March 07, 2006

Today U Sam Oeur reading at Berkeley. I have been wanting to see him read for ages. The reading was organized by Southeast Asian studies Department. So was on the 6th floor of a building outside the gates of the university that had huge banner that said "buy Cal tickets here." (I love a big metaphor.) The room was more or less empty. Of those there, half were older white people and the other half were young Southeast Asian majors who were not white. The demographics of the room reminded me so much of Hawai'i. U Sam Oeur read from his new memoir. And talked some about Whitman, which he has been translating into Khmer (he said he came to US to learn about free verse and to take it back to Cambodia...wanted to poke at this more because I'm interested in what US MFA scene will do to the writing of other nations but did not want to take up all the question time). Memoir seems strong and will read it soon. There was a sort of poet in New York passage and then a passage about dealing with his twin girls being killed by the Khmer Rouge. Really felt the extremes of situation. I was also struck by the little poetry that he read. Left the reading wondering about nationalism and poetry, wondering about the limits of the social dimenions of poetry. Which are sometimes really wonderful (60 people showing up to see local poet with no book and few publications just on strength of friendship) and really sad (no recognizable to me Bay Area poets showing up to see U Sam Oeur; at the Ernesto Cardenal reading earlier in the year, although it was packed unlike this reading, again the only other recognizable Bay Area poet was the friend that I met at the reading).

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