Haiku Speak _ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

Haiku Speak
_ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

Waaaaaah! So much like Wow!
A Child. Fluttering Sakura.
Language. A Moment.

The Crooked Smile _ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

The Crooked Smile
_ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

You smiled
In the silence after your first breath of a wail
So still and serious,
Testing the corner muscles of your mouth
Forgetting for a moment your instinct to suckle
Looking with your miracle almond eyes into my eyes,
Pleased to meet you.
A tiny crooked
But perfect
They say:
Newborns don’t smile for weeks.
I decide
you are just a genius.

A Facebook Post Upon Reading a Facebook Post

A Facebook Post Upon Reading a Facebook Post
_ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

I saw your post about not wanting children.
I do feel bad.
But more than that
I feel I understand exactly how you feel as that is how I felt all through my 20s, actually until I had you.
Then I knew or I think I knew that having you was the most wonderful thing that had happened in my life.
I just feel bad you feel the wa
y you do _ not only because we were “bad” parents and didn’t give you a bright happy childhood full with Elmo smiles _ but more because I was exactly that kind of person, like you, who didn’t want children at all.
The world is such a horrible place and what child would want to come into such a horrible place?
And if parents are all imperfectly human, then how could any parent live up to the task?
I am exploring these ideas and more in the writing that I am doing now and always have _ since you were born.
Maybe that is selfish because a child is real with real needs, not like writing which is more unreal than real.
But I am convinced more than ever that you are the best thing that happened in my life.
And it is not anything that you will do or you will become or you will say or feel.
Nothing can change this simple fact.
It is beyond any explanation or any argument or any question.
It is so very unreal.
And real.
Like Music.
And so maybe someday you will have that magic of a child.
Somewhere inside of you from where your music is born a child is waiting to be born _ to you.

Denouement _ a poem by Yuri Kageyama

a Poem by Yuri Kageyama

You are curled up, tight, still, in fetal position, eyes closed but seeing red blindness, throbbing flesh, deep inside our stomachs, so entrenched within, but disjointed, expanding _ like our pain, infinite like solar systems in the universe.
I was already there in that moment.
We shared in that secret of knowing, knowing you will be born, someday, before anyone else knew, and then grow up and become man _ or woman _ with a yelping gasping flash-of-light wail, the newborn’s cry in that first breath, and recognizing from the very start that you will, someday, have this same joy and same pain, growing inside you and being born.
It doesn’t matter you will make towers. You will make music. You will make computer programs. You will make money. You will make babies.
It doesn’t matter you will be a pillar of society. You will be an outcast. You will win rewards. You will be abused as a stranger.
It doesn’t matter you will witness a great northern earthquake, although it is a once-in-a-century disaster setting off a torrent of outraged water that turns farmland into mud, buildings and homes into rubble, and quiet untouched happy towns into ghost towns, untouched but covered with radiation.
I was there, with you, before it all _ in that redness and blackness and all seeing blindness, that was here and everywhere, bleeding and beating and breathing and being, inside my uterus, that spot near my navel that connects with your navel, before and even after your terrified newborn cry.
This is the same cosmos inside the bodies of all mothers, where we fall in our slumber, snuggling against our blankets, the safe and eternal place we visit that are called dreams after we awaken.
This is the same cosmos gyrating in the resonance of the giant taiko drum, shaking and deafening that we hear and understand every note like our mother’s heartbeat.
The otherworldly world that awaits behind the mirror in a Tadanori Yokoo painting, the crooked road not taken behind that church in a Vincent Van Gogh painting _ a world from this end we fear might be the Michelangelo hell of a nuclear meltdown with faces and arms peeled, stunted and contaminated by an erring god scientists will never admit was provoked by anything other than a mother’s mistake, or else it could smell like lotuses and incense and honeyed candles, sinking into a Claude Monet lake of sheer light and blindness that is canvas and museum walls no more but total artist’s vision.
This is the same cosmos where ghosts with long black hair reside, sometimes standing besides riverside willow trees weeping about betrayal, while at other times mysteriously saving children from car crashes as benevolent all-knowing ancestors.
After all these years, I finally know this is where I return when I die.
To be with you again, all the time, in that moment of eternity that is before birth, so perfectly connected we don’t need to speak or breathe or remember.

The Poetics of Being

The Poetics of Being
by Yuri Kageyama

When my first poem to be ever published, “The Big White Bitch,” appeared in Ishmael Reed and Al Young’s iconic “Y’Bird” 30 years ago, Geraldine Kudaka sighed, sympathy clear in her eyes, and remarked I was making a tough debut in the literary world as a “Third World feminist poet.”
I didn’t fully understand or maybe even care what that meant. And I probably still don’t.
I have never been much of a marketer.
If we believe in our work, as we certainly do, we must get the word out and get people to read what we have to say.
But for me, writing is a solitary act, a conversation with something absolute and eternal that is everywhere in everyday life, yet beyond everyday life.
I don’t write to please an audience, connect to a sociological category or further a political movement.
And so my poetry has basically not changed.
If the poetry I do, which may be what some call Third World feminist, is growing more readily accepted in the world today, perhaps because of advances we have made in diversity and sexual equality, that is as irrelevant to what I do as it was 30 years ago when I was writing in a room of my own, shouting in the wilderness, a shaman without a single listener.
That is because writing is solitary act, unaffected by how audiences may have changed.
That is not to say that the search for sexual and racial equality is irrelevant.
It is as relevant and pressing as ever.
There is sociological evidence that show how women of color today remain in some ways as underrepresented, stereotyped and powerless as they were in the 1970s.
The themes in my writing, which address how racism and sexism shape our relationships and our psyches, are not going to change like seasonal fashion plates, technological platform innovations or topical headlines.
The themes are too eternal, too universal, too real _ the pain the child feels when he or she is called “Jap,” the shock of realizing as a teen mainstream beauty standards mean the ugliest white person is going to “win” over the coolest-looking non-white person, the horror of knowing that around the world people are seeing their children starve, undergoing genital mutilation and risking their lives just to win the right to vote.
As poets and storytellers, we can only start _ right here _ with what we know, what we have seen, what is in our hearts, who we are, and no one can help us.
Writing is a solitary act.
We must be honest in a world full of lies, we must be fearless as we tremble in fear, and we must speak with our own voice, alone, and never try to please.
Last year, I got a new book out, “The New and Selected Yuri _ Writing From Peeling Till Now,” which compiles my poetry, stories and essays from the 1970s to today.
It, too, is published by Ishmael Reed, who put out my first book of poems, “Peeling” in 1988 _ as well as my first poem ever to be published, “Big White Bitch.”
The latest book includes a companion piece to that poem, “Little YELLOW Slut,” which runs down the stereotypes of the Asian female.
The imagery, this time, has taken a global turn, born in Hollywood and American pop but thriving, never lost in translation, in Tokyo, and vice versa.
I am proud of this poem and this book.
I am proud that someone like Ishmael Reed has believed in me and my work for more than 30 years.
I know nothing will ever stop me from writing more poems like these.
And I still have so many stories to tell.
I don’t feel I am returning to explore old themes.
I don’t feel I am trying to break new ground.
I am just writing.
The search for identity, love and erotica is as timeless as is my wish for racism and sexism to disappear from the face of this planet, no longer so urgent, so violent, so degrading.
Writing is a solitary act.
Gertrude Stein in “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” talks about giving a lecture in Oxford, and how she answered questions about knowing “she was right in doing the kind of writing she did.”
“She answered that it was not a question of what any one thought, but after all she had been doing as she did for about 20 years,” she wrote.
“This did not mean of course that they were coming to think that her way was a possible way, it proved nothing, but on the other hand it did possibly indicate something.”

Another review of “The New and Selected Yuri”

A review by poet Ravi Chandra’s of my latest book, “The New and Selected Yuri: Writing From Peeling Till Now,” (Ishmael Reed Publishing Co., 2011.)

I met Yuri Kageyama at an event honoring Ishmael Reed at LitQuake. Yuri performed her piece “Little YELLOW Slut”, a powerful spoken word piece that punctuates stereotypes of Asian American women with the judgmental projection “Little YELLOW SluT.”

I was immediately taken by this piece, and was proud to soon be carrying Kageyama’s latest collection of work, which she generously gifted me in exchange for my modest first book, “a fox peeks out: poems.”

I was very impressed by Kageyama’s poetry and prose, which are both a tender and raw depiction of her Asian American sexuality and political mindset.

Some of the poems are in what’s now called the “wordfist” tradition, like “BIG WHITE BITCH,” taking aim at and taking down the oppressive forces of racism and sexism with a uniquely feminine yet tough-spoken mindset.

These are angry and direct. Some might find them shocking, but I found them vivid and real.

Others are a lament _ of childhood abuse by her rocket scientist father and of sitting next to him as he lay dying.

There are also many prose pieces. One discusses Japanese concepts such as Kakijun, Enryo and Iki. Another is a perhaps semi-autobiographical look back at 1970’s political-poetic movements in San Francisco.

Another is a dialogue between her and a younger Asian American woman living in Japan and struggling for relationship and power _ possibly a younger version of herself.

This is an emininently readable and enjoyable collection.

I found myself in turns challenged and entertained by the sheer soul-force of the person who comes shining through these words. Close to the heart, close to the soul, deeply human and remarkable. Recommended.

^___< And here is my review, in turn, of Chandra’s book:

A lot of poetry, probably including much of my own, is destructive, addressing inner turmoils to give them a form of expression as literature than other equally tempting but less acceptable, perhaps even criminal, outlets.
Such is the madness of the world around us, the abuse that we take and the psychosis we battle by the day.
Ravi Chandra’s poetry is the voice of calm, the antidote of therapy, the ointment of peace.
Perhaps it is because he is a medical doctor and psychiatrist that he seeks to heal not only internal wounds but almost the entire world around us with his debut poetry book “a fox peeks out _ poems.” (San Francisco: Pacific Heart Books, 2011)
He juxtaposes the technology of the Internet with the tradition of Asian religions in the same poetic breath that is our American experience.
Other types of slam poetry may be identified with street violence and the defiance of oppression.
Chandra’s slam poetry is more like the chamomile tea you sip before bedtime.
His works read almost like a prayer, asking God to keep us safe through another day:
“Heart like earth _ /Mind like sky./ No walls, no weapons, no war/”
The power to soothe and unify through the word involves a risky balance to keep between artistry and platitude.
Chandra pulls it off with the intelligence of a scholar, the insight of a master and, most important, the benevolence of a saint.
“Mountains do get built from earthquakes,/ great masses of earth pushing into each other,/ Pushing the ground up,” he writes in “subprime tsunamis.”
“Greed must be contained by wisdom./ Compassion must be the greatest power./ Only so, can the waters purify./ Only so, can earthquakes/ give ascent,/ instead of annihilation.”

Review of “The New and Selected Yuri”

A review by Stephen Hong Sohn, Assistant Professor, English Department, Stanford University, in Asian American Literature Fans Sunday Mega Review Round-Up, Nov. 6, 2011.

Yuri Kageyama is a poet whose work I’ve long been wanting to read, especially since her chapbook “Peeling” has long been out of print. She’s been on the literary scene for a number of decades and her work is both direct and passionate.
In “The New and Selected Yuri,” we get a broad range of poetic works and short prose stories with topics ranging from racism, fetishism, abortion, activism, interracial desire, among other such issues. There’s a lengthier narrative track toward the end of the collection that comes off as playscript: a dialogue between a younger woman named Miu and someone named “Me,” perhaps the ghostly authorial double.
While earlier sections are obviously very pro-choice in terms of the topic of abortion, what’s really interesting in “The Story of Miu” is the question of reproduction and what it means for the ostensible mother.
At one point, “me” states: “I try to tell young women this every chance I get, but it’s the most important experience in life to have a child, Okay?” (108).
Later, when Miu goes through with an abortion, we see that these words of wisdom do not necessarily bear fruit in this specific story. It’s interesting to see Kageyama represent this particular reproductive politic in light of so many of the other poems and reveals a complicated and contoured approach to imagining so-called womanhood.
One of the most obvious things to note offhand about Yuri Kageyama’s writings is that they reveal the anger at the heart of the racialized minority’s experience.
Anger tends to be undertheorized as a complicated and nuanced affectual impulse within cultural studies. The literary critic Sue J. Kim is currently exploring this topic I believe and I am reminded of it when I read Kageyama’s work; she reminds us that there are so many things to be angry about, so many ways to express that anger, and so many ways that anger pushes one to actually go out and do something. Sometimes anger is seen to be an emotional impulse that cuts off, or at worst, is simply an uncalculated violence, but Kageyama pushes us to think of anger as a way to reconsider racialized and gendered subjectivities, the power dynamics that bind and constrain and that one must resist.
In this way, I like to think of Kageyama as a kind of throwback, really rooted in the women of color, post-Civil Rights activist poetics, moving strongly in line with others such as Janice Mirikitani, Nellie Wong, Kitty Tsui, and Merle Woo.
I found this work particularly refreshing in this regard and Kageyama is not necessarily always going for the most lyrically and aesthetically crafted line, but uses elements like anaphora and repetition to strike out at and bring in the audience.
Indeed, I can’t imagine some of these poems without an actual performance and it’s very clear that there is a spoken word dynamic that would lend increased heft to the collection.
The fact that the book was put out by the Ishmael Reed Publishing Group is obviously no accident. Ishmael Reed has long had a very strong engagement with Asian American literary circles, especially and most famously with the “Aiiieeeee!!!” editors way back in the day.
Thus, this book reminds me of the strong comparative minority engagements that we sometimes forget about as we work through our respective race and ethnic studies areas.
A powerful work, and I’m especially glad there is a way to access Kageyama’s writings in one collected source.