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Readings & Workshops Blog

Poet Joseph O. Legaspi cofounded P&W–supported Kundiman, a nonprofit organization that serves Asian American poetry. He blogs about Kundiman's beginnings and this year's ten-year anniversary celebrations. The author of Imago (CavanKerry Press) and the forthcoming chapbook Subways (Thrush Press), he lives in Queens, New York, and works at Columbia University.

In summer 2002, Sarah Gambito and I were swaying on a hammock at a backyard BBQ in Westchester. Watching the mostly Filipino crowd—families and community—playing games, eating, totally at ease with one another, we were mesmerized and even envious. As recent MFA graduates and young Filipino American poets trying to patch together literary lives in New York City, we felt alone and lost. We wanted to recreate the joyful and safe space that we witnessed in Westchester, but for Asian American artists. I then told Sarah about P&W–supported Cave Canem, a premiere literary organization that hosts a retreat for black poets. Two close friends, January Gill O’Neil and the late Phebus Etienne, attended the Cave Canem Retreat and raved about it. Why not? we asked ourselves, as there was already an impressive model, and in our hearts, we knew there was a void to fill. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kundiman now celebrates its ten-year anniversary! The sole organization of its kind, Kundiman remains dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian American writing. In summer 2013, we are hosting our tenth Kundiman Poetry Retreat with faculty members Li-Young Lee, Srikanth Reddy, and Lee Ann Roripaugh teaching workshops to our fellows. Over 120 fellows have attended the annual retreats under the tutelage of such renowned Asian and Asian American poets as Lawson Inada, Bei Dao, Myung Mi Kim, Marilyn Chin, Arthur Sze, Truong Tran, Paisley Rekdal, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Rick Barot, and Tan Lin—many of whom have been supported by P&W over the years. Award-winning Kundiman fellows have published twenty books thus far with more titles forthcoming in 2014, in addition to over twenty chapbooks, and numerous print and online publications. Cofounder Sarah Gambito received the 2009 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award. In partnership with Alice James Books, the Kundiman Poetry Prize is set to select its fourth winner this June. P&W–supported Matthew Olzmann’s Mezzanines, the second selection, was released in April 2013.

So, what’s in store for Kundiman’s tenth year? There will be a fundraising campaign with a target goal of $10,000. There will be exciting “10 for 10” events across the country, an NYC gala in the planning stages. Our website has already undergone a redesign. Kundiman’s oral history program, Kavad, will roll out fellow-driven projects that will provide new platforms to present and amplify Asian American voices. Kundiman remains strongly committed to fostering Asian American writing, which, in turn, empowers our marginalized, diasporic communities. Kundiman strives to transform the American literary landscape. Please come celebrate with us.

Photo: (Top) Joseph O. Legaspi. Credit: Emmy Cateral. (Bottom) Kundiman staff, faculty, and fellows. Credit: Dustin Parsons.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, the Abbey K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Poet Joseph O. Legaspi cofounded Kundiman, a nonprofit organization that serves Asian American poets. He blogs about curating P&W–supported Kundiman & Verlaine, a New York City–based reading series that has been running for ten years. The author of Imago (CavanKerry Press) and the forthcoming chapbook Subways (Thrush Press), he lives in Queens, New York, and works at Columbia University.

It started with an experiment. Before the poet Sarah Gambito and I fully conceived of Kundiman, the nonprofit we founded to serve Asian American poetry, there were the poems. At the time, in 2003, we were interested in the idea of poems as physical objects, as solid and tangible art pieces. We were also regulars imbibing lychee martinis at Verlaine, a bar on the lower east side of Manhattan where we befriended Gary Weingarten, a photographer and one of the owners of Verlaine. Presented with our idea, he provided us with the blank canvases: the walls inside Verlaine onto which we hung blown-up prints of poems. Words against a sheer white backdrop loomed large: our poems, as well as others by Prageeta Sharma and Li-Young Lee. Like a gallery, we hosted an opening with an amazing turnout.

When such a partnership presents itself, you run with it. The March 17, 2013, P&W–supported reading marked the tenth year of Kundiman & Verlaine, the only reading series that highlights Asian American poets. Over 130 readers have graced our stage, among them luminaries like Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau, Kimiko Hahn, Vijay Seshadri, Patrick Rosal, and Cathy Park Hong, along with emerging Asian American talents. In the spirit of community building, we have also invited poets from other literary circles like Cave Canem, LouderArts, and Acentos. Through the years, the series has exemplified the multiplicity and vitality of voices within the Asian American (and greater) literary community. At the March reading alone, for instance, were the following participants: Mandy Gor, a poet, painter, seamstress, and banker raised in Texas; Seni Seneviratne, a Sri Lankan living in England; and Kit Yan, a transgender spoken word phenomenon. The audience, from seemingly divergent backgrounds, were brought together by poetry. The Kundiman & Verlaine reading series embodies this spirit: big-hearted and celebratory. The lounge atmosphere helps, as well as the hour-long open bar before each reading.

The bottom line is that for a literary series to thrive, much generosity is needed: a place for gathering, a co-host/co-sponsor who shares your vision, an open-minded audience, and kind readers. Recently, another act of generosity: Poets & Writers, through its Readings/Workshops Program, has been able to provide honoraria to qualified readers. How lovely it’s been to compensate poets for their time and craft. Kundiman believes in paying poets, but because of our limited funds, we’ve been unable to do so—beyond the gift bags we give to readers as a token of our appreciation. Because of such patronage and generosity, the Kundiman & Verlaine reading series continues to be a welcoming, warm environment, full of heart.

Photo: (Top) Joseph O. Legaspi. Credit: Emmy Cateral. (Bottom, from left to right) Vikas Menon, Kit Yan, Seni Seneviratne, Mandy Gor, and Joseph O. Legaspi. Credit: JP Sevillano

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, the Abbey K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

P&W-funded Regie Cabico blogs about his latest readings and workshops. He is the coeditor, with poet and novelist Brittany Fonte, of the recently published anthology of queer poetry and spoken word, Flicker and Spark (Lowbrow Press). His own work has appeared in over thirty anthologies, including Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, Spoken Word Revolution, and Chorus & The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. He received the 2006 Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers for his work teaching at-risk youth at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He is a former Artist in Residence at NYU's Asian Pacific American Studies Program and has served as faculty at Banff's Spoken Word Program. He resides in Washington, D.C.

March had me climbing from The University of Northern Alabama conducting poetry and performance workshops with Andy Thigpen and Chelsea Root, the codirectors of Boxcar Voices: a Poetry and Storytelling Series in Florence, Alabama. I would know nothing of the south if it weren't for JT Bullock, a slam poet and registered nurse who grew up performing poetry and organizing poetry readings with heralded slam poets. The workshops I conducted drew twenty students and the performance drew a hundred or so enthusiastic audience members. JT and I are a two-person poetry group called Dirty Rice. The name reflects my Asian and JT's Southern Roots. The “dirty” stands for our lascivious poems and stories of political gay identity.

Florence is magical: the people, the shrimp and grits and muffins. I left wanting to curate a queer arts festival this year. Why? Because I'm insane. But also because the community is so friendly and warm and I know that the impact of a queer spoken word gathering would forever affect the 40,000-person population of Florence. Thigpen is a born and bred resident of Florence; he loves words, is an incredible writer, and his running of series in a small town creates an incredible impact. Chelsea Root is an up-and-coming writer with an intense delivery and shares Thigpen's enthusiasm for the word.

The open mic is its own church and community. The Sparkle Series (which occurs on the fourth Wednesday of each month at Busboys and Poets at 5th & K) is my way of combating homophobia and misogyny in the Washington, D.C. open mic scene. In its five-year history, Danielle Evennou and I have brought emerging and established queer poets to D.C. to share their work. Denise Jolly, recently ranked number five in the 2013 Women of the World Slam, graced us with her newer work. Jolly was joined by Spencer Retelle, a new voice in D.C. Along with Busboys and Poets, Sparkle and Split This Rock will apply for Poets & Writers funding through the Readings/Workshops Program for my performance in mid-June.

Finally, I am writing my last blog in Montreal, the gayest city in North America. I am with JT Bullock again and participating in The Mile End Poetry Festival. I conducted a workshop sponsored by the Montreal Slam Team and performed with Jane Gabriels, a poet and theater artist from New York City and Montreal, and other avant garde artists. My work is only made possible by those who have visions of bringing voices together. Ian Ferrier, who curated The Mile End Poetry Festival, is a literary activist galvanizing the best literary talents. Sheri-D Wilson of Calgary, David Bateman from Toronto, and Moe Clark and Kaie Kellough of Montreal inspire me. On the second night of the festival, I participated in the first ever Word Race contest—a competition where people read words as fast as they can, battling each other through speed and acuracy. I came in second place and won a Norwegian Arts Guide Book. C Command, the individual representative for the Canadian Indie Competition, won. He received an American Slang Dictionary. Oh, shucks. I wouldn't have been able to carry it in my bag anyway.

Photo: Regie Cabico. Credit: Carlos Rodriguez.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washington, D.C., is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

In March, P&W-supported poet Terrance Hayes read with Red Hen Press at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, California. P&W staff member Cheryl Klein writes about the evening.

Red Hen Press GroupGiven that many reading series struggle to draw audiences, it’s somewhat astonishing to consider that Red Hen Press maintains five series—one in New York and four in the Los Angeles area, where the eighteen-year-old press is based. And judging by a mid-March reading by poet Terrance Hayes and several Red Hen authors, sagging attendance is not an issue.

With the sun setting pinkly, poetry fans filed into the Boston Court Performing Arts Center, a large brick theater with a digital marquee, tucked in a leafy residential street in Pasadena, California. A Boston Court representative cheerily informed the audience that, behind the thick black curtain, sets were being built for the center’s next production, about America’s first serial killers. On that note, he turned the mic over to Red Hen Managing Editor Kate Gale.

Gale introduced each of the night’s four poets by reading a few of her favorite lines from their work. Katharine Coles read first, from The Earth is Not Flat, a Red Hen collection comprised of poems she wrote while traveling in Antarctica. The poems reflected her longtime fascination with the intersection of science and literature.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the travel poems of Alaska’s Peggy Shumaker, who read from her book Toucan Nest later that evening, reveal an obsession with warmer territory. Specifically, she recounted in lyrical form a trip she’d taken to Costa Rica with fellow Red Hen author and new L.A. poet laureate Eloise Klein Healy, whose partner leads eco-tours to tropical environments. Shumaker’s poem about baby howler monkeys reveled in the kind of parent-child push-and-pull that can be found in all climates.

Dan Vera, inaugural winner of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize, read striking and funny poems about growing up Cuban in Arizona. In Cuban Spanish, he told the audience, “menudo” is slang for change, the kind you receive from a cashier. In Mexican Spanish, it refers to tripe soup. You can imagine how things unfolded when his father demanded that the owner of a Mexican restaurant put five dollars worth of menudo in his cupped hand.

The evening’s featured reader was Terrance Hayes, who appeared on stage in a gray sweater and a watch on each wrist—apparently he wasn’t going to be one of those features to prattle on. And in fact, he only read two poems—though they were both somewhat epic in nature, folding in flashes of American history, riffing about race, and punning slyly.

The first, “Self Portrait as the Mind of a Camera,” was based on the photographs of Charles Harris, who documented life in the African-American neighborhoods of his native Pittsburgh. Hayes contemplated the various meanings of “black and white” as they pertain to photography and race: “To be black and white is to behold the existential and believe that the colors are conspiring against you.”

His second poem, “Wigphrastic,” was a critique of Norman Mailer’s essay “The White Negro,” which played with the idea of the “wigger” (a word Hayes said he dislikes, though he’s up for combining “white” and “black” to get “wack”) by naming the many uses for wigs. Protection, façade—“Isis wigs, Cleopatra wigs, Big Booty Judy wigs.” The idea of playing with artifice was clearly as fascinating to Hayes as any icy or tropical landscape.

From left: Terrance Hayes, Monica Copeland, Kate Gale, and Eloise Klein Healy. Credit: Gabriela Morales.


Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

P&W-funded Regie Cabico blogs about a whirlwind week of readings and workshops. He is the coeditor, with poet and novelist Brittany Fonte, of the recently published anthology of queer poetry and spoken word, Flicker and Spark (Lowbrow Press). His own work has appeared in over thirty anthologies, including Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, Spoken Word Revolution, and Chorus & The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. He received the 2006 Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers for his work teaching at-risk youth at Bellevue Hospital in New York. He is a former Artist in Residence at NYU's Asian Pacific American Studies Program and has served as faculty at Banff's Spoken Word Program. He resides in Washington, D.C.

P&W-funded Kundiman, an organization that supports Asian American poets, has been an important resource for me as a teaching mentor, and the co-founders Sarah Gambito and Joseph Legaspi have been long-time supporters of my performance work. If I don’t make it to the 2013 AWP Conference in Boston to attend their ten-year anniversary panel and party, it’ll be like missing a wedding.

On the plane from D.C. to Boston, as we are about to take off, the pilot tells us that all flights in and out of Boston's Logan airport have been suspended. An hour later, they have to clean the ice on the wings. After watching JetBlue’s History Channel entire program on vikings, we finally lift off.

My first reading starts at 7:30 PM. I arrive in Boston at 8 PM. My coeditor Brittany Fonte texts me, HURRY! and I finally get to the reading at 8:30 PM. I read two poems: Baruch Porras Hernandez’ “Pursuit of Taconess” and J Mase the III’s “Neighbor”—both hysterical pieces with serious messages about immigration and transphobia. It’s a hit. Afterward, Nathaniel Siegel takes me out to a gay bar, where I sing “I Am What I Am” really badly.

On Thursday at 1:30 PM is the Flicker & Spark book signing. I spend thirty dollars on beverages and snacks at Trader Joe’s. Three poets show up: Nathaniel Siegel, Dorothea Smartt from London, and Lenelle Moise. Brittany Fonte and I were hoping to find the other poets in the book and thank them.

On Thursday night, Kundiman had a very emotional intimate celebration at the Pucker Gallery. The room exploded with Prosecco, sushi, impromptu massages, and poetry whispered in our ears. Afterward, I take it easy and watch Project Runway with Kim Roberts, a poet and my housemate.

On Friday, I pray that my fRegie Cabicolight to Madison will be on time. I am scheduled to perform at the Midwest Filipino Students Association. I am to give a workshop and a performance in the evening. I bring my bags to Friday morning's Kundiman panel. Myung Mi Kim, Paisley Rekdal, and I read poems and talk about pedagogy.

I leave Boston and its icy wind velocities. At the airport, I see Michael Cirelli, executive director of P&W-funded Urban Word. He confirms my hosting the slam finals on April 20 at The Apollo with rapper MC Lyte.

I can only think about getting to Madison. I get in at midnight. The next morning, my workshop has twenty students and my performance in the evening is a huge hit.

On Sunday, I am eating brunch with the students and comedian Rex Navarette. I insist that we all have a wholesome Wisconsin brunch with organic eggs and cheese. I get to my house at midnight. I will have a Poetry Out Loud workshop to do the next day along with an open mic feature for the Northern Virginia Gay Health Center at Busboys & Poets, and then I will host my weekly spoken word and cabaret show La-Ti-Do.

Once at home, I reflect back on my week. I have too many business cards that need to be sorted. I am totally drained, and it is not even National Poetry Month yet. But I am happy I saw Bonnie Rose Marcus, the director of Poets & Writers' Readings/Workshops (East), who reminded me to apply for D.C. funds while there was some money left. Through Poets & Writers' Readings/Workshops program, I've been paid for doing my community work.

Photos: (Top, from left to right:) Regie Cabico, Sarah Gambito. Credit: Oliver de la Paz. (Bottom, from left to right:) Soham Patel, Regie Cabico, and Regie's patron poet Carlos Bulosan.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washington, D.C., is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Recently, Poets & Writers awarded one poet and one fiction writer with a trip to New York to meet with editors, agents, and other literary professionals as part of the California Writers Exchange contest. The winning fiction writer, Laura Joyce Davis of Oakland, blogs about her experience.

Laura Joyce Davis, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Jeffrey YangI am so grateful to Poets & Writers for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of the California Writers Exchange! I heard people say this week that there’s no mystery in publishing, but for those of us not in New York, it can feel mystifying. In an attempt to pull back the curtain and share what I’ve learned, I give you my Top Ten Things Every Writer Should Know:

1. Revise like it’s your full-time job.
Agents and editors alike emphasized revising, putting your book away for a couple of months, revising again, getting feedback—and then repeating until you reach perfection (or something like it).

2. Read, read, read!
The only way writers will survive is if people buy their books. But reading also helps you discern where to send your work. This is true of literary journals (where you’re looking for a natural home for your writing) as well as books (if you find a book like yours, the agent and editor for that book might also like your book).

3. Get connected.
Pick up one of the “best of” collections, look at which magazines nominated the authors there, and then submit to those magazines (referencing the story you enjoyed in the collection). This helps on two levels: It shows that you did your research, but also that you have a sense of the kinds of stories they publish and love.

If you have a connection to an editor (even a small one, like a personalized rejection), mention it. Writers who get a personalized rejection are sometimes flagged so that future submissions will be read by more senior editors rather than by interns or whoever looks at the slush pile.

4. Be a man (or be like one).
VIDA showed us that men are published in greater numbers than women. I learned this week that men also submit in greater numbers, are more likely to submit again after being rejected, or write letters to the editor pitching story ideas. Women, let’s put ourselves out there more.

5. Develop a thick skin.
I met an author who submitted to 150 agents over the course of four years, finally found an agent, and then sold his book in two weeks. Another writer sold her book to a major publisher, but was tormented by a few negative reviews on GoodReads (even though most people love her book). No matter how successful you are, you will still face rejection, and there will always be someone who doesn’t like your book.

6. Persevere.
It has never been so easy to be a writer, but so difficult to be a professional one. The good news is that for the persistent, things seem to work out eventually. Maybe (okay, probably) you won’t get a six-figure advance or be in Oprah’s book club, but with a lot of diligence, your book will be edited and published by someone who loves it just as much as you do.

7. Get involved in your local literary community.
Volunteer with your local literary magazine. Go to readings. Help out other writers. The people you help may end up buying your book, and the journals you assist may take a closer look at your story. Plugging into our literary communities means we are part of the conversation of what is happening in publishing and in life.

8. Look for creative opportunities to publish and build a platform.
Blog. Write interviews and essays. Speak at events. Tweet. These things are good promotion, but will also connect you with the people who are going to care about your book once it comes out.

9. Remember that we’re all just people.
Many of the agents and editors I met said that they wished authors understood that they are human. They have a full client list, dozens of manuscripts to read, and hundreds of new queries every week. Remember that people in the publishing industry have lives (and kids and hard days and relationships) just like you do.

10. Keep writing!
Remember that agents and editors are not disdainful of new writers or eager to reject; they are waiting for the next story that makes them miss their subway stop. There will always be room in the world for great writing. May that challenge us all to produce it!

Photo: From left: Laura Joyce Davis, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, and Jeffrey Yang of New Directions. Credit: Jamie FitzGerald.

The California Writers Exchange contest is made possible by a generous grant from the James Irvine Foundation. For more information on the contest, visit here.

Recently, Poets & Writers awarded one poet and one fiction writer with a trip to New York to meet with editors, agents, and other literary professionals as part of the California Writers Exchange contest. The winning poet, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo of Los Angeles, blogs about her experience from NYC. (Stay tuned for another post from winning fiction writer Laura Joyce Davis as well!)

Contest winners and Deborah Treisman.The invaluable gift this trip has given me is confidence to know that I am moving in the right direction, and that as long as I keep working on my writing, I will reach my goals. Being able to walk into the offices of The New Yorker has been a crazy experience, but it has also shown me that everyone is in this “business” because they love books, and everyone works extremely hard to put out their best work because of that love. Often this work will be thankless, but as New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman told me, “Don’t be afraid to be rejected.”

Opportunities like this trip will be far and few between, but hopefully, I can remember the glow of this moment when I am back at my desk agonizing over a poem that refuses to go my way. In that moment I can remember how Alice Quinn, the Poetry Society of America’s executive director, recited poetry to me, sounds dancing on her tongue, with a giant smile, and know that there are people out there hungry and excited for poetry. The next time I cry over my computer, I can think of New Directions editor Jeffrey Yang, who told me when he wrote the last poem of his collection Aquarium, he wept as he wrote the lines, and know that I am not alone. Or when I’m struggling to have my book published, I can remember that there are Johnny Temples in the world who started Akashic Books because he liked cool books, and is always looking for something exciting.

The New Yorker is looking, Akashic is looking, A Public Space is looking, Poetry Society of America is looking. All I have to do is be fearless in putting my work out there because eventually it will link up with someone who is looking for just what I am sending. When I look at it that way, it doesn’t feel so ominous. There is a publisher, there is a magazine that is looking for me, I just have to find them. And that goes for all of us.

You may remember that in my previous blog post, I asked each guest two questions. Here are some more fun answers:

Q: As a reader, what is the first book you remember getting swept up in?

Jeffery Yang (editor, New Directions): A Tree Within by Octavio Paz.

Brigid Hughes (founding editor, A Public Space): Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath; The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

Brett Fletcher Lauer (poetry editor, A Public Space): Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

Alice Quinn (executive director, Poetry Society of America): The Children’s Hour #9 edited by Marjorie Barrows. It was devoted to poetry. I remember reading “The Barefoot Boy” and Robert Browning.

Aurora Anaya-Cerda (independent bookseller, La Casa Azul Bookstore): It has to be Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. That was THE book.

Deborah Treisman (fiction editor, The New Yorker): When I was young, Oxford Book of Poetry for Children. I called it “the purple book.” In high school, it was Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Johnny Temple (independent publisher, Akashic Books): Honestly, it was probably something like a Nancy Drew book. My mom would know.

Q: Besides reading and writing, what is an activity that is important to your writing/creative work?

Jeffery Yang: My mental health [is important]. I run a lot.

Brigid Hughes: Walking.

Brett Fletcher Lauer: Watching the Kardashians.

Alice Quinn: I try to memorize a poem almost everyday while I walk the dog in the morning.

Aurora Anaya-Cerda: Performing arts, going to museums, going to the theatre. It feeds my soul.

Deborah Treisman: Staying up on current events. Knowing what’s going on.

Johnny Temple: Can I say my music? The Caribbean. Traveling to book festivals in the Caribbean. The Calabash in Jamaica (and other festivals) is my favorite thing in the world of books that isn’t writing.

Photo: From left: Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Deborah Treisman, Laura Joyce Davis. Credit: Jamie FitzGerald.
The California Writers Exchange contest is made possible by a generous grant from the James Irvine Foundation. For more information on the contest, visit here.

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