Monday, March 29, 2004

If a poet falls in the middle of the AWP madness, will anyone wink an eye?

Aside from the fun Screaming Monkeys reading at the Guild Complex and the Filipino diaspora panel at De Paul University, my one highlight at the Chicago 2004 AWP conference was the Tia Chucha Press group reading at 2:30 Friday afternoon. Among those Tia Chucha poets who read were Elizabeth Alexander, Carlos Cumpian, Van Jordan, and Michael warr. Other Tia Chucha poets in the audience were the great Kyoko Mori, Terrance Hays, and Patricia Smith. It seemed that the majority of us had our first books published by Tia Chucha Press and those books were instrumental in paving the groundwork for our careers. Even though that the founder of the press Luis Rodriguez was not there, we all sent him our gratitude and warm wishes. I was the second to the last reader and I decided to do a risky thing and read my phallo-centric poems. The Asian American male is the most emasculated and feminized character in American movies and media and I wanted to "rectify" that situation in my own way. So, I read my poems "Captiva," "In Tagalog Ibon Means Bird," and "Ang Tunay na Lalaki Stalks the Streets of New York." I noticed that the mostly Black and other peoples of color audience got the sexual irony and absurdity of the phallo-centric poems but one little old(er) lady found no humor in the poems and huffed off after I had finished my set. I found out later from Denise that the lady who left was the Pulitzer prize winning poet Maxine Kumin. I love Maxine's poems and her large contribution to American poetry and I admire her more now for coming to this Tia Chucha Press reading. Even though she thought my poems were too spicy, she was there to listen to the rich multicultural mix of poets on the panel. Hers was a genuine effort, can we say that of the other big prize winning white male poets in attendance at AWP who never made it to any of the minority panels?