(Tina Chang, Vijay Seshadri, Arthur Sze) This featured event will highlight two of this country's most respected poets, Vijay Seshadri and Arthur Sze. Vijay Seshadri is the most recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the first Asian American poet to have received that honor. Arthur Sze is one of the most renowned poets of the last thirty years. Together, this is sure to be a remarkable poetry reading, and a marvelous way to promote and discuss poetry by Asian American writers. Introduced and moderated by poet Tina Chang.

Published Date: November 18, 2015


Speaker 1 (00:00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2015 A W P conference in Minneapolis. The recording features Tina Chang, Beja Ri and Arthur Z. You will now hear Oliver de la p vice chair of the a w P Board of Trustees provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:32):

Hello and welcome. I'm Oliver De La Paz, a VP of AWPs, board of Trustees and co-chair of the advisory Board of Kund Deman. Before we start today's presentation, I need to ask you to please turn off your cell phones. Remember, there is no flash photography allowed during the presentation and to give the writers about 15 minutes after the presentation to get to the book signing table. Now it's my pleasure to introduce the moderator of tonight's featured presentation, Tina Chang.

Speaker 3 (00:01:17):

Tonight I'm deeply honored to introduce poetry's foremost and respected voices, Arthur Z and Vijay Sri two poets whose aesthetics and craft pose varying questions, concerns and prospect, but whose work draws upon deep examining and varying inspiration. From philosophy to commercial fishing to physics, Arthur Z was born in New York City in 1950. He's the author of 10 books of poetry including Compass Rose, the Ginkgo Light, and the Red Shifting Web, all from Copper Canyon Press. According to Kay Michelle Z's work is characterized by its unusual combination of images and ideas and by the surprising way in which he makes connections between diverse aspects of the world and as poetry. He combines images from urban life and nature, ideas from modern astronomy and Chinese philosophy, as well as anecdotes from rural and industrial America. In this way, he creates texts and captures and reflects upon the complexity of reality.

Speaker 3 (00:02:26):

His poem's practice of muscularity of form and precision of observation with an ear tuned to lyric tension. The poise and elegance of his sound structures work in tandem with the exacting perspectives of topics as diverse as Buddhism and complexity theory in the richly textured worlds that Arthur z Conjuress, anything and everything has a spirited connections because his poems practice in observing all his work defies any rigid categorization. His is a poetry that takes its cue, often from nature, from deep listening and the persistence of silence. Z is also a respected translator and released the Silk Dragon translations from the Chinese, also from Copper Canyon, and he's also served as editor for Chinese writers on writing. He's received many honors, I'm not going to list them right now, and he was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2012 and is a professor at Moretti at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Speaker 3 (00:03:26):

He was the first poet Laure of Santa Fe, New Mexico where he now lives. Beja Ri is a poet, essayist and critic who was born in India and came to the United States at the age of five. He's the author of the Poetry Collections Wild Kingdom, the Long Meadow, which won the James Laughlin Award and three sections which won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. In 2014, the Pulitzer Committee described the book as a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness from birth to dementia and a voice that is by turns, witty and grave compassionate. And remorseless Vijay Shari's work contemplates the intricacies of the lived experience and often surprises the readers. It veers headlong into humor. The more intricate feelings of grief, disappointment, and doubt are equally balanced with Witt and lightness of being. His poems have also been known for the tremendous weight of their vision.

Speaker 3 (00:04:25):

His poem, the disappearances appeared on the back cover of the New Yorker and the aftermath of September 11th and it spoke to a nation's morning. Though it was written as a reflection of John f Kennedy's assassination in 1963, it resonated with the American public in the new millennium and I'll quote from it on a day like any other day, like yesterday or centuries before, and a town with the one remembered street shaded by the Buckeye and the Sycamore, the street long and true as a theorem the day like yesterday or the day before the street, you walked down centuries before the story the same as the others. Flooding in from the cardinal points is turning to take a good look at you. Our esteemed poets who are reading tonight have inspired generations of poets. They have each created worlds in which readers could reside and be challenged and prompted and enlightened. The impact that they've had on audiences living here and abroad is clear and their domestic and international reach is undeniable. As poets, translators, essayists and thinkers, their work has expanded the canon of American poetry. It is my deep privilege to welcome our first poet, Vijay Re.

Speaker 4 (00:05:43):

I thank you all for coming. Whenever I come to a W p, I always run into many, many people whom I know and a lot of them say, what are you working on? And

Speaker 4 (00:05:58):

Lately I've been saying, well, I'm working on a memoir and this happened a while ago when I was at a w p and I was also saying I was working a memoir, the same memoir that I was working on then I'm saying I'm working on now and I was only saying I was working on it then because I somehow never seem to be able to finish this memoir that I'm working on and I'm going to start with a poem that is called Memoir that addresses that was written. It doesn't address this frustration, it was written out of it. Memoir more

Speaker 4 (00:06:35):

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life. The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations. If I wrote that story now, radioactive to the end of time people, I swear your eyes would fall out. You couldn't peel the gloves fast enough from your hands scorched by the firestorms of that shame, your poor hands, your poor eyes to see me weeping in my room or boring the tall blonde to death once I accused the innocent. Once I bowed and prayed to the guilty, I still wince at what I once said to the devastated widow and one October afternoon under a locust tree whose blackened pods were falling and making illuminating patterns on the pathway. I was seized by joy and someone saw me there and that was the worst of all lacerating and unforgettable. This next poem is called This Morning. It's kind of always been a dream in American poetry in the time that I've written it and read it, A dream of writing a poem of the moment, the absolute moment, and it was very much a project of the New York School of Poets and I grew up on those poets, O'Hara, especially with his lunch poems. He would go have lunch and then he'd come back to his office and write a poem about his lunch date.

Speaker 4 (00:08:23):

One morning I sat down and he said, I'm going to write a poem like that and it's called this Morning. First I had three apocalyptic visions each more terrible than the last, the graves open and the sea rises to kill us all. Then the doorbell rang and I went downstairs and signed for two packages, one just an envelope, but the other long and bulky, difficult to manage both for my neighbor, Gus, you're never not at home. The FedEx guy said, appreciatively. It's true. I don't shave or even wash. I keep the air conditioners roaring though it's summer, one of the beautiful red and conifer green Bayside fuel oil trucks. That bed down in the depot by the canal was refreshing. The subsurface tanks with black drafts rung from the rock. Blood of the rock sucked up from the crevices. The driver looked unconcerned, leaning slightly on each other. Frank and Louise stepped over his hose and walked by slowly on the way to their cardiologist. Truth about that poem is that morning I got up and I sat in front of my computer to write a poem called this morning and I didn't get anywhere with it and I think I crawled back into bed in defeat and then I wrote it this poem and it was all made up. Gus is actually a friend of Arthur's also and he doesn't live next door. He lives about three quarters of a mile from me in Park Slope.

Speaker 4 (00:10:17):

So that was my one attempt to actually write poem like that and succeed. This one is called surveillance report. We were having a nice conversation and at dinner and we talked a little bit about how so much of the turmoil in American society right now is imbricated in new media, people taking videos of people being shot by cops or being strangled by them and stuff like that. And you can't separate the medium from the message anymore. And this poem sort of addresses that, not those kind of incidents, but the environment in which they occur. Surveillance report,

Speaker 4 (00:11:07):

The omnidirectional mic and the video camera both tiny hidden in the bonsai cypress are picking up my sunrise self-help talk show in the makeshift kitchen studio in a bathrobe and bunny slippers. First the opening monologue, then the body banters with the mind, then cue up the callers. Caller X is unhappy with the latest dream interpretation. Caller X is cut off with a flick of the wrist. Caller Y wants to share that my fearless candor has given her permission to become utterly transparent herself. Thank you caller Y, your inner light be seen from here. Night visiting res clerks of the underworld gnawing the half buried roots of being spirits of the burning trees. Kiss me goodbye. The tape shows me checking my chronometer and exiting for work. Observers posted along my morning commute, observe the usual detours, the purchase of Potables and Sables. Flash forward the digital feed at 1,000 hours the current workplace asset texts subject agitated, begging colleagues, please have the courtesy not to be conscious of me of the three or four scenarios employed to predict my next location during the interminable lunch hour when the terrible questions of where to go and what to eat among choices once enticing but now exposed in all their bitter banality.

Speaker 4 (00:12:53):

The salt, even the most cheerful of our targets today, which is a Tuesday is burning house scenario day cloud after cloud of smoke and flames sweep through and over the turrets, the widows walk the pergolas, the port che fire boiling through the leaded window, panes emmulates the gili flowers. Though I haven't been located for reasons I don't understand in the crowd shots pirated from the eyewitness newsfeed, what the crowd feels. I would feel if I were there to feel it, but I'm not there to feel it. I'm not there at all there at the next disaster, the last disaster, but one but one. One. The dormant listening posts activate windowless vans crammed with information technology park on the corners of all the streets. Oh, the wailing in the control room, the recriminations, the pointing of fingers, the blame game, the pleas of the pragmatic to move forward, not backward and solve this problem, find me and put me back on the grid. Where will I be scanned for first? Maybe I'm in the trash padlock, public restroom and the park, the pipes are hissing. The concrete floor is littered with syringes and treacherous with pools of chill and feted standing water. The mirrors are shattered and the sinks and urinals are shattered. This is the restroom nobody ever visits in the park abandoned by humankind. The dead zone where the transducer in the infrared lens quail where all the signals ricochet.

Speaker 4 (00:14:52):

Or alternatively, I could be on a beach somewhere. This is a little Dante esque sequence. First poem is called Appropriately hell. You'd have to be as crazy as Dante to get those down the infernal hatreds, shoot them, shoot them where they live and then skip town or stay and re-engineer the decrepit social contraption to distill the 200 proof elixir of fear and torture. The what from the what and didn't I promise. Under threat of self intubation, not to envision this corridor cold tar black that narrows down and into a shattering claustrophobia attack before opening out to the lake of frozen shit where the gruesome figure is discerned, turn around, go home. Just to look at it is to become it. Purgatory. The film,

Speaker 4 (00:16:07):

He was chronically out of work. Why? We don't know. She was the second born of a set of estranged, identical twins. They met, hooked up and moved in with her mother who managed a motel on skyline drive. But always it was the other, the firstborn, the bad twin, the runaway he imagined in the shadow of the vacancy sign or watching through the window below the dripping eaves while they made love or slept. The body is relaxed and it rests. The mind is relaxed and its nest. So the self that is and is not itself rises and leaves to peak over the horizon where it sees all its psycho kinetic possibilities resolving into shapely fictions. She was brave, nurturing, kind. She was evil. She was out of her mind. She was a junkie trading sex for a fix, a chief executive, an aviatrix. She was an angel to the blinded in the lame, the less than upright, the infra dig and she was even a failure. She went to LA to make it big and crept back home injured and ashamed. Purgatory the sequel.

Speaker 4 (00:17:41):

They put him in jail. Why? We don't know. They stamped him postponed, but he didn't mind. The screws were almost kind. He had leisure to get his muscles toned, mental space to regret his crimes. And when he wasn't fabricating license plates, he was free to remember the beauty that not once but a thousand times escaped him forever and escapes me too. Ghosts of a mist drifting across the face of the stars. Jupiter triangulating with the crescent moon and Mars, prismatic fracturing and a drop of dew heaven. There's drought on the mountain. Wildfires scour the hills, so the mammal crawls down the desiccated rails, searching for the fountain, which it finds, believe it or not, or sort of finds. A thin silver sliver rises from an underground river and makes a few of the hot rock steam and the pebbles hiss. A soon the mammal will drink, but it has first to stop and think it's reflexive, impeccable thought. That thinking comes down to this mystery, longing, thirst.

Speaker 4 (00:19:22):

This is a dramatic monologue. It's called script meeting and it's in the form of a producer talking to a writer about a script script meeting. So there's this guy, what is he? 40, 50. He has a condition, a history exurban, depressed, but alert. His senses are sharp. He hears the little hiccups embedded in the pattern of sound. Sleepwalking in the woods, premonitions of cataclysms, flashback black ops, all of which you do a nice job of establishing under the opening credits. Dimple, we might say the emptiness of his days. And then next cue the family memories, the accident on I five, the 18 wheeler. Rain fog, a dough, the lake, the stalled outboard motor, the rogue wave, the explosion in the warehouse, which is very good. Something needs to be blown up right about here, but we have to know what actually happens sooner rather than later.

Speaker 4 (00:20:39):

Remember, our reputation as a studio is built not on suspense but on horror. We like the genetically engineered second wife and son, the zombie in the basement. Not so much, only a little bit less tedious than his guilt soak diary entries in a fine copperplate hand are the drooling flashes of nobility interspersing his psychotic episodes. You have his eyeballs twitching out of their sockets right here. And how many times have we seen that before? How many times have we left the multiplex? Disappointed, convinced our needs will never be satisfied by the world's mimetic gestures. Don't leave us feeling like that. Stick with your guy. He's his own zombie. He haunts his own knights. Not in this life will he tear himself from the bank of the burning river hot footing it on the radiating mar as his arrow of longing seeks the other shore, not in this life or the next. Show us what that means to him and what he means to it. As our masters said so long ago in the London drawing room, brilliant with candelabras. Here let us linger. As the cold fired Victorian ambience curses outside, never forget that both in art and that which art comprehends the whom you create is the key it is to the whom you create that the what after all, so trivial, so adventitious upon examination will or as likely will not happen. The rest we can manage digitally.

Speaker 4 (00:22:34):

And I end with this poem. This poem has a title out of English literature, trailing Clouds of glory, which is one half of two lines by William Wordsworth in his immortality ode. And I chose it because that poem is of course about the migration of the soul into the body and the subsequent kind of entrapment of the soul in materiality. It's a very manican poem actually when you think about it. And it was a good title for me because the poem was suggested by not only that poem and the lines are trailing clouds of glory, did we come from God who is our home? But it was suggested to me because of the Arizona immigration law in 2009, which as you remember, a

Speaker 4 (00:23:34):

Makes it possible for the constabulary of Arizona to pull anyone over who they think might be undocumented and demand their documentation of them. And when I was a kid, I would just have been indignant. I mean I would've been so angry about this. You're throwing out the constitution, you're throwing out a tradition of jurisprudence going all the way back to the Magna Carta. And also you're making it difficult for me to go to Arizona because I could be one of the people who would be pulled over and I love the Grand Canyon, the idea of being cut off from the Grand Canyons. So when I was young I probably would've gotten really mad, but when I read this story in the Times, my response was, oh wow, what a great idea for a poem and this is the poem and I'm going to end with this one trailing clouds of glory even though I'm an immigrant, the angel with the flaming sword seems fine with me.

Speaker 4 (00:24:44):

He unhooks the velvet rope, he ushers me into the club. Some activity in the mosh pit, a banquet here, a panhandler there, a gray curtain drawn over down over the infinitely curving lunette Jupiter in its crescent phase, huge. A vista of a waterfall with a rainbow in the spray, a feud de sultry orgies a billboard of the snub nosed electric car of the future. The inside is exactly the same as the outside down to the mc with the yellow spats. So why the angel with the flaming sword bringing in the sheep and waving away the goats and the men with the binoculars, elbows resting on the roll bars of Jeeps peering into the desert. There is a border, but it is not fixed. It waivers, it's shimmies. It rises and plunges into the unimaginable seventh dimension before erupting in a field of Dakota corn on the F train to Manhattan.

Speaker 4 (00:25:50):

Yesterday I sat across from a family threesome Guatemalan by the look of them delicate and archaic and Mayan and obviously undocumented to the bone. They didn't seem anxious. The mother was laughing and squabbling with the daughter over a knockoff smartphone on which they were playing a video game together. The boy maybe three disdained their ruckus. I recognize the scowl on his face, the retrospective massless rage of inception. He looked just like my son when my son came out of his mother. After 30 hours of labor, the head squashed, the lips swollen the skin in purple and hideous with blood and afterbirth out of the inflamed tunnel and into the cold room of harsh sounds. He looked right at me with his bld eyes. He had a voice like Richard Burton's. He had an impressive command of the major English texts. I will do such things what they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth. He said. The child he said is father of the man. Thank you.

Speaker 5 (00:27:38):

It's a great pleasure to be here this evening and I'd like to start just by thanking Joseph Legaspi, Sarah Gato and Kundiman for co-sponsoring this reading. I'd also like to thank David Za Christian there, the a W P Board of Trustees and the staff. And finally, it's a pleasure to be here with Vijay and Tina. I'm going to read selections from Compass Rose along with an earlier poem and some new poems and I'm going to just let them flow one after the other. Black kites with outstretched wings. Circle overhead stilling to north

Speaker 5 (00:28:34):

Just as the blue tip of a compass needle stills to north. You stare at a pencil with sharpened point, a small soap stone bear with a tiny chunk of turquoise tied to its back. The random pattern of straw flecked in an adobe wall you peruse the silver poplar branches the spaces between branches and as a cursor, blinks situate at the edge of loss. The was last cited in Sochi milco over 20 years ago. A jaguar meanders through Tawny brush in the Gila wilderness and as the cursor blinks, you guess it's a bit of line that arcs a parsec made visible and as you sit the imperfections that mark you attune you to a small emptied flask tossed to the roadside and the X never brooded that throbs in your veins sticking out of yellow tongue flames and a got a left foot near a stopped bus. One kid performs acrobatics while another drums strike slip

Speaker 5 (00:30:22):

Faucets drip and the night plunges to minus 15 degrees. Today you stared at a map of Africa on a school wall and shook your head at Yugoslavia, written along the Adriatic coast near the top. How many times are lines drawn and redrawn and to what end? This ebony bead yours that amber one another's A seal can swims in the depths of Mozambique and eludes a a crystal layer forms behind your retinas. Today you saw the long plastic sheet in the furrow, blown like a shroud around elm branches. A V-shaped aquatic grass cutter leans against the porch and you ponder how things get to where they are. A young writer from Milwaukee who yearned to travel calls. He's hiked the Himalayas and frets at what to do in Nepal During civil strife. He and an Israeli backpacker smoked and yanked all night in the emptied hotel. Now that the snow is dissolving off, Everest bodies of climbers and trash are exposed. A glowing eel in the darkness anguish. He cls the beads. How to live where to go, begging near a car window, a girl with a missing arm, minor bird sipping water out of a bronze bowl sprinkled with jasmine petals twitching before he plays a SGI near the temple entrance, A blind man,

Speaker 5 (00:32:43):

Midnight loon. Burglars enter an apartment and ransack drawers finding neither gold nor cash. They flee leaving the laundry and bathroom lights on. They have fled themselves. I catch the dipping pitch of a motorcycle iceberg hues and clouds the gravel courtyards. A midnight garden as in Japan, raked to resemble ocean waves in moonlight, Whirlpool eddies circular ripples and nothing is quite what it appears to be. When I unlatch the screen door, A snake's slides under the weathered decking. I spot the jagged hole edged with glass where a burglar reached through the window, but no one marks the poplars darker with thunder and rain in moonlight, I watch the whirl pool. Hues of clouds drift over our courtyard, Adobe walls and gate, and though there is no loon, a loon calls out over the yard over the water

Speaker 5 (00:34:14):

Fault lines, he pours water into a cup. At room temperature, the cup is white, but after he microwaves it and before steeping a teabag with mint leaves, he notices. Outlines of shards have formed above the water. As the cup cools, the lines disappear. Now he glimpses fault lines inside himself and feels a siberian tiger pace along the bars of a cell, black, orange, white, black, orange, white and feels how the repeating notes send waves through him. His eyes glisten and he tries to dispel the crests. But what have I done? What can I do? Throbs in his arteries and veins. Today he will handle plutonium at the lab and won't consider beryllium casings. He situates the past and the slight aroma of mint rising in the air. Sometimes he's an astronaut suspended above earth, twisting on an umbilical cord. Sometimes he's in the cross hairs of a scope and tiger stripes flow in waves across his body. Comet hiku Come hiku Taki's tail stretches for 360 million miles. In 1996 we saw hiku taki through binoculars. The ion tail contains the time we saw bats emerge out of a cavern at dusk. In the cavern we first turd the lag tights dripping

Speaker 5 (00:36:39):

First, silence then reverberating sound or touch reverberates and makes a blossoming track. A comet's nucleus emits x-rays and leaves tracks 2000 miles away you box up books and in two days we'll step through the invisible rays of an airport scanner. We write on invisible pages in an invisible book with invisible ink. In nature's book, we read a few pages in the sky, we read the ion tracks from the orchard, the apple orchard where blossoms unfold, where we unfold budding the child who writes the puzzle comes to life, elated, puzzled, shocked, dismayed, confident, loving. Minutes to an hour, a minute, a pinhole lens through which light passes hiku. Taki will not pass earth for another 100,000 years no matter Aard is here and to the rider of fragments, each fragment is a whole in relief. A naked woman arches and pulls thorn out of her raised heel. Men carry white wrapped corpses on bamboo stretchers down the steps, she undresses a scorpion on her right thigh. A boy displays a monkey on a leash, then smacks it with a stick. Looking back on the Muckle chute reservation from Gist Street Santa Fe, the bow of a muckle CHT canoe, blessed with eagle feather and sprig of yellow cedar is launched into a bay. A girl watches her mother fry venison slabs in a skillet. Drops of blood sizzle evaporate because a neighbor feeds them, they eat wordlessly. The silence breaks when she occasionally gags, reaches into her throat, pulls out hair gone is the father riled, arguing with his boss who drove to the shooting range after work

Speaker 5 (00:39:59):

Gone, the accountant who embezzled funds displayed a pickup and proclaimed the winning flush At the casino you donate chicken, soup and clothes, but never learn at the arrive at the south end of the city, your small acts are sandpiper tracks in wet sand, newspapers, plastic containers, beer bottles fill the bins along this sloping one-way street sight lines, I'm walking in sight of the Rio Nambe. Salt cedar arises through silt in an irrigation ditch. The snowpack in the sangre de cristos has already dwindled. Before spring at least, no fires erupt. In the conifers above Los Alamos, the plutonium waste has been hauled to an underground site. A man who built plutonium triggers breeds horses. Now no one could anticipate this distance from Monticello. Jefferson despised newspapers, but no one thing takes us out of ourselves. During the cultural revolution, a boy saw his mother shot in front of a firing squad. A woman detonates. When a spam text triggers bombs strapped to our body. When I come to an upright circular steel lid, I step out of the ditch. I step out of the ditch but step deeper into myself. I arrive at a space that no longer needs autumn or spring I find ginseng where there is no ginseng. My talisman of desire, though you are visiting Paris, you are here at my fingertips though I step back into the ditch. No whitening cloud dispels. This world's mystery.

Speaker 5 (00:42:43):

The ditch ran before the year of the Louisiana purchase. I'm walking on silt glimping horses in the field fielding the shapes of our bodies in white sand though parallel lines touch in the infinite. The infinite is here, the curvature of earth. Red beans in a flat basket catch sunlight. We enter a village built in the shape of an ox stride up in arched bridge over white lilies along houses. Water cosing in alleyways connects ponds. Kiwis hang from branches by a moon doorway. We step into a two story hall with a lightwell and sandalwood panels in a closet of the mahjong room is a bed for clandestine encounters.

Speaker 5 (00:43:58):

A cassia tree shades a courtyard corner phoenix tail bamboos lined the horse head walls. The branching of memory resembles these interconnected waterways. A chant odor permeates the air, but I can't locate it. Soldiers fire mortars at enemy bunkers while Afghan farmers paws then resumes slicing poppy and draining resin. A caretaker checks on his client's lawns and swimming pools. The army calls he swerves a golf cart into a ditch. The surf slams against black lava rock against black lava rock and a welt spreads across his face. Hunting for a single glow. In the dark jigsaw piece we find in completion a spark. We volley an orange pinging pong ball back and forth. Hungers and fears spiral through us forming a filament by which we heat into Argentine light. And in the flowing current we slice back and forth. Top spin side spin the erasure of history on the arcing ball.

Speaker 5 (00:45:38):

Snow on the tips of forsythia dissolves within hours. A kestrel circles overhead while we peer into a canyon and spot caves but not a Macau petroglyph. Yesterday we looked from a mesa tip across the valley to chi mayo, tin roofs, glinting in sunlight. Today willows extend one inch shoots morning cloaks flit along the roadside, a red winged blackbird calls though the march world leafs and branches, I ache at how mortality fissures the lungs and the pangs resemble ice, forming ice crystals, ice that resembles the wings of cicadas. Ice flowers drift ice, ice that forms at the edges of a rock midstream thawing hole in ice. Young shore ice crack in ice caused by the tides scissors snip white chant stalks auburn through a black T-ball. Rim is water to Siberian irises as art is to life. You have not taken care of tying your shoes.

Speaker 5 (00:47:15):

A few nanoseconds, a few thousand years water cat laps up the TAF estuary to a boathouse, herring shimmer and twitch in a rising net, rubbing blackthorn oil on her breasts in a shed. Words below the cliff waves where a sequence of vowels means island in the river. While a veteran rummages through trash on Mars, a robot arm digs for ice. When the bow lifts from the D-ring, this is no way to live. Echoes and his ears, Sandhill cranes call from the marsh, then low out of the southwest three appear and drop into the water. Their silhouettes sway in the twilight, the marsh surface, Argentine and black before a darkness absorbs it all I recall locks in scribed with the lover's names on a waist tie chain extending along a path at the top of Yellow Mountain, she brushes her hair across his chest. He runs his tongue along her neck, reentering the earth's atmosphere of satellite ignites a wavering line of cars issues north out of the Bosque, the last shapes of cranes dissolve into vitreous darkness.

Speaker 5 (00:49:05):

Setting aside binoculars, I adjust the side view mirror or breath fogs the windshield. A complex of vibrating strings. This hand that caress this silk gauze running across your throat, your eyelids. This season where tiny ants swarm, large black ones and pull apart their legs. Hail shreds the rose of lettuces beyond the fence. Water running through sprinklers. Swishes a veteran's wince, coincides with the pang. A girl feels when she masters hooked Bows in a minette and the bowing is a curved line loop scrawl macaw in air, a red winged Blackbird nests in the dark where we pruned branches Starlight floods in over the earth's curvature. Thank you.

Speaker 3 (00:50:29):

Well, thank you both Arthur and Vijay. I am so grateful I've read your work and admired your work for such a long time. So it's very nice to sit down with the both of you. We had many spirited conversations during dinner before we came here. I'm going to try to bring some of that energy into the room of some of the discussions that we were having before we arrived here. But the first thing that I wanted to know just to enter into the conversation is when you each made the conscious decision to be a writer or if it was a conscious

Speaker 4 (00:51:02):

Oh yeah, I think I have never made a conscious decision to be a writer. They've always been half conscious decisions and I'm still sort of a half conscious writer, but I think when I was around 14, I imagined myself to be a writer and I think I probably imagined myself to be a novelist. It's only when I was around 16 that I really started thinking about poetry. I think I also always resisted it too and I still do. Resisting writing is a part of writing for me now. It's unavoidable and the dream of not writing, it's just such a wonderful, I'll go to graduate school and exo botany or something like that.

Speaker 3 (00:51:57):

But it must've a serious prospect for you at one point, was it while you were making your first manuscript and when did it become more of a reality for you where you maybe realized that I am becoming a writer.

Speaker 4 (00:52:12):

I went to an M F A program. And I think when you do that you sort of have committed to a certain extent professionalizing yourself to whatever extent you can be professionalized as a poet. And I think after that's a sort of a one-way door that you can't go back through. And I think that was probably it. Although I had been writing and considered myself a writer or half consciously a writer and had actually been sending work out and stuff and getting it rejected well before that. And it actually had some journalism anyway published. So I was thinking in those terms and kind of slowly fashioning some sort of identity for myself.

Speaker 3 (00:53:09):

And Arthur, what about you?

Speaker 5 (00:53:11):

I think I came to Poetry Rather Laid, my friends all started writing fairly early and I think they had a sense that they wanted to become a poet. We mentioned m I t at dinner. Were just talking. And actually I was freshman at M I T. My father graduated from there and wanted me to be an engineer. And in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do, but one day I was bored in a math lecture and I opened up my notebook and I started to write and pretty soon I was writing all of the time and I thought I'm in the wrong place here. And I transferred to the University of California at Berkeley and I created my own major in poetry. I studied classical Chinese, I took English philosophy. So I wasn't formally an English major. I had these science credits.

Speaker 5 (00:54:04):

I was sort of a magpie. But when I was at Berkeley and when I was reading ancient Chinese poetry and translating them and writing my own poetry, I think it was then that I thought this is what I really want to do. That even though I was good at math and science, it was something that had come from the outside, from immigrant family expectation. And I had no idea where the poetry was going to take me. But it was so exciting. I never went to graduate school. I kept delaying and delaying and then it just didn't happen.

Speaker 4 (00:54:38):

I started out in mathematics too, and I wound up in philosophy, so I never quite got to literature either until later on, although I was a secret reader, I was secretly reading Zukofsky and the Dead of Night under the covers with a little flashlight reading a so no one see me. But yeah, I mean that's interesting how one comes from mathematics to poetry and what effect it has on you because I still think the values mathematics gave me have been very, very important. But I don't know how I could account for that. I don't know how I would, but I think with author's poetry, I really see it. I've always seen the background somehow some kind of connection and the spaces the poems make.

Speaker 5 (00:55:34):

But the math is there in your work too. I'm thinking of imaginary number, which is wonderful. What is a square root of minus one? Or it's fun to be able to play imaginatively in that kind of, obviously you can use that language as a way to make the lyric less obvious in danger of say, being sentimental or whatever, or being able to use the kind of rigor to the language.

Speaker 4 (00:56:00):

Yeah, yeah, I mean I think it's very useful to study that stuff. And logic too. I always found that fascinating. And when I studied philosophy, it was mostly Anglo-American analytical philosophy, a strong interest in logic. And what I liked about that, I think, and I think it's a value I retained still, is that there are many ways to prove a proposition or a theorem, but there's only one way that's elegant. And mathematicians really value elegance and simplicity. And those were early values that I kind of came up with. And I think that's when you're studying, when you're doing a lot of mathematics and you see certain things. I remember when I encountered the fundamental theorem of calculus, I thought it was so beautiful. It was just so beautiful that result. And I was going, wow, that's really gorgeous. And it's the same pleasure I get from poetry.

Speaker 3 (00:57:26):

Just to shift gears for a second, I had gone to a panel this morning called Mapping New Territories. And this is a part of our spirited conversations that we're having at dinner is that one poet who was on this panel had said, I do not consider myself an Asian American poet. I had to write it down. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't misquoting her. I do not consider myself an Asian American poet. I do not think it really exists. So I think it was a little bit more complicated than that when she was talking about her body and how her body traveled through the world and how it informed her sense of identity. And we had a lot of discussions about dinner and at dinner about this. And I guess I just wondered in relationship to that discussion, what is your relationship to that title or that role? Asian-American poet?

Speaker 4 (00:58:20):

Interestingly enough, I was at a panel on Lan and Pierre Joris is one of LAN's translators who did the big F Ss G salon said in the q and a that it's a mistake to think that language is something available to you that you can infuse your feelings into. And in fact, you have to let the language use you as a writer. That language is this organic, it might be the most powerful organic force in the human world. And it's absolutely independent of you. Somehow you are made up of this language and you have to kind of let it work through you. So it's not the instrumentality by which people describe the act of writing is I think conceptually very, very dangerous. We don't use language as an instrument in order to express our feeling or express our identity or anything like that. And for better or worse, the language we inhabit that surrounds us and it flows through our minds is the English language and that's our fundamental identity.

Speaker 4 (00:59:40):

So I think you have to think about Asian American poet in that context. You have to think about the fact that we are all the children of the English language or I certainly feel myself to be the child of the English language in some way, and that my activity or my art has to do with something I do with that language and the particular facts of my life and my history, they're accidental. They're just sort of the givens. They're not really the essentials of the activity of art. And I think if that can be accepted, then we could start talking about what being an Asian American writer is and exactly what the scope is and exactly what the semantic field is that we're discussing those things. But I don't think you can talk about it unless you make certain, or at least I don't think I can talk about those issues of identity until something has been established that's more fundamental for me, which is my poetic identity, which was my poetic identity springs out of the English language and a very sort of springs out of a way of using English that is very biased towards the Atlantic seaboard and England itself.

Speaker 4 (01:01:27):

You know what I mean? Those are the allegiances I have in terms of syntax formation in a sentence and the importance of the English sentence. For example, one of the differences between Arthur and me, and I noticed this when I was listening to him read, and every time I've heard him read and we've read before together that the predominant element in his poetry is the image and the predominant element, I would say the vehicle of my poetry is the sentence, the English sentence. And that's kind of a choice that we both made and we both know what the issues are because those are really burning issues in 20th century poetry. Which way are you going to go and you choose one or the other, right?

Speaker 5 (01:02:17):

I mean it's a difficult issue you're raising in my unease is I don't, I think our commitment and responsibility is to poetry and yes, I'm going to use what's in my background and certainly I translate classical Chinese now as I like to think of as an important river in my poetry. But when I taught for 22 years at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and I would see young Native American poets grappling with the same issue in parallel lines, well, what is it to be a Native American poet? They felt very sort of fatigued and tired by this expectation of what the dominant society would see as a Native American poem. And Sherwin Tsui, who is a former student in a wonderfully talented poet, came into my office one day and he had just transferred from Flagstaff, Arizona, said Arthur, my teachers there were telling me I should be riding about horses and the sunset, and instead I read his poetry and it was like this wild, surreal imagination and a kind of world out of balance.

Speaker 5 (01:03:27):

And I said, this is really important for you to be able to pursue that and not think about, well, what is a Native American poet? Or it's really important you go deep inside of yourself and tap that imagination and work with your ability and cadence with language. And so in many ways I feel the same thing. I like to do a metaphor of if you're learning Chinese calligraphy, you can have a kind of normal style script where you learn in school, a certain character has a certain stroke order and takes a certain number of strokes to generate. And then you learn style, which is a little more abbreviated, but it's a little more personalized. And then grass style, which is sort of more radicalized. And I like to think that each poet really develops that kind of personal language or facility with language. And in that kind of calligraphy, you see your strengths, you see your weaknesses, you see the kind of pressure behind the voice. You see certain choices you have to make with syntax or image or sentence. And it's not like you have to be bound by that. But ultimately, again, I think you have to have that commitment to language to somehow personalizing it and making it yours. And I think both you and I draw in different ways on our background to do that.

Speaker 4 (01:04:56):

Yeah, I mean I think the thing about background is sort of important, but whatever your background is, you have to be the sovereign force that determines how that is translated into language. That is poetry is really a negotiation with yourself. The community is not a medium for anybody's poem. The community is an audience for your poem. And if you feel that your audience is a specific subgroup in American society whom you're addressing for various reasons because you want community formation or solidarity or all of those things, then you're going to make certain rhetorical choices which are utterly justified, but that still is a negotiation with yourself. It's not a kind of submission to a social identity. So I mean, I think it's really interesting to think about this and the dinner discussion. I wish you'd all been there. It was

Speaker 3 (01:06:13):

Great. It

Speaker 4 (01:06:14):

Was great. Yeah, we were, because we were wrestling with these issues and I don't think we ever resolved them in any

Speaker 3 (01:06:22):

Way. Well, I mean, just to bring you into the dinner discussion, so we're all in the same room together. We had been talking very much about a book that everybody's reading right now, which is Citizen and American Lyric, which is also published by Grey Wolff. And Claudia Rankin's book has just captured the public's imagination. And it was just said that at that particular reading, it was a packed house because everybody's really hungry to, well hear from her I think, I mean hear from all the authors, but there's been this fascination with it. And I think it's because, well, for many different reasons, but one of them is that it's really bringing to the forefront this conversation that we really needed to have about race. And I guess the question that I'd posed to the group was, Claudia Rankin's book really sort of opens up this discussion, pushes the envelope, and who could I think of in terms of who is an Asian-American poet who is doing the same thing?

Speaker 3 (01:07:19):

And then that sort of fueled the conversation forward. And I don't even think that we ever really got to an answer, but one of the answers was that I think one of the things that we brought up is that that's really being answered by the performance. The performance poets are really doing that right now. And I think we got to some other poets there as well. But Vijay, you said something, I am just going to quote you for a second. You said society imposes an identity on you because of the way you look. Your struggle as a self has to do with an identity being imposed on you. That is not your identity. You don't think of yourself as an external representation or even your national origin or anything like that. You don't reduce yourself to that. So how do you think that your work has spoken to that? Because I think in your larger, the prose pieces of which I think anchor each of your books, I think that those actually spoke to that sense and that struggle, I think mean you could think differently.

Speaker 4 (01:08:19):

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, if something happened to me that out of kind of the way society thought of me that had literary interest or value, that was a good story or something like that, I would definitely use it. And I would definitely use the way in which there's a long essay in my second book about my father's obsession with the Civil War when we were living in Ohio in the early sixties. And that was kind of, I realized retrospectively that he got interested in that was right around then was the hundredth anniversary just as right around now is the hundred around the hundred 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Speaker 4 (01:09:14):

And that's just really fascinating. But it's fascinating because it's so improbable that it rises to the level of what I would consider literary merit, right? It's worth writing about because it's really strange for this guy from South India who's a physical chemist to suddenly be driving his children. God knows where to see a civil war battlefield. And we thought it was strange, and we thought he was kind of, and we went along. He was our father. We had to, I mean, we couldn't. So what's interesting to me about that is the paradox that's literary. I mean, it is sort of a story of assimilation in a way. And it's a story of immigration and it's a story of race because he was interested in the Civil War because the Civil War is about race. And he was very much a part of the left when he was in India, and he really understood something like the Civil War from the point of view of the international socialist left.

Speaker 4 (01:10:27):

But he was also fascinated by the details because he was a scientist, he was an empiricist, and it has those elements in it that do have to do with identity. But what was interesting to me about it was character. And that's something that's has a bedrock interest. It doesn't have an interest that's secular, it has an interest that's eternal in some way. It's not a momentary interest of a certain epoch that needs certain stories to be told. And I'm not saying those stories aren't good. I think literature serves many different purposes. And one of those purposes is certainly to tell the stories of your time. But what was interesting to me about was just character, the character of this very strange man who very mysteriously to me, and it's still quite mysterious how he became my father and I became his son. I mean, we both always looked at each other and shook our heads and amazement that.

Speaker 4 (01:11:39):

And now I look at my son and I shake my head and I go, I want to see those hospital records. Did they switch babies on me? How did I get this kid? I think whether you're talking about Claudia's work or you're talking about the most esoteric seemingly asocial piece of writing, there has to be a selfish interest on the part of the writer that is utterly independent of any desire to vitiate the bad forces in the world or change the world or anything like that. I don't think writers write from those motives. I mean, I don't think they possibly can. And I think if Claudia were here and we asked her, she would probably say, no, I really found this interesting. I found it compelling to my imagination and that's why I wrote. And of course I want to make the world a better place and I want to make the world a more just place. But I mean, ultimately, if you want to make the world a more just place, there are probably better ways to do it than writing

Speaker 5 (01:12:52):

Imagination's. Subversive too, I think mean you don't want to be reductive. And in some ways I feel like if you try, it's sort of like water. If you try and move it, the writing in a certain direction, you find that all sorts of forms of resistance will happen. And ultimately, I mean, for me, the most interesting poems are the ones where I don't know what I'm doing. If I know what I'm doing or where it's going, then it's like there isn't a lot of discovery. And I think part of the interest for me is I feel like I'm always discovering and there's that excitement. And as you say, if it turns out that your writing can have a beneficial effect to make people thinking about it's effect on the world, to me, if I tried to write a poem that had that as an objective, it would be probably a pretty bad piece of writing. It would be polemical, it would be. So the process of writing has a kind of mystery and surprise to it that I think ensures the kind of safety too, because ultimately it's sort of the freedom of the imagination. It's our lives at stake. And ultimately, I guess I feel like poetry's about dissolving boundaries, not erecting barriers and poetry really connects us all in wonderful ways.

Speaker 3 (01:14:17):

We've already run out of time. I can't believe it. I'm just going to ask one last question, just there's so much I want to ask, but you're both so accomplished. You've done already so much. You've won the Pulitzer, you've written 10 books. I just wonder what you both want to be remembered for. I mean, is it that you want to be remembered for your poetry specifically, or what is it

Speaker 5 (01:14:42):

That you, I guess as a writer, I hope to have written a few poems that it's sort of throwing them up in the air or whatever and hoping that maybe they will for their time, speak for their time a little bit. Who knows?

Speaker 4 (01:15:03):

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