Thursday, April 26, 2007

Here is another reminder for my remainder readings in New York. Looking forward to these since I will be reading with friends. Gary's "Absurdistan" will be out in paperback. We share the same book cover designer, Christine Lee. For those of you who are looking for cool, sharp-eyed designers to gussy up your book, she's moving back to NY! Also looking forward to reading with Christian Hawkey, whose excellent Citizen Of has just come out. On the subject of covers, Christian has perhaps the most punk "Never Mind the Bollocks" book covers around. Am I done promoting?

Spoonbill and Sugartown Books
with Gary Shteyngart
Thursday, May 3, 7:00
218 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

Academy of American Poets/Bryant Park Reading Series
with Christian Hawkey and Rachel Zucker
Tuesday, May 8, 6:00
Bryant Park

Speaking of promoting, I was a guest last week at Jordan Davis's Million Poems Show which I have been hearing about for quite some time but never actually eye-witnessed. It is actually hilarious but perhaps everyone knew that and I'm just late to the party. The reading opened with a Russian Futurist slam and the winner was given the prize option of a Georgia Review back issue or a toy rocket ship. When the winner reached for the toy rocket ship, Jordan slapped (well not literally) him away and said, "No that's for my son. Take the review." Hilarious!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Poetry is Dangerous
Kazim Ali

On April 19, after a day of teaching classes at
Shippensburg University, I went out to my car and
grabbed a box of old poetry manuscripts from the front
seat of my little white beetle and carried it across
the street and put it next to the trashcan outside
Wright Hall. The poems were from poetry contests I had
been judging and the box was heavy. I had previously
left my recycling boxes there and they were always
picked up and taken away by the trash department.

A young man from ROTC was watching me as I got into my
car and drove away. I thought he was looking at my car
which has black flower decals and sometimes inspires
strange looks. I later discovered that I, in my dark
skin, am sometimes not even a person to the people who
look at me. Instead, in spite of my peacefulness, my
committed opposition to all aggression and war, I am a
threat by my very existence, a threat just living in
the world as a Muslim body.

Upon my departure, he called the local police
department and told them a man of Middle Eastern
descent driving a heavily decaled white beetle with
out of state plates and no campus parking sticker had
just placed a box next to the trash can. My car has
NY plates, but he got the rest of it wrong. I have two
stickers on my car. One is my highly visible faculty
parking sticker and the other, which I just don’t have
the heart to take off these days, says “Kerry/Edwards:
For a Stronger America.”

Because of my recycling the bomb squad came, the state
police came. Because of my recycling buildings were
evacuated, classes were canceled, campus was closed.
No. Not because of my recycling. Because of my dark
body. No. Not because of my dark body. Because of his
fear. Because of the way he saw me. Because of the
culture of fear, mistrust, hatred, and suspicion that
is carefully cultivated in the media, by the
government, by people who claim to want to keep us

These are the days of orange alert, school lock-downs,
and endless war. We are preparing for it, training for
it, looking for it, and so of course, in the most
innocuous of places—a professor wanting to hurry home,
hefting his box of discarded poetry—we find it.

That man in the parking lot didn’t even see me. He saw
my darkness. He saw my Middle Eastern descent. Ironic
because though my grandfathers came from Egypt, I am
Indian, a South Asian, and could never be mistaken for
a Middle Eastern man by anyone who’d ever met one.

One of my colleagues was in the gathering crowd,
trying to figure out what had happened. She heard my
description—a Middle Eastern man driving a white
beetle with out of state plates—and knew immediately
they were talking about me and realized that the box
must have been manuscripts I was discarding. She
approached them and told them I was a professor on the
faculty there. Immediately the campus police officer
said, “What country is he from?”

“What country is he from?!” she yelled, indignant.

“Ma’am, you are associated with the suspect. You need
to step away and lower your voice,” he told her.

At some length several of my faculty colleagues were
able to get through to the police and get me on a cell
phone where I explained to the university president
and then to the state police that the box contained
old poetry manuscripts that needed to be recycled. The
police officer told me that in the current climate I
needed to be more careful about how I behaved. “When I
recycle?” I asked.

The university president appreciated my distress about
the situation but denied that the call had anything to
do with my race or ethnic background. The spokesperson
of the university called it an “honest mistake,” not
referring to the young man from ROTC giving in to his
worst instincts and calling the police but referring
to me who made the mistake of being dark-skinned and
putting my recycling next to the trashcan.

The university’s bizarrely minimal statement lets
everyone know that the “suspicious package” beside the
trashcan ended up being, indeed, trash. It goes on to
say, “We appreciate your cooperation during the
incident and remind everyone that safety is a joint
effort by all members of the campus community.”

What does that community mean to me, a person who has
to walk by the ROTC offices every day on my way to my
own office just down the hall—who was watched, noted,
and reported, all in a day’s work? Today we gave in
willingly and whole-heartedly to a culture of fear and
blaming and profiling. It is deemed perfectly
appropriate behavior to spy on one another and police
one another and report on one another. Such behaviors
exist most strongly in closed and undemocratic and
fascist societies.

The university report does not mention the root cause
of the alarm. That package became “suspicious” because
of who was holding it, who put it down, who drove
away. Me.

It was poetry, I kept insisting to the state policeman
who was questioning me on the phone. It was poetry I
was putting out to be recycled.

My body exists politically in a way I can not prevent.
For a moment today, without even knowing it, driving
away from campus in my little beetle, exhausted after
a day of teaching, listening to Justin Timberlake on
the radio, I ceased to be a person when a man I had
never met looked straight through me and saw the
violence in his own heart.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Oh no they didn't. Well, maybe the Korean community's persecution complex seems more legitimate. I can't believe that the NYT just posted a front page photo comparing Cho's photo with a still from the film "Old Boy." And this is based on a professor's hunch? And this is reporting? "The poses in the two images are similar, and the plot of the movie, “Oldboy,” seems dark enough to merit at least some further study."

Dark enough indeed.The film has nothing to do with a mass-murdering spree. In fact, the film critiques the lust for vengeance as an ultimately empty gesture. And though violent, it's a violence that bears no resemblance to the shootings. The director Park Chan Wook must be reeling right now (bet you they'll be pulling the American remake of that film).

My father left two messages warning me that I should be careful and I'm sure he's not the only Korean father to do so.  I hear Koreans in Flushing are afraid to leave their apartments and exchange students are buying tickets back to Seoul. Of course, I understand the fear of retribution. When I found out that the gunman was Korean, I too felt a stab of dread.  But the shame factor is going too far:

"State Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, apologized to fellow lawmakers and legislative staff members, first at a private prayer meeting, then in Senate chambers. "It hurts me deeply, knowing what happened to Korea and how much the U.S. helped," said Shin, an orphan who was adopted by an American soldier after the Korean War. "This is not the way to pay back the blessings we received."

Pay back? The blessings we received? The Korean War? Clearly, especially in light of the videos that have been coming out, he's a sicko who has more in common with the Columbine trenchcoat kids than any alienated foreigner. I know media will use this opportunity to do specials on Asian Americans, the Korean immigrant community, etc, etc, but come on, he was psychotic. End of story. The Korean community, both here and in Korea, has treated this as, perhaps, the most horrifying moment of "losing face" and has gone out of their way expressing their guilt. What if Cho Suen-Hui was Chinese, would the Chinese immigrant community have reacted with the same kind of gut paranoia, shame, and guilt? Perhaps, considering US's prevailing atmosphere of post 9/11 xenophobia, but I also think that Koreans are particularly sensitive since the nation is so small, the immigrant community so homogenous and tight-knit, and well, they have a bit of a persecution complex.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My second poetry collection (which was chosen for the Barnard Women's Poetry Prize) from WW Norton, "Dance Dance Revolution," will be out May 8th! I'll be doing a solo reading on April 17th at Barnard College next week. Here's a schedule of a few other readings I will be doing in or near NY.

Barnard College Women Poetry Series
Tuesday, April 17th 7:00 PM
3rd floor Barnard Hall
W 117th Street and Broadway

Jubilat Reading Series
with Michael Earl Craig
Sunday, April 22nd, 3:00pm
University of Massachusettes

Jordan Davis Talkshow Series
with Thomas Sayers Ellis and Jace Clayton
Monday, April 23, 6:15
Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery

Brooklyn Public Library
with Meghan O'Rourke and Gregory Pardlo

Tuesday April 24, 2007, 7 p.m.
Central Library, Grand Army Plaza,
Brooklyn, NY

Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival
April 28, 2:30
Slonim House
Sarah Lawrence
(go here for list of readers)

Spoonbill and Sugartown Books
with Gary Shteyngart
Thursday, May 3, 7:00
218 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

Academy of American Poets/Bryant Park Reading Series
with Christian Hawkey and Rachel Zucker

Tuesday, May 8, 6:00
Bryant Park

Sunday, April 08, 2007

On a gut level, a true mark of a great book is when I am so inspired that I want drop everything and rush off and write my own poems. Lately, though, I've been enduring dulled bouts of disillusionment where rarely any collections have sparked my attention. Then I came across Ed Roberson's radiant "City Eclogue" and language became revitalized again. He's a stunning poet--this collection outdoes "Atmosphere Conditions" which was already an impressive book. I'm also impressed with Peter Gizzi's Oppen-echoing collection "The Outernationale."

The collection also provides a little bio on Roberson--he's worked as a limnologist, a diver for the Pittsburgh Aquazoo, and the Pittsburgh steel mills. A much more interesting bio than cataloguing his publishing history.