Call for Papers — Adrienne Rich

XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics – to which Adrienne had been a long-time subscriber and regular contributor (her work appears in issues no. 12, no. 15/16, no. 20, and no. 23) –  is creating an anthology of essays on Adrienne and her work.

This is an open call to the many writers and activists whose own work has been shaped and/or defined by the work and life of Adrienne Rich. We seek brief essays (up to 750 words) that describe encounters with the person and/or her work: a detailed memory of attending an Adrienne Rich class or reading; a commentary on a favorite poem, essay, or volume; a personal encounter with the writer herself; a recollection of a personal experience shaped, in part or in whole, by Adrienne’s politics and ethos; or, really, any brief personal or critical essay that in some critical way engages the work and/or legacy of this extraordinary guide.

Send final version of your essay to Mark Nowak (mnowak [at] me [dot] com) by September 15, 2012.

Call for Papers— Guåhan & Hawai’i: Literature and Social Movements

Call for Papers— Guåhan & Hawai’i: Literature and Social Movements

XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics seeks poetry, fiction, nonfiction, scholarly essays, histories, and book reviews for a special issue — “Guåhan & Hawai’i: Literature and Social Movements” — that will be published in 2013.

This special issue takes an interdisciplinary approach to examine how literature and social movements are shaping and re-shaping the Pacific spaces of Guåhan and Hawai’i, two places that have a shared history of U.S. colonialism.

Currently, both Guåhan and Hawai’i are facing major, destructive changes as the U.S. aims to further militarize the islands and realign their military force into the Pacific. Activists, writers, scholars, and community members are resisting these efforts through creative and critical means—reflecting what Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) writer Haunani-Kay Trask called the “confluence of creativities” between literature and social movements.

Topics of interest include militarism, militourism, tourism, colonialism, the media, indigeneity, decolonization, education, activism, identity, rhetoric, aesthetics, gender, and sexuality.

For poems, please send a selection of five pieces. For fiction and nonfiction prose, send between 5-10 pages. For scholarly essays and histories, send between 15-20 pages.  Book reviews should be between 1700-2000 words.

Please email submissions relating to Guåhan to Professor Craig Santos Perez at and submissions relating to Hawai’i to Professor Brandy Nalani McDougall at

Submission deadline is June 31, 2012.

For more information on XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics, please visit:

XCP relocates to Manhattanville College

Our new mailing address:

XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics
c/o Mark Nowak, Director
Graduate Program in Creative Writing
Manhattanville College
2900 Purchase St.
Purchase, NY 10577


CFP — China: Literature and Social Movements

CFP — China: Literature and Social Movements (originally posted at UPENN CFP, 8/10)

XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics seeks scholarly essays, translators, and book reviewers for a special double issue on “China: Literature and Social Movements” that we will publish in 2011. Prospective contributors are asked to examine our special 2009 double issue (no. 21/22), “South Africa: Literature and Social Movements,” to learn more about the journal and the type of work we typically publish.

Sample essays from that issue include Priya Narismulu’s “‘All have joined in the struggle’: The Literature of the United Democratic Front in South Africa,” Zine Magubane’s “‘Can We As Mothers Not Take Our Fight to the Enemy?’: The Politics of Motherhood in South African Autobiography,” Pumla Dineo Gqola’s “‘Pushing out from the centre’: (Black) feminist imagination, redefined politics and emergent trends in South African Poetry,” and Kelwyn Sole’s “‘I have learned to hear more acutely’: Aesthetics, Agency and the Reader in Contemporary South African Poetry.”

Paper copies of submissions should be mailed to Mark Nowak, ed., XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics, c/o Rose O’Neill Literary House, Washington College, 300 Washington Avenue, Chestertown, MD., 21620. Submissions must be received by 1 March 2011. Papers can also be emailed to the editor at

Potential book reviewers should contact us at

For more information, please visit us at

Mark Nowak, Director
Rose O’Neill Literary House
Washington College
300 Washington Avenue
Chestertown, MD    21620

vamoose music:

In a requiem for a house—affluence and immigrants get hidden in welfare states.  Things can keep cool before cooking. Store in basements.  Up in a bedroom : spit and lip skin dry on harmonica metal.  A boy sings along about bodies and bottles of beer, smokes, some blond girl, about volume and righteousness.  The lamp left on all night.  There are enough eggs for fine and genuine bread puddings but there is no flour.  No bread.  All the reds burn thresholds down so much like the colors of hungry stomachs.

Soham Patel, originally published in XCP 23 (2010)

The Poetics of Islam

I was raised a Shia’ Muslim. Depending on who you listen to, the essential difference between Sunni and Shia’ Islam is that upon the prophet’s death, Shia’ followed what they believe to be the oral transmission of the prophet regarding succession by following Ali, his son-in-law, while Sunnis followed the more dominant group at the time (and since then) when the collective of chieftains deemed Ali too young to rule and elected Abu Bakr, one of the prophet’s companions to succeed him.

The lineage of Sunnis remained political rulers of the empire, while on the margins the Shia’ followed a lineage descended from Fatima, the prophet’s daughter. That’s why the term “muslim fundamentalist” is a supreme irony. Because almost as soon as breath left the body of the prophet, the Body of Islam fractured and within a single generation there were countless factions and factions within factions.

To be sure there existed in the rough center of this matrix an outline of a figure—to this day in paintings and images his face remains blank, mere outline—called “Mohammed,” but one Mohammed has very little to do with another.

The classical Islamic arts eschew, in fact, representation. They are calligraphy, geometry, and architecture. As Lilian Karnouk writes, “Islamic art is an adventure in non-figuration dictated by a rejection of the Pythagorean idea of man as “the measure of all things.” The Islamic artist opts for an aesthetic process rooted in religious transcendence: an art based on harmonies of the formal elements of line, surface, and color arranged to a mathematical perception of time and space. His intention is to attain the visualization of a thought which does not represent man or nature but life understood as energy and motion.”

Islam as a system of belief, like poetry itself, incorporates doubt and questioning into its “fundamental” fiber, because at the “foundation” of organized belief—the end of prophethood and the beginning of lineages of authority, you had to make a choice.

One significant verse of the Qura’an appears near its beginning “This is the book. In it there is no doubt.” Growing up under the shadow of such an authoritarian dictum I continually wondered at my own doubts, engagements with faith, forays away, through, and within dogmatic teachings. Only last year, in a new and wonderfully acclaimed translation I read a new rendering of the same verse: “There is no doubt this book is a guide for the faithful.”

I have a feeling I had better learn Arabic because those two renderings do not read the same.

My father told me once about the story of “one hundred and four” books revealed by God to prophets through the ages to all the various peoples of the world. Four of these books are mentioned by name in the Qura’an, but a Muslim would believe there a hundred others out there whose names we do not know—that perhaps the Bhagavad-Gita is one, or the Lotus Sutra, who can say.

The hundred books or course call to mind the “hundred names of God,” of which ninety-nine are named in tradition, the last one being secret. Always this dark place, the place of unknown, the place you cannot go. A place where you are not sure what is what.

This sense of unsurety is built into the very way we celebrate the revelation of this Qura’an. During the month of fasting—Ramadhan—we celebrate Lail-util-Qadr, the Night of Majesty, on which the scripture was said to be first revealed. But scholars do not agree on the actual historical date, saying only it is an odd-numbered evening in the last third of the month. So traditionally we celebrate the occasion on three separate evenings—the nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings. It sounds manic and amazing and it is. It’s a miracle of unknowing and allowing the mystery of that subsume the centralization or systemizing of a single day.

The beginning and ending of the lunar months of the Islamic calendar are similarly fraught with disagreements. Many people believe the month itself has not started unless the very first sliver of the moon is officially sited. For those of us who live in the west, we more often than not depend upon of the visions living far away, on the other side of the world. In the final days of the fasting month I can still remember my father on the phone with Iran or Pakistan, waiting to hear if the moon had been sited there. Had it been it would signal the end of our fast, thousands of miles away.

The tricky moon was also the site of one of the prophet’s major miracles. While Jesus fed the masses and Moses parted the sea, Prophet Mohammed’s miracle was, appropriately, centered upon the night sky—he pointed to the moon once and it broke into half.

The written scripture itself was revealed to a man said to be illiterate. He was commanded to read by the Angel and protested that he could not read, and so came the first revealed verse of the Qura’an: “Read: in the name of Your Lord Who created you.”

The chronology of the Qura’an is similarly disguised in its written form. The prophet came down from the mountain and dictated it to scribes; eventually these verses were organized into chapters, and the chapters themselves were given a canonical order. This order, unlike the long deliberative process surrounding the compiling of the Bible as we now know it, did not change from the first arrangement and is the one thing that all of the sundry sects of Islam do share in common and mainly agree upon.

It’s the word and not the man or his flesh or even the definitive understanding of the word itself that reigns supreme in the Islamic consciousness. There hasn’t seemed to have been the same kind of lively tradition of commentary and cross-commentary on Qura’anic scripture as there as been in Judaism. The real heart of the controversy around Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses was not after all on the caricature of the prophet, but rather on the triggering plot device—that Satan had managed to corrupt the scribe taking dictation of the Qura’an inducing him to introduce false verses into the scripture.

In such a fundamentally decentralized religion where even the satellite in the sky could break into pieces, when the one thing that everyone could hold onto was called into question, even fictionally, all hell broke loose. Literally. The great shame is that the novel remained widely unread in the Muslim world, when it is the one book that comes so close to describe the fever and fervor of Islamic thought, the “art based on harmonies of the formal elements of line, surface, and color arranged to a mathematical perception of time and space” of which Karnouk spoke.

It remains the province of poetry, an art made for the doubting and the doubtful, to create structures for meaning, to privilege and plumb the notions of bewilderment, doubt, and interrogative spirituality. Though Islam requires five daily prayers and an obligatory pilgrimage, the Prophet also said, “one hour of work towards attaining knowledge is worth sixty years of worship.”

And what is that worship towards? The famous hajj, obligatory on every adult Muslim, is towards the Kaaba, the House of God, a black square structure at the heart of the Mecca Masjid. The house itself—like every mosque—is empty inside.

Kazim Ali, originally published in XCP 20 (2008)


citizen, vb. as in to citizen, -zening, -zened, -zens. To mix, to cross, to cast, to struggle, to represent, to justify, to place, to breathe, to own, to migrate, to alienate, to rescale, to trans-, translate, transcreate, transnationalize, to transgress, and so forth, to inflect, to inflict, to touch, to share, to experience, to tell the truth (the way the words lie), to domesticate, to inhabit, to escape, to dislocate, to image the nation, to imagine relation, to fragment, to serve the self, to fake, to gesture, to multiply, to name, to choose, to politicize, to cultivate, to read/write, to deterritorialize, to believe, to improvise, to consume, to torque, to screw, to unfix, to loosen, to listen, to practice, to see through, to appear or perform, to articulate, to equivocate, to shop, to co-opt, to know, to inform, to demand, to strip, to separate, to reclaim, to constitute, to hybridize or disappear.

Fred Wah, originally published in XCP 15/16 (2001)


Beginning in 2000, this color, once associated with leftist movements, was subjected by media operatives to a complete reversal of its erstwhile subversive coding. “Red” designated states whose voting patterns and alleged “cultural values” marked them as right-wing, in contrast to “blue” states, identified as “liberal.” Exemplifying the power of media-fueled Newspeak, this semantic makeover quickly gained currency and acceptance. Historically, however, reclaiming “red” for radicalism is no simple matter. There are the red cockade of the sans-culottes, the red flag brandished as an insurgent symbol of the blood of the working class, and the red card of IWW militants, but also the Red bureaucracy of which Bakunin warned: a dictatorship over the proletariat. Such was the Russian Revolution’s outcome: red became the color of the terror carried out initially against the revolution’s enemies and subsequently against revolutionaries. Stalinism, terror triumphant, was characterized as Red Fascism by disillusioned leftists. Post-revolutionary China claimed the entire East was red, yet red also became a floating signifier of government orthodoxy; dissenters were accused of waving the red flag to oppose the red flag. For capitalists, Red scares, Red squads, and Red-baiting were used to contain and repress all forms of radicalism. And following the collapse of bureaucratic Communism, wars in Yugoslavia saw the emergence of red-brown coalitions of fascists and Communists perpetrating massacres and concentration camps. Paul Robeson’s gibe at the U.S. government’s inability to tolerate his being both Black and Red provides further dimension. Conspicuously absent from the red-blue bifurcation of the U.S. polity is that other color of the national flag: white, a sign of a continuing racial domination meant to be ignored or accepted, never challenged. Here, Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ victorious action upon Haiti’s independence stands out: slashing the white stripe from the French tricolor, he united red and blue under a new social and symbolic order.
Christopher Winks, originally published in XCP 15/16 (2005)

from The Latehomecomer

Chapter VI: Phanat Nikhom Transition Camp to America

The rice paddies stretched away on both sides of the orange bus, fields of green met the blue sky, thin lines of eucalyptus trees divided the paddies, thatched roofed field houses stood on stilts in the far distance. The entire journey felt like I was looking at a television screen (I had seen them at the one-baht movie houses: a big room with a dirt floor and a TV propped up in the front). There was distance. The scenes outside did not look real to me: the houses looked like little doll houses waiting for little doll farmers; the grass looked like plastic grass waiting for plastic gray buffalos, and the children looked like little toy children walking behind toy adults. I held up my index finger and I could block out a whole human being. This bus ride is my first memory of not belonging to Thailand. I had heard the Hmong adults say that we had no country and that Thailand was not our country. In Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, I did not know what this meant. But on the bus I saw that there was a whole life that was different from the one I knew in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp.

I looked out of the window, and I noticed that in the hot sun there was a breeze. I could see it in the waving of the young rice stalks, whole fields shimmering in synchronized motions. The people in the bus were talking in whispers or else sitting silently looking out the windows. Some of the people were sick because they had never been in a car before. I had never been in a car before but I was not sick because I was trying to remember the feeling of being in a car. The road was getting eaten by the tires and we were sitting but I thought it was like flying fast to a place I did not know. My right hand, without my realizing, waved to the stalks of green rice. I was waving and waving. My father’s hand stopped its motion…

Kao Kalia Yang, originally published in XCP 18 (2007)

The Latehomecomer:A Hmong Family Memoir was published by Coffee House Press in 2008.

Social Practice

Poetry is neither an end in itself, nor a means to some external end. It’s a human activity enmeshed with human existence; as James Scully names it, a social practice. Written where, when, how, by, for and to whomever, poetry dwells in a web of other social practices historically weighted with enormous imbalances of social power. To say this is not to deny the necessity for poetry as an art whose tangible medium is language.

It’s a commonplace to say that in a society fraught with official lying, hyperbolic urgings to consume, contrived obsolescence of words (along with things and the people who produce them) poets must “recover” or “subvert” or “re-invent” language. Poetic language may thus get implicitly defined as autonomous terrain apart from the ripped-off or colonized languages of daily life.

Yet the imagination—the capacity to feel, see, what we aren’t supposed to feel and see, find expressive forms where we’re supposed to shut up–has meant survival and resistance, for poets and numberless others: incarcerated, under military or colonial occupation, in concentration camps, at grinding labor, suffering bleak and traumatic circumstances of many kinds. We may view the imagination as a kind of gated, landscaped neighborhood–or as a river, sometimes clogged and polluted, carrying many kinds of traffic including pollen and contraband, but in movement: the always-regenerating impulse toward an always-beginning future.

Adrienne Rich, originally published in XCP 15/16 (2005)