OCULUS

I am pleased to announce that my second book of poetry, OCULUS, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in early 2019. I cannot begin to describe what joining this list means to me — this press and its visionary editors Jeff Shotts and Fiona McCrae have always published my favorite poets. Cheers!

Three poems in The Margins

I have a Pokemon poem, "Lavender Town", up in The Asian American Writers Workshop's The Margins, along with "Anna May Wong goes home with Bruce Lee" and "After Nam June Paik." Thanks to Emily Jungmin Yoon, the lovely editor, for this platform.

Portable Cities

My new poem in The Literary Review's Street Cred issue, "Portable Cities", is after artist Yin Xiuzhen, b. 1963 in Beijing. She creates mesmeric sculptures of cities inside suitcases -- cities made of cloth.

When asked about the future, she once said: "The future is a black hole."

Sometimes that's how I feel. You can read "Portable Cities" below.


Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Last month, in September, I traveled to Thailand and Myanmar alone. I learned how to ride a baby motorbike (electronic bicycle) and climbed to the top of an empty temple with a cut on the bottom of my foot I got from stepping on glass in Orange County, California.

The day after I returned, the Academy of American Poets put up my poem, "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles", as part of their Poem-a-day. A coincidence? That after returning from riding alone for thousands of miles, there my poem was, looking back at me, looking back at the world.

The poem comes from another long journey, one that actually included Singapore, back in 2012. You can read it in the below link. Thank you, Academy of American Poets.

Singapore, my new home

I am the new international writer-in-residence at the Singapore Creative Writing Residency, a partnership between NUS-University Scholars Program and the Singapore Arts House. This residency goes until the end of January 2016.

My first feature will be in the Singapore Arts House on September 16th, at 7:30PM, with the poet Cyril Wong, who blew me away with his reading last week. Those of you who happen to reside in Singapore, please drop by.

Three weeks ago, I arrived at the Changi airport, drowsy from thirty hours of travel, woozy and ecstatic to start my six months. I remember the butterfly gardens from three years ago; I remember going to Chinatown and seeing the Marina Bay Sands from the other shore. When I first came to Singapore for two days in 2012, I was a tourist at the tail end of a long journey. I didn't see much. This time, there were some noticeable differences--in 2012, the U-town campus that I now reside in didn't exist or it had just been built, brand new. This last month, it was Singapore's 50th anniversary and the signs of SG50 in the red dot are ubiquitous -- on the buses, the taxis, projected onto the buildings, all the billboards, the signs. I hear songs declaring that this place is home. To many of the students, Singapore is unquestionably home. I admire and envy this -- to have a fixed place to always return to, to have home so embodied in this concrete reality, not this nebulous, hazy vision.

Just over a year ago, when I had multiple jobs in New York, I couldn't have imagined being here, or arriving at these shores. I had watched a romantic comedy starring Zhang Ziyi and Wong Leehom, called My Lucky Star. Ziyi plays lovelorn Sophie, a comic book artist with a day job, who finds herself winning a vacation package to Singapore. When she arrives at the Marina Bay Sands, she meets a secret agent with a mission and then she goes on an Ultimate Adventure, wide-eyed and in disbelief the whole time. It received really bad reviews, but for the most part, I was charmed. I felt like I knew that feeling -- of discovering adventure and finding comfort in the unknown, the unpredictable, of surrendering yourself to wonder. In a sense, the movie was about leaving home and how ultimately those are the times you are most transformed, and the meaning of home changes -- you return home with more courage, or more recklessness.

My workshop's theme is going to be: What does home look like to you? Is your home a dream, or a place you can touch, or somewhere in between?

For now, my home appears to be here, in my little dining table with the view of the tropical plants and the sky, where I could read and write, or gain the courage to. For now, I find home in things like being able to eat noodles every day, constant noodles, endless delicious noodles. Sluurrrrrrrrpppppp.

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Harvard Review Online: "Provenance: A Vivisection".

I'm very honored to have this new poem up at Harvard Review Online. "Provenance: A Vivisection" discusses the Bodies Exhibition, an utterly ubiquitous exhibition of plastinated bodies whose origins are not determined. Years ago there was a controversy about where these bodies came from, including allegations that they came from corpse plants in Dalian, China.

I've been thinking a lot about our responsibilities as poets and artists, about poetry as a vehicle for reclaiming voices and social critique, especially in the national critical conversations on Ferguson and Baltimore, and how we've started a whole movement in #BlackPoetsSpeakOut. I recently went to a reading with Patricia Smith, and I was moved by her poem written in the voice of grieving mothers. Certain bodies are always invisible, unless they can be turned spectacular, unless they can become spectacles. 

In a culture where racialized bodies have always been displayed as spectacles in a Western context and the white body remains pure, contrasting, and whole, how can poetry allow us to speak on behalf of the missing? Are our bodies our own?

Poem for Rihanna

On the eve of Rihanna's new album, r8 (rumored to drop tomorrow, 3/26), I'm dropping this poem for Riri/Miss Robyn Fenty, goddess and poster child for my soon-to-be Poet's House workshop, Bad Bitch Poetics

 

Poem for Rihanna

 

Because you pose next to a penguin

in daylight, and by nightfall you prop

up a slow loris, matching spit

with animal. Do you know

that the slow loris, endangered,

bites with toxic saliva?

Because in “Man Down” you wear

platform heels the color of dart frogs,

keep a pistol in your underwear

drawer with which you shoot

your rapist. Because your only promise

was not to be sorry, and from that oath

you tattoo Isis, wings spread,

sieving your skin. Because once

you were filmed in the tall grass.

It was August. Sparklers swarmed

the field. Ireland unpeeled your rind

with its golden shade. Because next

the farmer who owned the land

said, “The state of undress

is becoming inappropriate.”

Because despite yourself, you left

the premises. Because your name

is Robyn, and Robyn hides

most of the time. Because she emerges

in Barbados, where the tide

wracks her knees and the sun tames

the hair on her neck, transporting

you back to girlhood—that small

girl, the shy one, who guarded

herself with a notebook,

left the island at sixteen.

Because a 777 transported

you to seven countries in seven nights.

Because you held your fans

hostage with diamonds.

Because you never said you’d conquer

your flaws. Because I don’t want

to live in a world where self-respect

is governed by what a woman does

with her vagina. How about her

composition? How about her empire?

Because once I sang “We Found Love”

in Yogyakarta with a stranger

and his guitar before he broke

fast at dawn. In the same city

as you, I’ve searched all floodlights.

Where is Rihanna in this city?

I’ve asked Paris. Where is Rihanna

in this city? I’ve asked New York.

Because in Houston you told a dancer

to dream big, dream huge

as you slipped her money.

Because in “Half of Me” you admit

that not giving a fuck is only half

of it. Because I don’t know where to find

love in a hopeless place, but you remind

me, Robyn, again, again: it’s possible.