Archive May 2018

Mental Health Awareness Through the Literary Arts

Cristiana Baik is the director of Development at Richmond Area Multi-Services, Inc., a community-based mental health agency in San Francisco. She is committed to her work and in helping to create healthier communities and a more equitable society. Baik received a BA in Gender Studies/Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa. Her poems and reviews have been published in various journals, including the Boston Review, American Letters & Commentary, Drunken Boat, and Conjunctions. Her chapbook, The Stars Went Out and So Did the Moon, was published by Finishing Line Press in the fall of 2017.

There are various facts we know related to mental health and stigma within the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Asian Americans tend to be disproportionately impacted by mental health issues, but are less inclined to seek help for a multitude of reasons: in order to “save face”; because language barriers and the lack of culturally and linguistically responsive services effectively deny services to many first-generation AAPI residents; and due to ongoing social and cultural stigmas surrounding accessing mental health supports. Because of this, many young Asian Americans choose to keep their mental health issues within their family and/or seek religious advice, rather than professional help.

To explore the complex terrain of mental health issues impacting our diverse AAPI community, Richmond Area Multi-Services, Inc. (RAMS), a Bay Area mental health agency committed to providing community-based, culturally and linguistically responsive services, held an event called “Open in Emergency: A Discussion on Mental Health Issues in Our Communities” on March 31, 2018. The event, which took place at San Francisco’s Arc Gallery & Studios, was a collaborative endeavor with the Kearny Street Workshop and the Asian American Literary Review (AALR).

“Open in Emergency,” curated as a dynamic and interactive night market, integrated readings by P&W–supported poet Brandon Som and scholar Simi Kang, and interactive tables, which included tarot card readings using AALR’s beautiful Asian American Tarot deck and “Corner of Heart-to-Hearts” conversations catalyzed by cards created by Chad Shomura and illustrated by Yumi Sakugawa. This open space allowed the audience and contributors to interact in a way that was more relational and conversational. Audience members listened to the readings, but were also able to walk around the gallery and interact with the different stations.

RAMS is grateful for the support from Poets & Writers, which provided funding for Brandon—who was also a contributor to the “Open In Emergency” issue released by AALR in January. For the evening, Brandon read a moving prose piece he created for “The Shopkeeper” profile card in the Asian American Tarot deck. The prose was loosely based on his own experience of growing up in a corner store and working there with his father and grandparents. He also read a poem called “Raspadas.” Of the event, Brandon said, “I was excited to contribute to the project, because I think it is important to underscore the mental health issues that arise due to experiencing and processing racism and racial trauma.”

RAMS hopes to continue this event each year, in order to raise awareness of mental health stigmas, provide resources and referrals, and bring together different communities, including clinicians, mental health workers, scholars, poets, artists, and a broader audience-at-large.

Support for this event and Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Cristiana Baik (Credit: Crystal Baik). (bottom) Brandon Som (Credit: Andrew Taw).

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The Winding Roads of Poetry and Art

Mong-Lan, a Fulbright scholar and recipient of a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, has published seven books of poetry, most recently, Dusk Aflame: poems & art (Valiant Press, 2018), and three chapbooks. Her poetry has been awarded the Juniper Prize and the Pushcart Prize, and has been included in anthologies such as the Best American Poetry series. Mong-Lan is also a visual artist, musician, Argentine tango dancer, performer, and educator. She left her native Vietnam one day before the last evacuation of Saigon.

I’m grateful that Poets & Writers has cosponsored me for three events: The Poets in Play poetry reading at the Soup Full Café in Corning, New York; a poetry writing workshop a day later at the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes; and a convivial reading at Wheeler Hill hosted by poet Michael Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing, which published my most recent chapbook, Tone of Water in a Half-Filled Glass. Finally, I taught a workshop for the Watkins Glen Writers Group, and later gave a reading. Through the generosity of Poets & Writers, I was able to promote my seventh book, Dusk Aflame: poems & art, and new chapbook.

This was my first time participating in programs, readings, and workshops in upstate New York. I found everyone to be kind, curious, and inquisitive. My events in Corning, Wheeler Hill, and Watkins Glen have gone remarkably well with lively, attentive audiences. In each of the readings, in addition to reading and performing my poetry, I also performed several tangos and sang, accompanying myself on the guitar. My multimedia performances included recordings of my jazz piano arrangements which played in the background while I recited my poems. Workshop participants were refreshingly open with a willingness to read and experience diverse writers, and a desire to talk about and discuss new ideas and strategies. Some audience members joined me from one event to the other, driving the long, winding roads from town to town.

Without Poets & Writers’ cosponsorship, I would not have been able to make this tour to upstate New York. Thankfully, Michael and Carolyn Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing hosted me in their rustic off-the-grid home on Wheeler Hill during most of my time there. Michael, with his indefatigable energy and generosity, drove me to and from readings and workshops, and introduced me to his friends and colleagues. I’ve met wonderful poets and writers such as Steve Coffman, Mary A. Hood, and Martha Treichler, who studied with Charles Olson all those years ago. I’ve enjoyed sharing my writing, books, art, knowledge, and teaching with this community, and am deeply grateful.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Mong-Lan with her book covers (Credit: Mong-Lan).

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Office Hours Writing Workshop: Poetry as Political Act

Sarah Sala’s debut poetry collection, Devil’s Lake, was a finalist for the 2017 Subito Press Book Prize and her poem “Hydrogen” was featured in the Elements episode of NPR’s hit show Radiolab. She is the series facilitator for Office Hours Poetry Workshop, and coproduces AmpLit Fest with Lamprophonic and Summer on the Hudson.

Office Hours Poetry Workshop emerged from the deep need for a program that supports and elevates post–MFA writers. The goal: to build a no-fee workshop that accommodates full-time work schedules, childcare needs, and celebrates writers who are POC, LGBTQ+, women-identified, adjunct instructors, and any and all combination. More than anything, I wanted to compensate our writers. The Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops grant became a profound way to do so.

In many ways, publishing has left poetry behind. Some magazines charge fees to submit work, and often can’t afford payment upon publication. I regularly see venues advertise $100 pay for fiction or nonfiction pieces and only $25 for poems. While I recognize this scale is often based on word count, it speaks volumes about the legitimacy of poetry in the modern arena.

June Jordan said that poetry is a political act because it involves truth telling. Very often this means writing through a lens counter to mainstream culture, embodying our power and vulnerabilities on the page, and practicing radical empathy with fellow artists. For this reason, it was an immense pleasure to introduce the Office Hours Spring Showcase fellows at the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division (BGSQD).

With Marco DaSilva’s visionary art installation “My Quaint Struggle” as backdrop, Sanj Nair captivated the audience with works that delved into identity, agency, and womanhood. Marty Correia’s pieces skillfully wrestled with human relationships—queer and familial— then brought forth the magical properties of DaSilva’s golden altar by dubbing them “authority panels.”

Next, Yanyi read his self-described “soft prose poems”—rich and particular renderings of the domestic. Caitlin McDonnell’s lyric narratives confronted the reality of gun violence in America and presented a tapestry of inventive first lines from novels she’s written and/or abandoned. Holly Mitchell’s lush writing strode between epithalamion and coming-of-age in a conservative landscape.

Paco Márquez rounded out the night with sinuous poems from his new chapbook, Portraits in G Minor (Folded Word, 2017), and treated the audience to the Spanish and English versions of a Pablo Neruda poem he recently assisted William O’Daly in translating from Book of Twilight (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), a recent publication of Neruda’s debut book, Crepusculario.

Overall, the evening was overwhelmingly restorative. Here, in New York City, and at the Bureau, we make our home among friends as we seek to change the status quo.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Sarah Sala (Credit: Talya Chalef). (middle) Sanj Nair (Credit: Sarah Sala). (bottom) Yanyi (Credit: Sarah Sala).

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