Red

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)

Diaspora

Diaspora describes the heterogeneous articulations and diverse experiences of populations that have been displaced from their homelands and dispersed throughout the world. It is concerned with questions of identity, difference, memory, and survival. The subjects of diaspora have lived through conquest, colonization, the Middle Passage, racial slavery, genocide, famine, wars, dispossession from their land, and labor exploitation. They have moved through the realms of loss, hurt, unspeakable violence, suffering, sorrow, and creativity—straddling through multiple dimensions of space and time; striving to reverse the irreversible directions of their long journeys; traveling and returning; and struggling to reconcile the nearness of a homeland and the sense of incompleteness. Such a mnemonic exercise involves recognition that the past is flitting and that the attainment of a unitary identity is impossible. Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), one of the most important Black revolutionaries of the second half of the twentieth century, explained in Ready for Revolution that the subjects of diaspora are peoples of dispersal, but “dispersal only begins the process, it does not end it.” It begins the process of survival and sets in motion ceaseless struggles toward freedom. To think, to dream, to theorize, and to live with and through diaspora is to do the most difficult double task of explanatory construction. That is to discursively explore the roots of identity and routes of identity formation and, as Carmichael noted, “stay ready” (rather than get ready) to revolutionalize existing ontological categories governed by liberal individualism and capitalism to live and struggle for a committed human life.

Yuichiro Onishi, originally published in XCP no 15/16 (2005)

Micropoetries

Ephemera, doggerel, fragments, “weird English” (props to Evelyn Ch’ien), graffiti, community and individual survival — écriture brute, folk letters, textile patterns; naive lettrism (as well as belletrisme and lettrisme brute); wise oraliture, gnomic thought-bytes and lyrical bullets, clairaudient visitations with a hermeneutic spin — the marriage of esotericism and exotericism, banality and exoticism. Embedded in contextual specificity but deracinated — the historic exile, the monadic nomad, the centrifugal community that lets fly its auratic verbal detritus. These are poetries that fly beneath the radar of accepted poetic practice, that is not practice but object — these are processes rather than object/products. I’ve explained the term elsewhere as originating in Mark Slobin’s term “micromusics” (in Tenement Songs: Micromusics of the West) by which he means fragments, lullabies, tunes, extremely localized bits of expressive culture carried from the Eastern Europe pale of settlement to New York in the great migrations 1880-1940; individual shtetlach (villages), families, locales had unique musics that made the journey and morphed, somehow surviving. This is also the resonance of W. E. B. Du Bois’s anecdote in “Of the Sorrow Songs,” wherein he tells of his grandfather’s grandmother bringing a song with her which traveled not only spatially across the Middle Passage but temporally down the generations to have been sung to him when he was a small child. He prints the music, the transliteration of the syllables he doesn’t understand, and from that archaeological fragment constructs a theory of cultural transmission. The presence of fire in resonant landscapes — resonant for those bigeared ones.

Maria Damon, originally published in XCP no 15/16 (2005)