Ten Years

About ten years ago I started this blog with the intention of archiving my writerly pursuits. At the time, I had decided to go for a master’s degree in creative writing, a decision I came to after several years of writing and studying on my own. My first blog posts were a review of Haruki Murakami and some thoughts on Mark Twain’s anti-war writing. My interests have not changed much since then. I still post responses to books I’ve enjoyed and my thoughts on literary topics. But as a writer, I have changed. Writing means more to me now than ever before.

In this blog, I documented my years as an MFA student at Naropa University. Having an MFA now seems ordinary to me because I know so many people with the same degree. But ten years ago I was anxious, scared of failure, and unsure if I was capable or worthy of an advanced degree. Apparently I was.

As a practical consideration, the MFA has provided little benefit. No editors or […]

Reader and Writer on a Contemplative Retreat

This month I went on a short retreat at a Catholic monastery. For just a few days I slept in the rooms where monks had slept, walked the forested paths surrounding the monastery, ate meals prepared by the monks, and attended their prayers. The monastery is where Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal had lived. I felt a writerly connection to the experience, as well as a spiritual connection.

In 2011, I met Ernesto Cardenal when he was reading in Denver. I was moved by the presence of his poetry, the ability his words have to attend to the moment. His poems were playful and tender, a mimetic balance between the essential qualities of life. Questions from the audience at the Museo de las Americas reflected Cardenal’s aesthetic, religious, and political activities. He fielded the questions as a poet, a priest, and as a respected political figure.

Thomas Merton also had some notoriety as a political figure due to his public denunciation of US involvement in Vietnam. But primarily Merton was spiritual. I first […]

News for 2014

Strangely enough, I have some writing news to share at the beginning of the year. In February, I will be reading with The Flash-Bomb Reading Series at the Mercury Cafe in Denver. The date (February 12th) is precariously close to Valentines Day, and that has determined the theme. I’m not sure how sexy my writing is, but I am sure I will expound on love in one form or another.

The second piece of news I have to share is that a story I wrote will be in the Denver Quarterly Vol. 48 Number 2. I had a great time writing Post Hole Digger, and I hope all who read it are equally delighted.

Notes on Territory

The title of this year’s spring symposium at Naropa was Territory , and these are my notes and thoughts on the presentations. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the panel and missed the reading. I will have to find each of the poets’ works to read in print, if I am to inflect the critical presentation with their poetic expressions.

The purpose of the symposium was to investigate writing on territory and borders, and as Bhanu Kapil said in her introduction, especially the feeling in the body just before crossing. Kapil noted the absence of voices, such as poets from the southwest who could speak directly to urgent immigration issues. There are so many voices missing. Heavy duty for those poets on the mic.

Talking about territories or nations (or even communities, in the sense of something that one can belong or not belong to) limits possibility, and Sueyeun Juliette Lee says it also gives substance. Nations and races are confabulations, fictions we perpetuate through our participation. She was talking about Korea, which […]

John Cage & Zen Poetics

On Thursday, Peter Jaeger gave a lecture at Naropa on John Cage and Zen poetics. In Cage fashion, Jaeger utilized the I Ching in the production and performance of his lecture. Breaks and pauses occurred as determined by randomly generated integers. One audience member, a junior at Naropa’s School of the Arts, said, the effect was provocative because he used a technique he was describing, but the pauses themselves were annoying.  I do not think Jaeger would disagree.

Cage’s performances frequently induced annoyance. In fact, when Cage gave a reading at Naropa in 1974 he sat for two hours with his back to the audience and was assailed with bird calls and thrown objects. Allen Ginsberg and other poets intervened to protect him. Jaeger explained that the annoyance audiences feel is a response to boredom, and Cage’s prescription for boredom was typically Zen:

If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at […]

Notes on Violence & Community

Last week, Naropa hosted the inaugural Symposium on Violence and Community at which four writers presented an installation/event, read poetry, and participated in a panel discussion. I missed the installations/events on Tuesday but was able to attend the reading and subsequent panel discussion on Wednesday.

Each participant displayed the hallmark style of poets associated with Naropa and the avant-garde; a panoply of images, concepts, and tropes radically juxtaposed to provoke and transmit. The flow of language, intense and heady, was contagious. Automatist inflected writing–reminiscent of mediums and soothsayers–doesn’t want to convey information but to impart states of mind. In other words, the poetry was mind altering, and my notes reflect this. Melissa Buzzeo submerges lovers in an ocean, down below the coral reef, among crustaceans and piranha. Refugees from an ancient forest, the lovers are simultaneously sacred and pariah. (shout out: Agamben) A sea change is possible in this context, and meaning becomes lost. The images are rich and strange; I’m not sure she says what I hear. Writing is like waste. Language excretes […]

Ain’t I authentic?

On Saturday I attended The Shape of the I, a conference sponsored by ELN, Colorado University’s journal of literary studies. I missed out on the Friday panels, but fortunately Timothy Morton recorded some of the discussion. In fact, the impetus for my attending the conference was to meet Professor Morton, shake his hand, and thank him for his pedagogy; I’ve been listening to his recorded lectures (via iTunesU) for a couple of years.

I enjoy panels and discussions such as these but always feel anxious and out of place at academic events. Actually, I feel anxious at all events (and non-events), but talk of literature and art is delectable and motivates me to confront my social anxiety. So despite my nervousness, I went. Even a small moment of bravery generates serendipity; another teacher of mine, Bhanu Kapil, happened to sit next to me in the afternoon. Instantly, I felt at home, as if I were back in a class at Paramita or an impromptu conference on the sidewalk outside Sycamore; even a brief moment […]

No-No Boy a novel by John Okada

I like this book. I discovered No-No Boy by John Okada at Naropa SWP a few years ago and finally got to read it. I am so glad I did.

While John Okada’s novel could be read for its historical perspective on the internment of Japanese-Americans and their experiences post-WWII, it was not written as a historical novel. No-No Boy was published just over a decade after the end of the war and is a vibrant, fresh exploration of the complex issues of identity (ethnic/cultural/racial/national).

As Frank Chin writes in the afterword, Okada shows the “identity crisis” to be both totally real and absolutely fake. Ichiro, the main character of the novel, is caught in the cracks between allowed, accepted, and foreclosed identities. Ichiro regrets his decision to refuse military service. Initially, he envies the other young men who decided to join the military, because they are American and have proven it through their service to the government.

Ichiro’s friend, Kenji, has returned an American hero, a disabled Veteran. Even the loss of a leg does […]

NYC: Imagine

Yesterday afternoon I arrived in New York. The plane ride was nice and quick. I had a chance to listen to a couple of dharma talks by Gil Fronsdal on loving kindness  or metta. I’ve practiced metta mediation a few times before, but as I step into the world of New York public education I’m going to make metta part of my regular meditation practice.

I was welcomed by my dear friend Isha and will be staying at her place for a week or so. She gave me a hug, helped me with my bags, and offered me juice. We talked a while, then she said she wanted to take me somewhere special.

After a short walk through Spanish Harlem and a ride on the 2-train, we met her brother Sanjog near Central Park. She took both of […]

M.I.A. is Revolution!

This weekend Doris and I saw an amazing/inspiring/disturbing/awesome show at the Filmore in Denver. M.I.A. tore the house down. This was the second time I saw her in Denver. I mentioned the first show in my Writer as Fry Cook blog post.

The opening act was The Egyptian Lover who kicked it old school. Hiphop has been around for a few decades now. There is a history. Very cool to experience some of that history. And you know when a brother been making music for 25 years, he’s learned a few things, improved on a few things, picked up some more technique. He delivered a nice set of electro-funk and the crowd was into it.

When M.I.A. came out she took charge of the stage. I’m not sure how best to describe her show. It’s hiphop and world music. […]