Part 2 of 3 in our series on "What I am working on this summer"
To read Part 1 click here.
Sean Labrador y Manzano, Independent Scholar
Stormy Friday night, more tease than relief of the pending drought, February 6, 2015, the “Frank O’Hara ‘Lunch Poems’: 50th Anniversary All-Star Reading” at the McRoskey Mattress Company in San Francisco set the tone of what my summer would be, what my future should be. I count a handful of POC in the audience, a tendency of mine attending three readings a week for the past several years, betrays the demographics of the Bay Area. I count many friends, many instructors, many acquaintances, and many MFA students who have read for me at my monthly Mixer 2.0 at the Cat Club. After 3 hours, I catch up with a Professor and was asked how was the beginning of my year.
I offered the unusual, “I am feeling great!”
Then the, “Why?”
“I have been accepted to panel at two conferences.”
“And you’re going?”
“Of course not. I never do.”
To the obvious puzzlement, I explained how I fish through the UPenn Dept of English call for papers and as an exercise submit proposals to attractive panels. I mean why stop because I am no longer in grad school? When a proposal gets accepted, I wait a week before sending a letter sadly declining the invitation. Travel restricts participation. I have skipped several conferences.
The Professor says, “We will need to change that.”
First, The Circle for Asian American Literary Studies accepted my presentation, “From Trauma to Catharsis: Performing the Asian Avant Garde” for its session on “Trauma and the Asian Diasporic Literary Imagination” at the 26th annual conference of the American Literature Association, May 21-24, 2015 Boston, MA. In the original multi-media proposal I claimed to present observations and conclusions, successes and inadequacies of a three-day symposium in August 2014 I curated at the California Institute of Integral Studies, “From Trauma to Catharsis: Performing the Asian-Avant Garde.”
However, watching through social media, mostly Facebook, the fallout of Kenny Goldsmith’s Michael Brown’s autopsy report reading and later Vanessa Place’s Hattie McDaniel—how friends turning against each other defining appropriation and racism, to the point where boycotts and threats against Vanessa Place and any institution or person accommodating her, for example the AWP 2016 Los Angeles and the much anticipated (50th anniversary) Berkeley Poetry Conference, June 15-19, I reacted to steer my presentation along the lines of a genealogical search for an Asian Avant Garde, whatever that means, and where are the roots in the San Francisco Bay Area. I paired text with the video of a waterboarding performance in which I am rendered by an anthropologist. Speaking English is like drowning. My English suspected. I was so amazed by how people who are allied in many areas of the social, the cultural and the political were fracturing because of the sides taken because of Vanessa Place. And yet we all dip from the same fountain? Kelsey Street Press’ MG Roberts drove me to SFO. For last minute edits to my presentation, I borrowed her copy of Nests and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets edited by Timothy Yu and released by Kelsey Street Press earlier that month. In exchange I was to write a review (didn’t) during my flight. Somewhere above Missouri, when the Lebanese Northeastern University engineering undergrad next to me finally fell asleep—we started talking about his Pilipina nanny, I read the fourth and final essay in which Dorothy Wang frames Bhanu Kapil in the context of Kenny Goldsmith. Kenny Goldsmith!—I rested my head on the tray figuring how to reconcile him in this essay written a couple years before his poetry reading of Brown’s autopsy. At the conference, on a sufficient diet of cocktail hour hors d'oeuvres and vodka cranberries, thankful that I did not hear the name Baudrillard or post modernism in any of the sessions I sat in attendance, I medicated myself from being an “Independent Scholar” and savored how much I wanted institutional affiliation and the resources to conduct research. From Boston, I watched the rumors that maybe the BPC would be cancelled.
Second, Professor Jim O’Louglin accepted my multi-media presentation, “The Person Sitting in Darkness Writes Back: Mark Twain’s Pilipino and Chamorro Poets in a Time of Terror” for his “Mark Twain and the North American Review” panel at the bicentennial anniversary of the North American Review, June 11-13, 2015, University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. I must have read Twain’s 1901 essay “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” in high school alongside Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In the original proposal I claimed to discuss how Twain anticipated such writers like Barbara Jane Reyes, Ronaldo V. Wilson, Aimee Suzara, Lehua M.Taitano, and Craig Santos Perez. The result of teaching colonial subjects to speak and think in English, is a literati interrogating the very empire that supplied history. I would have needed more than the allotted time to do them justice.
Instead, in my exhaustion reading social media accounts of poets discrediting other poets or poets elevating other poets for being more socially acceptable, I decided to just emphasize how Twain’s essay is prophetic and timeless. I will return to these writers and their contributions another day. Furthermore, to include how the essay addresses current events, I was waiting for the Department of Defense to release official news reports and photography of the annual Balikatan exercise. While as much the exercise is about U.S. and Philippines military interoperability, it is also about humanitarian aid. The Seabees every year erect schoolrooms and the children are organized to dance their appreciation. In several of the photographs, marines landed on a familiar beach, identifiable by Camara and Capones islands in the background. In one telling pose, a marine points a rifle seemingly and harmlessly down range, I follow its barrel, to the direction of my mother’s property. Twain protested the Philippine American War, the seizure of the Philippines, the military atrocities such as waterboarding, and the growing fatigue and complacency of news reporting and lack of outrage.
I began the presentation with two US Navy recruitment campaigns. “America’s Navy: The Shield” was released in late 2014. I do not think a three-person family needs the protection of a huge military. With such comfort, the nation can go on the offensive. “U.S. Navy: Pin Map” was released early 2015. Notice the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan spearheading the Asian pivot. Towards the end, the view rises above Guam, then enlarges to include the Philippines, and China. Can a poet really stop the arms race in the East Philippine Sea?
Still with my professor’s support, I flew to Denver, then rendezvoused with three panelists in Boulder, from there drove 12 hours to Cedar Falls. Driving back on Sunday. The road trip reminding of Futurist manifestoes past metallic tepees, I am more certain risking a late career PhD.
Between the two conferences, the BPC evolved in to “Crosstalk, Color, Composition: A Berkeley Poetry Conference,” one day less, and 10 featured writers fewer. When I returned from Boston, I wrote to the BPC asking it to not cancel, sharing many concerns that I will not go in to detail. When I returned from Iowa, I was assigned the Wednesday afternoon seminar, “Asian-American Avant-Garde.” Whereas the CAALS presentation was 20-minutes long and the Twain presentation was 15-minutes long, the CCC presentation was 40-minutes long, or a blending of the two. At the time of this blog entry, I am attempting to rerecord the audio portion of the presentation to be archived. It will lack the urgency, the anger, the palpitating speed, the improvisation, and the dark humor.
As a result of Boston, I will be leading a CAALS roundtable at the 2016 ALA conference in San Francisco. Hopefully, through CFP, and elsewhere, I will soon post a call for proposals on the Mixed-Race Asian Avant Garde.
As a result of all three conferences, I have amassed enough persuasive material, I hope, to enter a PhD program in Race and Ethnicity, Transnationalism and the Pacific Rim, and Militarism. So working on applications is next.
In the momentum, I had proposed an AWP 2016 craft panel on writing buried histories within poetry, inspired by Mark Twain’s outrage of the Moro Crater Massacre in March 1906—the newsworthiness only to be eclipsed by the San Francisco Earthquake. Three days ago the AWP rejected the proposal but I am still convinced I need to organize some kind of memorial reading of the 600+ Muslims killed because dialogue was not favored—because the United States is rebuilding its presence in the archipelago, and in that presence, a surge of radicalization, and the precedent for combat operations.