Introductions for Hoa Nguyen & Jesse Seldess

Hoa Nguyen was born in the Mekong Delta, raised in the DC area, and studied poetics in San Francisco. She is the author of eight books and chapbooks including Chinaberry (Fact Simile, 2010) and Hecate Lochia (Hot Whiskey, 2009). A new transplant to Toronto, ON, Nguyen curates a reading series, teaches creative writing, and reads tarot for poets. Wave Books will be publishing her third full-length collection in Fall 2012.

I had the good fortune to happen upon a stash of Hoa’s work at Beyond Baroque in LA in 2001. She was at that time a poet I was unfamiliar with.  I left with Dark and Parrot Drum and the sense that these poems contained things I would eventually want and need as an evolving poet and reader of poetry. I’m just going to mention several highlights from my experience as her reader. 1) She knows how toend her poems. For some reason, I get the image of an Olympic gymnast catapulting off the vault. Hoa’s last lines don’t so much nail the landing but keep flying through the air. 2) There are no orchestrated epiphanies in her poems. Knowledge comes through our ability to attend to her empathetic connections. Herein lives poetry’s power to transform, even if it is through enlarging a sense of possibility one person at a time. 3) Reading interviews she has given over the past decade she consistently refers to “her song” being influenced by power pop, punk, and post-punk. Her poems are short and hooky and like a lot of this music, has politics integrated as “active engagement with the forms and structures all around.” (HN) While I was preparing for tonight I read the news that Laura Kennedy, bassist of the Bush Tetra’s passed away this week, and in the past year or so we’ve also lost Poly Styrene, and Ari Up, post-punk women only in their middle age. Hoa shares such a streetwise feminism, keeping the edge and making it something you can dance to, making decisions “from and of the body, issuing from the percussive of the heart, and informed by the unruly twists of experience and urgency.” (HN) Please give Hoa a warm welcome back to the Poetry Project.

 Jesse Seldess is the author of two books, Who Opens (Kenning Editions, 2006) and Left Having (Kenning Editions, 2011), as well as chapbooks from Hand Held Editions, Instance Press, Answer Tag Press, and the Chicago Poetry Project Press. Since 2001, he has edited and published Antennae, a journal of experimental writing and language-based performance and music scores. This isn’t in the bio he gave us but I’m going to add that, in Chicago, he co-curated, with Kerri Sonnenberg, an influential series called The Discrete Reading and Performance Series.  This was 10 plus years ago and the series, along with his journal, really helped galvanize what I like to think of as a Great Lakes poetry scene that is still active and interesting and expansive.

The act of listening to Jesse read his work has been a formative experience for me. Around the time we met he was, I think, working on the poems that would be included in Who Opens. One in particular, “In Contact,” he said grew out of his work, his interactions, with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve since viewed his work through the lens of what poetry can illuminate about illness – from something as serious as Alzheimer’s to daily dis-ease. (My acupuncturist recently told me “we are all inflamed.”) His work seems improvisational and, at the same time, built as carefully as a model. It’s driven by rhythmical actions, where sounds are used as time-makers. The pattern, and sense of created time, is often broken, and the listener is left with the ghost of the past while she anticipates its future existence. His poems are interested in organization of language, semantic access and episodic memory and I venture to say, how rhythm as an ancient force works upon them. Andrew Welsh in his book Roots of Lyric writes, “The melopoeia of song, charm and speech are not intellectualized concepts… they are physical forces that our bodies feel, and they are concerned with power and action.” Jesse’s conscious recombinant poetics plunge beneath the commerce of everyday speech and align us with the wider potential of language’s impact on well-being. Please welcome Jesse back to the Poetry Project.