Asian-American Literature Today: Kundiman Spotlight

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, DC.>>Robert Casper: Hello, everybody. Thanks for coming out on a lovely
fall night here in Washington, DC and welcome to the
Library of Congress. My name is Rob Casper. I’m the head of Poetry and
Literature Center here. And I’m thrilled and
delighted to kick off another of our Asian-American Literature
Today Series events, the first event of the fall with this series. I want to thank our
presenting partners, the Asian-American Literary Review,
the Asian-American Studies Program at the University of Maryland, and
the Smithsonian Asian-Pacific Center as well as poets and writers. And I want to thank Lawrence-Minh
Bui Davis who’s at the center of all those organizations for his
hard work to keep this series going. Before we begin, let me just ask
you to turn off your cellphones and any other electronic
devices that you might have that will interfere with the event. I also want to let you know that
this event is being recorded for future webcast and if you
choose to participate in the Q and A session, you
give us permission for future use of the recording. And also, let me tell you a
little bit about the Poetry and Literature Center here
at the Library of Congress. We are home to the Poet
Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Our 21st Poet Laureate
is Juan Felipe Herrera and you can read all
about him online. In addition to taking
care of our Poet Laureate, we host three to four
public programs like this throughout the year. We have information on the poetry
and literature center outside in the foyer on the table. If you want to find out
more about the programs like this, you can check that out. You can sign up for our RSS feed. You can also go to our
website, So you’ve seen the program,
the order of events. I’m going to introduce — to
introduce her but before I do that, let me just give a special shout out to Kundiman’s new Executive
Director, Rita Banerjee, who’s in the very front row. Let’s give her a warm welcome. [ Applause ] And I’m happy to introduce
my dear friend, the poet and Kundiman Advisory Board
Co-Chair, Jennifer Chang, to get up and tell you a little bit more about
tonight’s featured readers as well as moderate the discussion
afterwards. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Jennifer Chang: Hi, thank
you so much for coming. In preparation for today’s reading, I asked the poets Aimee
Nezhukumatathil and Janine Joseph to tell me about the first
time they met each other. Neither could remember a
first or second time and yet both claim they didn’t
remember ever not knowing the other. Nezhukumatathil wrote,
“I feel I’ve known Janine since the formation of Kundiman. Admittedly, my research
yielded no empirical evidence. But I think it illustrates
how writing friendships and writing communities, the
poems, stories and conversations that animate in arts
culture can be atmospheric, a kind of weather system that
crosses boundaries of time and place to share experience that we feel
immediately perhaps intuitively in our bones before recognizing
as a fact like temperature.” The fact is that Kundiman has
cultivated and nurtured a community of Asian-American writers since
its first retreat in 2004. And it continues to connect
Asian-American writers across generations and aesthetics
through organized readings like this one, publication
opportunities and formal and informal mentoring
relationships. You can find out more about
the specific accomplishments of our fellows, faculty and staff
at the website Today is all about
Aimee Nezhukumatathil, a two-time faculty member of the
[inaudible] and Janine Joseph, a fellow and a winner of the
2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize. If they themselves cannot
remember a first meeting, their poems suggest an ongoing
conversation, that dynamically and persistently challenges
our conventional notions of everyday life. In poems of childhood
memory, town life, motherhood and the deceptively ordinary,
Nezhukumatathil uncovers the animal and mythological, shining
a light on the strangeness of tilapia, high school in Ohio. Joseph’s personal lyrics are
fraught with the political as she rewrites the
American dream as complicated by her family’s status as
undocumented immigrants. Hers is a poetics that attends
to these central fragmentation of any narrative, formerly
rigorous yet riddled always with doubt of self and world. These two poets remind
us that writing the songs of one’s self is neither a
[inaudible] nor lonely exercise and that to sing it all is to reach
out to other people, other cultures, and histories, and other
possibilities of thought and being. Aimee Nezhukumatathil is
the poetry editor of Orion, America’s premier environmental
magazine and the 2016-2017 Grisham Writer
in Residence at the University of Mississippi’s MFA Program in Creative Writing in
Oxford, Mississippi. She is the author of three
books of poems,Lucky Fish,At the Drive-In Volcano, andMiracle Fruit
all from Tupelo Press. And her book of illustrated
nature essays,World of Wonderis forthcoming
from Milkweed Editions. Janine Joseph’s first
book isDrivingWithout a Licenseand it won
the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize and was published just this
spring from Alice James Books. She also writes for
opera and her libretti for the Houston Grand Opera
includeWhat Wings They Were,The Case of Emeline,
On This Muddy Water,
Voices from the Houston Ship
andFrom My Mother’sMother. She’s an Assistant
Professor of Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University
in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Please join me in giving a very
warm welcome to tonight’s poets. [ Applause ]>>Janine Joseph: Leaving the
nonprofit immigration lawyer’s office, 2001. When the car drifted from the Santa
Ana winds, I switched off the radio and pointed at the
street poles swaying over the two-way stretch like palms. All night, the wind brushed dry the
hills with fire and I kept driving. His hands steady out the
window taking snapshots of the red, whipping rings. I power rolled the windows down
to let the smoked grass scent seep into the upholstery,
circulate coyote and birdsong through the air vents. “Can you smell the burning
mustard plants, the foxtail and fox glove weeds on my skin?” I asked. Hands open, the
wheel orbiting under my palms. Watch when I let go. I demonstrated, knuckles
loosening around the leather, the car coasting left with
pollen and butterfly debris. “We’d be pitched into the
brush glare,” I warned. If I let go completely, we’d
grate the chain-linked fence and itch the ashen shrubs. I shuddered slow at tumbleweeds
storming the undercarriages, storming the road. B said, “Right, like you’d let go.” Thank you, everyone for coming out
tonight to see Aimee and I read. Aimee is one of my literary heroes so this is a really
surreal experience. Thank you to Rob and Anya, and Rita
and Kundiman, and Jen and Lawrence for making this entire reading
and this collaboration possible. As Jen mentioned, I’m going to
be reading largely from my book which just came out this past May
and the book follows an immigrant from the Philippines who
is living in the U.S. without proper legal documentation. And the book is very much informed by my own experience
having lived undocumented in the U.S. for 15 years. I immigrated my family when
I was eight years old in 1991 and did not get my green
card until my first year of graduate school at NYU. This next poem has so many parts. There’s an epigraph which no
longer appears in the book. There are parts — there are
sections and then there’s language that is lifted from the U.S. CIS
N-400 form for naturalization as well as language that’s taken
from a number of newspaper articles about undocumented immigrants,
undocumented immigration. It’s calledBetween
Chou and the Butterfly
. And again, I’ll begin
with the epigraph. And for each section,
I’ll just pause. He does not know whether he is
Chou who dreams he’s a butterfly or a butterfly who
dreams he is Chou. Between Chou and the butterfly,
there was necessarily a dividing. Just this is what is meant by the transformation
of things — Zhuangzi. Between Chou and the butterfly. On my way to America, I am
in an airplane, on a boat. When my life is a story, I am a
good swimmer, an American dream, a guest worker, freeloader, fence
hopper, uninsured brother carried from hospital to hospital,
a crushing case load, a wrenching anecdote, a
deserving young people and anchor. Before anyone finds me, I am
heartwood exposed by lightning, by the young Republicans, by newscasters playing find illegal
immigrant, find the unwed single, the crier, the spouse battered
by U.S. citizen spouse. Find the widower, the one
you will petition to marry, the headless bodies
in the Arizona desert. I hear they raid when you’re naked
in bed, packed like a sardine, pillows tucked around you. I hear like dogs, like alien
relatives while you cry and hug, they swarm. They ax your back door. The trunks of trees, they ax
the wild terrain, the scrub, the rapid succession of sounds I
make when I walk alone and sweaty and hardly myself in the dark where a man migrating suffering
great pain is found hanging from a tree later charred. According to eyewitnesses, I am
the same crazy, lost on my way to dead man’s tree, to the hallowed
tree of virgin in the valley of the lost ones, in the
wilderness stripped of my underwear for the money stitched into the
seams, for mental status evaluation. A physical examination to
include complete disrobing. Worse than genital herpes, the
situation with these illegals into the microphone,
says the interviewee. “I, the undersigned, am not
a communist and not likely to become a public charge. I understand I do not traffic other
humans, recruit child soldiers. I do not seek to practice
polygamy, engage in espionage in ordered genocide in items
A through L. I do not have to reimburse the school
I do solemnly swear if I am not who I say I am. I may subject me to
permanent exclusion.” Landscape with American dream — putting down the beets you got to
thinking my life had dead-ended and we’re serious and I agreed
but first, “I need capers and whatever is past the pimientos,”
I said and scanned the list. I needed the lemon glaze, the
stuff I craved on the ethnic lane and still I had to sing of how
I walked a thousand hot miles because my mom was Catholic
and pressed the white blouse, the blue jumper and
we were good people and good people lent their good
cars to those in more need. It was like the distance from
here to the Philippines, I nodded. I MapQuested it once. And they — my brothers, were
all eyes on their Gameboys, dodging potholes, snake holes
and anthills from Saint Francis to who knows where we lived. We walked so much my dad every night
kneaded the stiff backs of our shoes so they wouldn’t scallop our heels
when we walked lesson after lesson without turning an ankle. What wrecks we were. What expert wrecks burning
down those sun sponged streets. Now look high muscle my stack
of avocadoes and hearts. See how I coast and carved
and fault my rootless cart. See how I course my
arm to say go and go. Do you wait for me? Do you circle the lots quiet
loop while I lift into a run like a dog dead and
slipped from her lease? Do you brake? Do you idle? Do you worry your arm from an aisle like a table sauce
saying come, come? I’ve a line to beat
and know double coupons so do you strike up your shoes? Do you bare hand your grief and pump
it slack, lap after lap after me? Come, bread roadster,
come American galloper, come bark with this
breath out with me. I have one final poem. I had a first career when
I was three years old. I was the face of a Kraft
Cheddar Cheese in the Philippines. And this title takes the — takes
its name from part of a jingle from a Kraft Cheddar
Cheese commercial from 1986. More milk, more milk
makes it better. In 1986, when I was three-and-a-half
years old, I won an award for sitting cute and biting into
a slice of Kraft Cheddar Cheese. Then how my star blew up. I was on the cover of
calendars in the Sunday section, stomping the runway, turning
down small parts in movies. At seven, I promised my mom I
would never be chubby again. No way. I swirled a dress
in the dressing room and was the daughter
my brothers hated. Nothing could stop
me, not even America with its rich marshmallow cereals. But the milk, oh God, the
grade A vitamin D milk! No one knew what it was doing to me. Little Miss Piggy drinking eight
ounces by the kidney bean pool. All my life, it had been coconut
juice, mango juice, and water. Little Miss Piggy mending
her polka dot suit. It had been goat’s
milk and goat’s milk. Little Miss Piggy clasping
her knees to her chest and winning the cannonball contest. I was small, indomitable and could
hide behind the couch with a stein. It was the drink of all the saints. It was worth all my work
in the world [laughter]. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for being out
here — the middle of the work week. I’m going to play just a little
snippet of something for you. So I’m a child of the ’80s, to carry
on the ’80s theme here, Janine. And there was a drama
that was Emmy nominated. High schoolers wanted to
go around and visit them. They don’t believe that this
happened or that it was possible. But there was a drama called “The
Incredible Hulk” and that was full of my childhood crush, Bill
Bixby there [laughter]. So I know most high school — this was not the stereotypical
like ’80s crush at the time, Michael Jackson, Menudo, Ricky
Schroeder and all that stuff. But there was a song — this
was the theme song of the show. And they played it at the
end of every said episode so this is the Incredible Hulk. I don’t want you to be thinking
of not the Avengers nonsense. This is — [ Music ] Do you guys know this show? Okay. [ Music ] I swear [laughter]. If you don’t know what
I’m talking about, I think it’s on FX
every once in a while. You have to see this. There was no special effects. It was Bill Bixby was the scientist
and then it would bad editing and then Lou Ferrigno
played the Hulk. So this is what I learned
from the Incredible Hulk. When it comes to clothes, make
an allowance for the unexpected. Be sure to spare in the
trunk of your station wagon with wood paneling is
not in need of repair. A simple jean jacket says,
“Hey, if you aren’t trying to smuggle rare Incan coins
to this peaceful little town and kidnap the local
orphan, I can be one heck of a mellow kind of guy.” But no matter how angry a man
gets, I learned that a smile and a soft stroke on his
bicep can work wonders. I learned that male chests also
have nipples warm and established and I learned that green
does not always mean envy. It’s the meadows full of clover
and chicory that the Hulk seeks for rest, a return to normal. And sometimes, sometimes a woman
gets to go with him [laughter]. Her tiny hands correcting his
crumpled hair, the cuts in his hand. I watch it and know that green is
the space between water and sun. It’s the cover for a quiet man, each of his ribs shuttling
drops of liquid light. I moved around a lot
when I was little. Various places all over
kind of rural America. My mother was a psychiatrist and
we always lived in these rural kind of areas that had state hospitals. But I never felt lonesome
because my father — and my parents were always
working, working, working. But they always made sure that we
knew every constellation in the sky. From as long as I can remember,
we knew what the names of rocks, we knew the names of
plants and fruit. So that — you know, even if I
didn’t make friends right away, at least then you could look up
and be kind of grounded and stuff. And this is called “Mosquitoes.” When my father wanted to point
out galaxies or Andromeda or the Seven Sisters, I would
complain of the [inaudible] of mosquitoes and the yawning moon
quiet in that slow summer air. All I wanted was to go
inside into our cooled house and watch TV or paint my nails. What does a 15-year-old
girl know of patience? What did I know of the steady turn of whole moon valleys
cresting into focus? Standing there in our driveway with
him, I smacked my legs, my arms and my face while I waited for
him to find whatever pinhole of light he wanted me to see. At night, when I washed my
face, I’d find bursts of blood and dried bodies slapped
into my skin. Complained at breakfast how
I’d never do this again, Dad. I have more homework now, Dad. I can’t go to school with bites
all over my face anymore, Dad. And now, now I hardly ever say no. He has plans. He has plans to go star
gazing with his grandsons and for once, I do not protest. He has plans. I know one day he won’t ask me. He won’t be there to show me how
the rings of Saturn glow in gold. Jump, if you catch it
on the right night. I know one day I will look up into
the night sky, searching, searching. I know the mosquitoes will
still have their way with me but I know my father one day won’t
be there to hear me complain. I — hang on one second. My father is from South India and
I have not been northern India up where the Taj Mahal is
and I’m planning a big kind of family trip out there. And kind of to my chagrin,
my surprise — there are reviews of basically
all the wonders of the world now. Like there’s Yelp reviews
of these places. I always say like the cesspool
of humanity is in the — writ like the one-star
reviews of places. This is, and I started about
a little mini-series of poems like one-star reviews of
the Great Wall of China. This is one-star reviews
of the Taj Mahal. This is all — I found a poem,
all I did was break the lines. Too bad, it’s manmade [laughter]. As a standalone attraction, I
guess it’s passable but compared to the McDonald’s at
Celebration Mall, it’s just meh. Not for Indians. Very, very tacky. There is no coat room
at the South Gate. The garden is basic. Everything is basic [laughter]. We were ripped off by asking
local shopkeepers to hold our bags for us and you will be swarmed. Swarmed by street vendors,
and swarmed by children, and swarmed by camels, and
parking lot goons, and children, and cheat cameramen, and
stalker tourist guides, and camel children,
and footwear thieves. So I just want you to
know mind your belongings. I guess it’s just an old love story. But is it love or hate [laughter]? Can you believe I was told to
get out with my selfie stick? Don’t even think about
seeing it under a full moon. And I want you to know this
tomb has no reds [laughter]. One final one and this is the first
poem in my new manuscript, “Oceanic” and this is called “The Invitation.” Come in, come in. The water is fine. You can’t get lost here. Even if you want to hide behind
the clutch of spiny oysters, I promise I will find you. If you ever leave me at night by
boat, you will see the arrangement of red-gold sun stars
in a sea of milk. And though it’s tempting
to visit them, stay. I’ve been trained to gaze up all my
life no matter the rumble on Earth but I learned it’s okay to
glance down into the sea. So many lessons bubble up
if you know where to look. Clouds of plankton churning in open
whale mouths might send you east and chewy urchins might
send you west. Squid know how to be rich
when you have ten empty arms. And can you believe there are
humans who don’t value the feel of a good bite, an embrace
at least once a day? Underneath you, narwhals spin upside down while their singular
teeth needles you like a compass pointed towards home. If you dive deep enough,
where imperial volutes and hatchet fish swim, you will
find all the colors humans have not yet named and wide caves of
black coral and clamshell. A giant squid finally let itself
be captured in a photograph and a paper nautilus ripple flashes
its scarlet and two kinds of violet when it silvers you near. Who knows what will happen next? And if you want to look up, I hope
you see the dark sky as oceanic, boundless, limitless like all
the shades of blue in a glacier. Listen to how this planet spins
with so much of fin, wing, and fur. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Oh, you have [inaudible].>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
Where do you want to sit?>>Jennifer Chang: I
was going to sit here.>>Janine Joseph: I feel like
we’ve been musical chairs today –>>Jennifer Chang:
I know [laughter].>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
I know, I know.>>Jennifer Chang: Thank you
for that beautiful reading. [Inaudible] hear me? I have some questions for you. And I wrote them out
too because [inaudible]. I wrote them out because
I can’t do anything adlib.>>Janine Joseph: Okay, great.>>Jennifer Chang: Okay,
so I was trying to figure out how you guys met each other
and you just — you had no answer. But one of the recurring
possibilities was that you’d met — I could be wrong — at
the retreat at a workshop and then Janine pointed out
that you’d never worked out. You’d never made it
to the classrooms. I was thinking about
teaching and pedagogy and since you’re both
writers who write — writers who teach creative
writing, I was very curious about how you teach,
how your experience in workshops have shaped
you as a writer, how your writing informs
your workshop? And I’m asking this, pardon me, from
a two to one perspective thinking about the [inaudible] years ago
where he basically made plain to everyone what [inaudible]
have always known that the creative writing
workshop has been very exclusionary to discourses of race, and
identity, and other kind of normative otherness
and things like that. [Inaudible] of otherness
[inaudible]. So my question — sorry
to be so long winded — is about identity in crafts and
whether identity could be integral to crafts and how your experiences in workshop have helped you figure
these things out as writers but also as teachers of creative writing?>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
I’ll start — it’s a great — it’s a fantastic question. And there’s lots there to attack. So I’ll just [inaudible]
the [inaudible]. Yeah, this is funny. I’m going to just like I’m
trying just a little bit of it. I will tell you — so I went to
Ohio State for my grad program and it was a pretty lonesome
time in the classroom. I was not lonesome
outside of the classroom. Go Bucks! But sorry
— it’s so obnoxious. We’re number two in the country
in college football and I have to always drop that every time. So but I will say there was
a poem, I remember it was — it’s very kind of formative. I’ve never forgotten it. I was writing about a visit to
my grandmother in South India and it’s this beautiful
place in Kerala. I don’t know if you —
if anybody’s been there. It’s so gorgeous they
call it the Emerald Coast. I remember one person my
workshop was like, “Eh, I don’t buy this is India. I mean, where’s the poor people? Where’s the pollution?” And, you know, that kind of thing. And I was just, you know,
you have to be poker faced when people are talking
about your poems. But it just kind of broke my heart
in many different ways that A, someone — I had to kind of
you know, if they said, “Oh, your line break is raw, I
could take that,” you know. But if like it was just because
of the kind of insularity of not being able to imagine that
a country could be beautiful, you know, that kind of thing. So that was — and nobody had
really kind of jumped in once that person started then
the whole thing was like, Yeah, more pollution. Add some noise. Add some — I mean, to the point
we were like heaven forbid, I write about beauty
and in that in a place. And there’s definitely like
scary sketchy places in DC but there’s also beautiful
places in DC as well. So I don’t know if that necessarily
answers your question but I know that I was thinking back then
if I ever get to a situation where I’m leading a workshop,
none of that is going to be tolerated in my workshops. And it never has been. And more than that, I just — you
know, I think we were always kind of trained — write what you
know, write what you know. So if people in the workshop
are only writing what they know, it is hard to kind
of make commentary on things that they don’t know. You know, that kind of thing. Lucille Clifton has
this great quote. She says, “I don’t write
out of what I know. I write out of what I wonder.” So I’d like that as almost
a teaching mantra too. Like what else — or what
are the possibilities rather than what is this poem trying
to be through my limitations? You know, that kind of thing. So it’s kind of a vague answer but
I don’t know if you want to tackle?>>Janine Joseph: Sure, I feel like
I had an answer that I was thinking of and then I got so carried away
with her story and then I was trying to think if the poem that you
were talking about was “Wrap?”>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
Actually, it was [laughter].>>Janine Joseph: That’s great.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil: It’s
amazing you know like those were from my very, very first book
which was my thesis actually.>>Janine Joseph: Yeah, so — that’s a poem that I teach
to my students all the time. It’s actually a poem that
I’ve used for Job Talk.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
Oh no [laughter].>>Janine Joseph: So thanks
for giving me a job [laughter].>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
I’ll accept that.>>Janine Joseph: But I really hear
you with this experience of just, you know, feeling kind of lonely. For me, my workshop experience, I
think, was just incredibly different because when I was in — when I
was doing my undergraduate studies, [inaudible] during my MFA. I was still dealing or at least part
way through my MFA with the fact that I was undocumented and I had
not come out and it was something that I was not able to articulate
in the space of the workshop. And so I — ever poem that I brought
in, people would just kind of try to guess as to what was
going on in the poem. And usually that would mean
that I would have to speak to my professors during my office
hours, and kind of explain to them in confidence what it was
that I was trying to do. Because I knew that whatever was
going to happen in the workshop, you know, they can guide
me in terms of line breaks. They can say this image
is not working. But you know, I also
still had feedback that was like, “Where are the cacti? Where is the border wall?” And I would — I had come
from the Philippines. I flew right into LAX. So my experience was
not the experience of undocumented immigrants that
people had imagined in the workshop. And so for me, the workshop
was incredibly difficult. But I learned line breaks and
I learned how to craft image and metaphor and I would
say that maybe as a teacher, I try to be really aware
of the world that is out — living outside of the poem
because for me it’s true because the workshop
was the lonely place. I found that some of the joy that
I was able to bring into my life when I was an undergraduate and
when I was working on my MFA and probably even through
the PhD was through a lot — a number of community organizations. So for example, when I was
in Houston working on my PhD, I was working with writers in
the schools that I got to work with like second and third graders. And for them, you know,
like rainbows popping out of their hearts is the most
brilliant thing in the world. And I actually even bring in
those poems written by my second and third graders into the
graduate level workshop as a way of reminding, I think,
my students of the joy that is existing outside
the workshop. And just to kind of keep pushing
them to draw from the world that is around them so that we just
don’t get stuck in the workshop and the workshop mode
and the thinking that goes on in the workshop. Which also includes you know, making sure that I
actively am teaching a lot of contemporary work too, you
know, to give them the sense that poetry is very much alive. Because you know, when I was reading
some really — like really, really, you know, canonical works
in my workshops, you know, sometimes that was helpful but then
you know, there was no experience that I felt could in
any way guided me and then how I wanted
to live my life maybe?>>Jennifer Chang: Yeah, I
guess, that means really ironical that the poems that helped
you through the experience of lonely workshops was
Aimee’s poem [laughter].>>Janine Joseph: Yeah.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil: I did
not plan this at all [laughter].>>Jennifer Chang: But then
also, I mean, also it speaks to what you were both doing was
looking for other curriculums in other spaces and — is
there something you would say about identity as a kind
of element of craft? I mean, how do you — how
do you respond to students? Do you think workshops are
changing now is what I’m saying, especially since you’re
in a teaching position?>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil: Sure, I think just one tangible way it’s
changing is that the insistence of italics of foreign words is
not — it’s not a mandate anymore. You know, before, if I used a
word like — it’s not even — “bangus” which is a specific type of
Filipino fish, people would be like, “I don’t know what that is
because I’ve never heard of this. You must italicize it.” So we would be like — so on a craft
level, it seemed the wrong move to me because I don’t
say, “Hey, Justin, would you like a dinner of bangus?” [ Laughter ] And not, you know, so —
but I felt like it was like just putting this spotlight
on something whereas I think now, more and more, I’m so pleased
when I see just this vibrancy and this — of language in there. So it’s not — so I’m
not even aware of like — so this small little detail on
craft but I’m not nearly as kind of nervous as I was about throwing
in foreign words in there as well because that’s — that’s the world.>>Janine Joseph: Yeah.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil: There’s,
you know, we delve into Spanish and French just without
even knowing it.>>Jennifer Chang:
Without telling you.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.>>Janine Joseph: I would
say the internet has really helped [laughter]. I mean, you know, if I think
about my experience especially as an undergraduate because I would
have those workshop moments too where someone would say, you know,
“Can you change those English words to something in Tagalog,” right? And then — so in the revised
version, I would just add it, right, like a word in Tagalog
and I would think, I don’t even talk this
way with my family. Like — and also like I was, you
know, there were words that I — that were reserved for the
family and there were words that I didn’t feel like putting
into my poems because for me, that workshop space was not
necessarily a familial space. But then — so you know, as people
are kind of throwing up these words with [inaudible] ideas, you know
like put more like dessert in there, like if your speaker is undocumented
like — my God, like put the cactus, put all of these other
things in there. Like now, that’s an
opportunity in the classroom to say like, “Let’s
do some research. Let’s [inaudible]. Let’s do an image search.” It’s like you know, it’s a way of
just like expanding the vocabulary of all of the students in the room. I mean, not necessarily
say that what we would pull up on Wikipedia would in any
way help, you know, the poem. But again, just as a kind of
reminder that the world is so much larger than
what we understand even, you know, sitting in our desks.>>Jennifer Chang: Well, you bring
up “Wrap” which I didn’t expect you to do because I was thinking
about wrecks especially Janine. I don’t know the poem by
Aimee or I don’t remember it. But the word “wreck” comes
up a lot in your book. And you have a poem called “Wreck.” And it struck me as very
descriptive of the consciousness of your speakers but also the
kind of provisional [inaudible]. And so maybe there’s a way to
think about wreck as poetics. So I wonder if you
could talk a little bit about why this was important
to you, maybe it has to do with Aimee [laughter] or maybe
there is a kind of poetic element to thinking about wrecks —
everything is kind of a wreck. You’re a wreck. The poem’s a wreck. America’s a wreck [laughter].>>Janine Joseph: Why
do we talk [inaudible]? Why do we talk a lot about
wrecks but I think –>>Jennifer Chang:
You guys [inaudible].>>Janine Joseph: Wrap
— yours is “Wrap.”>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.>>Janine Joseph: Wrap, wrap, wrap.>>Jennifer Chang: Oh right.>>Janine Joseph: Which
is very close to wreck.>>Jennifer Chang:
Yeah, yeah [laughter]. You’re the wreck and
you’re the wrap [laughter]. But why wreck?>>Janine Joseph: So
in 2008, my father and I were involved
in a car accident. We were hit from behind by a driver who the police had estimated
was going anywhere between 50 to 70 miles an hour on a semi-residential road
just based on the damage alone. So a small PSA, don’t
text and drive. So in that car, I mean, we survived. Both of us survived. We were in the Subaru so that
was my commercial [laughter].>>Jennifer Chang: I guess you were.>>Janine Joseph: I
mean, yes [laughter]. So my — you know, we
both had like bruising. My dad had a hairline
fracture in his collarbone but I had suffered a pretty severe
concussion and was pretty much on a loop about a 20-second
loop for days on end. And so that poem, the poem “Wreck”
that’s in my book writes this out of that particular experience
but I would say that it actually did something
in terms of my poetics in a way. I mean, I hadn’t been thinking
about wreck before that. But I was in the middle — or maybe
about three-fourths of the way through this manuscript
when I had the concussion and my memory was gone. I had no idea what I was writing. I didn’t know who I was. I started confusing
myself with the speaker that though she’s very much
based from my life, she’s not me. So I spent, you know, quite some
time trying to figure out who I was, who she was and my
various identities. And that changed very much with my
poetics because I relied so much on my memory and I relied so much
on being able to craft a narrative, right, so take all these different
experiences that I’ve had as a way of like linking them together
to say something much larger about the family, about immigration. And suddenly like, those
memories were all gone and all those ties were
completely severed. But here’s the thing. One of the very first
things that came to me after that accident
was you are a poet. And I had no idea what that meant. And I had no idea what to do
with that word or this identity. But I remember lying down in
bed and it was just there. And I was like, “Oh, interesting!” [Laughter] Right? So it came to me. Nothing else came to me, only that. You know, I didn’t even remember
why I had like a neck brace on. But this identity came back
to me and in that way — I don’t know, it kind
of taught me to trust that the words would
always come back? Which maybe is not something that
I would say if something I was like hit with dementia,
right, or like something else. I know that very much. I’m saying that in the space of like
some kind of privilege and some kind of able-bodiedness
but that came back. The words started coming back. And it just kind of reshaped how I
thought how a poem could be made.>>Jennifer Chang: So I have
to ask — there’s a poem — you write it actually,
it’sLandscapewith American Dream
and there’s that moment where the speaker speaks
about her two brothers. We are all wrecks.>>Janine Joseph: What
wrecks we were.>>Jennifer Chang: Yeah,
what wrecks we were. What expert wrecks burning down
those sun spun [laughter] streets. So was that before or after?>>Janine Joseph: That was before.>>Jennifer Chang: Oh my God!>>Janine Joseph: That
was before [laughter]. All those poems about
driving without a license and driving cars was all before
— before the wreck, yeah. But I don’t know, what
wrecks we were sounded better than like what hot messes we were. [ Laughter ]>>Jennifer Chang: This
next question is for Aimee. Aimee, I’ve always admired your work for its almost scientific
engagement of nature. And that reading the books again,
sort of those conversation, I was also realizing, there’s also
a lot of history in the books. And it was kind of
like an entanglement between history and nature. I’m thinking about poems like
[Inaudible], a natural history of the color red, reference
folklore, [inaudible] tales, [Inaudible]. So I wonder if you could talk a
little bit about that relationship between history and the environment and maybe perhaps how it
figures in our new work. I think that you’re writing
more about history now too.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
You know, oh my goodness, these are all such
brilliant, brilliant questions. So trying to figure out nature
and history and the whole swirl of things and mythology and
folklore, you know, these are things that I’ve been — I feel
so cheesy saying it. I am such a complete nerd and I –>>Janine Joseph: I
knew that [laughter].>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
I am aware of this, I know and she still
loves me but so — I don’t remember a time when my parents would just
take me to the library. I never — I didn’t know novels. I didn’t know stories. What I would do — my idea
still of a good time is — and I’m hesitant to even say this
out loud but is to read a book about shells like — or the giant
squid, or to curl up by a fireplace and read about minerals
and gems like, I’m still that same little girl.>>Jennifer Chang: But
the history is kind of is to get judged by your approach so –>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
It is, it is.>>Jennifer Chang: — in your
[inaudible] you were writing about history kind of
transformed to contemporary era and how we deal with the past. You’re just like we
don’t deal with the past.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
That’s true. That’s true. And I think — I think
for a lot of it is as that little girl reading these
books on science and, you know, biography so I did like biographies. That to me like you know,
Harriet Tubman, Anne Boleyn — these are all like women I
just were so fascinated by. And as a grown-up, I’m
still fascinated by them. With the rare exception, Harriet Tubman was a
very, very rare exception. I never saw any brown girls in any of these books about
nature, history. I mean, it was very much kind of
a footnote, that kind of thing. And so I don’t think I
ever sit at my desk to say, “I will now insert a brown
girl now in history.” But it’s a way for me to kind
of find my place in this whole, you know, thing called history. You know, but also to see
my relation to science, my relation to the outdoors, why do
we not see any brown girls outside of nature writing as often,
you know, still and it’s 2016. So do brown girls not
like the outdoors? I know that’s not true. But why are they not
writing about her or why are they not
being published in places likeOutside Magazine
or things like that? So it’s all very complicated but
I think it’s borne from a place of not seeing anybody
who looks like myself. And when I say brown girl, I would have been happy
with a Latina, you know. I would have been happy by a half
— you know, any, any, anything. But it was all from this kind
of Caucasian male point of view which was great and I was
still entranced and enchanted but I think now, especially
there’s a lot of girls coming up. When I visit elementary schools and
high schools that are so excited about science, so excited
about nature and they want to see themselves in
books of them as well. So yeah, I mean, it’s really
kind of just a refiguring of what is my [inaudible] — so much of my first kind of
early workings were you know, coming of age narratives
of my own life. Now, I’m just wanting
to look outward.>>Jennifer Chang: Yes, it’s just
like you’re trying to find a way to write other histories
that already exist. And so maybe this is a question I
may ask you guys is what are you trying to write that you don’t
— that you find is missing?>>Janine Joseph: Well –>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
Yeah, go ahead, go ahead.>>Janine Joseph: Well, I mean, for
me, of course it was just writing through my undocumented
experience especially, being someone who’s coming
from the Philippines. Now the new work is exploring both
the car accident, the memory loss, the concussion, and
all of that good stuff because that was also happening
[inaudible] time that I was applying to become a naturalized citizen. So my memory was wiped
out the same exact time that I was becoming an
American [laughter]. Which again, right, like it’s
part of me writing myself into –>>Jennifer Chang: You have to —
in other words, you [inaudible].>>Janine Joseph: [Laughter] I
know, I know [laughter] but so much of that is me writing
myself into this narrative that is so far being controlled. I mean and I think just my
experience in the workshop when people say like,
“Put in the cactus. Like put in an amiga.” Right, like and me putting
it in there and having — and then having to go research a
little bit and then saying, “Wait, why — what is happening here?” And I remember a workshop
that I was in — or I was sitting in office hour’s
poet [Inaudible] and he was trying to understand what it
was that I was doing. And I finally said, “I am trying to
write the girl out of the desert.” And he was like, “All right. That’s a starting point.” And so I just started
removing all of this — all of the desert landscape that
I had not personally experienced, right, like that was
not my experience. And I was writing what they knew.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil: That’s
so interesting about writing out — writing the desert — like
taking the desert away from the narrative, right? It makes it, you know, yeah — it makes no sense that
anybody who knows you knows that desert does not
apply to your life. Right now, I’m working on
essays actually so not poems. And although poems are always
kind of popping up here and there. Right now, I think [inaudible]
from a gender earlier — I’m about 50% done with a collection
of [inaudible] nature essays and they’re also being illustrated. So that’s been an interesting
process. It’s the book basically
that I wished, you know, again that I was reading in
high school or something. And it’s about kind of the
wonders that kind of don’t get — the wonders of the animal and plant
world that don’t get talked about. It came — the nuggets
of it came from — there’s a poem I was researching inLucky Fishwhere
I was researching, I was reading about pygmy rabbits. And as I was composing the poem,
I just — as I do on a normal day. You know, just reading
pygmy rabbits [laughter]. And before I could
finish drafting the poem, the last pygmy rabbit on Earth died. Like on Earth died — so
that was the first time. It was so stunning. I kept saying, “Wait
— wait a minute. Not the last one? That was not the last, last one. It was the last one on Earth.” So that to me kind of
shook up my whole — you know, I think you
mentioned the internet before. And I loved pouring over it — I go
to the, you know, the [inaudible] and research facilities all
over the country and talk with botanists and things. But it is very easy to just
be able to click and see. There’s now, you know, webcams you
can check on you know, sea lions, and manta ray, or whatever,
you know, that kind of thing. But yeah, the last pygmy rabbit was
gone so there became an immediacy for me about all the kind of —
the plants and animals that I loved as a little girl and encountered
basically throughout my readings, you know, to the present day. Doing small little snippets
so nothing’s over five pages but it’s a small kind of lyric
meditation with about maybe 10%, you know, memoir kind of thrown in. But it’s really, the focus is on
these strange and beautiful animals and plants that are
maybe not really thought of as beautiful and
strange by people. So the comb jelly, the narwhal is
one of my favorites and people — if you guys know a narwhal, the
skin is mottled so it looks — it comes from the Norse
word for corpse basically. So it’s not really — you
don’t really see any stuff. Maybe now, you see some stuff
on narwhals but not very much. It looks like floating
corpses, a whole pod of them. But they have a tooth that sticks. It’s punctured through its skin
so it’s not really a huggable — nobody really says like, “Oh,
you’re my little narwhal.” You know [laughter],
nothing like that. But I love those kind of things. So that’s terrific
for me [laughter]. I know, I told you
I was such a dork. I’m such a nerd.>>Jennifer Chang: Well, Aimee, I
think it’s time to ask the audience if they have any questions.>>Robert Casper: And if you
don’t mind, I’ll just [inaudible] so we can make sure you capture
the question on videos — so again, please raise your
hand, I’ll turn on the mike.>>Janine Joseph: No pressure, okay.>>Hello. Why is there so much anger and fear regarding the
undocumented in this country?>>Jennifer Chang:
Janine [laughter].>>Janine Joseph: It’s all
over the news [laughter]. Well, so do you mean
regarding the undocumented or being someone who’s
undocumented because I think so much of that overlaps, right? I mean, I — I’m trying to think
of a way to answer that question without generalizing the experiences of immigrants particularly
undocumented immigrants because undocumented
immigration or — and immigration in general
is just not created equally. You know, when people say
that the system is broken, here’s one example. I immigrated as I mentioned,
when I was eight years old. It was 1991 and when I found
out that I was undocumented, it was during my senior
year of high school when I actually got back my — the report after filling out
my [inaudible] where it said that you were not a citizen. You can’t get any funds for college. I was graduating as a valedictorian. But when I visited, when I went to
see a nonprofit immigration lawyer, he had pretty much spelled out that
the paperwork for people coming from the Philippines was
so far behind that in 2001, they were still working
on applications from 1990.>>Jennifer Chang: Oh geez.>>Janine Joseph: So
when people write — so there right, like
there is that anger, there is that pain,
there is that sadness. And he pretty much just told me that
what I needed to do was get pregnant which I didn’t do [laughter], right? So I mean, I feel like maybe
just offering that little kind of specific tidbit might — in help inform like why this is
such a frustrating experience. And I think, you know, if you’re
someone from the outside looking in, it can be really frustrating if you don’t understand how the
immigration system works, right? Like when people say like go
to the back of the line like — it probably doesn’t exist
and if it does, it exists — there are so many lines,
so many — so many lines. I mean, that’s just
specifically the Philippines. You know, it may — someone coming from Europe might have an
entirely different experience.>>Just as a follow up, I wonder if
you had people talk about how poems as a forum allowed you — or helped
you to address that sense of — that sense of identity
and shifting and you know.>>Janine Joseph: So I actually had
first started out writing a novel. So after I found out that I
was undocumented and had filled out the paperwork to go to
community college, I decided then that I was going to
write a novel, right? BecauseI thought I have a story
to tell and for some reason, at that time, you know, when I was
just barely graduating high school, I thought the only way to tell
stories was through writing a novel. And I got maybe about 70
pages into that and realized that I couldn’t tell that story,
right, because I had no way of being able to tell a
straightforward narrative. And so pretty much, I deleted that
— no, I didn’t really delete that. It exists [laughter]. But no one will ever see it, right? I think it’s on a floppy disk. But you know, writing through poetry
allowed me to break up that kind of straightforward narrative the way that maybe most people
understand immigration, right, which is that a family
comes from another country. They have this American dream. They apply for paperwork and then
they become Americans, right, and that’s the end
of the story, right? It has this nice clear arc. And my arc certainly
was not that way. And my family was a mixed
status family, right. So even within my family,
we all had very, very different experiences
with immigration. And being able to write about
that through poetry, right, where there was this central idea,
central theme, central experience that I can approach the
multiple angles like for me, poetry was the way to do it. I mean, maybe if I had taken a, you
know, gone to graduate school first and figured out how to write a
more complicated novel [laughter] like I said, this is chapter one. I just noticed my [inaudible] — my chapters were getting
smaller and smaller. I was becoming more
and more secretive. [ Laughter ]>>I wanted to [inaudible]. Since this is a Kundiman featured
event, I wonder if the three of you had actually talked about the
importance of Kundiman to you both in terms of your writing and in
terms of your sense of community.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil:
That’s very sharp. Sure, Kundiman for me has been — and observing in its capacity
as a faculty member and I think, a staff member of the most
— this most recent summer, and it’s the kind of community and
group that I wish was in existence when I was an undergrad,
when I was a grad student. It is a place where I
think, and I don’t — I don’t know how else to describe
it without sounding cheesy so I’m just going to say it. But it is like instant family
when you walk into a room, like that’s absolutely
not scripted that Janine and I can’t remember if we ever met. Because I feel like it’s been,
you know, well over a decade. I know that’s not true. But I don’t remember like
it’s suddenly with the — so with the internet, I was lucky. I guess I’ve never been
so lucky in some ways that there was no social media
when I was in grad school. There was a small bit of sadness
though in knowing that I think if there was such a media, I think
I would have been able to connect with poets from around the
country — and not just, you know, Asian-American poets but just poets
in general around the country. But I think what sets Kundiman apart
is that there is an absolute freedom to risk on the page as
well as risk off the page. In terms of just being able
to say like, “Hey, you know, I’m undocumented,” and that’s not
the main thing that a person sees about you or being Filipino, half — or half-Filipino, half-Indian is
not the first thing that people see. It’s definitely a part of me but it’s not the main
kind of thing of me. And so it’s a lot of
freedom from explaining. It’s a lot of freedom to just kind
of get busy on the page and to have that immediate kind of
support in that capacity. And I’ve never — this is
my 15th year of teaching. I tallied this up not too
long ago and I was stunned. So 15 years of teaching at
the college level and I want to say I have seven writers
of color in my classes total. And I live in a rural
kind of a place. But that’s — it makes me so
sad, you know that kind of thing. So when I teach at Kundiman, it’s
amazing to see a room full of people who look like me, you know it’s,
frankly, I mean, it’s just — it’s amazing when I have
never had that before ever.>>Jennifer Chang: Yeah.>>Janine Joseph: So
I’m a Kundiman fellow. I graduated in and
I graduated in 2014. And I feel like I have a number of
stories where I have this moment where I realize this
is why Kundiman exists. I’ll share one with you and it was
from my first retreat actually. Another fellow had
encouraged me to apply and I didn’t really know what
Kundiman was at the time. So this was in 2007
so Kundiman was what? Three, four years old at
that time and, you know, this fellow kept just chiming,
“You know, you have to apply.” And I really didn’t know what
to do at Kundiman because at that time again, right,
like I didn’t want anyone to know anything about me. And I didn’t know what
it would mean to be around other Asian-Americans
especially because like you know, you sort of internalize the
things that you see on the news about immigration, right? And so for me, undocumented
immigration didn’t even exist for Asian-Americans, right? And so, I go to this first
retreat and the sun had just set and we were walking through — and
this was still when it was at –>>Jennifer Chang: UVA.>>Janine Joseph: UVA —
so we’re walking through. It’s getting dark and there
were all these fireflies around. And I don’t know what
prompted me like again, I don’t code switch all the time. But I just said like,
“It’s paputukan,” which in Tagalog is like fireworks. And then there were so many people who around me were just
like, “Oh yeah, yeah!” And like that for me, it’s like
this — Kundiman experience, right? Like what Aimee’s talking
about where suddenly, right, you’re not needing
to explain anything. I mean, one from me to even just say
that word suggests already, right, like that already tells me
that I felt like I was home? And I felt like I was with family. And just the fact that people
knew what I was talking about and I didn’t even have to
translate and that was, that was it.>>Jennifer Chang: I was
like — pass the mike.>>Janine Joseph: Oh [laughter]. I guess [inaudible].>>Jennifer Chang: My experience
at Kundiman is a little different because I’ve always
been a staff member. And so I didn’t get, you know,
the benefits of being a fellow or being a faculty member. But in 2003, I had just been
back to New York after living in San Francisco for
a couple of years. And I went to one of those
stuffy, uptight [inaudible] parties where everybody bored me [laughter]. And there, I met Joseph Legaspi and
Sarah Gambito who had [inaudible] at Kundiman and, you know, they
were so outgoing and friendly and they started telling me
about this passion project. They wanted to get a bunch of
Asian-American writers together — the poets and help each other and
form a community and have workshops and connect across federations. And I just thought, “They’re crazy.” [Laughter] It’s not going to work. People don’t like each other. [Inaudible] and I [inaudible]
the loneliness that Aimee and Janine were talking
about into the workshop. It was inherent to being a writer. So I discovered when we
started working together and doing these retreats and
organizing these readings was that the loneliness is not
inherent to being a writer. The loneliness I was feeling
[inaudible] to my background and always feeling
like I don’t fit in. I don’t know that I fit
into Kundiman but I feel like I have people who have
taught me about the possibilities of community and how you can be a
writer through generous practice, through change, and it
is a social engagement and an ethical engagement. It doesn’t compromise your writing. It doesn’t compromise
your aesthetics or your desire for solitude. Because I think we’re all rather
solitary, each of us because we want to be when we always have this
sort of connection that brings — I mean, I have such
wonderful memories of each of your [inaudible] retreats
that I’ve [inaudible] retreats. Like I knew Janine was amazing
[laughter] when she came to the retreat and they were doing
some kind of [inaudible] contest. They were pinning up your legs and
[laughter] and I never participate because I’m not a [inaudible]. [ Laughter ] Janine is in her [inaudible] of a poetic force has [inaudible]
the moment and it was a dance. And she was — she wiggled her
hips in this form [inaudible] and I just thought, “This woman
is so brave and hilarious.” And I did something
that wasn’t probably — that was your first retreat.>>Janine Joseph: Yeah, it was.>>Jennifer Chang: That
was about seven years ago.>>Janine Joseph: Yeah.>>Jennifer Chang: I look at —
this is like history in action.>>Janine Joseph: Yes. No, like nine years ago.>>Jennifer Chang: Shit [laughter]. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. [ Laughter ]>>So Kundiman’s about
10-plus years old now, right. [Inaudible] was 20-plus
years old and you know, you have now people coming to these
organizations, had the opportunity of having Kundiman and [Inaudible]
and [inaudible] around probably all of their high school experience,
all of their college years, right. And they’re arriving
at these organizations with a literary [inaudible] that’s
so different than what it was. There was no possible and sort of possible [inaudible]
10 or 20 years ago. So I’m curious, and this is
a conversation we’re having within Kappi Kanem. You know, how are you handling
the intergenerational dialog within the organization? Because you have some
people who are arriving now and readily taking
advantage of the states that organizations are creating. But maybe they’re not as aware and
not as familiar with the writers and the work that was
put in to get to 20.>>Aimee Nezhukumatathil: I mean,
I think one way to take a look at that, and that’s really
perceptive, and those of you who don’t know in the audience,
Kappi Kanem [phonetic] and, Cal, feel free to jump in,
is an organization to promote African-American poets
and Kundiman is very much based and modeled after it, actually. But one thing, going back to your
question, that I would say is — I think people are
actively or subliminally — I hope it’s actively, promoting
and trying to teach generosity and openness and which
is not as, you know, probably very easy to teach. But in terms of what you were
saying, there’s some — I think — and it’s a very exciting
time to be a poet in America, I think, right now. Hands down the most
exciting time to be a poet. But I think sometimes,
it — there might be — entitlement is not the wrong word, but I think maybe people not
understanding there was a time when you could open up a book
and not see any writers of color and nobody would say a thing. You know, now, you get 10 articles
about why this was a bad thing. You know, that kind of — and
then, when I see — I think — I don’t personally think that it’s
my duty to chastise other people at all, but I think
when people get a seat at the table it’s absolutely crucial
for them to scoot over to the side and pull up another
seat for somebody else. And when I see that not
happening, I don’t — again, I don’t actively come around, because I don’t have the time
nor the patience to say, hey. You need to do this. But I think that by modeling
generosity and modeling not only — being a mentor, the kind of mentor
you wish that you had when — that I had when I was really,
really hungry for one and looking for one, I think is the best way. And I see this is so — I’m
trying to keep it cool here. But this is, like, mind-blowing
to me that Janine ever looked to my poems as a model for anything
or that is using it for [inaudible]. You know, that kind of thing. I had little to no
Asian-American models when I was growing
up, so for example. So I just hope that — I’m not
perfect in any way, shape, or means, but I think hopefully one thing that
I try to model is being generous to everybody, not just
Asian-American writers, but to writers coming up
fresh out of high school or to the helpless
student who’s saying, hey. I want to be a poet. I don’t know what to read. Can you share some stuff with me?>>Jennifer Chang: I think
that’s the right answer. I also think that when you’re
talking about Kyle is something that I worry about, I grapple
with, and part of it — I think this happened, Kappi
Kanem, is that it started out as a grassroots organization,
where everyone pulled their sleeves up and started working and it’s
become an institution where, to get into Kundiman is a CV line. And I meet very talented Asian
writers all the time who apply time and again and they don’t get
in and it’s hard to say, like, we are inclusive when
it’s — you don’t — by the nature of its
success, it has to be small, it has to be an intimate experience. I think this is probably too because
the world of writers has changed. I think it’s — I think
Dean is right. It’s a wonderful time to
be a poet, but I also think that people are more
professional wise and I don’t know how to answer that. I’ll admit I haven’t been back
to a tree [inaudible] now. It’s complicated. But I think doing what
Aimee advocates for, which is that everyone is someone
who needs a connection, a mentor, [inaudible] in the
conversation of poetry.>>Janine Joseph: I feel
like you both have answered that question really well. I mean, I would say maybe if
I were going to add anything, it would be just from my experience,
being the one with the lone fellows who did not return
in a timely manner. So I became a fellow in 2007
and then I didn’t come back from my second retreat until 2014. And I’m pretty sure we’re
supposed to graduate within five years, and
I graduated in 2015. Right? So I –>>Jennifer Chang:
She was delinquent.>>Yeah. It’s like I kept changing
my majors or something. And so, I came — I went
to the retreat at UVA. I went through the retreat
in Fordham and then I was at the retreat when it opened
itself up to fiction writers. Right? So I’ve been through some
pretty big changes with Kundiman and the — when I came back in 2014, I was already in an
assistant professor. And suddenly, I was in these
workshops with I’m going to say young writers, but
I don’t mean that to be — I mean, like, some of
them were — there — I think we maybe even had
a fellow who was in — still working on their
undergraduate degree. There were students who
were working on their MFAs. But I was in these
generative workshops where I was producing stuff that I had just written
hours before the workshop. And so, this kind of — right. Like, it wasn’t even this issue
of, like, a generational thing. It was just, like, no. We are all starting from
scratch, here, all together. And I’m asking for
feedback from someone who is still pursuing their college
degree and I am so open and willing to listen to what they
have to teach me because I am just so
raw on this page. I don’t know if that
answers anything, but I guess I can maybe just
add that and I think that speaks to how the workshops
happen in Kundiman. Because you’re — it’s an
entirely generative experience and so no one comes with their — the manuscript that they’ve
already been sending out to places and they’re bringing in
polished work as a way of patting themselves on the back. Right? Like, it’s just
like you show up there. You get this prompt
and you figure it out while everybody
else is figuring it out.>>Left: I think that kind of
model has really encouraged rawness and that the art is
primary at the retreats. But the professionalization
I think is something that we are opening ourselves to.>>Janine Joseph: Yeah.>>And yet, it’s also — it
changes those things a little bit and it just changes
things a little bit. I don’t — I think that might just
be that — it’s Rita’s problem.>>Robert Casper: On that note,
I want to thank our readers, Janine Joseph, Aimee
Nezhukumatathil, and our moderator, Jen Chang, for a terrific evening. Thanks to all of you for coming out. A couple of things. First of all, there are two
books for sale in the back. I’m sorry to say there’s a wonderful
little Jay [phonetic] sculpture with cards that you can pick up
that give Janine Joseph’s website. You should go check out her website
and if you want to get a book of hers there, please do. I’m sorry we don’t have them here. You should go do that
as soon as you get home. But you can get books by Aimee
and Jen and get them signed. Also, you all have surveys
on your seat or next to you. Please fill them out. We use these surveys
to determine what kind of programs we should be doing. They’re very helpful to us. So you can give them to me,
you can put them on the table. Finally, speaking of events, we have
a great event coming up next Tuesday at 4:00 o’clock, Poetry, Publishing,
and Race, with Cathy Park Hong, Evie Shockley, Carmen Gimenez Smith, nd the editor of Poetry
Magazine, Don Share. So I hope you come. You can check it out on our website. You can see all the events
that we have going on. Thanks so much for coming
out and have a good night. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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