Week #3 of SMC Jan Term “The Art of Race” and yours truly believes the best way to describe the experience of teaching this course is through this image:
By the end of the term, I like to believe I will be ground down to an essence in which I could be sprinkled into a tasty mole.
We are moving into the final project for the course where students will choose a creative writing genre (poetry, short fiction, or the creative personal essay) to write their own story of race, identity, ethnicity, multiculturalism, difference, prejudice, and/or discrimination.
In addition to the basic principles of their chosen literary form, they are expected to incorporate ideas and creative analyses based on the authors we’ve read in class to creatively interrogate notions on how issues of race, identity, multiculturalism, difference, and prejudice intersect with imagination, literary style, and aesthetics.
Some prompts to get their creative engines revved:
Taking a cue from Barbara Jane Reyes poem “The Day” in Invocation to Daughters (City Lights, 2017) write about this specific moment. Note the time, the date, the location, and describe details of this particular moment for each of the seven senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, scent, balance). Note your surroundings. Where and how are you physically? How does that contrast or coincide with where and how you are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, artistically.
Taking a cue from Kevin Young The Gray Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, What keeps you up at night? What gets you out of bed? Who is your imaginary “American”? Where does s/he come from? Describe the land? Use your senses, touch, smell, taste, see, hear, balance? What does s/he wear? Eat? How does s/he walk? Talk? How does s/he roll? What does s/he rock to or listen to? How does that music make him/her feel? What is his/her American dream?
Create a scene where a character first discovers s/he is different from others. Where does this scene take place? Who else is there? What are they doing? Wearing? How are they acting? How do the other characters create or take away space from your main character? How do the other characters create a mirror for the main character to see him or herself reflected? How does s/he react to his/her own self image reflected back? What kind of conflict and tension is created? Is there an exchange through words or action? How does the exchange or non-exchange heighten the interiority of tension your main character is feeling? What differences does s/he notice between her/him and the other characters? How does that affect the six senses s/he is feeling at the moment (sight, sound, taste, touch, scent, balance, and time)? What questions are raised for your main character?
Yours truly is thrilled to have just confirmed three brilliant artists as guest speakers to visit my Saint Mary’s College of California’s Jan Term 043-01 course “The Art of Race: (Re) Imagining Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Literature, Art, & Pop Culture.
Each of these artists have recently released new work, which I have no doubt will engage and inspire my students.
I met our first guest speaker during my residency at MacDowell Arts Colony. Carlos Soto Román will be video conferencing from Santiago, Chile to discuss his new chapbook Bluff (Commune Editions), which you can download here. He’ll discuss with the class his poetics and process of erasure or redacted poetry and the use of found text. As with my students, I invite you to challenge your pleasures by having a go at his work with the selections below:
Our second guest speaker is long time friend and deeply inspiring poet, professor, and community advocate (I owe so much to her!), Barbara Jane Reyes, who will be visiting our class on campus to discuss her new book just released from City Lights, Invocation to Daughters. Have a taste of her words here, courtesy of Poetry Foundation.
Our third guest speaker, who will round at our term is long time fellow Angelena, who I met lifetimes ago at the L.A. based Wide Eyed Workshops, musician and artist Marjorie Light. Video conferencing from the City of Angels, Light just released her latest album Bundok. Give your self an aural treat of her latest tracks here and find out more about her work with KCET’s feature article.
I also need to give a shout out to all the crew of SMC’s ITS who have been working with me to get all the tech ready for the video conferencing to Santiago, Chile, and Los Angeles, CA. Fingers crossed that all the equipment and connections sync for the big dates!
I’m in awe of all these artists and am truly grateful to each of them for taking the time to share their work and inspire my students. More to come about “The Art of Race” and our guest speaker visits, so stay tuned…
Have to share this fabulous cover art for Bundok by Gingee
Continuing coverage of “Great Writing 2016: The International Creative Writing Conference UK,” held at Imperial College, London, there were so many enlightening panels that offered great insight on the process of writing and best practices in teaching. Below is a taste from the hastily scribbled notes I took. Check out Part I here.
Melissa Bender’s “Just Like Us?: The Novelist’s Responsibility to the Historical Record, which she said was more of a meditation, focusing on Gwendolyn Brooks, Year of Wonders, a historical account of Derbyshire, 1666, where the town of Ames was quarantined to prevent the plague. Bender highlighted the idea of fidelity and reflected on how writers make decisions to be or not to be faithful to history, knowing that there are different histories. She focused on our responsibility as writers and readers to history, and how the historical novel transports readers to a different place, which allows readers to empathize with points of view that aren’t their own. The historians’ challenge versus the historical novelists’ challenge covers such questions as (some of the below are from yours truly):
What or who is demonised and why?
What is fetishized and why?
What is exalted and why?
Are the specific subjects demonized/fetishized/exalted to reflect our contemporary values or the values of the past?
What is the source of all the problems?
How do you develop empathy though you have a different set of values?
Bender cited Sarah Vowell, who says “education is empathy” and that we learn about our situations by taking in other’s people’s POV. Its not about policing the details of historical fiction or the duty to historical record. Novelists must use their imagination since we can’t recreate the past. As readers and writers we need to think about the choices we make and the consequences we create through narratives.
Lauren Hayhurst’s research perfectly coincided with mine in her talk “Creative Writers as Cultural Representatives: A critique of the ‘political’ in relation to ‘literature’ and how Creative Writing can help reinvent Multiculturalism.” Hayhurst doesn’t doubt the power of Creative Writing in multiculturalism. She spoke of the difference between process and product, and how the process is hidden. Reviewing the idea of British Multiculturalism, which she explained was met or is viewed as “confusion and ambiguity,” she highlighted how there is no consensus in its definition. Hayhurst pointed to Paul Gilroy’s After the Empire, and how Gilroy claimed that reckoning with history requires active dialogue to create cohesion. Fiction as an engagement with creativity. Writers must take ownership of our responsibility as cultural representatives, especially since we rely and use our products, the novel or text, to engage and understand the world. What biases inform our interpretations? Hayhurst demands a recognition of novels as a source and form of knowledge. She also referenced Jennifer Web and Donna Lee Brian’s idea on “agnostic thinking,” how knowledge is contingent as opposed to “true,” which provides a framework for an active dialogue. Hayhurst urges us to examine our motivations and intentions as writers.
One of the questions her presentation raised for me is how do we maintain the creative journey and intellectual discovery for the writer but also take into account our responsibility as “cultural representatives” or as givers of “knowledge”? How do we balance our discoveries as artists with the discoveries of the reader or what we want them to discover in our work?
Hayhurst wrapped up her presentation focusing on how writing requires developmental, growing consciousness? Aesthetic values and ethical values are tied up she argues, concluding that our positionality leads to interpretation and therefore representation to the readers. “Its about flexing the imagination, imagining for your own gain or for someone else’s,” she concluded.
I truly hope to reconnect with Hayhurst, so we can collaborate on future work!
Toward the end of the conference, I had a chance to reconnect with a fellow Hawthornden resident, poet and professor Julian Stannard (photo above), who said that a poem is an accident. He read from his new work What Were You Thinking.
There were two papers that intriguingly covered process, valuing the craft of writing more so than the product. Annabel Banks’ “The Poesis Project: Real Time Capture of Poetic Process” and Rosie Shepherd’s of Goldsmiths College, UK, “Where is the Creative Process? Its right there!” seemed to be speaking directly to one another in terms of the physical process of writing and the process that takes form and eventually turns to content with a poem. Banks talked about how as we edit a text it grows and shrinks. The finished product could in a sense, as Banks explains, be the dead body, the corpse after its life has run its course. “We are networked, part of a knowledge matrix when we go online and work on a computer as opposed to working with the simpler technology of pen and paper” she says. Both Banks and Shepherd seemed to consider the product as secondary to the process and had me thinking how technology assists and enables content, meaning, and therefore interpretation.
Some general thoughts, that came up for yours truly is how do we imagine our imaginations? How is form formed? Craft is part artists’ intuition and other part artist’s extreme rationality. We make countless decisions as artists, and those decisions have to be calculated or based on some knowledge and prior experience or perhaps the artist’s intuition is simply based on gathered knowledge and experience. The product is a time stamp, a time capsule, and part of the continuum of work of the networked matrix. There is lots to ponder as the rains started to flood the streets of London. See the sky view from the Kensington flat below.
Over ten years in the making, after hundreds of revisions and countless reincarnations, my short story, “With Hummingbird in Hand,” will finally see the light of day thanks to the editors at the Australian-based journal Kurungabaa.
Here’s an excerpt:
The oil in the deep fryer bubbled and cracked as Yesenia and Claudia orchestrated the breakfast shift. Parked in a littered alley next to a super-sized Home Depot in a ragged quarter of East Hollywood, Yesenia’s mobile kitchen, Mariscos de Madrugada, served as a beacon for over-worked souls who scrambled through gridlock, measuring their lives by paychecks and commutes. Outside their kitchen, police sirens blared, cars backfired, and horns honked. The mariachis they hired to entertain their hungry customers played at the curbside. The trim of their charro outfits gleamed in the early morning sun as the rush of orders kept coming.
Check out the original announcement on Kurungabaa’s website, where you can pick up a copy for yourself.
Chorus:A Poetry Manuscript in Progress is writer and professor Barbara Jane Reyes most current work in development, tentatively titled, and she shares her process as well as acknowledges fellow writers for their contributions in her post “Manuscript Process Notes” :
So much of my poetry to date has been an assumption of a Filipina American or Pinay voice, an academic assumption of Pinay concerns. The demand for me to be some kind of Pinay spokesperson has come to fill me with ambivalence, and so I needed to ask, to pass the mic, to step aside and let other Pinays speak, to listen to what they have to say, how they speak, write, and make art about what is important to them…
…A debt of gratitude to my collaborators: Kimberly Alidio, Olivia Ayes, Terry Bautista, Richie Biluan, Caroline Calderon, Rachelle Cruz, Niki Escobar, Diana Q. Halog, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, Rashaan Alexis Meneses, Camille Ikalina Robles, Leny Mendoza Strobel, for lending me their words and stories. Maraming salamat, at Diyos ti agngina.
Looking forward to poring over the finished manuscript. Read Reyes’ entire post at her site.
Here’s a sample of what went down at Eastwind Books of Berkeley on Thursday, September 29, 2011
Thanks to Veronica Montes, Bea & Harvey, Eastwind Books managers, who organized the event taking place Thursday, September 29, 2011, which kicked off the International Filipino Book Festival, where Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Oscar Bermeo, Veronica Montes, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sunny Vergara Jr. and myself read to a packed house.
Bea had a pot of adobo to greet everyone, and the reading commenced with Oscar Bermeo reading from his chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below and To the Break of Dawn. Some lines that struck bone include the following:
…those born near the sea carry a sense of salt…
born near the Pacific Ocean
…mother and aunt clean the ocean harvest…
the Atlantic tried to wash its taste out of me
For a full report, check out Ruelle Electrique’s post here.
Harpers’ Magazine does it again with a wonderful commingling of Emerson and Beethoven contemplating the world-soul.
In The Dial of July 1841, close to the time of this poem’s composition, Emerson writes: “Music is the aspiration, the yearnings of the heart to the Infinite. It is the prayer of faith, which has no fear, no weakness in it. It delivers us from our actual bondage; it buoys us up above our accidents, and wafts us on waves of melody to the heart’s ideal home.” He has been to a concert performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s sixth symphony, the Pastoral. “Whoever has studied the Pastoral Symphony… will feel the difference between music which flows from an inward feeling of nature, from a common consciousness (as it were) with nature, and the music which only copies, from without, her single features. These pieces bring all summer sensations over you, but they do not let you identify a note or a passage as standing for a stream, or a bird. They do not say; look at this or that, now imagine nightingales, now thunder, now mountains, and now sunspots chasing shadows; but they make you feel as you would if you were lying on a grassy slope in a summer’s afternoon, with the melancholy leisure of a shepherd swain, and these things all around you without your noticing them.”
This poem has haunted me since first encountering ee cummings. Vince Gotera provides an elegant and simple deconstruction via YouTube on his blog post “ee cummings l(a) deconstructed”:
If you’re like me, after reading cummings, you’ll perceive magic every time a leaf falls.
…What cummings uncovers for us here is how many times the number one (as suggested by the letter l) appears in the word loneliness: four times. And of course there’s also the letter l/number one in the word leaf…