What I’ve Been Reading…

IMG_2288This past month I began reading Bhanu Kapil’s, How To Wash a Heart and could not stop crying. I tend to be a slow reader, so I read a few poems every night, and sometimes the poems I read in one night I re-read again and again. As a huge fan of Kapil’s work, I enjoy processing what Kapil’s mind offers [me] the reader.

This book of poetry was born out of a photo in a news article Bhanu Kapil had seen – a white couple in Berkeley, CA hosting an immigrant guest. In How to Wash a Heart, Kapil writes about a relationship between a host and a guest. What is expressed by the host to the guest is not always what is true, it’s an act, a performance of hospitality, which is what I believe Kapil reveals through this host/guest relationship.

While I have been reading this book, I’ve been brought to some serious tears with one poem in particular. Although, my interpretation of this poem is not at all close to the idea that inspired this book. It came from thinking about my relationship with my parents growing up. This host/guest relationship in the book makes so much sense to me when I think about my childhood and how I existed in a space that was meant to be mine…but at the same time was not. Now that I think of it, was a relationship where power affected the dynamics in the house, power was dependent on how comfortable the way one might feel when moving/existing around in space.

Here are a few lines from that poem,

It’s exhausting to be a guest

In somebody else’s house


Even though the host invites

The guest to say

Whatever it is they want to say,

The guest knows that host logic

Is variable.

Prick me.

And I will cut off the energy

To your life.

I grew up in an immigrant household, that constantly reminded me that the space I existed in was only mine because my father allowed it. At any moment, it could be taken away. If I think about my father’s logic, this host logic, threatening to take away my basic needs – it seemed to come from a place of fear. Fear of what? I’m not so sure. It could be the fear a father has of his children growing up too fast, fear of abandonment, fear of not being able to live through your children the way you want to, fear and shame of not fulfilling this because of the risk that was taken to come to a new country…? Either way, this violent power dynamic forced onto me as a young person made it hard to feel free to even laugh or to cry or exist in a space devoid of any deep emotion.

I’m not sure if this was Kapil’s intention for readers – to look back on their trauma – but it brought me back to that power dynamic. I continue to stay inspired by Bhanu Kapil’s work and will have new things to write about after reading this collection of poems.


Poetry Books to Read This August

If you don’t know, The Sealey Challenge begins today, a poetry reader’s challenge to read one book of poems a day.

The Sealey Challange was created by poet, Nicole Sealey, who decided to challenge herself by reading one book of poems each day, hoping to return to reading for pleasure while working a taxing day job. The rules of the challenge are simple! Form a reading list, read a book each day, and document/share your experience online – among a community of readers.

I’m so excited about this challenge and can relate to working a full-time job that drains me by the end of the day. I often feel guilty about not keeping up with my books or writing because of my job and it leaves me with a feeling of waste. I’m hoping to beat that feeling this August and also extend grace to myself. It’s a real privilege to be able to find time in your day to read, something I want to remind myself of.

If you need poetry suggestions, here are a few books off of my reading list for August 2022.

1. Swallowed Light by Micheal Wasson

I first encountered Micheal Wasson in the anthology, Shapes of Native Non-Fiction. After reading his poem, Self Portrait with Parts Missing and/or Smeared, I wanted to read more! Swallowed Light looks into the erasure of native people and the impact of colonialism, “exploring a legacy of erasure”.

2. Diaries of a Terrorist by Christopher Soto

I enjoyed reading the anthology Queer Poets of Color produced by Soto, and am even more excited for this collection of poems. Christopher Soto’s book of poems centers in on the theme of police violence, urging readers to think on the question of “who we call a terrorist and why?”.

3. My Baby First Birthday by Jenny Zhang

I heard Jenny Zhang read at a Tin House event a year or two ago and have been meaning to read more of her work. This book focuses on the idea of innocence in relation to women. The themes in this book scrutinize patriarchy, whiteness, capitalism, and the “violence and rescue of heroism”. (quote source)

4. Dictée by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Dictée by Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is an exploration of suffering through fragments of memory. “It is the story of several women: the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, Demeter and Persephone, Cha’s mother Hyung Soon Huo (a Korean born in Manchuria to first-generation Korean exiles), and Cha herself”. (quote source)

5. Maafa by Harmony Holiday

Harmony Holiday’s book, Maafa, which is also the Swahili word for great disaster or great trategy, specifically in reference to slavery is an entire poem on reparations and the body of a woman. “Maafa undoes the erasure of trauma and of black femininity”. (quote source)

6. The Trees Witness Everything by Victoria Chang

This book of Poems by Victoria Change includes a majority of poems written in the Waka form, a traditional form in Japanese poetry similar to the Haiku.

7. Girls that Never Die by Safia Elhillo

In Safia Elhio’s latest book, her writing shifts to a focus on the body, the body of a Muslim woman, and the shame and danger that can come with it.

8. Dream of the Divided Field by Yanyi

Following the theme of the body, Yani’s book of poems considers the act of leaving one’s self, like leaving a home – looking back at what still resonates within or what never was a part of that previous self.

9. My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long

Rachel Long’s collection of poems centers on the writer’s experience of womanhood following themes of “femininity, Black identity and familial shame”. (quote source)

10. Good Boys by Megan Fernandes

Megan Fernandes’ second book of poems contemplates the idea of being “good” in relation to submission and the dangers of considering submission to be a form of love.

11. Lotería Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives by Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera’s book of poems includes beautifully illustrated images of the 18th-century colonial game, Lotería, where Herrera interprets each card with a poem.

Music to Write to

If you’re like me and love some emotional music to write to, I’ve got a playlist just for you. Recently the transition from summer to fall has been so prevalent, especially on my morning outings with my puppy. Out here, in the Pacific Northwest, the sun is still out (magically). It’s not raining yet, but there are moments of haze some days and moments of crisp air and bright sun other days. You can feel the change coming, it’s not quite there yet, but it’s ready. This period of time brings me to examine the transitions within me. A few things have been on my mind…

  • How different am I now from last fall?
  • What changed me this summer?
  • How did these changes get me to where I am now?
  • What can I do now, to use what I’ve learned, and move into this new season in life?

Answer these questions for yourself (just as I am trying to answer them) as we slowly drift into Autumn. Find what you can to guide you through this change, and while you do that listen to my playlist! I hope it’ll bring you inspiration, clarity and deep reflection.

Happy Writing.

6 Book Recommendations for Latinx Heritage Month

Today marks the first day of Latinx/e heritage month! The month runs through September 15th to October 15th. Most independence days for Latin American countries happen between this timeline. To be more specific, today’s festivities (however you celebrate) begin with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua’s independence from Spain.

My hope for this month’s celebrations is for the Latinx/e community to center Black and Indigenous voices, who are often pushed out of view during this month. Afterall, the essence of Latin American culture begins with Black and Indigenous people who have built our customs, developed the Spanish language, and formed our food traditions.

Here is my list for this year’s Latinx Heritage Month!

1. We Are Owed

We Are Owed by Ariana Brown just came out this summer! I have been very excited to read this book, and am hoping to finally get to it this month (my list of books is so long at the moment). Ariana’s book examines, “Black relationality in Mexican and Mexican American spaces“. Ariana Brown is a Black Queer Mexican poet currently residing in San Antonio, TX. Read more about Ariana here.

2. When My Brother Was an Aztec

By Natalie Diaz. Natalie was born in Needles, California in the Fort Mojave Indian Village. This book highlights Mojave life through the perspective of one family with the focus of a Brother who’s addiction influences the family’s dynamic. Read more about Natalie here.

3. Intergalactic Travels: poems from a fugitive alien

By Alan Pelaez Lopez. Alan is an AfroIndigenous poet from Oaxaca, México. Intergalatic Travels: poems from a fugitive alein, is a book of poetry book of multimedia poems that assesses the experiences of growing up undocumented in the U.S. as an “alien”. Read more about Alan here.

4. Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color

This anthology of queer poets of color developed by Christopher Soto has a range of poems to sift through- if you’re looking for more poets to your radar check out this anthology. Christopher Soto is a Salvadoran poet based in Los Angeles, California. Read more about Christopher here.

5. My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter

By Aja Monet. Aja is Afro Latina poet, storyteller, and organizer from Brooklyn, NY. My mother Was a Freedom Fighter is an “ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters—the tiny gods who fight to change the world”. Read more about Aja here.

6. Vital Signs

By Juan Delgado. Juan is a Mexican American poet from San Bernardino, CA. Vital Signs is a walk through Juan’s hometown (San Bernardino) and holds a story of a city that became forgotten – a city often presented as a city of high crime and poverty. Read more about Juan here.