No April Fool’s Joke: at the Bowery Poetry Club in NY

“The New and Selected Yuri,” poetry and stories by YURI KAGEYAMA:

Bowery Poetry Club 308 Bowery (between Houston and Bleecker) New York City
Sunday, April 1, 2012 8 p.m.

A reading-performance of “STORY OF MIU,” written by Yuri Kageyama, directed by CARLA BLANK, featuring dancer YUKI KAWAHISA, with music by PHEEROAN AKLAFF, in a collage of words, sound and movement, a pan-Pacific tale of pain, love and survival that defies racism and sexism over moments and generations.

Ishmael Reed is the author of “Mumbo Jumbo,” “Juice,” “The Last Days of Louisiana Red,” “Japanese by Spring,” “Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down” and some 20 other books. He is a poet, publisher, satirist, playwright, pianist, TV producer and songwriter. He taught at the University of California Berkeley for more than 30 years. He founded the Before Columbus Foundation.

Carla Blank has been a performer, director, dramaturge and teacher of dance and theater for more than 40 years. Recently, she worked with Robert Wilson on “KOOL – Dancing in My Mind” inspired by Japanese choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi, a longtime collaborator. Since 2003 she has been dramaturge and director of the two-act play “The Domestic Crusaders” by Wajahat Ali. She has taught at the University of California Berkeley, Dartmouth College and the University of Washington.

Yuki Kawahisa, a native of Japan, is an actor and performance artist. Based in New York, Kawahisa has been performing her own works and others’ works internationally, including Canada, France, Germany, Austria, Japan, Indonesia and Australia. She has worked with internationally acclaimed theater directors Robert Wilson and Richard Forman, as well as with dancers, media artists, painters, vocal artists and musicians.

Pheeroan AkLaff
is a New York-based drummer and composer, who has played with Oliver Lake, Anthony Davis, Henry Threadgill, Cecil Taylor, Yosuke Yamashita and Andrew Hill. He was a headliner at many festivals including Moers and Nurnberg. He led the Double Duo ensemble dedicated to the spiritual music of John Coltrane. He teaches at Wesleyan University.

Tennessee Reed is the author of five poetry collections and a memoir. She has read in the U.S., the Netherlands, Germany and Japan. Her sixth poetry collection “New and Selected Poetry 1982-2010” will be published by World Parade this year. She is managing editor of Konch Magazine. She has a B.A. from UC Berkeley, and an M.F.A. from Mills College.

Yuri Kageyama’s poetry, short stories and essays have been published in “Y’Bird,” “Pow Wow,” “Breaking Silence” “On a Bed of Rice,” Konch and “Pirene’s Fountain.” She reads with her band Yuricane, featuring Eric Kamau Gravatt, Isaku Kageyama, Winchester Nii Tete and other multicultural musicians. Japanese director Yoshiako Tago is documenting her readings on film, “Talking TAIKO.”

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.”

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.

Stun-gun poetics: A review of my new book

“Kageyama’s images, scoured, purged of ornamentation, can have the effect of a stun gun …. The focus in Kageyama’s work is less on beauty, which can be delusional, than on truth. Serious literature, we realize, does not exist to comfort and mollify us, but to unnerve and agitate.”
Stephen Mansfield in a review of “The New and Selected Yuri _ Writing From Peeling Till Now” in The Japan Times, Aug. 14, 2011.

A mention in the Cornell Alumni Magazine

My book “The New and Selected Yuri _ Writing From Peeling Till Now” in the Cornell Alumni Magazine:
“In her collection of new and selected poems, Kageyama debunks cultural stereotypes and explores how racism and sexism scar people.”

Review of The New and Selected Yuri

Charles Whipple reviews The New and Selected Yuri:
“Then you pick up The New and Selected Yuri. Then you reach into her body and pull out her heart and turn it around in your hand as you listen to everything it has to say. You listen, and you learn. You tremble. And you weep. It makes no difference if you’re male or female. You weep. There’s not much laughter in the selected Yuri. Hers is not a humorous point of view. But it’s real. It shimmers. It envelopes you. It smells and tastes full of reality. There is no Chanel between the lines of Yuri’s prose and poetry. There’s blood. There’s the reek of death. There’s the shadow of a life that cannot be, a worm, she calls it. There’s reality. Not seen through a glass darkly, but glared at in the full light of day, often with the help of a 7X magnifying glass. You may not love everything Yuri has written, but you’ll not soon forget it. How much more power can I put into a recommendation? Try it. Just try it.”
Charles T. Whipple, author of A Matter of Tea, 2010 Oaxaca International Literature Competition winner.

Poetry and Music in Tokyo this Saturday

I’m used to talking to myself.
But please stop by for the Yuricane poetry and music SAT Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. (doors open 6:30 p.m.)
Gamuso in Asagaya, Tokyo.

Excerpted from the foreword by Ishmael Reed for my upcoming book of poems and short stories, “The New and Selected Yuri: Writing From Peeling till Now”:

The Yuricane (an excerpt)
By Ishmael Reed

They’ve called Yuri “cute” often during her life. She’s cute all right. Like a tornado is cute. Like a hurricane is cute. This Yuricane. I found that out when she was a student at the University of California at Berkeley.
One of her poems about iconic white women became an underground hit on campus.
The audience at the Bowery Poetry Club was also blown away by her poem, “Little YELLOW Slut,” a devastating look at the way Asian women are depicted in the media ….

Little YELLOW Slut
By Yuri Kageyama
first published in KONCH MAGAZINE, 2009.

You know her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, proudly gleefully
YELLOW-ly hanging on Big Master’s arm,
War bride, geisha,
GI’s home away from home,
Whore for last samurai,
Hula dancer with seaweed hair,
Yoko Ohno,
Akihabara cafe maid,
Hi-Hi Puffy Ami/Yumi,
Kawaiiii like keitai,
Back-up dancer for Gwen Stefani,
Your real-life Second Life avatar
Eager to deliver your freakiest fetish fantasies,
Disco queen, skirt up the crotch,
Fish-net stockings, bow-legged, anorexic, raisin nipples, tip-toeing Roppongi on
Stiletto heels.

Yessu, i spikku ingrishhu, i raikku gaijeeen, they kiss you,
hold your hand, open doors for me,
open legs for you, giggling pidgin, covering mouth,
so happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

Everybody’s seen her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, waiting at
Home, cooking rice, the Japanese
Condoleezza Rice,
Smelling of sushi,
Breath and vagina,
Fish and vinegar,
Fermented rice,
Honored to be
Cleaning lady,
Flight attendant for Singapore Airlines,
Charlie Chan’s Angel,
Nurse maid, gardener, Japan-expert’s wife,
Mochi manga face,
Yodeling minyo, growling enka,
Sex toy, slant-eyes closed, licking, tasting, swallowing STD semen,
Every drop.

Yessu, i wanna baby who looohkuh gaijeen, double-fold eye, translucent skin, international school PTA,
maybe grow up to be fashion model, even joshi-ana,
not-not-not happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

I recognize her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, rejecting
Japanese, rejected by Japanese,
Empty inside,
They all look alike,
Faceless, hoping to forget, escape
To America,
Slant-eyed clitoris,
Adopted orphan,
Dream come true for pedophiles,
Serving sake, pouring tea, spilling honey,
Naturalized citizen,
Buying Gucci,
Docile doll,
Rag-doll, Miss Universe, manic harakiri depressive, rape victim, she is
You, she is me.

Hai, hai, eigo wakarimasen, worship Big Master for mind, matter, muscle, money, body size correlates to penis size,
waiting to be sexually harassed, so sorry, so many,
so sad to be
Little YELLOW Slut.