Saturday, June 27, 2015

New American Writing 33 (2015)

New American Writing 33 (2015) is at the printer.  It contains work by David Mutschlecner, Martha Ronk, Elaine Equi, Carolyn Guinzio, Noelle Kocot, Linda Norton, Lance Phillips, Johannes Goransson, Joseph Lease, Joshua Corey, Alejandra Azuero, Richard Greenfield, Andrew Maxwell, rob mclennan, Caroline Knox, Catherine Wagner, HL Hazuka, Ed Smallfield, Valerie Coulton, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, Kevin Phan, Christina Vega-Westhoff, Jennifer Givhan, Phillip Barron, Brandon Brown, CAConrad, John Sakkis, Gray Tolhurst, Steve Fujimura, Zoe Meints, Emilie Delcourt, George Life, Justin Robinson, and Alice Jones.  Subscriptions available, three issues for $36, single issues for $15, from New American Writing, 369 Molino Avenue, Mill Valley, CA 94941.  Distributed to bookstores and newsstands by Ingram Periodicals, also available from

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Huffington Post Review of Postmodern American Poetry

Anis Shivani has written a great review of the second edition of Postmodern American Poetry that appeared on Huffington Post.  Here's the link:

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Monday, June 15, 2015

"I am the first" by Paul Celan

I found this short poem of Celan in The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, edited by J.D. McClatchy:

"I am the first"

I am the first to drink of the blue that still looks for its eye.
I drink from your footprint and see:
you roll through my fingers, pearl, and you grow!
You grow, as do all the forgotten.
You roll:  the black hailstone of sadness
is caught by a kerchief turned white with waving goodbye.

-Translated from German by Michael Hamburger

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Hurry Up Please It's Time

Hurry Up Please It's Time, A new anthology of poetics, has just been published. Edited by Vanessa Place and Teresa Carmody, it contains Trenchart monographs by Les Figues Press authors:(  In addition to my three-part essay, "Statement, Manifesto, Poetics," it contains pieces by Stephanie Taylor, Sissy Boyd, Lisa Darms, Vincent  Dachy, Molly Corey, Julie Thi Underhill, Nuala Archer, Axel Thormahlen, Danielle Adair, Alta Ifland, Stan Apps, Kim Rosenfield, Susan Simpson, Allison Carter, Ken Ehrlich, Amina Cain, Sophie Robinson, Harold Abramowitz, the VD Collective, Lily Hoang, Matthew Timmons, Frances Richard, Doug Nufer, Myriam Moscona, Jen Hofer, Alex Forman, Michael du Plessis, Melissa Buzzeo, Mark Rutkowski, Klaus Killisch,  Matias Viegener, Redell Olsen, Dodie Bellamy, Chris Tysh, Divya Victor, and Alice Koniitz.  Today I read Stan Apps' "On Unimportant Art" and Matthew Timmons' "the old poetics."

A page of my essay is below, from the "Manifesto" section:

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Reprint, Appropriation (&) Literature

Sonnet 56 (2009) is featured in Annette Gilbert's study, Reprint, Appropriation (&) Literature (Berlin:  LuxBooks, 2014) for its processing of Shakespeare's sonnets with the machinery of Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style.  The book includes facing German and English text, as well as photos of facing pages of the book doing the pirating.  Among many books discussed:  Words nd Ends from Ez (Jackson Mac Low, 1989); My Sun Also Rises (Robert Fitterman, 2008); RADI OS (Ronald Johnson, 1977); Purloined.  A Novel (Joseph Kosuth, 2000); A Humument.  A Treated Victorian Novel (Tom Phillips, 1970); UN COUP DE DES JAMAIS N'ABOLIRA LE HASARD.  IMAGE (Marcel Broodthaers, 1969); and Writing Through Finnegans Wake & Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake (John Cage, 1978). 

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Imprisonment of Nguyen Quang Lap

News has come from Vietnam that the writer Nguyen Quang Lap, who blogs under the name Blogger Que Choa, has been arrested and imprisoned. A group of Vietnamese artists, intellectuals and scientists has forwarded the following petition.


Please sign this petition by sending an email to with your name, occupation, and address. The number of signers was 1,062 as of 12/19/2014.

To: H.E. Truong Tan Sang, President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
To: H.E. Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
To: Mr. Trai Dai Quang, Minister of Public Security of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

We, the undersigned, are colleagues and readers of writer Nguyen Quang Lap, also known as blogger Que Choa, who advocates for culture and the arts, who cares about freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and basic human rights as defined in the constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, as in he United Nations Universal Human Rights Declaration, of which Vietnam is a signatory.

We are deeply concerned that Nguyen Quang Lap was detained by the Security Police of Ho Chi Minh City on December 6, 2014, citing Article 258 of Vietnam's penal code: "Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens." Nguyen Quang Lap is a popular playwright and blogger who is well respected by the public of Vietnam and the international community.

The imprisonment of writer Nguyen Quang Lap has strongly moved the public, including intellectuals, writers, artists, colleagues, young people, and readers who love him.

The legitimacy of this imprisonment is in question because:

1. The content of the Que Chua blog provides only news from different sources, for the purpose of reaching the truth, as stated by Bo Lap. It peacefully questions the policy and actions of the Vietnamese government, in order to contribute to the reforms of the nation.
2. the Security Police entered a private home without warrant, then claimed to have caught the writer "red handed" while he was writing his novel on his own computer.
The imprisonment of Nguyen Quang Lap is inhumane since he has been in poor health. He suffers from hemiplegia due to traumatic brain injury. As a result, walking, sitting, and even care for his personal hygiene are difficult for him.

The imprisonment of Nguyen Quang Lap, therefore, is not convincing. It only creates negative reactions from the people of Vietnam and the international community. It also diminishes public trust in the justice system of Vietnam. It raises doubt that the Vietnamese government truly honors human rights and civil rights. More importantly, it impedes Vietnam's efforts to gain support from other democratic countries.

We therefore request:

1. That the government free writer Nguyen Quang Lap immediately.
2. That further investigation be legitimate and transparent and include the involvement of a lawyer selected by the writer.
3. That the government free Truong Duy Nhat, Nguyen Huu Vinh, Hong Le Tho, and other bloggers who were imprisoned because of similar illegal and false convictions.
4. Revision and repeal of articles 258.88 of the penal code, which are vague and thus easily abused in order to suppress freedom of speech and expression.

To lift our nation out of the current crisis, the government needs to listen to the voices of the Vietnamese people, as well as intellectuals and artists, instead of brutally oppressing them, a principle that the President and Prime Minister have previously affirmed many times.

Very respectfully yours,
Nguyen Ngoc, writer, and 34 Vietnamese writers, artists, and scientists

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

League of Independent Vietnamese Writers

The following document should be of great interest to all of us committed to freedom of expression. It is an announcement of the intention of 60 leading Vietnamese writers to found a League of Independent Vietnamese Writers. Why is this of interest? Because decision-making in the publishing world of Vietnam is largely in the hands of the powerful Vietnamese Writers Association. Members of the association are limited in number, and each enjoys a powerful and well-paid patronage, including a car and driver. It is equivalent, I'm told, to the military positions of Major and General, depending on who you are and what seniority you have. One of the League's founders, Hoang Hung, whose work is included in Black Dog, Black Night: An Anthology of Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed Editions, 2008), was imprisoned from 1978 to 1981 on the suspicion that he possessed a forbidden book of poetry by Hoang Cam, whose work is also included in Black Dog, Black Night (edited and translated by Nguyen Do and me). I assisted in shaping the English translation of the document below.

The founders of the League are at risk in signing the petition. It is very brave of them to ask for more freedom of expression, because the last time it happened, in the mid-1950s following military victory over the French, poets and writers who made such a request were treated very harshly, including imprisonment, loss of their privileged positions in the Writers Association, and not having their work published for the next 40 years.

I have had the pleasure of meeting several of the signers, including Nguyen Duy, Y Nhi, and of course Hoang Hung. Here is the document:

Proclamation of the Committee to Promote
the Founding of the League of Independent Vietnamese Writers

"After 1975, the end of a hundred-year history of war, our country was in need of a substantial cultural renaissance. Unluckily, this grave and urgent rebirth did not happen as expected. On the contrary, Vietnamese culture has evolved from bad to worse, and appears to be in danger of losing the most basic humanistic values. This shortcoming threatens the survival of our nation.

Vietnamese writers must admit that they are partly responsible for this state of affairs. Among literature’s many important functions is to awaken the conscience and to raise the morale of the nation. At this great turning point of history, Vietnamese literature is not realizing its true role.

The weakness of Vietnamese literature is rooted in the indifference of its writers to their social responsibilities, their insensitivity concerning daily events, and, most importantly, their lack of independent thinking, which has also limited their creative capabilities.

In a society like ours, where basic freedoms have been severely limited, it is difficult for writers to speak clearly and forcefully about the conditions of life in society. This limitation blurs and confuses expression; ultimately, it extinguishes art entirely. The freedom to create and publish literary works is a life-or-death necessity, not only for writers as individuals but also for the health of Vietnamese literature. Without minimal rights to free expression, our literary lives will never be adequate.

Literary institutions ruled by bureaucracy and mendacity suffocate the literature they presume to support. The also suppress healthy communication between writers and their ability to offer mutual assistance, both in their private lives and their artistic production.

In response to this longstanding but urgent situation, we, the undersigned writers, resolve to organize a committee for the founding of an independent institution of Vietnamese writers, both inside and outside the country. To be called The League of Independent Vietnamese Writers, this new institution seeks to promote a true, humanistic, and democratic literature, modern and responsive to globalization. As demanded by history, we must act as pioneers in the creation of a national cultural renaissance.

Activities of The League of Independent Vietnamese Writers will focus on following:

1. To improve solidarity and assistance among writers inside and outside the country;
2. To bring forth conditions for professional amelioration, to advance and promote individual creation, and to encourage innovation in creative writing as well as literary criticism and linguistic studies;
3. To defend all legitimate materialistic and spiritual interests of its members, especially the freedom to write and publish, as well as the promotions of easy and complete access to literature by the reading public.

The League of Independent Vietnamese Writers is an organization belonging to civil society. Dedicated to professional solidarity, it is completely independent of any other organizations existing inside and outside the country.

The detailed statutes and program of the League will be set up and made public in the process of establishing of the league. Our email is:"

Hà Nội, March 3rd, 2014
On behalf of the Promotion Committee Nguyên Ngọc

The Committee to Promote

1/ Nguyên Ngọc – writer (Chief of the Committee)
2/ Phạm Xuân Nguyên – literary critic (Secretary)
3/ Bùi Chát – poet
4/ Bùi Minh Quốc – poet
5/ Bùi Ngọc Tấn – writer
6/ Chân Phương – poet, translator (USA)
7/ Châu Diên – writer, translator
8/ Cung Tích Biền – writer
8/ Dạ Ngân – writer
9/ Dư Thị Hoàn – poet
10/ Dương Thuấn – poet
11/ Dương Tường – poet, translator
12/ Đặng Tiến – literary critic and researcher (France)
13/ Đặng Văn Sinh – writer
14/ Đoàn Lê – writer
15/ Đoàn Thị Tảo – poet
16/ Đỗ Lai Thúy – literary critic and researcher
17/ Đỗ Trung Quân – poet
18/ Giáng Vân – poet
19/ Hà Sĩ Phu – writer
20/ Hoàng Dũng – linguistic researcher
21/ Hoàng Hưng – poet, translator
22/ Hoàng Minh Tường – writer
23/ Lê Hoài Nguyên – poet
24/ Lê Minh Hà – writer (Germany)
25/ Lê Phú Khải – writer
26/ Liêu Thái – poet
27/ Lưu Trọng Văn – writer
28/ Lý Đợi – poet
29/ Mai Sơn – writer, translator
30/ Mai Thái Lĩnh – philosophy and culture researcher
31/ Nam Dao – writer (Canada)
32/ Ngô Thị Kim Cúc – writer
33/ Nguyễn Bá Chung – poet (USA)
34/ Nguyễn Duy – poet
35/ Nguyễn Đức Dương – linguistic researcher
36/ Nguyễn Huệ Chi – literature researcher
37/ Nguyễn Quang Lập – writer
38/ Nguyễn Quang Thân – nhà văn
39/ Nguyễn Quốc Thái – poet
40/ Nguyễn Thị Hoàng Bắc – poet (USA)
41/ Nguyễn Thị Thanh Bình – writer (USA)
42/ Phạm Đình Trọng – writer
43/ Phạm Nguyên Trường – translator
44/ Phạm Vĩnh Cư – literature researcher, translator
45/ Phan Đắc Lữ – poet
46/ Phan Tấn Hải – writer (Hoa Kỳ)
47/ Quốc Trọng – cinema play writer
48/ Thùy Linh – writer
49/ Tiêu Dao Bảo Cự – writer
50/ Trang Hạ – writer, translator
51/ Trần Đồng Minh – literature researcher
52/ Trần Huy Quang – writer
53/ Trần Thùy Mai – writer
54/ Trịnh Hoài Giang – poet
55/ Trương Anh Thụy – writer (USA)
56/ Võ Thị Hảo – writer
57/ Vũ Biện Điền – writer (Japan)
58/ Vũ Thế Khôi – literature researcher, translator
59/ Vũ Thư Hiên – writer (France)
60/ Ý Nhi – poet

The photo is of Hoang Hung (on the left), yours truly, and Bei Dao on the occasion of Bei Dao's reading with Michael Palmer at University of San Francisco in, I believe, 2003 or 2004. Hoang Hung was on his first visit to the US. In order to make the trip, he was required by the Vietnamese government to resign his position as a journalist for the Labor News.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Poetry and the Truth Test

The following appears in Cole Swensen's excellent collection of Essays, Noise That Stays Noise and deals with a central issue of representation:  how true is poetry?  Is it possible that poetry, with its mirrors, fables, and syntaxes, makes a higher score on the truth test that philosophy, history, documentary, and even memory?
"We can begin to explore poetry’s relationship to truth by contrasting it with that of fiction, whose untrue nature is central and both achieved and announced b the fact that it imitates the true through presenting facts, entities, actions, situations, etc. that mimic those in the outside world.  The distance from the actual world offered by mimicry and imitation is what allows fiction the perspective to comment upon that world.  However, the alternative world that poetry sets up, to the degree that it does, aren’t miniature copies of the world at large; instead, they operate by other logics, according to other laws, and at other speeds.  And for much poetry, there is no “outside world”; rather, it constructs a new element in the world we all share, and as an actual element of that world, it cannot not be true.  In short, it cannot make truth relations because it is itself a true act.

            "For instance, just a few lines picked almost at random—these are from Paul Hoover’s poem “Childhood and Its Double”:
Everything’s more real, once it finds its mirror,
The gray lake and its gray sky,
Skin and the sound of drums,
And the back end of a costume horse 

Confused against the skyline. 

           "The opening line—Everything’s more real once it finds its mirror—indicates, through its syntax, that it participates in the truth-economy of the world-at-large, that it is making a positive assertion, but in fact it doesn’t; the logic it obeys operates only within its own boundaries (the poem) within which the statement is true, but once taken outside those boundaries, where it must function on other terms, it would quickly be called nonsense (which in its own way is also “true”), for, though stating things about objects in the real world, the line does not attempt to replicate or represent that world in an accountable way.  The images in the lines that follow cannot be held to the truth test either because they declare only themselves, their own existence, and make no claims beyond that.

            "So fiction and poetry are both, in their own ways, absolved from the true test, whereas documentary—no matter what its genre—cannot be:  its whole purpose is to present as accurately as possible events in the outside world. . ."

Cole Swensen:  “News That Stays News,” in Noise That Stays Noise:  Essays (Poets on Poetry, University of Iowa Press, 2011):  54

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

From "Narrar" (To Tell)

Here's the opening movement of Maria Baranda's Narrar, published in 2001 by Ediciones Sin Nombre of Mexico City.  This translation also appeared in eleven eleven 15, published by California College of the Arts.  The word tokonoma refers to a poem by Jose Lezama Lima, the Cuban poet who inspired the neobarroco movement in Latin American poetry.  A tokonoma is a room in a Japanese house that is designed entirely to give pleasure and a sense of calm through the beauty and balance of the objects in it.  In addition to Narrar, I have translated Baranda's 55-page poem Yegua nocturna corriendo en un prado de luz absoluta (Nightmare Running on a Meadow of Absolute Light).

To Tell
María Baranda                                                                  

Her horrendous voice, not her inner sorrow

 A cry
a single cry
just a cry
to the open air
a cry of porpoise or dolphin
of incandescent fish by the water
a cry of the sea that breaks and repeats
that empties
and in the time of salt
says everywhere what it says
that swells
that glows
a cry
a single cry
just a cry
of the blue inconceivable sky
that repeats
that advances
that grazes among the algae
the fetid rumor of the brackish
a providential cry in the voice of air
an unsustainable rhythm
in the throat
A cry that knots itself
in symphonic circles of joy
A terrible cry
that announces the first death
that stands on precarious feet
and dismantles shadows and grumbling
A cry that must choose
for between the walls the liquid deepens 

The wall as a cardinal point
an agonizing smile
in the punctual
of the one who is drowning
A cry disbanded
in a garden with thickets
a dream of  blue light for the birds
A cry that in itself
is the size of the sea
and lives at the center of  rapture
and with each step it yields
to the delirium of a sponge
that inflates in sweat and gives glory
to the time of silent prayers
A cry is the caiman’s vigil
the unleashed whip of an ant
the fan of  yes the same immaculate
air of an inhospitable grudge
that bends
The cry that smells of salt
a wild beast dry
in the dusky collapse
of your herd
The cry distilled from minutes
marks the world that is world forever
in an open moment where never
passes nothing and everything dissolves
hurling itself to the bottom

Nothingness is reason falling
finally it’s emptiness
its bend in the road most refreshing
when the tree
is erected in delirium
in order to sing from its purgatory
its novice illusions
almost vertigo
A cry is sleepless in its dream
faded almost hoarse it stuns itself
like a crippled animal
the cry breathes sleep inside
its eyes and evokes a sacrifice
a dark joy in a spiral of weeping 
The cry moans weeps wallows
glacial polygamous decrepit
sinking into flakes and scales
into mud
the cry sleeps alone
in the hollow of useless blindfolds
its intoxicated pallor
in its cadence and fatigue
it buzzes between the glasses and the cans
the remains are still ripe
and the sweet song
of the flies to vacancy
The cry is deeply in love
and sweet together with the soft souls
Rosa in order to tell it to Rose
is a corrupt luxury
a brief heart
that detracts
The cry is the insistence
on misery is the sharp bite of hunger
under the yoke of a sugar mill
a fire burning
among dogs and rats
is a shadow that crosses
the fetid waters of wonder
and it’s the clamor of three nights
of the sickness of women, hens, and female deer
when the gods
lose their harmony and quickly
offer their shame to the twilight 

The cry is air
air that only blossoms
in the half-light of funerals
The cry is the voice of the obsequies
a wafer in the pupils
which prays “Praise be to God
without God’s silent cry
infinitely bitter and dry
and the newlywed God the round impostor
who belches who vomits who repeats
fragrant at the pit and doesn’t say
not to purify the skin
devour candles and beautify
blind beneath the definitive sun
lethargic in the accounting
of a glass beaded God summit
red-hot incredulous God
who doesn’t ask for pardon
in the omen of dead birds.”

 a cry
a single cry
just a cry
it whips in lines
and looks dissolved
between the vertices of song
(sings among the captive petals
And don’t forget me in the diaspora
sing sing deadly like an archangel
about about to shout his song)
The cry is erased
between the breasts that slander
sinks convenes seizes
becomes and is consumed
penetrates licks fits
in cartilage of fire
where it resides

 The cry is just a number
a notch at the base of the wall
as meticulous
as a tokonoma
utmost swiftness of spirit
freezes the Cuban’s print
bevels the aperture in the absurd
that dominates corners of the language
that exposes itself as a maelstrom
of all the whales in the sea
is an emaciated shell
adhering to the pale shadow
that crosses our sleep
The cry
is a mixture of sperm
and civil life
in living circumstances
a sign of those black fruits
where peace putrefies
streaked by oblivion
where their error is overheard
in a Parthenon of voices
and the air unfolded fornicates
voluptuously and never knows
of the children awakening
in endless tunnels

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