Since no one ever asks me to play, I'll tag myself on the sleeve. I'm using Lee Herrick's. Besides he says some really nice (embarrassingly so) things about my new book, DRIVE: The First Quartet. Go there if you're looking for good poetry, and good Asian American Poetry. He writes it. Here it goes:
1. One book that changed your life. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Fooled you, didn't I? Neruda's From the Heights of Machu Picchu, Howl by Ginsberg, and The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda --and poetry in general, not so much changed my life as confirmed it. But The Idiot did. I started doing my homework. I was just starting high school as a sophmore and (always the "library kid") a paperback copy was facing me in a wire rotating rack by the check out counter. I was mesmerized by the face on the cover, a mosaic. Something about the expression on that face. And the fact that it was a mask. And made of stone. But more expressive than some human ones. I stared at that cover over and over for years. I bought myself a copy just to have that face in front of me. I picked it up immediately and put in on my pile as soon as I saw it. I didn't even open it. It was like buying a candy bar at the counter at the check-out line. An impulse buy. Or, rather, like having some gadget you never use because you never think to buy batteries. Then, there they are on the counter: triple A. Just what you need. You pop 'em in and, wow, life is really different with this new thing. How did you live without it? What can I say? How can I say it? As a 15 - 16 year old dirt-poor chola india in the barrio, I identified, totally, with Mishkin. I *WAS* Prince Mishkin. See? I'm still trying to figure that one out. It launched me into a longtime love of Russian literature ("those sweaty Russians"), Dostoevsky in particular and, maybe most importantly, there was such a sense of accomplishment -- which maybe isn't the right word, a sad satisfaction at the end of the novel, and just when you finally get every one's name right it's over. I immediately hit the replay button, so to speak, I read it over. Then again. Unlike a movie which diminishes in energy every time you see it, a good book just gets richer, like redreaming. It becomes sharper, more complex and the same time it becomes simpler and facile. Yet, still holding it's shape, the content of the form. Good ones. That seamless timespace of the fictive self emerging. Being there made me want to do my homework. And I did. From then on. I'm glad I wasn't introduced to that book in some (ha! my barrio schooling?) class, that I wasn't made to read it. And told what it was about. Although, I did take a class later in Existentialism from Ms. Alyaud which allowed me to read it again, and other writers, the French in particular. Simone and Sartre. Then it was all over, in a good way. It changed my life. Without a doubt. My son gets this all the time. "Do your homework. It will change your life."
2. One book you have read more than once. Walden Pond and other journals of Henry David Thoreau. What? "One book?" Nobody ever reads a book more than once anymore? I'm beginning to believe that you never really get a poem until you read it or hear it at least five times. Five might be the magic number. It's kind of like the Top 25 on your iPod. It keeps changing with the seasons and the situations. And depending upon how long you've had it, some songs are always going to be on top because you started listening to them over and over again way early. I made it a habit, nay, a ritual, for close to a dozen years, formative ones, to read it in the spring. Typically in the arms of some tree. Now I read it online. Most times daily. And I don't care what anyone says, it's on the top of my list of constant replays. It's part of my soundtrack, my thought track. I think I'm ready to teach it.
3. One book you would want on a desert island. The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Once, when I left California in order to change my dreamscape following a difficult divorce (for all its ease and civility) I took every penny I had, literally (read my poem, "Raisins" in From the Cables of Genocide), and bought a one-way bus ticket to Denver where I didn't know a soul. I knew I was relocating. I was shooting for resettling in New Mexico but for business at Boulder and a friend there, Joy Harjo, who had just left the day before for other pastorals and kivas. I knew I was probably not coming back unless it was to pack my stuff for a final move (are they ever?) whenever I found my spot -- and I knew I could only take one book with me of my many and it was the 4th Edition of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, the brick paperback which begins with Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" and ends with me. Well, it's ends with Cathy Song who is about 6 months younger. But, same thing. That solo trip was a lot like going away to a deserted island so I'd say I already made that choice. Now, I'd take the double volume in the paper wrapper. And, no, I won't tell you which pages of the text I'd sacrifice and which ones I'd write on. I'm teaching it now, quite unexpectedly, and loving it. Gawd, just the cummings alone. . . I'd light a fire with the wrapper.
4. One book that made you laugh. Instruction Manual by Ann Lamont. Anything by Ann Lamont. This is a hard one for me, the hardest. I'm drawn to depressing novels (that face). They cheer me up like nothing else. Same thing with depressing movies. But no mayhem. There's enough in the real world. But the most depressing books and poems can also be the funniest. I have the same taste in comedians and comics. Give me Das Maus over Mickie Mouse any day. Lamont's journal of single motherhood hit me during my own, and in wondering with this strange new critter, my son, it really was that - an Instruction Manual. (It taught me that the instructions come in the box). Not a book I would have selected for myself unless I had read a part of it somewhere. My student, Michelle Spring-Moore, an exceptionally talented poet, gifted me with it. And like any good gift, just when I needed it. It really made me laugh. I still think of those inch long nipples resulting from the pump and at the oddest moments. And it makes me laugh. Now, I read her a lot in Oprah magazine (still trying to sell my script) and she always makes me laugh. But what do I know? I don't usually read funny books. I think I'd like to read George Lopez. The writer and playwright who edits and writes a "Ask (someone)" column in Latina magazine (I'm forgetting her name, Cuban American woman in New York) is hilarious. She should write a book or collection of pieces. I think I'd also like the Scottish guy who was on Drew Carey and now has his own show (sorry, that's about the extent of my tv knowledge) -- I think his book would make me laugh out loud. Mostly, there's no time to read much -- in academia. So, I pick the tragic mask. And go for gallows humor.
5. One book that made you cry. The posthumously published poems of Ray Carver with the introduction by Tess Gallagher. Wow! man o man. easy one. hands down. I love Ray Carver, to read him on the page, that is, especially his poetry, and had met Tess and she was generous enough to go over my first book with me while I was a Fellowship fellow at Provincetown. I didn't know then that they were partners. What a pairing! I read it aloud in the car just coming over the pass from Leadville on The Great Divide. I read the first sentence and burst into serious tears. I was with my partner, a fellow poet, and I read the entire book out loud between tears and streams of sobbing. It was very cathartic. It's one of the books I don't have anymore. I keep buying it and lending it to students and never getting it back.
6. One book you wish had been written. How to Love In All Languages.
7. One book you wish had never been written. The Bible. Don't ask. Seriously. Just figure I'm a California Indian. Then do your history homework.
8. One book you are currently reading. Frozen Accident by Alfred Arteaga. This is also a hard one as I've always had a tendency to read at least seven books at the same time -- when I have time. Well, not exactly at the same time, but you know what I mean -- they all get uploaded in the same session. Today and for these weeks, I've been reading and rereading a poet high on my list of "Neglectorinos" (if I ever get a chance to write that essay - blog entry - for the Poetry Foundation, or rather, they get it to print it without "technical difficulties occurring".) I have a copy of the manuscript and it's very exciting. Exciting, too, to know that this will help establish Arteaga, a poet I've admired for nearly 30 years, as one of the early innovators and invigorators of American poetry; truly one of the first postmodern poets. But, that's Xicanismo. (see my comments on Eduardo Corral's blog, Lorca Loca) I might start posting poems on the blog as "reviews" of really outstanding poems, beginning with Alfred's. If you're in San Francisco, October 5 Alfred will be reading at The Cell in the SOMA (so. Market) district at 7 - 11 pm along with me, Naomi Quinonez, Cherrie Moraga, Jean Vengua, along with music by my brother, and special surprise guests (invitations extended to Francisco Alarcon, Javier Pacheco and Dr. Loco's Rocking Jalepeno Band. My brother, Steve Cervantes plays with both Dr. Loco and in Javier's band. So, keep tuned to this site and set aside the date.) The event is to help raise funds for Alfred's experimental stem cell infusion treatments for his heart, as an alternative to a heart transplant. So, maybe I'll see you there, in my city by the bay, and you can ask me about books. Maybe even buy mine. Half the proceeds going to Alfred's new heart. I'll also be auctioning off copies of a new book, a first draft in manuscript form of love poems, Una poca de gracia/ Bit of Grace both at the event and online. Bids start at $25. Maybe you have something to donate?More info to follow. Oct. 5, 7-11 at The Cell.
9. One book you have been meaning to read. Crush by Richard Siken. I finally bought it, after reading many of the poems in other publications and online. Stunning work. Deserving of every award it's awarded. (ha! It's the reason I delayed publication of my book! Not really. sortta.) I'm saving it to relish. But I read it every time I pick it up. I can't help but. In a way I suppose I've already read it five times over. But, it has a flow and direction of the poems in the way of any truly excellent book of poems. And that crisp burning energy is sustained all the way through. Just one? No fair! I know the one book I've meaning to read -- and BUY -- is yours.
10. Now tag five people! I'll tag the same folk I always tag, who never play, Ron Silliman, Manuel Ramos, Rosie O'Donnell, Luis Urrea and Ana Castillo. I'd just really like to know how they'd answer these questions. But, I, like you, am nosy.
* links to follow - meanwhile, check the side panel - all this talk of reading makes me hungry