May 18, 2010

Kundiman Lineages

We All Belong to a Love Song Called Kundiman - Part 2

Here are our Origins (aka Part 1)

Here are our Lineages (aka Part 2):

I Always See Her With A Typewriter In The Sun ~ For Gloria Anzaldúa | Bushra Rehman

Taken Names: The Poetic Lineage of Jai Arun Ravine | Jai Arun Ravine

Our Subversive Anatomies: The Embodied Feminist Poetics of Jai Arun Ravine | Margaret Rhee

A Moving Vehicle: The Poetry of Margaret Rhee | Jai Arun Ravine

feminist sentences take time and space / look new like this: | Soham Patel

Curated by Ching-In Chen

feminist sentences take time and space / look new like this: | Soham Patel

Hundreds of millions of years ago, days were many hours shorter.

All things, sounds, stories, and beings were related, and this complexity was more obvious. It was not simplified by ideas of relationship in one person’s mind.

Paths of energy were forced to stay in the present moment by being free of reference, making it impossible to focus on two things at once, and showing by its quietness that energy of attention is as much a source of value and of turbulence as energy of emotion.

As lava bursts from the ground to cover the planet, it also freed water, which escaped as massive billowing fog, a contradicting ambition of consciousness to acquire impressions and retain strong feeling.

Fog is a kind of grounded cloud composed like any cloud of tiny drops of water or of ice crystals, forming an ice fog.(i)

There are six sentences here—the beginning of “Fog,” a poem by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. Much like the sentences in “Resistance,” the poem Lyn Hejinian wrote and studies in her essay “The Rejection of Closure,” the sentences in “Fog” exercise a range of syntactic strategies that are working to connect statements and form conjunctions between ideas and things. Berssenbrugge begins by subverting the traditional subject-then-verb clause construction of a sentence and qualifies temporality first before arriving at the first sentence’s subject: “days” and already in eleven words, the poem situates in an intensely comparative moment of time without even having to utter explicitly many particularities of the temporalities being compared. That is to say readers might intuit that “days were much shorter” [than they are now], or that “complexity was more obvious” [“Hundreds of millions of years ago”], but Berssenbrugge is keen on keeping the sentences open and thus what Hejinian would call “maximally excited” by way of her subtle omissions. The second sentence continues on to coalesce on itself as a list of interconnected elements followed by a definitional inversion (complexity becomes obvious). Complexity returns as a pronoun, its binary opposition arrives in the sentence that follows and the poem nods to a collective readership by way of refusing the possibility of simplification ever taking place “in one person’s mind.” A passive voice then forces a stable notion of subject out of the poem’s moment just before a vertical burst of lava and fog erupts amidst the long lines many have noted are signature in Berssenbrugge poems after The Heat Bird (1983). What happens here that is also so awesomely Berssenbrugge is a turn towards a doubling-up of narration; an unfolding that becomes activity both in the poem and about the poem. As in, the “paths of energy” being “forced to stay in the present moment” force the reader to meditate as the poem becomes a meditation over turbulences and emotion within the moment of transmission the poem is holding now. It is as if the reader turns into the path of energy. The work continues to engage a reading that is both directive and generative allowing consciousness in within the realms of lyric emotion before returning to the scientifically narrative register that begins the poem. All while still the fog, through Berssenbrugge’s long sentences, retains its multivalence—omnipresent as water, as cloud, as crystals, as ice.

Since water is 800 times denser than air, investigators were long puzzled as to why fogs did not quickly disappear through fallout of water particles to the ground.

It turns out that the drops do fall, but in fog creating conditions, they are buoyed up by rising currents, or they are continually replaced by new drops condensing from water vapor in the air.

Their realism is enhanced by smoothing away or ignoring discontinuities in the fog, for images of what we really see when we travel. Beautiful, unrepeatable, fleeting impressions can be framed only within the contradicting ambition of her consciousness to acquire impressions and retain her feeling, a way of repeating a dream.

Large areas of the sky change from totally transparent to nearly opaque within a few minutes, although throughout a lifetime, the night sky appears remarkably constant.

Showing what they are without revealing what they are, paths of energy are transformed at the moment before their dissemination into an empty field, like dew you see on a spiderweb when the sun hits it, after there were spiders.(ii)

In a conversation with Arthur Sze, Berssenbrugge talks about how she found herself using the language of science, which she considers to be masculine, during “an early period” of feminism as an attempt at making masculine language feminine.(iii) The last six sentences that conclude the first part of “Fog” enhance realism and represent a narration that ceases to become a linear thing, it evaporates to become a thing of language explaining what fog is - and a thing of a modernist experimental lyric expressing the speaker’s desire to “[s]how… what [she is] without revealing what [she is],”. That is to say here the poem contains transparency by way of innovation that disintegrates the dichotomy between a traditionally considered to be masculine and a traditionally considered to be feminine concern with language: [what is explained by science/what is felt]. The identity formation of the poem accumulates a new layer once again by these gestures towards distancing and towards amalgamation.

Berssenbrugge persists with a seemingly detached (distanced) scientific language. Taking on a rhetorical stance that brings in the language of experts: “the investigators were long puzzled” as the poem begins to experiment with a conjectural exploration of fog’s phenomenology. The focus shifts to a subtle language of intimacy in the two sentence stanza that begins: “Their realism is enhanced…”. Here the poem throws feeling and emotion right in with the scientific language—discontinuity comes to be described as beautiful, fleeting, and “her” ambitions enter the poem along with a nod toward an oneiric ontology.

The first part of the poem ends with a return to the dynamic particularities of the temporal—making a phrasal addendum about time, “after there were spiders.” This final clause is both a demonstration of the poem’s own self-conscious moment of insistence by way of revision and a variance of a kind of repetition insistent on making one last expression on the way the poem thinks about how it will take up space and time before it ends as part one and moves to become part two.

In his book, Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry Since 1965, Timothy Yu situates Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge in a group of Asian American poets that include John Yau, Myung Mi Kim, and Tan Lin. One factor surrounding content building a categorization of these poets as experimental and Asian American includes the fact that they don’t write in the “familiar Asian American literary modes of autobiographical lyric and narratives of family history.”(iv) Berssenbrugge’s work also composes a lyric narrative that experiments by allowing her “I,” as Brian Kim Stefens acknowledges in “Remote Parsee: An Alternative Grammar of Asian North American Poetry,” to become “the site of all her narrative negotiations.”(v) The “I” in a Berssenbrugge poem is unstable, sure, it also expresses emotion and takes on a variance of language registers that do not prescribe agency over any of the objects in her poems—she finds a way to give voice without being chap or despotic. And that is easier said than done.

I looked to my right. Though sun wasn’t yet behind
them, it was bright near each tree at the top
of the ridge in silhouette. These were precise
too, on a closer edge outside time, being botanical
I mix outside time and passing time, across
which suspends a net of our distance or map
in veering scale, that oils sinuous ligaments
or dissolves them into a clear liquid of disparates
that cannot be cleaned. Its water glows like wing bars
and remains red and flat in pools. On the way
to that town there were green waist-high meters on the plain
There was a sharp, yellow line on the blacktop
In rain it remains sharp, but its dimension below the road
softens and lengthens through aquifers. The eagles’
wingbones began to stretch open with practicing, so
luminous space in their wings showed against the sky
giving each a great delicacy in turns (vi)

Berssenbrugge’s earlier stanzas manifest an identity-construction in a self-referential style of arrangement and rearrangement. The Heat Bird is a collection of four longer poems that come together through series to eventually to connect as one long narrative. Berssenbrugge directs the perpetual motion of the sentence as precise placeholders of time within each line through a heavy enjambment that often rejects end of sentence punctuations that might diminish the urgent need for the reader to fill in gaps/make leaps between sentences: “There was a sharp, yellow line on the blacktop/In rain it remains sharp, but its dimension below the road/softens and lengthens through aquifers.” Berssenbrugge’s reconciliation with the exterior/interior nature/culture question of perception occurs while their palimpsests remain visible with the image of paint and rain. Time suspends and a certain longing is uttered here in “The Heat Bird” but Berssenbrugge’s longing embraces itself as longing and cannot configure where desire ends and satiation begins because it is suspended on her “veering scale.”

For Berssenbrugge, a rendering sight of time’s affects over landscapes becomes a reminder of the importance and force of geography. Berssenbrugge’s longer lines quietly take up as much space as a Whitmanic yawp is loud. Devotion to the details of landscape through new uses of grammar compositions, collage work, and language leaps situate her work in a venue for a new kind of ecopoetry: an ecopoetry that moves beyond nature and place based writing to consider that matter(s) surrounding our ecological dilemma in a way that avoids didacticism and gloom and doom rhetoric—it sings instead. Her fragments and gaps are difficult but they also are dialed in on the reader, making sure for a referential pacing within the leaps. Her poetics is a mix of what’s mythic and everyday, urban and rural, tangible and philosophical—she is always mixing things, and perhaps a difficulty to make meaning or take her meaning(s) is what draws me in as a reader in to engage.

(i) “Fog” was originally published in Empathy (Station Hill Press, 1989). This version is from I Love Artists. (New California Poetry, 2006). 38. In an interview with Charles Bernstein, [] Berssenbrugge renders that “Fog,” a poem in twelve parts, is the only prose poem.

(ii) Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, “Fog,” I Love Artists. 38-39.

(iii) She also says to Sze in this conversation that her work is a “pragmatic response to modern life which fragmented and fast” and that she feels “committed to the sentence” and finds that in revision and writing she’ll “whittle away at the sentence” as “people don’t use sentences anymore.” Readings & Conversations: Reading by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge; Conversation with Arthur Sze. Lannan Foundation. Thunder Road Productions. 2000.

(iv) Timothy Yu, Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry Since 1965, Stanford University Press (Stanford, 2009). 73.

(v) Brian Kim Stefans, “Remote Parsee: An Alternative Grammar of Asian North American Poetry,” Telling It Slant: Avant-Garde Poetics of the 1990s, ed. Wallace and Marks, The University of Alabama Press. (Tuscaloosa, 2002). 49.

(vi) Berssenbrugge, from “The Heat Bird” originally published in The Heat Bird (Burning Deck Press, 1983). Version borrowed from here is section 8 in I Love Artists 20-21.

Soham Patel: At the 2006, 2007, and 2009 Kundiman retreats, I had the honors of studying with Kazim Ali, Myung Mi Kim, Prageeta Sharma, and Staceyann Chin. On day one of every retreat, the organizers give each fellow a portrait of an Asian-American poet. The portrait is a representation of the fellow’s Patron Poet, someone the organizers consider to be an important poet for that particular fellow to read. Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge was my Patron Poet at the 2007 retreat. My poems have been featured in Anti-, Foursquare, and Muse India. Some book reviews are in Boxcar Poetry Review and Arch. I am also one of the editors at A Joint Called Pauline.

A Moving Vehicle: The Poetry of Margaret Rhee | Jai Arun Ravine

Accidentally, I met Margaret Rhee. An accident can mean either a mishap or a crash.

Crashing on the couch of a friend of a friend, not more than a week fresh in San Francisco, my host took me to a bar in the outer Mission, and ran into a friend who, after meeting me for about two minutes, contacted me a few days later. “There’s someone you should meet.”

When I first met Margaret, she had blue gaffer tape all up and down her arm. I was late (accidentally). She was shooting for her QWOCMAP (Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project) film All Of Me, which would document the formation of an Asian and Pacific Islander (A&PI) drag king troupe, later known as The Rice Kings, of which I would become a part.

Is this chance? Calamity? Collision?

I think of Margaret when I think about my lineage of Asian American poetry, since she ushered me into the queer A&PI community in the bay area and introduced me to Kundiman. I think about all the things that had to be set in motion in order to manifest this accidental meeting.

An accident can mean a nonessential attribute or characteristic, but there is nothing nonessential about Margaret’s poetry. In engaging three of her poems—“the elegy of the trellis” (published in Here is a Pen: An Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets, Achiote Press, 2009), “Education in Numbers and Letters” and “My Brutal Algebra”—the strokes are indeed brutal, necessary with an ache, sore and gasping.

My Brutal Algebra” was one of the first poems I heard Margaret read aloud, at an Achiote Press reading in Oakland. Her poem rose in relief from the other readings—I told her how much I was struck by it. She smiled and said, “Because it’s about the body.”

The experience of body as land/scape. As land/scrape. As land/scope. In Margaret’s algebriacs I am flipping through diagrammed amputations and cross sections of live tissue in the process of mutation. The body of the one desired is a living textbook, opening, and we are taking notations—we must take them. “Since scientists never consider those breaths that never leave you. / That is essential to the body,” writes Margaret.

An accident often results in injury or death. In “the elegy of the trellis” Margaret weaves stems and vines into an emotional portrait of her father’s death. At first glance the fragmented lines and spacing give the impression of an airy lightness, yet as I read each word drops like a stone, the spaces gasp and the rhythm surprises. “before blood stroke bed sore and eyes i pleaded open”

In a bio Margaret cites the warm, humid summers of Virginia during Kundiman retreats as the place where she fell in love with poetry. I think about how humidity can usher in emotions either swift or slow but always thick and heavy. The weight of “the elegy of the trellis” masquerades in the tension between its thick, overwhelming fragrance and its bitten phrasing. It disguises itself as small and contained, but actually each space, each breath, is exploding.

An accident is often without apparent cause, involves a moving vehicle or an unplanned event or conception. “Education in Numbers and Letters” was written and read for an April 1, 2010 Solidarity Reading on UC Berkeley campus regarding budget cuts to education in the UC system. Margaret makes connections between the prison industrial complex and the academic industrial complex and talks about teaching research methods to a woman in prison:

She tells me,

Her father “lives under the 80

His address A sign for food”

She poses “why do so many incarcerated women come from poverty”

Then admits, “I love research,”

Three words of longing

Of terror and exuberant possibility

With longing and terror this poem makes me think about the increasing inaccessibility of college education, about the ways school systems lock up students behind gates, urging them to manufacture and mass-produce only certain ideas, reducing them to common denominators in economic transactions.

I think about the severe divide between cultural production and organizing within and outside of academia, a divide that continues to widen until there is almost no cross-communication. I think about how people live inside universities, inside prisons, fed by institutional jargon, becoming more and more isolated.

Margaret demonstrates poetry’s ability to be a moving vehicle. To move the blood in your cells, to move you to action. In her poems the causes are apparent, what is conceived has been articulately planned, each letter and space involves a birth, a change.

(Text may be altered from the original due to formatting.)


Jai Arun Ravine is a trans-identified, multi-disciplinary writer, dancer, visual and performing artist of mixed Thai and white American heritage. Jai received an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University and a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Hollins University. As a Kundiman Fellow Jai has studied with Myung Mi Kim and Staceyann Chin. Jai’s first chapbook, IS THIS JANUARY, is forthcoming from Corollary Press. For more information, visit

Photo by Christine Pan & Mia Nakano Photography.

Our Subversive Anatomies: The Embodied Feminist Poetics of Jai Arun Ravine | Margaret Rhee

“Yet the child began to grow a phantom tongue. At first it was a test, to see if such faculties of speech were possible. Then it became a practice. The child began to dream the sweetness of kanom, the scent of roots muddied in the riverbank. Began to climb backwards in search of the other end of her mother’s lost tongue.” – Jai Arun Ravine from “Llao: how to peel in seven lessons”

"May I write words more naked than flesh, stronger than bone, more
resilient than sinew, sensitive than nerve." –Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

"If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." – Emily Dickinson

Feminist and gender non-conforming experimental poet Jai Arun Ravine’s innovative and evocative poetry and upholds Emily Dickenson’s definition: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know this is poetry.” Reading Ravine’s work, I am startled, provoked, and inspired, hir’s poetics runs deep.
through my body, my veins, and flows into my feminist raised fist: our hearts.

Hir’s poetics simultaneously pulls, cuts, and bridges apparent boundaries, providing a trans-national-genre-language-gender poetics. Ravine’s language serves as a healing wound: puncturing through the page, with words, spaces, and narrative—until unrecognizably beautiful.

This is the work of a feminist Kundiman poet: whose consciousness, body, and poetics transcends constructed boundaries, and these limiting borders of the self. In doing so, Ravine transforms our notion of a poem, poet, and feminist through subverting the page.

This Is What A Feminist Poet Looks Like

I could describe Jai’s handsome face, and stylish clothes, or the fact that se does not only write poetry, but is also an amazing performance artist, drag king, and activist extraordinaire. Yeah, se is pretty much is more than amazing. And se is a dear friend to me. But here, I’m going to attempt to answer, this age-new question: What does a Kundiman feminist poet look like?

Short answer:

Pretty damn hot.

* * *
Long Answer:

I write as a friend of Ravine’s but also all at once, a fan, an admirer and reader of hir’s work. I’m an advocate for poets like Ravine, whose poetics transgress the very rigid boundaries that limit our subjectivity.

Meaning: hir’s feminist poetry, has saved me.

At this particular moment, post-1965-stonewall-civil rights-LA riots, we live in a disillusioned, neoliberal, & post-racial world…yet, mixed race, Thai, and queer poet, Ravine’s work is important not only because it survives the page, but for the survival of our selves. Our hearts. Because to add to Emily Dickenson’s definition of poetry, I want to add truth. It’s poetry, when the intimate poetics is shared, from one poet, to a reader and for a community. And we are all blessed to have a truth teller in our midst.

In hir’s manuscript, “Llao: how to peel in seven lessons,” published in Tinfish 18: The Long Poem Issue, Ravine re-imagines hir/she’s mothers immigration from Thailand to the U.S. Through an interweaving of images from a Thai language worksheet, Ravine walks us through the seven lessons, of how to peel. The body and the knife is evoked prominently here and in much of Ravine’s work. Like our lineage of feminist poet subversives, the body is configured within the poem, and on the page, but is cut through and reworked into an utterly new poetics.

I feel these excerpts need no critical explanation: as if scholarly engagement can really help one read a poem. So I ask you here to work through this question with me… although virtually. But let’s provoke an embodied experience.

So this lesson, is to read & listen.

What does a feminist poet sound like?

“Execution: Gaw achieved such precision with her knife. There is no question that huddling around the fruit, intercepting its skin latitudinally, is the best method available. There is no distance when the tail is broken. One long line eventually curves. Persistence rewarded with a diversion, a deviation.”

“The birth of Ram was her anchor, but now, so tied, she could not differentiate between the shape of

1) noose, or the severity of
2) salvage

She had survived, had pulled herself across water to pull this child upon this land. What should this child know?”


In a more recent poem, written in 2009,“We Fear the Body’s Buried Dreams,” (with italicized text from Hermaphordite, Mon Amour by Richard Collins) Ravine again engages and questions the body, a theme persistent in hir’s work:

“Before I had a name for it,
I had a nightmare.
They threw away my wok—
And my knife, you know my knife?”

“A boxing coach owned my breasts
which I couldn’t conceal

I remember looking at nude female torsos
In books, drawn to the shape of white breasts
And stomachs, the divots of shade

Wanting, knowing I wasn’t.”

“I want to change my sex as I change my shirt

I’m stabbed in the chest,
And the hand that wields my blackened knife has a face”

In Ravine’s poetics, the body and the knife figure evocatively, as a metaphor which resonates how language works as a knife dissecting the constructed hegemonic notions of the body and the nation-state Through a feminist move of diaspora, Ravine also provides interventions made through the experimentation of narrative and form.

Moreover, as quoted above in the beginning of this experimental essay/hybrid text & evocation, poet Teresa Hak Kyung Cha imagined what Sappho might say, (a point that the quote was imagined, was discovered by amazing Asian American feminist literary scholar, Shelly Sunn Wong). Like Ravine, Cha’s act of writing is linked with the body from “flesh,” “bone,” “sinew,” and “nerve.” Cha’s inclusion of anatomy resonates with Ravine’s usage of the body as an analytic and metaphorical space to subvert hegemonic ideologies.

As literary scholar (also, fabulous Asian American feminist scholar) Lisa Lowe writes: “Throughout (Cha’s) Dictee, it is often the physical body, which bears the traces of colonial...mutilation and the literal and figural site from which different, often fragmented, speech is uttered in resistance to the imposed competency in the colonizer’s language.”

Like Cha, and our lineage of feminist poets, Jai Arun Ravine interweaves and subverts notions of the body, metaphorically within the poems and physically. The poems breaks, cuts, and re-creates the page with language. Hir’s language. A strategy that marginalized subjects utilized when unable to speak. Moreover, Ravine’s intimate, hopeful, and politically charged poetics, grapples not only with the very notion of a poem, but radically engages with the narrative of the Asian immigrant mother, pulling silenced voices, center, and in the process, finding ourselves. From reimagining hir’s mothers immigration from Thailand, Ravine writes: “She awaited permission to borrow a new tongue.” And with no temporal borders asserted here, Cha continues Ravine, as Ravine continues Cha, so we can be “who you really are.”
Margaret Rhee is a poet, media artist and interdisciplinary scholar. She has published poems in Back Room Live, the Berkeley Poetry Review, and co-edited the chapbook Here is a Pen: An Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets (published by Achiote Press) with amazing Kundiman feministas Ching-In Chen and Debbie Yee. Currently, she is a doctoral student in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. She attended the inaugural Kundiman poetry retreat, and studied with Kundiman feminist mentors such as Joseph O. Legaspi, Marilyn Chin, Patrick Rosal, Myung Mi Kim, Prageeta Sharma, Oliver de la Paz, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil. At Kundiman, she fell in love with poetry & there there.

Taken Names: The Poetic Lineage of Jai Arun Ravine | Jai Arun Ravine

T.J. Anderson III, Blood Octave: “I dictate this...”

As a queer body, a gender non-conforming body and a half-white body, Kundiman has played a large part in healing scars caused by lineages of exclusion—from “woman,” from “transgender,” from “person of color,” from “Thai,” from “poet.”

Ronaldo V. Wilson, Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man: “The brown boy never dreams of being his own body.”

I came of age at a women’s college amongst creative white dykes. I grasped “writer,” “dancer,” “queer,” “woman.” Sometimes “Asian American” but more often “half-Thai.” Mostly “impostor.” I looked for Thailand in a bookstore in Charleston, West Virginia. Such explanations had already been erased. I never learned how to ask.

Myung Mi Kim, Under Flag: “Not to have seen it yet inheriting it.”

mother’s umbilical cord coiled

around my neck slipped knot

bound—and the routes we take to escape

Remember to breathe.” “Speak louder.” “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Padcha Tuntha-obas, trespasses: “fluency. lacking. or was / it. too grammatical. / or was it not to be / explained”

I dreamed the contours and shapes of everything outside the window, but never my own body. I kept looking out the window. I looked until I wasn’t really there.

Bhanu Kapil, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers: “This is a specific example of a hunger that is immigrant, in that you find yourself unable to ask for what you really want.”

I was obsessed with touch and skin, with edges. I wasn’t sure where desire originated in the body, but I wanted to enter and be entered. I wanted to be ripped open.

lineages of silence:

a knife releasing skin from fruit

a rope I have been trying to pull to reach the end of to cut

In grad school I grasped “person of color” for the first time, tentatively, then with anger and insecurity. Mixed, I was cornered into a defensive position of perpetual opposition. I wanted to escape, to peel, to cloak. I wanted to find all the answers. I wanted to take on other names.

kari edwards, obedience: “I have been deprived of a name / kept quiet in a place / called eventually / years pass / objects pass / I pass through objects in space”

Ghosted, I dissolved into poetry’s disembodied, heady academia. Very little I read actually spoke to me. Classmates scrawled no more than “Beautiful!” in the margins. Bitter, I let go of “poet.” Bitter, I let go of “woman.”

Akilah Oliver, the she said dialogues: flesh memory: “what is this bitch of fear riding the waves around my chest... / this place where the hard wound of hate eats... / I want the way to myself”

wrestled wind in the trachea

not line but delineation

bordered and between

located in a glossary of negation

[lineages of disidentification]

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Temps Morts: “in search of through which finally my own proper / identity can be retrieved. through the enforcement / of identity here the doubling of identity / the double estrangement.”

Estranged from “woman” by “queer,” estranged from “Thai” by “queer,” estranged from “Thai” by “American,” estranged from “Asian” by “white,” estranged from “fag” by “female-bodied,” estranged from “trans” by “person of color.” Hybrids, hyphens. Cyborgs, chimeras, aliens. Illegible desires and ineligible transmigrations. Fed up with the fragments that define us.

Kazim Ali, Bright Felon: “Is that how it happens: one day you turn around a corner and your body is suddenly different and you want something you never wanted before.”

Finding feminism and affinity in the poetics of gay men of color. Surgically removing “she” from the body. “Ma’m”-ed at the grocery store. “Sir”-ed in the post office. Having to decide whether it is safer to use the men’s or women’s restroom. Passing in and out of. Not.

Cathy Park Hong, Translating Mo’um: “where / I performed body holding body”

Ronaldo V. Wilson, Narrative of the Life...: “What would have happened to his small, dreaming brown frame of a body if it had not pudged out into the impossible desire to be white, small, and a girl like Tracy Austin? What if he could have seen Serena then, imagined invading her body, becoming her muscled frame, pounding the ball back into oblivion?”

Kundiman opens up a space for me within the landscape of Asian American poetics and allows me, with love, to grasp my own definitions. It has made it possible for me to be an Asian American poet, to be Thai and queer and trans, as if for the first time.

By connecting with a community of Kundiman poets the poetry world is finally made relevant to me. I find that we are all here, with calloused thumbs enunciating our lineages, with gut exhalations languaging our existence. I now hold a language with which to communicate about myself and my work. I have come to believe again in poetry’s ability to make change. I know what is possible.

Craig Santos Perez, from unincorporated territory [hacha]: “if / fires” –strangle this “forced tongue” let / wind–shield the culled–remains as [langet]- / an arrangement “of opening / language / among common” debris

Kundiman writes me within myself. Kundiman is my lineage.

heart dawn raven

water through earth

this and other taken names


Jai Arun Ravine is a trans-identified, multi-disciplinary writer, dancer, visual and performing artist of mixed Thai and white American heritage. Jai received an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University and a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Hollins University. As a Kundiman Fellow Jai has studied with Myung Mi Kim and Staceyann Chin. Jai’s first chapbook, IS THIS JANUARY, is forthcoming from Corollary Press. For more information, visit

Photo by Christine Pan & Mia Nakano Photography.

I Always See Her With A Typewriter In The Sun ~ For Gloria Anzaldúa | Bushra Rehman

Daisy and I used to joke, you’re Cherríe and I’m Gloria , when we were editing our book. (i) There was something about the softness and hardness we wanted to evoke in the process. And yes, perhaps we did idolize, and yes, who’s the soft and who’s the hard and what did we really mean? It was our version of you’re Miranda, you’re Samantha, but we were young, and as the young are wont to do, we idolized, tried to imagine our lives by holding them up to the women in front of us.

So you can imagine our joy when Rebecca Hurdis, one of the contributors to Colonize This! invited Daisy and me to the 20th anniversary celebration of This Bridge Called My Back at UC Berkeley. (ii) Rebecca had written movingly about her discovery of This Bridge (her essay inspiring my own discovery, because yes, I was just as blinded by whitewashed history). She was now actively working on the conference: Practicing Transgression: Radical Women of Color for the 21st Century. An exciting aspect of the conference was that Third Woman Press was re-printing This Bridge as it had gone out of print when Kitchen Table Press had sadly folded. It felt like a family reunion. So many of the women had gathered: Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, Barbara Smith, Angela Davis and many of the contributors. I was to read poetry; Daisy and I were to speak about our book that had not yet been published.

I remember light heart, but if I can take a moment to truly remember it was a light heart among darkness, a feeling of emergency. It was February 2002. Need I say more about what it felt like to be a radical, anti-war, onto-the-bullshit-we-were-saying-and-thinking-about-Muslims stance I was in? It is a similar to the feeling I have now as I'm forced to read the Daily News and Post front pages on my long subway ride to Queens. Everywhere it is splattered: Pakistan and terrorism. Every morning about the Pakistani “terrorist” in Times Square. I know of the horrific effect this coverage will have in terms of justifying U.S. drone attacks which are hitting villages in Pakistan and killing innocent civilians. The U.S. government is banning journalists in the area for coverage, but international news provides another side to the story.

But thanks be to Gloria because also on my train ride this morning I am re-reading Gloria’s A Letter to Third World Women Writers. (iii) It is as if I have been hit by a bolt of energy, and I am twenty-seven again; my mouth is on the floor again, and Gloria is telling me to write again; she is saying yes, she does understand, that I am tired, overworked, frustrated, angry, weighed down by decades of sadness and guilt, centuries of brutality, and here I am craving sweets, doing everything but the writing, crawling up into a ball and wanting to sleep.

So I begin again, after many of my own starts and stops this entry about what it means to be a feminist poet. Gloria says, “Be simple, direct, immediate.”

Gloria, I will try.


My strongest impression from the conference, the feeling I left with and still hold with wonder in my mind was the intensity of seeing a generation of women before me. It wasn't until then that I began to believe I could have a future. A life ahead of me. My whole life, I was constantly told in direct and indirect ways that I would end up old, alone, and homeless if I persisted with my resistance to marriage, my wanting to write, to read. But here at UC Berkeley, feminist trans and women of color writers were laughing, and loving and having children and most were in their fifties, sixties, seventies.

I listened carefully while Angela outlined the deliberateness of the prison industrial complex and hammered another nail in the coffin in our heads about this country. I listened carefully while Barbara talked about how the words “identity politics” had been lifted from the Combahee Collective (iv) and how the original intention of the term and the practice were meant solely for revolutionary purposes. (Later, when Daisy and Kristina were discussing the superiority of Geminis vs. Leos, I intervened and reminded them of Barbara’s stance.)

Gloria’s talk was almost wordless. She projected a series of images on the wall. Is it too dramatic to say it was a spiritual experience and like every spiritual experience felt like an odd dream afterwards? She drew spirals and stones, let us know it was a spiritual journey we were on (not a clammering for awards and attention, not a selling out). I was blown away by it all. And when a journalist who had just been to Palestine broke down on the stage and started crying while reporting on what she had seen happening to Muslim children and families in Palestine, I bent down my head and cried, too.


Tonight, when I got home, in reaction to the front page covers, I tuned in to Democracy Now! An article caught my eye, another major historical happening at UC Berkeley. There had been an all night meeting to discuss divestment from arms dealers, companies that funded arms to Israel which were being used in the Occupied Territories. United Technology and General Electric included. Although the bill had passed in the student senate, the president Will Smelko had vetoed it. Another meeting had been called to overturn his veto. They needed fourteen out of eighteen votes. The arguments were impassioned. The meeting went on from 12 am (the time they finally found a room big enough to hold everyone) and went on until dawn. The bill could not be overturned at a vote of thirteen to five. The senate led many of the students out in silent protest.

Listening to this news, I remember Audre Lorde’s words: “The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” Then I think too of the alternate version, the Jamaican proverb Bob Marley passed on: “If you are a big tree, we are a small axe.”

This is why the tools keep trying. When I was young, protests were happening, but this level of protest was not raised about Israel. When I was in high school, no one knew what I was talking about when I wrote school reports on The Occupation, visited Human Right’s Watch and the New York Public Library finding much research on war crimes even back then in the Eighties, back when there were still journals and card catalogs. Computers were new and such hell was not being raised about Palestine. It has been a long time coming, horrific and slow. But it is happening.


It has always been a regret of mine that I didn’t get to sit and talk with Gloria before she died. Daisy, Kristina and I had planned a road trip to visit her on Daisy’s birthday, but eight days before we could meet her, Gloria passed on. Still, we kept our intention, drove up from Oakland, and stood outside her house for a moment. Then we walked to a tree that had been one of Gloria’s favorites by the ocean near her home. Daisy remembered the tree, but we knew for sure because of the candle someone had put in the nook of it. Someone who loved Gloria, too. And so the three (four) of us sat beneath the leaves in the beautiful Santa Cruz sun and ate cake for Daisy’s birthday.


My poems are like water, they move me from place to place. They brought me to meet you Gloria, to enter this spiritual path of resistance and poetry. In my dream, we always meet you by your tree.

In Memory, Gloria Anzaldúa

(September 26, 1942-May 15-2004)


(i) Cherríe and Gloria edited the ground-breaking anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (originally published by Kitchen Table Press in 1983, now by Third Woman Press in 2002). The title says it all and delivers.

(ii) Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism (Seal Press, 2002). Edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman. Foreword by Cherríe Moraga.

(iii) I could not find an online version of this letter, but I do recommend reading it in This Bridge Called My Back.

(iv) Combahee Collective is in This Bridge but also available:


Bushra Rehman was a vagabond poet who traveled for years with nothing more than a greyhound ticket and a book bag full of poems. She is co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism (Seal Press) and has been featured on BBC Radio 4, KPFA, the Brian Lehrer Show and in The New York Times, India Currents and NY Newsday. Her work has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Sepia Mutiny, Color Lines, Mizna, Curve, SAMAR and in numerous anthologies. She was honored to join Kundiman for its very first retreat and study with Ishle Yi Park and Marilyn Chin. She is scheduled to return to Kundiman this summer.