans. I have not been in
Colorado long enough to pretend to understand why this is happening, but
I saw something similar happen before in Philadelphia, maybe ten years
In Philly, there was a kind of a poetry "renaissance"
as many pre-existing and well-established publications, institutions and
associations became more interconnected than they were before. Perhaps
part of this was due to an older generation leaving the stage and taking
with them some of their ideas that had kept them aloof from each other.
Not to name any names, but if a major publication or institution has someone
at the helm who has alienated whole segments of the greater literary audience
of intelligent, thoughtful readers—the people who actually buy books
and love them, who attend writing workshops, who go to literary festivals
and events—then new people at the helm have an opportunity to clean
the slate. Some significant parts of the literary world of Philly passed
into new hands, and some of them were quick to exploit some very obvious
networks to re-connect literary audiences to writers. This was (and continues
to be) a good thing as it unfolds.
So I have noticed this analogous phenomenon
in Colorado, i.e. some relatively new hands are seizing some obvious opportunities
to reconnect literary audiences to writers, and there are more and cheaper
ways to facilitate such networks—like the blogosphere, and the literary
logosphere on the web. Many of the people involved in this Western "renaissance"
are, interestingly, not necessarily Western in origin or outlook. In the
Philly "renaissance," many of the people who helped to change
things were also from elsewhere.
A few signs: when I saw Mary Crow, the Colorado
Poet Laureate, read at UNC in May of 2005 and when I went to the Small
Press Festival at C U Boulder, I realized that the "awakening"
of Colorado was more widespread and deeper than I'd realized.
Not everyone is aware of this, however. At
the same time that Colorado is becoming more confident as a literary place
to be, there are still plenty of Western people who will automatically
assume that anything from Colorado must not be that good or it would have
moved either east or west.
I tried to explain this to my students, most
of whom are natives of the West. It is really painfully obvious to me
when native Coloradans toss aside The Bloomsbury Review when
they see it is from Denver. I have to explain to them that it is a big
and important nationwide literary review. Many Mountains Moving,
which was based in Boulder from 1994-2005, also was stigmatized by Coloradans
because it was something from Colorado. It's sort of like the opposite
of the halo effect that, say, The New Yorker gets from New York
The regular audiences at literary events
are actually a significant measure of cultural change. I'm not talking
about "big" audiences but about well-read, thoughtful, interested
audiences. When you see that kind of audience appearing regularly and
voluntarily at a reading series or an event, than something significant
has happened. Denver and Boulder audiences, in particular, have great
depth and range and diversity.
Most people do not think about how important
and how valuable that kind of an audience is, but literary culture—any
literary culture—would die without such an audience. Great audiences
demand great art. In the end, the writers, the institutions and publications
cannot do anything worthwhile if there are not people who care out there.
New York is the great literary center that it is not thanks to the things
that support literary culture but thanks to the New Yorkers themselves,
the people who actually populate all the institutions, staff the publications,
and hunger for the greatest art.
§ § §
§ § §
Dec 3, 2005]
How did this forthcoming identity papers
I wrote about this a little in the Preface
to the work, but, to explain in more detail, after the initial shock of
the attack and the actual pain of the injuries started to fade in August
1994, I had to deal with the much deeper, longer lasting emotional fallout.
A sort of a relative who I never liked was really obnoxious
to me one day not long after the attack—within weeks. Prior to that
time, I’d have just let it go when he habitually did hostile things
when I had to visit, like, for example, smearing food that was a gift
on the roof of my car or being rude and insulting. But this time I was
ready to really hurt him very seriously. I put my keys between my knuckles
with the hope of sending him to a hospital. He, I learned later, was ready
to go for a knife. Someone intervened so that nothing happened, but after
that I knew that I was a lot more violent than I’d ever been before,
and in my post-attack world I knew exactly what kind of feelings and violence
I was capable of.
In the beginning, the writing was literally reconstructing
the scene of violence just so that I could sort out the very disorienting
flashes of what happened and reassemble them into a coherent story.
The violent part was the most interesting one in terms
of memories starting as fragments and flashes and gradually becoming a
whole again. Initially, it was almost like all the pieces were bits of
glass that had been blasted out of a window. The parts were all familiar,
but how they fit together was not certain. Each piece had its own “signature”
that helped me to locate it in the “sequence,” but I didn’t
remember the actual transitions sometimes and had to infer how the memories
fit together due to certain elements in the memories being necessary before
or after other things.
The biggest example of a sequence helping me reassemble
the memory is the moment when I hit my attacker in the head and was at
the same time hit in the head with his hammer. Because of the force of
the blow to my head, I was totally unable to remember actually hitting
him. I could never see any image in my memories that would correspond
with that moment. I also could not recollect how it felt to throw that
punch. I had incontrovertible evidence that I had hit him—one of
the hairs on his head was lodged in a gash in my knuckle for days. The
flashes of memory that I could see well following the punch that I threw
could only make sense if the punch had been very hard. A very hard punch
explained why he dropped the hammer, but I never “saw” that
in any memory. The writing itself became a tool to figure out the sequence
I read somewhere that a severe head injury like a hammer
blow can sort of “short circuit” the brain and prevent it
from recording memories the way it usually does. I recalled at least three
very hard hits to my head, and if you count the hit when I blanked out,
then there must have been four or more very hard hammer blows. I didn’t
think to count the lumps on my head though that would have been an easy
way to actually figure it out. (I think one of my friends counted the
lumps, though, and there were more than what I remembered.)
Interestingly, the first time I ever went to an Asian
American writers conference was not long after this attack. It was just
several months later at Hunter College, where I’d been invited to
read by dis-Orient journalzine.... This reading turned out to
be a very great turning point for me in ways I never could have foreseen....
§ § §
§ § §
What makes a writer a writer?
This late Monday afternoon (12/19/2005),
as I was laying in bed sick with the sun fading, a voice in my head said:
Get up and write. Then I got up and started writing. The voice has never
said: Get up and start watching TV. It has never said, Get up and go shopping.
On the other hand, when I was studying dance and music in my young beginnings,
the voice would say: Get up and practice. So i have not been solely dedicated
to writing alone; it has just been the thing that stuck and which worked
better than anything else I ever did.
This line popped into my head a couple days
ago: "Life in Asian America is nasty, brutish and short. But the
bargains are amazing."
Maybe I can use it in a pantoum someday.
I think I w as riding in the car around Tainan, and reflecting on how
I feel a lot safer here. The irony is that I should not feel safer here
where I am actually a minority in terms of nationality, language, culture
etc. I am an American in East Asia, and I am illiterate and do not know
how to get around or even how to ask where is the bathroom. But native
Taiwanese will bend over backwards to be accommodating to me here as an
American, especially as an American-born Chinese person. An "ABC"—I
seem to enjoy great ease here because this society wants me to be comfortable
here even if there may be some resentment and some curiosity and etc.
Mostly, I think it is positive.
(I know there is some resentment of Americans
in general, and part of this is due to the wonderful string of presidents
that we have had since 1968 or so, like LBJ escalating the war in Vietnam
based on a phony incident. The Gulf of Tonkin incident was totally faked?
Ho hum. Remind you of anything?)
§ § §
§ § §
a post-AWP debriefing
on a reading off the path
March 16, 2006
I was invited by Donna Weaver, editor of
to be part of a reading at AWP in Austin on March 10; this was a good
break for me (as well as a much needed break from the AWP Bookfair, where
I was representing Many Mountains Moving)
as I knew several of the readers from NYU, and I wanted to support Donna
in her courageous efforts to bring out the great and the fearless because
there aren’t enough lit mags that are actually really exciting and
Though I was extremely sleep-deprived and surfeited with
poetry readings and poets and writers of all cv-sizes and ego-ages, several
things set this evening event apart. First, it was far from the corpocratic
aura of the Convention Center, with its Bookfair in a Box Superstore that
made you feel like an ant in a literary Walmart; the reading was past
the supersized headshop and across the highway and another mile trek through
desolate, dark streets (smarter poets in cabs passed me and my friends).
Second, it was set in a little cafe with a nice outside courtyard-like
performance space with little trees and strings of dim treelights; it
was ideal for little live music acts. Third, there was free wine and food
and desserts. Fourth, my friends, Erik Nilsen, John Mulrooney and Lidia
Torres, came with me, and more of my old friends turned out there also,
I learned later.
Before I’d left for the reading I was so tired I
was zoning out in front of the hotel TV, which was playing Braveheart,
which I’d seen before, but it had an extra added hour of commercials
It didn’t bug me that the reading started late or
that there was a signup sheet as in an open reading because there weren’t
that many readers, and we were all told to read for seven minutes. And
I signed up for the seventh spot. How long could it take?
Man, was I wrong! Everyone read over their time, and some
went way over, except for one person (god bless her, i.e. Susan Brennan,
and she was great). They even had to take a break before the sixth person.
On the other hand, I know the poets were good, and some of them, including
Kazim Ali, were really great. But I was starting to fall over (into sleep)
even in the beautiful evening and great scene etc. Then they interjected
a few people between Susan and me, without telling me. (Maybe they got
their late. Who knows?)
Being a veteran of, okay, millions of readings, as a feature
and as an audience member, I knew our generous audience was somewhat suffering
as the readers were overtaxing the already overtaxed.
I decided then to stick to my script and stay in the time
limit and just hit the high notes and leave. I tried hard to summon up
some energy, did a few stretches in the shadows, said my prayers to the
greatest poets I ever heard in my life, inhaled a half-cup of wine, jumped
out to the mic, said thanks to Donna and her staff for doing so much for
us, and said I’d read two poems.
I had my full concentration really on right away and just
made sure I stayed focused on the words of “peace valley elementary
school during the vietnam war.”
I admit that this poem contains mysteries for me, unexpected
rises and falls, layers of innuendo that drop from taboos to something
even more hidden. I was really hoping to feel what was in the poem with
the help of this great audience because such an audience can act like
a great magnifier of meaning, and this reflecting mirror can actually
make a tangible impression on one in the midst of the act. But I was a
little too trashed to feel that ethereal phenomenon. On the other hand,
I could feel their full attention, and they laughed at the right spots
and clapped sincerely when the first poem ended. The last poem I read
was “she wanted to be…”, which was very brief and intense.
The louder applause afterwards told me that I’d
made it really happen. I didn’t stand around in it though; I walked
offstage almost straight into a beautiful tall woman who was sort of smiling
at me, all aglow. Then one of my friends gave me a great hug, and I felt
relieved to be done and free. I didn’t get a chance to talk to many
people afterwards though because our cab had just come and the next wouldn’t
appear for forty-five minutes. So we left immediately.
The next night, though, after the really big closing reading
of famous poets, when I was hanging out with some friends, several of
them told me they were there, too, at the CakeTrain reading and they really
liked what I’d done up there.
It was hard to say goodbye to all that warm energy, especially
in the midst of the arrival of thousands of South by Southwest (SXSW)
fans from everywhere in the world jamming the streets and making Austin
into a carnival with loud live music pouring out of restaurants everywhere,
and everyone dressed for a sultry summer night, but I had a 6:30 a.m.
plane back to the high plains of northern Colorado with all its ice, high
wind warnings, red dust storms, cows, burning blood, stockyards and tumbleweeds.
I was too wired to sleep right away, so I turned on the
hotel TV, and, swear to god, Braveheart was still going on due
to the inordinant number of extra commercials. I got to see Mel Gibson
get killed again.