Online Edition: Fall 2006

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Letters to Poets


Truong Tran

Truong Tran received his B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz and his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He has published four volumes of poetry: Placing The Accents (Apogee Press, 1999), The Book Of Perceptions (Kearny Street Workshop, 1999), dust and conscience (Apogee Press, 2002) which received the 2002 Poetry Center Book Prize and within the margin (Apogee Press, 2004). He is also the author of a children's book entitled Going Home Coming Home (Children's Book Press, 2003) He was the 2003 Writer In Residence for Intersection For The Arts. He lives in San Francisco where he teaches in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.


Wanda Coleman

Wanda Coleman was born in 1946 and is the author of Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998), winner of the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Her other books of poetry include Native in a Strange Land: Trials & Tremors (1996); Hand Dance (1993); African Sleeping Sickness (1990); A War of Eyes & Other Stories (1988); Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986 (1988); Imagoes (1983); and Mercurochrome: New Poems (2001). She has also written Mambo Hips & Make Believe: A Novel, published by Black Sparrow Press in 1999. A former medical secretary, magazine editor, journalist and scriptwriter, Coleman has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation for her poetry. She was recently nominated as a Poet Laureate finalist for the state of California.



San Francisco California
December 23, 2004

Dear Ms. Coleman,

I do not know how to begin. I do not know where to begin. Perhaps here is as good a place as any. I begin with a confession. The task of writing a letter in the context of this project is completely foreign to me. I can blame this partly on technology and the invention of the cursed email, but ultimately it lies entirely upon my shoulders. Letter writing is an art form that is lost to me. In recent times, it has only served as a tool when looking for a job, writing a recommendation for a student, or writing an appeal to the masses in support of the arts, but it has not, in recent memory, served the purpose of intimate correspondence. The fact that I am writing this letter with the knowledge of it being a part of a project meant for publication makes it that much more difficult. In preparing for this journey, I've revisited your work and the text of Letters To A Young Poet. I am at once inspired and in awe. I want to thank you Ms. Coleman for this opportunity of exchange. I consider it to be both an honor and a privilege to be in conversation with you on these urgent matters of poetics, politics, life. I also find myself saddened perhaps by the notion that a correspondence similar to Rilke's cannot exist in our times. I began writing this letter in the days following our election questioning my voice and its validity and authenticity as a person living in and as a part of this society. It is now December 26th and I am still trying to find the words to begin a conversation on poetry and life. Perhaps I can begin by addressing the obvious. Letters To A Young Poet existed in a world entirely different from the one we live in. It is a correspondence between two white men and in all honesty in the context of today's world, it is a conversation that is at once innocent and removed. I wonder if poetry can in fact still embody that sense of innocence. I want to share with you a recent experience. When it first happened, I was deeply offended by the turn of events. It is now nothing more than a humorous anecdote. I was asked to submit some poetry to a well-known academic journal for a special issue of literature pertaining to Vietnam, the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese American experience. I sent them a manuscript of my latest book with the knowledge that such a publication would be unlikely due to the fact that the book layout was rather unorthodox. To my surprise, the editors decided to publish an excerpt from the manuscript. Shortly after this acceptance, another letter came in the mail. The managing editor of this journal essentially asked for the following:

work that was more traditionally lineated and
work that was more Vietnamese in flavor.

I am prepared to accept the thinking of the first request. It is the second request that leaves me at a loss for words. It is a request that reaches far beyond the boundaries of my poetry and is a reflection of life as it exists now in this society. It is a society that still insists on filing individuals into a neat rolodex system of race, gender and sexual orientation. Every word of every line of every poem I've ever written is an embodiment of who I am as a writer, a gay man, a person of color, a writer. I can retell this story anecdotally for the reason that I am very clear on where I stand. I am a writer first, foremost and last. Ms. Coleman, I look forward to our conversations and reading your views on the state of poetry and the poetic life. It is that existence between the space of perceptions and the perceived that I find my own existence. It is in that space that I will initiate our discourse.

Yours truly,
Truong

P.S. Even at the conclusion of this letter, I still feel foreign to the concept. If you are ever in San Francisco, please allow me the opportunity of inviting you over for a home cooked meal. I would like to meet you face to face, shake your hand and thank you for your work. I would like for us engage beyond the threshold of the page.



Los Angeles, California
Wednesday, January 19, 2005

From The Desk of WANDA COLEMAN

Dear Truong,

I have been "writing" you since reading your letter yesterday afternoon. It is postmarked the 5th, but I haven't picked up my mail in three weeks. The Wanda Coleman you meet at this late date is not the optimistic word warrior of her previous works. I am the exhausted, "failed" warrior of a terrible present. My dreams reflect this unfortunate turn--as two nights ago I witnessed the glorious moment of destruction as our moon tremored on its axis, left orbit, hurtled toward Earth in brilliant golds, mauves, silver-whites and magenta coronae and plumes, splitting and cracking the cold-perfect blue sky above Southern California, much as I have longed to split and crack the biases and bigotries that bind me to oblivion. I knelt before the roaring winds, embraced my three children (adults, returned to pre-pubescence) and in my final words uttered: "Don't be afraid, I will always love you and we will always be together."

The dream shocked me awake, as I am shocked from sleep quite often these mornings. Grateful to discover I'm still breathing, still in the fray. The only person around to hear me describe my end-of-Earth scenario, my lover of twenty-two years, a man who, following a recent health-related crisis, in which I had done everything in-my-powers to successfully rescue him, felt compelled to confess that throughout our marriage he has been "indifferent" to my dreams. I suppose indifference is the word I'm searching for, Truong. It came to me overnight and wove itself through my subconscious missive to you. [Understand: If this letter seems emotion-ridden, I am struggling to reign in the manic, hypertensive onslaught that now governs my waking hours. I am fighting myself to say cogent and valuable writerly things to you, and not merely glut my letters with personal business that should be reserved for some future private moment, or memoir. Yes, I accept your offer for dinner, as soon as I can get to San Francisco. (My husband's favorite food is Vietnamese, especially that version of it he discovered over twenty-five years ago while living in France before we met. Know that I shared the close of your letter with him, yesterday--I opened your letter while we waited in a consulting physician's examination room--and that he has invited himself along--hahaha.)] Before I continue, let me backtrack and type in the "stuff" I wrote to you last night, about five-thirty:

Dear Truong--Your letter lances so many wounds, old and fresh, I don't know where to begin. At this moment, I'm sitting in the car parked at my favorite meditation spot. It is a viewpoint off Marina del Rey--just south of the Venice Beach canals. You've been here long enough to appreciate California's sunsets. These seem more spectacular than ever, an after-effect of the Great Tsunami that claimed so much of our Pacific Rim. The sky truly rings with fire this evening, at eighty plus degrees in the L.A. basin and above in the High Desert. My husband is napping in the reclining passenger's seat. We ate my picnic dinner of egg-salad sandwiches and lemon cake minutes ago. Marvin Gaye is lilting "sexual feelings/healings" on the soft-jazz radio station. Two light-skinned boys run the walkway, ahead of their well-heeled, high-tone parents. A young blonde trots behind a shaggy brick-red dog half her height as the pierside lamps come on.

Geez, Truong, I'm old enough to remember this city's last gas-lit street lamps, and the lamplighter who came around on his truck, with ladder, to light them--that street Santa Barbara has been renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. (MLK), and all the old landmarks, including Wrigley Field (a mini-version of the original) and my great Aunt and Uncle's home are vanished. They were the family babysitters and I spent many early months, including my first semester of school at their house. Their old neighborhood is not far from Magic Johnson's Shopping Center and Theatre complex, and many Black and Latino immigrants are displacing the Afro-American population that replaced the Whites who fled after the Baldwin Hills Dam burst, back in 1963. The year I graduated High School, 1964, I took a bus ride into that chic neighborhood. Mr. Newsom, my White English teacher and debate coach lived off Stocker, one of its classier avenues. It was a clean, well-kept neighborhood, then, but notorious for racial and officer involved incidents. I was 17-years-old, big at 5'9" and 200 pounds, but I was terrified that something might happen to me. Mr. Newsom had invited a handful of his best speech-and-debate students to hang out that afternoon. My nervousness about the trip was so great it has blotted out the visit, leaving only the residue of fear, which extended to my return bus ride home. I was so anxious to get back to my neighborhood, I left the leather-bound caddy I was carrying on the bus stop bench. In it were five plays that I had painstakingly written by hand, under the spell of Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller. They were my only copies. I didn't realize that they were lost until I got home, and didn't have the money for return fare to hunt for them, and couldn't ask my mother, exhausted from her day's labor at the sweatshop, spending hours bent over a power sewing machine. The young White man who would become my first husband was waiting for me when I got home. He paid our fares as we returned to hunt for the caddy. It was not to be found. As he escorted me back home it couldn't have escaped him that he had made another favorable impression.

Loss. Your letter underscores the losses that drive me. Lost moments, lost possibilities, all that's been lost on the many gone. The loss of dreams....

Truong, I wake each morning in a fury. Each night I descend into fury.

The Loss of relaxation ... calm ... a million fleeting sunsets lost ... so here we are, you and I, at a time in history when this nation squanders its finest artists and intellectuals, its true greatness ... when poets are valueless, suspect, impotent....

What can I tell you?

No, what can I save you from?

I can tell you to expect nothing from the world of American Letters, so that when something happens you might enjoy it. I can tell you to stop wasting your time on poetry and write a simpering novel or fake self-help book, or some preposterous tome telling morons-of-any-stripe how they can find undying love. Make it as cliché-ridden and banal, as politically correct (or incorrect, since neither matters) as possible, dripping with sentiment. Do it and make the TV talk-show rounds. Make the goo-gobs of money that you will need to buy quality time, time free of dolor, time to write at leisure. Then you can side-step the supercilious fools one often finds on grantsmanship panels and philanthropic committees.

No. Fuck that. The cynic in me grabs the pen. Let me stop this madness and back up. I will address your letter directly. I will use it as ballast to bring me back to the Earth of myself!

10:44:44 AM -- I'm going to stop now, take a break, collect my thoughts and then comment on the critical point you raise in your letter. Back shortly.

1:39:06 PM - Item #1 refers to your form. Let's address item #2, the phrase that has put you at a loss: "work that was more Vietnamese in flavor." What does that kind of calculated rejection mean? This is a variation on the old "you're not Black enough" ploy that, ironically, even when valid, is a convenient repudiation that conceals racist bias (although it may be adamantly claimed otherwise). It is frequently used to demoralize anyone Black (of Slave Origin), regardless of skin color. It refers to the content of the artist's work.

The critic, editor or publisher or reader who makes this statement is usually a White male or female who presumes to be an expert on "Blackness," or at minimum, to have an appreciative knowledge of Black/ethnic expression, or popular contemporary representation(s) of the Black experience, a.k.a. stereotypes. Depending upon this person's aesthetic criteria, they may want work that's "stronger," that is, work that is militant or decries racism, and/or is urban in tone, subject and point-of-view. Or (as I have encountered in the pitch dens of Hollywood) they may want work that is idyllic, rural, lyrical or "positive" (non-threatening). Whatever they think they want, this thoughtless manner of requesting it is extremely offensive, and usually deliberate. This phenomenon has bedeviled African-Americans (I'll stick to poets) since the days of Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), particularly Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and Melvin B. Tolson (1900-1966). This insidious means of confounding and trivializing the literary excellence of we so-called minorities has been used against virtually every member of every ethnic group American society has produced: "You're not Indian enough, you're not Jewish enough, you're not Mexican or Puerto Rican enough, you're not 'Oriental' enough," ad infinitum. Unless the individual who rejected you was Vietnamese, him or herself, how dare they presume to know what comprises or doesn't comprise "Vietnamese flavor?" In your case this translates as not being Vietnamese enough. Are they referring to a form of pidgin English, a certain regional dialect, issue-oriented content? All of that? If they, themselves, are Vietnamese, other factors may be at work: as aesthetic taste, editorial slant, any subsumed innergroup conflict (as when lighter-skinned Blacks reject darker-skinned Blacks or vice versa), differences in national identity.

On the other hand, it is up to each individual writer to decide how they want to handle this root issue of "otherness." As I have described in some of my writings about writing, the constant re-examination of what is African and what is American in my work has been a ceaseless process. Your version of this process now confronts you: What in the hell is "Vietnamese flavor?" You have two options: 1) to ignore this question, if you can, or 2) devise an answer with which you, and only you, are satisfied, if not permanently, then for the interim, so that it doesn't "fuck with your head" or impede your creative process.

How have I done that?

I was raised by parents who did not allow identifiable idiomatic speech, Black slang or "foul language" into their home. First I memorized the King's English and his grammar. I learned the rules so that I could break them with artistry as opposed to chance. Simultaneously, I then began to "collect" all the language I was not allowed to use, along with various other cants and jargons. I have developed a mental list of stylistic and/or linguistic "signals" or "stops" that tell the initiated and/or sensitive reader that there is "something else" going on underneath my language, something that is out-of-the ordinary. These are widely ranging rhetorical devices by which I encode my blackness (the way 50s scriptwriters encoded sex), using everything from nonsensical "niggerisms," to literary allusions, mock and variant spellings, period slang, song lines and titles, musical notation, etcetera. I've also cultivated an occasionally "skewed" approach to subjects that may be overworked in the culture at any given moment. I've worked extremely hard to "individuate" my language as opposed to individuating my style, although I think either method is equally valid. (The poems of Timothy Seibles, provide a delightful example of how "skewed" points-of-view individuate language.)

[As you might notice, if you read enough contemporary African-American poets, and contemporary poets of other origins under their influence (this touches on the acculturation process), most, with about a half-dozen exceptions, have settled on pouring their "Blackness" or "otherness" into conventional forms, so that the only thing "Black" or "other" about their work is the content. (This, unfortunately, becomes tiresome when one sits through a long evening of Slam poetry.) I enjoy doing this on the page, as in "Retro Rogue Gallery," Mercurochrome.]

Now--all of that said, what if the person who makes point #2 is not a racist? I address this by describing a like incident in the poem "Poetry Lesson Number Two" (Hand Dance).

Smugly I showed him my notebook. He read silently for a/few minutes/as I watched him turn the pages with what I felt to be the/proper amount/of attention deserved. I expected acceptance johnny-on-the-spot. Then he dead-eyed me and said flatly, "These look very familiar."

It would have been very easy for me to dismiss my White-male critic as racist. I had "vibed on" the man, and can still see him now--stance relaxed, off-axis, arms folded--and hear his voice. Something inside me would not let me dismiss his open face, frank nonjudgmental eyes, blonde hair parted on his right, like an aged Huckleberry Finn minus the freckles, slight but muscular frame. Not one hint of sexual come on, yet careful observation and appraisal. I revisualized that moment repeatedly for days into weeks. Finally, I got out several chapbooks by some of the big-name Blacks of the era (late '60s-early '70s) and made unsparing comparisons. I then took my poems and began to dissect them, bringing other influences into the process.

Perhaps it is time for you to undergo a like process, to examine the work of other Vietnamese poets, and/or those influences at work on your psyche, to attempt to "'objectify" them, as much as that's possible, and then apply or test what you garner.

Otherwise, do as I have done with rejections calculated to harm me: forget them.

Hmm. Before I close, I want to tell you a story I often relate that may further illustrate the issue you raise in item #2, summarized in one word: Authenticity.

In 1994, I was invited to be a peer-review panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts. (I think the NEA has one of the fairest "blind" peer review processes devised to date.) As usual, I arrived in D.C. in a state of exhaustion, given my frantic lifestyle, and having flown three-thousand miles without a break except a few hours sleep. I was still on L.A. time. That morning I arrived last to the opening session, making the kind of awkward and noisy entry persons of bulk are apt to do when in a hurry; a sight in my favorite Dr. Seuss hat, power slacks suit, black-leather boots, draped in a "cat hair" throw. Having encountered me over the years, a couple of my peers, and one member of the staff, were familiar with my unorthodox style. Those who weren't, either squelched or grappled with their distaste, while others immediately dismissed me. The staff had taken pains to insure the fairness of the panel. Around the table the demographics were covered, some nine panelists encompassing two or three categories including two Latinos, two Black women, at least two identifiable homosexuals (male and female), and one lay person or non-poet, two Californians, two Chicagoans, one D.C. resident, several academics, at least three politicos, etc. I was the least formally educated of the group, having pulled myself up "by my own bootstraps," as the saying goes. It is the usual nature of such grant-selection processes that conflicts arise and alliances shift in the name of literary craft excellence, but in two striking instances it came down to one panelist going against the apparent aesthetic values of the other eight. Each time that one panelist was yours truly, Wanda Coleman.

I quickly realized that I was the only one at the table who had read every single bloody application, word for-word. Instead of regarding me favorably as having remarkable integrity, my peers thought me an idiot and fool for having done so. I had even taken the pains of jotting down my evaluations on green 5x8 cards in order to present them succinctly and not waste my fellow panelists' precious time. They found this amusing.

In the first of the two conflicts, I was advocating for one of the strongest manuscripts of the hundreds I had read (each panelist read an overlapping 2/3rds of the nine to twelve-hundred manuscripts submitted). Not only was the writing topnotch, it was one of the rare manuscripts that addressed the complexities of human sexuality. When my peers remained unconvinced, I took it upon myself to read one of the misread or unread poems aloud. I wanted my peers to hear what I heard. It was titled "Prayer" and it had a litany, a repetition of the words "Gay men." It was obvious to me that the author intended the poem to be read so that "Gay men" sounded like "A-men." I then read the poem in that fashion. My peers immediately changed their votes and supported that particular poet; however, from that point forward they banned me from reading any more poems aloud, someone stating that I could read the telephone book aloud and make it sound poetic.

The second instance is more complex, and the more significant. During the initial weeding-out process, we were allowed to select only a small number of "semifinalists" from the hundreds of manuscripts we read. Once I had selected all of my choices except one, I ended up with four manuscripts I felt were of equal merit, if for varying reasons. But I could only select one. I decided to ask my husband, also a poet and English teacher, to help me out by evaluating the four. The one he selected was a collection of exquisitely painful, excellently written poems that moved him to tears. They spun the horrific narrative of a Vietnamese woman who, along with her brother, mother and maternal aunt, had escaped during the evacuation at the end of the war as "boat people." Her tale involved capture by pirates, brutal rape and the separation of herself and her brother from her mother and aunt. The children miraculously ended up in America, the mother and aunt in France, the story ending with a poignant reunion following the untimely death of the mother.

"Wanda," he said, blowing into Kleenex, "these are great poems. She's a great writer. You've got to let her go through the process."

I looked at him quizzically. We had had hundreds of complex discussions, even arguments, on the literary works of others over the years--thirteen at that point. "Austin," I snapped, "those poems weren't written by a woman, they were written by a man--a White one at that." "You're kidding."

"No, I'm not." I took the ms and explained my reasoning. First, the traditional line breaks were perfect and highly sophisticated. Second, the (implied) sentence structure was perfect. The character (if she were also the writer) had not been in the U.S. long enough to develop that much syntactical sophistication, unless she had a staggering frontal lobe development, an I.Q. above 200 and a photographic memory. Thirdly, the sexual content was written in a male tone, with a confidence few women writers assume -- even feminists. Fourth, the dialogue was perfect, minimal, without a wasted word, and moved the narrative forward in a fashion that told me the writer was an accomplished scriptwriter as well as a poet. Fifth, there was a laid-back or understated polished lyricism to the language that told me this was "someone in our neck of the woods -- someone who lives on the West Coast."

"No, no!" Austin vehemently insisted. "Suppose you're wrong? Then you're denying a great woman writer an opportunity. You wouldn't want anyone to do that to you!"

That decided me. I was certain that I was right. But I had had exactly that kind of thing happen to me, and I couldn't do it to anyone else, regardless of who they were. It sickened me whenever I was penalized for being "too good." That manuscript was my final selection.

Now it was up for consideration by we nine NEA peer panelists. By chance, the person sitting to my left was the first to present their case for or against the manuscript by the "Vietnamese woman" poet. That meant I would be last to present my opinion. One by one, each person, regardless of demographics, ranked the manuscript the highest rank possible, a score of 10 points. To a person, each panelist raved about the "Vietnamese woman" who had written these incredible poems, their eyes actually tearing, and, like Austin, most snotted into Kleenex tissues as a box was passed around the table, their heartstrings undoubtedly on maximum pluck.

My turn came.

"These poems raise the issue of authenticity," I opened. "Ordinarily, I would rank these poems a one or zero because these poems were not written by a woman. They were written by a man." There was a collective gasp. "And a White man at that." All spines went rigid.

One by one, I laid out my criteria, as I had for Austin. I also told them that I had read this woman's story, or something identical to it, in the Los Angeles Times, mere weeks before (I had), and had, coincidentally, seen it, or something that corresponded to it, on CNN the night before, in my hotel room, before finally going to sleep. My peers were livid with disbelief, so I slammed it to them out loud.

"If he's that good, good enough to fool all of you," I smirked, "Let-The-Man-Have-His-Money!"

I gave the manuscript a ten as well.

Everyone seemed either upset or outraged by my bold certainty. But we were adjourned for lunch without further discussion. Since that was the last manuscript to undergo scrutiny, and finalists had been chosen, it was only a matter of arranging them according to numerical rank, (all ties had been broken) and re-assembling the panel for closing comments and any input regarding the peer-review process. This now controversial manuscript was the highest ranking manuscript, the only one to receive nine straight tens.

Usually, at the end of these processes, everyone is watching the clock, and it is considered a coup when travel-weary panelists can get away early, with extra time to make planes or deepen new alliances. I had been given the impression that it would take at least three hours or more to wrap up everything. During our one-hour lunch I went on a walking tour of the Vietnam memorial, discovering the name of one of my high school classmates.

Unbeknownst to me, I had caused such a hubbub among everyone, the staffers and the peer panel chairperson had decided to forego lunch and complete the final tally, speeding up the process in order to prove me wrong! They thought it intolerable to make everyone go back to their lives with the controversy unresolved, having to wait four-to-six weeks for the bureaucracy to spit out formal letters naming all finalists selected by our panel. Under NEA rules, the only way the identities of the finalists could be revealed was after the completion of the final tally, when the grants to the poets were effectively made. Once that was done, they could, in effect, legally "take off the blinders" and reveal the names of the award-winners.

Of course, they were only interested in discovering the name of the Vietnamese woman poet.

I returned from lunch slightly early and as I entered the room, someone screamed.

"Wanda was right!"

As it turned out, the writer of the poems was a highly educated White male, a Californian, a professor at one of the nation's top ten universities, who was also a Hollywood television scriptwriter, the type of poet who usually culls his poems not from the stuff of his life, but from events in the lives of others. Apparently, unlike you, he did manage to write poems that had the proper "Vietnamese flavor."

While it might be unfair, and certainly incorrect, to characterize all my peers as racists, the complexities of racism did create the subtext for their ignoring or being indifferent to the information I brought to the process. I was less educated/didn't have a degree to my name (still don't), I was from the west or "left" coast, my style of dress didn't meet with the approval of most; unlike the other Black female, I was not considered "royalty" (it was pointed out to me that her father was an important man in the political arena), I was working-class poor, etc.

In this democratic republic, these social differences were nevertheless, grounds for the dismissal of my observations, which were not given full weight or importance until they could be absolutely proven true. They were indifferent to my assessment. (This harks back to the days when Black witnesses were not allowed to testify in court against Whites accused of crimes. Black testimony was held "suspect," unless sanctioned by White authority. Metaphorically, this mechanism is still at work in America.)

Too, it seemed that most of my peers had other agenda and, perhaps, suspect motives themselves. This is a textbook example of what you've identified. This society files "individuals into a neat Rolodex system of race, gender and sexual orientation." Instead of an open society, fostering racial harmony and parity, the racists-of-all stripes have seen to it that post-Civil Rights "affirmative-action" America has devolved into a Y concatenation of socioeconomic elites that is parasitic on the diverse majority of citizens collectively regarded as inferior. It is automatically understood that the representatives of these elites limit their "business" to or feed-on their same ilk only; therefore, as in our 1994 panel, the gays were there to offer expertise on gays, the women on women, the Blacks on Blacks, the Latinos on Latinos, and so on. If the true criterion were literary excellence, and if our society were a true democracy, then who sat on that panel would not have mattered.

Truong, I doubt that I was the only one of my so-called peers for whom literary excellence was the only criterion; however, I was the only one able to pierce the fictive narrative and detect the true nature of the poet beneath. In so saying, it doesn't mean that I can't be fooled, it merely indicates that I wasn't fooled on that occasion, and, although largely self-educated, I know my craft extremely well. This incident did not win me any friends I didn't already have, and I have not been invited to sit on a peer panel out-of-state since.

Well, Truong, it is time to close. I hope I have answered your question, and that item #2 has been thoroughly addressed. If I've raised more questions, feel free to ask them in your next letter. I'll do my best. And I'll try not to rattle on for so many pages. Until...

Last Night: After my husband Austin woke from his nap, we drove into Santa Monica to see one of the current film releases. I am sick of wasting my eyeballs on the current crop of mindless muscle-heavy cinema, which seems as ludicrous as ever (like Mann's Collateral, and that major piece-of-shit The Forgotten--I laughed myself sick during the first, and we walked out on the latter). We caught Kevin Spacey's Beyond the Sea, more the glorified fan letter/ homage than a movie, usually not the kind of flick I like, corny and marginally skirting sentimentality, but it aced our critical faculties and struck us warmly.

You may call me Wanda.
Sunday, January 23, 2005 -- 8:18 AM

P.S. You'll find this letter is now a combination of four, since I've started and stopped at least that many times. One of the things that I forgot to say at the outset, is that when I was in my mid-twenties, my most important formative years, I hungered for a correspondence like this but it was not to happen, perhaps for the obvious "demographic" reasons. I was starved for a guidance I never quite received. What I did manage to acquire, or whatever I was given, seemed tainted by the issues of the day, that world in which I was regarded as suspect, or literally as a suspect, born snatching purses, holding up liquor stores, selling sex while still in diapers. Sigh. Anyway I'm going to finish this now and mail it in the morning. My apologies for being late, it could not be helped, and why is too long a story to tell in this already overly long message.