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Jos Charles created a playlist • 7 days ago
A popular mode stories have taken, in both poetry and other narratives, is the anecdote: a stable “I” communicates something that “happened,” in this time and world, or perhaps in a speculative adjacent world, to this “I.” This communication often happens, supposedly, horizontally—where the proposed “I” of the work is in an equally shared or estranged relationship with the reader (poems where a shared nostalgia, exception, surprise, occurs), but can also happen vertically across power, culture, or presumed social groups.
When articulated vertically, say from a position of power to one below, the relationship will inevitably hyper-realize certain narratives to the exclusion of others. We have here the discussions of representation, diversity, self-empowerment. One may, through hard work or circumstance, find herself speaking vice versa, from a position of marginalization to an audience that profits off that marginalization. From the perspective of the marginalized, this can take many forms, ranging from exploitation (the demand for an account, tokenization, exploitation of labor) to justice or empowerment. We have here questions of self-determination, (white, cis, et al) anxiety, redistribution of resources. Yet when the making of profit is supreme goal (and it rarely isn’t), this can position the readership, or is marketed to position the readership, into a position of objectivity, understanding, determination. Once they have sufficiently read, felt bad, felt inspired, consumed, they are awarded a broader world view, empathy, liberality.
This is a reduction. Likely, we all to varying degrees occupy multiple stations of readership, both through power and exclusion, and navigate our way accordingly. Hopefully, when entering that position of “liberal reader” we listen, learn, yes, but redistribute often, speak up when we are able, and act when opportunities present themselves to be acted upon. But what of when we occupy the position of the one looking up, feeling the words, already not ours, transform our audience into that body of liberal readership? We can let it happen, certainly. This often is all that’s available, better than most alternatives, and often brings payment, the promise of payment, or circulation. After all, we all need to eat. We could, equally and alternately, at the level of writing form resistances, or forms of barring or keeping at bay, the reader—leaving them just at the door of the text.
While repetition often establishes emphases, expectation, and carries within it, now, the implication of lyricism, it can also be used to decontextualize, pushing the reader into a critical space of imagining their involvement within the poem. These poems defy unintelligibility though, rather they create an opacity that demands interrogation, questioning who is or becomes legible through the poem. The following work features multiple uses of such repetitions: embodying the recurring boredoms of marginalization, recontextualizing words or phrases, upsetting implied patterns, forcing, again and again, grammatical structure as an imposition onto its subjects, or merely echoing a sound, passing as it has through a landscape, with its deformities and valleys and ruins, distorted and opaque, back to the speaker, who discovers there a voice, new, and not quite her own.
I learned this technique from the authors included here, and while I don't intend to project kinship or lineage, two poems from my collection feeld are included alongside them. I hope my work uses these techniques to similar effect.
Subhashini Kaligotla created a playlist • 24 days ago
Stubborn, scheming, versatile, segueing between ecstasy and desolation, between a mythic raas leela and a modern day bar stool in the East Village, the heart in Subhashini Kaligotla’s poems is a slippery, politically incorrect shape-shifter. Combining wry honesty with delicate poise, the poet invokes the age-old theme of desire --its delirium, indignity, desperation and capacity for sudden, unbidden equanimity. Crafted with a capacity to calibrate the many subtle textures of longing, these are poems of precision, strength and radiant surprise.
— ARUNDHATHI SUBRAMANIAM, poet
This radiant poetry collection navigates the seismic journey of the heart across continents, time and legend. What does it mean to be faithful? To belong to a city, a country or a lover? Kaligotla employs a steely eyed precision as she tunnels into these vast questions. Bridging the silences in the great Ramayana and the lonelinesses that great diasporic artists bear, she’s able to unlock new insight into what it means to make a post-modern home. A gorgeous read!
Growing up, the only Asian American comedian I knew was Margaret Cho. Now there’s Ali Wong, Hari Kondabolu, Mindy Kaling. Of course, these folks have been working in comedy for a while, so I don’t want to create some false or reductive generational distinction. I’m writing here mostly from my own experiences and impressions. Though perhaps it would be fair to say that many Asian Americans in comedy have only recently reached a more mainstream level of success. Anyway, the only Asian American comedy model I had for many years was Margaret Cho. So, it seemed to me like a very odd path for an Asian American to take, as much as I loved Cho’s work (still do). I didn’t think I was funny; I didn’t have many examples of Asian Americans being funny. I never considered comedy as a path for me.
Jump to the present and now I’ve got poetry readers telling me that they find my work funny, that they see humor as one of the primary tools I use. I might still be far too introverted to be a comedian—performing as a stand-up comic seems particularly terrifying—but I wonder, what if I’d had more examples and models when I was younger? What if associating Asian Americans with being funny wasn’t such a rare occurrence, back then? Not that the comedy field today is where it needs to be in terms of Asian American representation. And there’s still plenty of time for me to explore comedy—perhaps more as a writer of jokes and sketches than a performer of them.
My aim with this playlist is to introduce more folks to some seriously funny Asian Americans. I want to further amplify the work of Asian American poets who blend comedy with lyrical bolts of insight; who construct comedy through a line break, the shape of a stanza; who understand the comedic as part of a wide, wide range of emotional engagement. These are voices in poetry that use comedy as the best comedians do: to point out the absurd, to question power and norms, to delight us, to disarm us and render us vulnerable to ourselves.
I'm in the middle of reading "The Power", a sci-fi novel by Naomi Alderman. It's so good, and it inspired me to make this playlist exploring the poetics of electricity. The novel is changing how I read these poems and vice versa.