Celebrating National Poetry Month: Day 3

Continuing the celebration of National Poetry Month, Day 3, here is a picture of a reading I did at Intermedia Arts, in 2002, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Although I arrived in the Twin Cities in 1998, and there were numerous readings convened by the Paj Ntaub Voice and others, there aren’t many pictures of me from that era until this reading between members of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project and the Hmong Paj Ntaub Voice.

Most of the people I read with that evening are no longer writing creatively actively, but many of the ones who kept at it have gone on to significant recognition, primarily in prose and theater. That is an interesting pivot, to me.

The larger takeaway that I’d recommend considering is that refugee communities in diaspora that want a literary tradition, particularly a poetic one, will have to fight for such spaces. They are rarely freely given by their host communities.

There will often be little documentation of the early years because mainstream and even ethnic literary networks ostensibly created to nurture and foster such voices are often initially blind to emerging communities.

This isn’t a condemnation, strictly speaking, but an observation of a trend in immigration and refugee resettlement in America. One that deserves an honest assessment as we design ongoing arts policy, formally or informally, and ask if we want refugee literary traditions to emerge because of, or in spite of, the opportunities we put into place.

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This was an interesting reading because it came at that pivot point of the internet, just a few years before social media made publicizing events much easier and before the transition to digital cameras became very popular. This photo was from an actual film camera! We had a website bouncing off of an old AOL address which was still better than a Geocities account.  I mention this because it’s very difficult to find online remnants of the news releases and so on promoting the reading, and highlights the vulnerabilities of our current archives and Southeast Asian American literary and artistic history.

One might further argue: If our artists have this much trouble rebuilding our history, how much more difficult will it be for those in other human endeavors, whether law and politics, small business, the temples and church histories, the journey of our Southeast Asian american educators, doctors, nurses, scientists, etc.

I often get asked where someone can send their work as a new and inexperienced writer. Over time, one of the better resources for me were the opportunities at Newpages.com, which often has calls for younger, up and coming journals who I think are more open to new voices compared to more established, entrenched journals in the poetry ecosystem.This does also speak to the difference to me compared to prose writers who have to research the markets for the very best, the most prestigious and the highest paying opportunities for their work which they’ve often spent years polishing and gaining the confidence to send out there in search of readers and a bit of pay.

The poet, on the other hand, makes a small thing, after all, and the driving curiosity for many, I should think, is not notoriety but variance and diversity. Did you find yourself in an anarchist collective’s zine? A fledgling Buddhist magazine? Redbook, Skanky Possum, or Reader’s Digest? The International Journal of the Carnivorous Plant Society? An underground Dalit anthology? You’d be surprised where you can get a poem published.

There’s a joy poets more easily come across in finding readers around the world in tremendously interesting and diverse spaces that is difficult to explain to other artists. 

So: Read the guidelines, avoid excessive reading fees (As a poet I’ve never met a journal worth it’s salt that charged, but your mileage may vary.) and go ahead, pick three or four good poems others might enjoy and send it off, see what happens. Maybe one will change your life, maybe the sun simply rises on another day. Either one has merits. Good luck!

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