From Iris A. Law (Lantern Review):
1. Kimiko Hahn
I had studied the poem "The Artist's Daughter" as an undergrad, but it wasn't until last year that I finally read the eponymous collection (W.W. Norton 2004)–and I was blown away by its beautiful, but unflinching treatment of the human body. I recently read Hahn's most recent collection, Toxic Flora (W.W. Norton 2010)--which juxtaposes human experience with alternately lovely and bizarre tidbits drawn from the New York Times' science section–and absolutely loved it, too (what is there not to love about a speaker who imagines herself into the roles of a giant squid and a female praying mantis?).
2. Li-Young Lee
I would be amiss not to mention Lee in my list. He is the first Asian American poet whose work that I really came to know and love in college (even before I knew that there was a whole community of actively-producing Asian American poets out there). The very first signed book of poetry that I ever owned was a copy of Rose (BOA Editions 1986), which Lee inscribed for me with a few improvisational lines of verse about my first name. Though my critical and aesthetic interests, craft, and repertoire have fluctuated as I have grown as a poet, the tenderness and liquid clarity of Lee's work continues to move me. His most recent collection, Behind my Eyes (W.W. Norton 2009), is marvelously expansive in vision, and is worth buying in hardcover for the accompanying CD recording of him reading poems from the collection (Lee has a surprisingly soothing reading voice; as he confesses in one poem, his wife regularly falls asleep while he's talking to her).
3. Sarah Gambito
I've recently found myself very turned onto Sarah Gambito's work. I love the strangeness of it: the way her images float and lightly inhabit the space of each poem; and I love her sonics (which are soft and sensual, but slippery–like silk sliding off a bed). There's a strategic resonance to the stillness that pervades her work–it's like being in what musicians like to call a "live" room. I love something that she said about her process in an interview with the Fordham Observer: "I try to just be as still as I can in the city. If you can do that, it's almost impossible for poems not to come to you." I highly recommend both of her collections: Delivered (Persea 2009) and Matadora (Alice James Books 2004)
4. Oliver de la Paz
I love the searing sense of vision that inhabits de la Paz's work, as well as the arc and music of his voice–his poems truly sing. I've written before on the Lantern Review Blog about my appreciation for a couple of his "Aubade . . . " poems (see here and here). In his most recent collection, Requiem for the Orchard (U of Akron Press 2010), de la Paz applies his expansive gaze to the project of portraying the complexities of male adolescence with a deliciously intense, yet joyous abandon.
5. Barbara Jane Reyes
I hope it's not too tacky to include one of my fellow guest posters on my list, but I really am a big fan of Barbara Jane Reyes's work! I love the way that her poetics combine the close, tender gaze of the lover with a mythic scope that spans oceans and centuries: her speaker(s) possess a goddess-like wisdom and a vigilant radiance that defy both time and body. I also love the depth and intelligence of her politics and the fact that and she practices what she preaches, from generosity to literary activism (c.f. her critically astute blog, which I have quoted in academic papers before). Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish 2006)–her second book–is a favorite of mine, but her most recent collection Diwata (BOA Editions 2010) is gorgeous in its own right, too.
1. Frances Chung
Native of NY Chinatown, author of Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple, edited by Walter K. Lew, and published posthumously by Wesleyan University Press. I’ve previously written about her at the Poetry Foundation.
2. Craig Santos Perez
Chamoru poet, author of from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press), and from unincorporated territory [saina] (Omnidawn).
3. Suheir Hammad
Palestinian American poet, 2010-2011 Artist-in-Residence at NYU’s A/P/A Program, and author of Born Palestinian, Born Black (reissued by UpSet Press, 2010), breaking poems, and ZaatarDiva (both from Cypher Books). I have previously written about breaking poems at the Poetry Foundation.
4. Truong Tran
Bay Area based Vietnamese American poet and educator, author of The Book of Perceptions (Kearny Street Workshop Press), Placing the Accents, dust and conscience, within the margin, and Four Letter Words (Apogee Press).
5. I am going to cheat here, and name three up and coming Pinay poets: Rachelle Cruz, Niki Escobar, and Yael Villafranca. Look out for them. They’re gonna go places.
I definitely echo two of Barbara Jane Reyes’ picks – Suheir Hammad and Craig Santos Perez. Since Reyes has already mentioned these two, I’ll give you three more:
3. Agha Shahid Ali
Ali’s Call Me Ishmael Tonight (2004), Rooms Are Never Finished (2003), and The Country Without a Post Office (1998) are my personal favorites of his work. A Kashmiri American, he weaves Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Western poetic metaphors and forms into extremely lush and lyrical poetry.
4. Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Nezhukumatathil’s books are Lucky Fish (2011), Miracle Fruit (2003), and At the Drive-In Volcano (2007).
5. Bao Phi
Bao Phi is a spoken word poet who has been published in various anthologies and in a chapbook, Surviving the Translation. He is a community activist, and his work often comes from this context. He has a book of poems forthcoming from Coffee House Press.
The Future of APIA poetry? I think it...
1. Will, as a category, stimulate push back and envelope explosion regarding who and what an “Asian American” is and who or what a “Pacific Islander American” is. And it will continue to generate more understanding of multiracial identities and more hapaness. If you don’t know the term “hapa,” Google it. I heard a few years back that my kid had suddenly become a hapa because the definition had just been expanded to include people of intra-API heritages, like Japanese Korean American and Chinese Hawai’ian American. I won’t rest until I hear someone say, “As American as Mom, home, apple pie, and banh mi.”
2. Will utilize new technologies to take digital storytelling to the next levels, bringing voices, sounds, music, visual images, archival footage, together so that our cultures and questions and faces are fully present, both close and up front, and also in the context of historical events and movements. And all of this, like YouTube – which I think of as the Ālaya-vijñāna (storehouse consciousness) of contemporary society – accessible to just about everyone and containing just about everything. See this link if you want to muse on the insubstantial and ever-morphing nature of constructed identities arising from gazillions of perception-based thoughts, then apply it to APIA poetry, and you’ve got a description of its future. You may quote me on this.
3. Will continue to do what only poetry can do, revealing and exploring the many worlds through language, as jazz composer and musician Francis Wong once wrote me, “in solidarity and in sound.”
On behalf of all the contributors this past week, I offer gratitude to The Best American Poetry for making this week available to us. We’ve shared some of what we consider to be the best Asian Pacific Islander American poetry, which is also some of the best American poetry. May the information shared this week inform, challenge, and inspire.
If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area and want to check out some APIA poets, check out the upcoming Literary Night at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center on May 12, and Kartika Review's We Axe You To Speak poetry reading at the San Francisco Public Library (Main) on May 31.