“Thank you for giving me no heritage.”

The following is a video of Rachel Rostad’s winning piece at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational in NYC. Titled, “A Letter to JK Rowling from Cho Chang,” she calls out JK Rowling on the lack of dimensionality when it comes to the Harry Potter series’ one Asian character.

Full disclosure: I have not read the Harry Potter books. I have no commentary on the pushback (which I believe to be mostly a straw man) that gets all up in Dumbledore’s sexuality and why Cho Chang was crying over the White dude, etc. I viewed this video as a voice teacher and as a person striving to be critically conscious. I am glad that Rostad is being outspoken about popular authors and their attempt (or lack thereof) to create dimensional, non-White characters. And although I could get nit-picky about Rostad’s physicalization and vocal habits, overall, there is a wonderful authenticity in her voice. It is coming from the very core of her. I believe that this is partly because in this format and context, she was free to express how she truly felt. There was no need to assimilate to a peer group or a faculty at a drama school and not seem so pissed off about something as a person of color. We often feel that we must behave and keep our heads down and not seem too aggressive, or begrudged. I’m glad Rostad doesn’t give a shit about this.

Rachel Rostad is a fellow Korean-American adoptee. Check her out. I will feature some of her poetry here soon.

via Angry Asian Man

“So what is the end game here?”

In his wonderful blog, poet Ted Hash-Berryman asks, Is Poetry Magazine Racist? He presents some simple statistical breakdowns of White vs. Non-White poets published in the magazine for the last 50 years. Some of the comments are the usual, defensive, false equivalency bullshit reaction that often follows a post such as this (where establishment is criticized) but one comment did ask the important question – What do you hope to achieve or accomplish in light of these findings? Hash-Berryman succinctly responds,

…I am trying to call attention to this absurd disparity and get people to start questioning why it’s happening. The poetry community purports to be accepting and free from the biases which poison the larger culture; these statistics prove otherwise, at least in the mainstream.

Ultimately, I want the Poetry Foundation/Poetry magazine to acknowledge their bias against non-white and female poets. Because of their stature, they have the opportunity to make a positive change which will reverberate throughout poetry publishing, which I can only assume is equally rife with this sort of discrimination. If they simply ignore the issue at hand rather than try to remedy it, they are essentially admitting their approval of the racial/gender biases displayed in the magazine’s choices.

Yes. acknowledging is the first step. And it’s a huge one. Look at how much resistance and push back is happening in just 15 comments to this article. I think there is a sad and complicated parallel here to the theatre and education world. Thanks, Dr. Hash-Berryman, for raising this issue in your literary community.

For more of Hash-Berryman’s musings and poetry, check out his blog. It’s pretty great.

“I dance like I’ve got diamonds/ At the meeting of my thighs”

London Eye, October 2007. Photo: Amy Mihyang Ginther

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

~Maya Angelou
One of my students chose this poem last year to work on and I think it’s power and impact surprised both of us. Angelou’s use of consonants and vowels are really gifts to the speaker. The Ts and Ds in bitter, twisted, trod, dirt, dust feel like getting kicked again and again. I love the Ss in sassiness and the H in haughtiness; you can sense how they grate on people around her. Angelou uses Ls and Ws and vowels that glide and move around the sharp plosive consonants with leaping, wide, welling and swelling, air. And of course. the wonderful diphthong in I, rise, high. The repetition gives us a sensation of a resilient wave. Our tongues actually rise in our mouth as we say rise. Mmmm.

For reasons he is/ not sure of, he also adds/ scallions at the end.

The New York Times is using an algorithm to find randomly select 17-syllable bits from daily articles are posting them as haikus.

This is a Tumblr blog of haikus found within The New York Times. Most of us first encountered haikus in a grade school, when we were taught that they are three-line poems with five syllables on the first line, seven on the second and five on the third. According to the Haiku Society of America, that is not an ironclad rule. A proper haiku should also contain a word that indicates the season, or “kigo,” as well as a juxtaposition of verbal imagery, known as “kireji.” That’s a lot harder to teach an algorithm, though, so we just count syllables like most amateur haiku aficionados do.

Some of them are better than others (they acknowledge this). But there are ones that are just lovely.

It’s hard to find your/ bearings in the middle of/ a cataclysm.

I am well aware how poets can painstakingly choose just the right word for their pieces so the idea that a computer program is picking sentences at random maybe be unnerving for some. I think the Dadaists would certainly appreciate the chaos of this method, though. And it is reassuring that such serendipity can be found in something as quotidian as our daily news. Any time that something like poetry can be shaken from grips of the idea of ‘high art’ that is only accessible for the cultural elite, I am glad. Although, some might argue that the New York Times can be pretty elitist.

Many of us work with haiku with text students before we move into more complex pieces like sonnets. In addition to having students write their own, using these are nice because they touch upon our current cultural context and students can connect with them while still working on image, breath, and thought within a given structure.

If you’d like to read more about the project, you can visit the about page. And no, they don’t scan articles with sensitive material, so you won’t find haikus about severed limbs and date rape.