Experimental Poetry

Goals for the End of the Semester

Well, this is really extremely late, so maybe  I should have titled this blog, goals for the next semester. Or maybe I could list what my goals for the end of the semester should have been first.

I would have liked to have finalized my project somewhat more, but we take what is given. I would have also liked to have done my blogs right after they were assigned since now I’m finding myself at a loss for what the specifics for some of them were. I also wouldn’t be rushing to do some of them before tomorrow, but blogs really aren’t all that hard to write. One last thing would have been to study more of the non-English terms for the final. Would have helped.

As for next semester, I hope to crunch in as many classes as possible, so that I can graduate in two semesters instead of a whole other year. My English major requirements will be done by next semester, so I’m not worried about that, it’s the Secondary Education requirements that are going to be a major bummer. Especially all the work involved with the certifications. I also hope to at least keep up with reading even after I don’t take anymore English classes since that’s really what I enjoy the most.

Guess I’ll finish off with a little bit of an ode to English 379. The class was a lot of fun and despite the material being serious, and often oppressive with political unrest, it was still kept in good nature and I enjoyed a lot of the activities such as the hula dances and the museum trip a lot. Not enough classes do that.


For those who wanted to see the rest of what I put together:

Assimilation in America

Relative Material to Final Project

Reflection Paper

Todd B Henao
ENG 379
Professor Lee
13 December 2010

Reflection Paper

When I first initially started thinking about the project which we were first assigned it seemed daunting. When the idea of “protest” and “change” were brought up by both the handout and the professor, it seems very impractical along with the other responsibilities of the semester. As I thought more about it, however, and saw what other members in the class were doing, an idea began to come together. While I have not been able to exactly communicate with a large scale community either through attending organized events like breast cancer walks or spreading information via Facebook, I feel that the active conversations and sharing of gathered poetry has been enough of a beginning for myself and those I involved with the project.
One of the first obstacles was realizing the project itself. When I read some of the poems by Haunani-Kay Trask and even those later by Carlos Santos Perez, I saw that poetry could be the medium by which my project revolves around. Once this obstacle was overcome I very quickly ran into my next one; handling people outside of the classroom’s mindset. While (most) other students in the class will have had the connections of themes from the literatures in their minds when working on these projects, I realized that it would have to take something to get people entirely outside of the class to think along the lines that my project required. As I was beginning to give up hope on this aspect of my project I figured I could perform interviews before asking for the poetry part of my project. This way, with my line of questioning, I could start the interviewees down the path toward the mindset that I needed, which was to have them thinking about assimilation in American and their own experience with it (I almost felt a little evil doing this, but accepted it as a necessary one!). While I would also be contributing my own poetry I felt it more pertinent to get other voices as well.
Conducting the interviews was easy. I first interviewed two friends of mine, Joy and Juan Pawirosetiko, brother and sister. I hadn’t formed a coherent line of questions so I opened the interview with just general questions and let the conversation guide me into more specific questions as they mentioned more things about their immigrant experience. After going over things I asked them I then typed out a general questionnaire that I could ask people in person or email to people who I couldn’t get into physical contact with. However, the emailed questionnaires then posed my next obstacle. Imagining myself as a professor or teacher giving students an assignment, having the interviewees turn in the questionnaires at a reasonable time for me to work with proved to be difficult. I then gave them a sort of “due date” for the interviews and they turned them back in much before the date I told them (December 1st) and also received some poetry by then too. The poetry being the more specific part, it was almost like pulling teeth with some of the interviewees. I provided them with short examples of poems we had read in class as well as two related poems I had written for the class blog so they could get a basic idea at how they should be writing it.
The people who I interviewed were lose acquaintances at first who I would socialize with every now and then at various gatherings. When I contacted them about the interviews it was very awkward (for me at least) at first, but as we delved into the questions, it was comforting to see how open they were about everything. It was in these moments during the questions and the interviews that I felt a much stronger connection was established between me and the interviewee. In sharing different experiences concerning assimilation, we discovered together similarities between our initials beginnings as immigrants or the sons of immigrants.
When we discussed and went over Sons for the Return Home by Albert Wendt, I felt that I could somehow incorporate that into my project. I found that the narrator’s experiences in the novel were much like the responses I was getting back to some questions I was asking these people. The commonality between the experiences in Wendt’s novel and the interviewees was the feeling of being alienated from not only the culture you immigrate to, but the culture which you initially left. The course certainly helped build the way in which I structured the questions and resulting conversations between myself and the interviewees, and also helped realize the project that much more. When I first posted the update on the course blog and received feedback from Justin, I felt pressure once again about putting the final project together. I had no idea how it would be formatted or even resemble something I could present to people. After receiving your comments as well, questioning whether or not this project could ultimately come to fruition in December, even more panic began to set in.
All in all, I still feel like my project was very much not like what some of the other students presented during the final weeks of the class. I am nervous now, turning in what I’ve collected over the course of my project, that because I have not been able to get in touch with a “community/government organization” that my grade will seriously suffer because of that. However, as with the other obstacles I encountered during the course of working on the project, I feel that it’s simply me being far too nervous about completing it.
What I would have done differently is perhaps ask more of the opinions from classmates and the professor as well. Perhaps instead of thinking too much on how to put the project together myself, I could have perhaps had a little more guidance in the ultimate completed project. One other thing I would have done differently is perhaps collected my own anthology of poetry by published writers before asking people who might have never even tackled writing poetry. With this collection of poems I could have shown them examples of what they could write outside of my own writing. I also would have tried to (sooner) organize an event that could showcase the poems that I have collected. There was a tiny little event that my father let me hold with some friends at his restaurant in Brentwood (on Long Island) just to talk and read some of the poems that I had written as part of my project. The problem with organizing something would be a turnout of people, since I’m sure assimilation isn’t exactly the most popular topic to gather around.
In terms of advice I would have for others who are interested in my area of experience (concerning this project), there are some things I would ask them to keep in mind. One of the most important things is to always make sure to ask the person you’re interviewing if they want to remain anonymous or not. This might sound silly at first, but when you hear some of the stories of these people’s experiences, you’ll realize that they might want to strongly remain anonymous so nothing might come back to hurt them. While I only had two of the people I interviewed wishing to remain anonymous, it is always important to be clear on that with the person you’re interviewing. Also, some advice on interviews, I had the sort-of advantage of having been in journalism in high school, so I had learned some techniques when conducting interviews. You should always be more invested in the conversation than with looking at your computer or piece of paper and writing down notes. You should also have your questions be as “loose” and open ended as possible and “extract” more information by how they answer these open ended questions. Often people will reveal more with a broad question than with very specific ones. Also when emailing people things you need sent back, ALWAYS give them a date to send it back, otherwise they’ll let it keep sliding to the next day. It isn’t that they don’t want to help you, they just need a sort of deadline for things.

Project Update

Sadly there is not much to report, not for lack of having worked on the project, but for delayed responses in the people I’ve reached out to. Luckily I’ve been able to reach to people from different backgrounds and at various levels of immigration. One is a close family friend (whose name I’ve agreed to change but haven’t come up with one yet), another two are brother and sister who have moved several times but mostly identify themselves as Indonesians or South Americans, but for the most part I’m using several Colombian friends that I know. They are of different ages and origins so I find that when I receive their preliminary interviews back it will prove to be interesting.

I also have yet to spring the Poetry aspect on them, but I trust that most of them will be okay with it. I also plan on answering the questionnaire myself and submitting my own poem with this little project. I also want to meet them all for lunch at once (if possible, I understand one of them is in France right now) and get a group picture and perhaps individual photos for those that are okay with being named and pictured. Once I get the questionnaires back I will update this post to keep you all in the loop!

There is a man who, every morning upon awakening, looks at the photo framed on the wall. Indeed the photo is large, large enough to trick this ever-waking man into believe it is window rather than a framed piece of work. One of the reasons he believes this is a window rather than a photograph is because every morning the image inside the frame changes. It is usually a random snapshot of something terrifying. There are words that flash with the image, almost subliminally. Flier: I warned about disguised man and the image will be of an Asian man using the mask of an elderly man.

The man, upon seeing this new image every day has a sense of fear instilled in him. It is always a lurking dread, always the same emotion, but always in response to a different image. Sometimes the image changed during the same day and this scared the man even more because the new image was always more terrifying than the last. Despite this images however, the man never actually witnessed anything that he saw in the framed photos. At night, when he about to drift off into sleep in his middle-class bed in his middle-class room, he wonders what the photo will be the next day. Sometimes he secretly hopes that the photo will be of something happy, but knows it’s a bootless hope. As long as he keeps thinking that it’s a window he’s looking into, and not a framed photo on display, his hopes will never come true.

Del Valle

No, I wasn’t born there,
But just because I’m in the water
Doesn’t mean I’m swimming,
Tal vez me estoy ahogando.

And it’s funny to think that in some places
There isn’t a South or North America,
Some people just call it America,
Y si así es la cosa, entonces soy Americano.

But don’t call me American
And try to keep the Colombian out of me,
Porque ese sangre corre por mis venas
como el río del Quindío,
y el Pance de Cali.


There is indeed a moment in any writer’s life when a certain choice must be made, some might argue that it’s inevitable but I believe it’s more of a person choice. Any writer, as I’ve found with experience not only from writing myself but all the reading I’ve done during my academic career first writes about themselves first. Writing from personal experiences in life is only natural and sets a foothold for the writer’s future texts. The choice I’m talking about, however, is whether or not to become political.

I’m not saying that there must be a choice to make their writing political or not, that will stem from their personal choice. As for myself, I try to stay as apolitical as possible but I suppose that being in a class on protest literature, it’s not very likely that I stay apolitical for long. While some might say that writing about anything but the political might be useless toward fellow man, it simply serves a certain purpose toward society. Any meaningful writing can be useful to society, and does not exactly have to be political in nature. However, when a society has suffered such a moment in their history as Pacific cultures or African-Americans it unavoidable that their writing somehow address these issues.

Literature is surely a powerful and influential way in which resistance literature can be made, however, it can be dangerous in several ways. If writing can be a powerful thing made for a cause, then writing can certainly be made to go against a cause, or supporting the opposition to whatever is being resisted. Some obvious examples include Nazi propaganda, or even imperialist travel narratives which aided in the beginnings of stereotyping of many cultures. It is important that literature, as most other mediums and tools available to a culture, be used in a helpful manner. Even while resisting, some literatures may be created that only serve to hinder and sort of progress hoped to be achieved by resulting in pointlessly aggressive acts. But Todd, when are aggressive acts not pointless?

While I’ll certainly be one of the first to rally in revolution, I would like to say that being swept up my hysteria and developing a crowd mentality can lead to extremely detrimental results. A very popular example would be the reign of terror in the long history of the French Revolution. Therefore, there is a responsibility which lies upon not only the writer of resistance literature, but on those who read and are inspired by the writing to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of being a true force of resistance.

Topic Proposal

This wasn’t an issue I was really concerned with until I took a cultural anthropology and ethnography class a couple of semesters ago. In the class we discussed various different social groups, anywhere from transgender to New Guinean communities. I found that all of these groups were affected by the problem of assimilation, especially within America. By assimilation I mean to say the cultural process by which minority groups become integrated into the mainstream/dominant culture. While, as with many things, this sounds theoretically fine, there are some obvious problems when it’s put into practice. Firstly are the cultural elements lost when attempting to “fit in”. Secondly are other things such as names and even language.

I am highly interested in exploring the way these processes of assimilation has affected various ethnic groups in the United States and what they feel is lost in the transition. I’m interested in this topic because I feel that it has certainly affected me and the person I turned out to be as a result. During this project I hope to get in touch with various different ethnic groups and discover potential similarities between each group in terms of their feelings. In terms of knowledge I’d most likely have to attain, I’d probably have to look into anthropology and ethnography again and maybe get back in touch with anthropology professors to get an idea of where to start. They might also have advice on who to get in touch with, but I know persons from several ethnic groups which I can speak to already. I’m not sure how some of my skills or interests would help in this project. I do enjoy writing poetry so perhaps I can write a poem on each group or something like that. Maybe I can even create a poem book from each ethnic group on the topic of assimilation.

First and foremost, I would have to get in touch with, I suppose, at least 3 – 4 different members of various ethnic groups. Preferably, I think, they should be 1st generation immigrants. Once I’ve established various contacts to each community, I’ll have to write up interview questions and conduct the interviews, gathering as much information as possible. Before this step, however, it would probably be more pertinent to gather a basis of information on which to structure my interview. Common ideas behind assimilation, criticisms, etc. I hope to only really bring about awareness and to try to do away with the idea of “tolerance”, at least on a small scale, and to promote the ideas of simple acceptance and understanding. Perhaps through a compilation of poetry, I can reach a deeper level of connection with outside social groups.

My first question would be to see if any of you would feel that you qualify to be interviewed for such a project. If not, then if they would be willing to pass the word along to people they might know that can help me. Not many other questions come to mind really, but suggestions are certainly welcome.

As to any organizations I would get in touch with, there are not any that come to mind at the moment.

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