This Is How the World Should Be': Asian-American Poetry Blossoms at U.Va.'s Kundiman Retreat

July 8, 2009 — Kundiman – a classic-yet-subversive form of Filipino love song that actually expresses love of country – informs a poetry retreat held at the University of Virginia each summer to bring together a select group of budding Asian-American poets.

"As an organization dedicated to providing a nurturing space for Asian-American poets, we find in this name inspiration to create and support poetic expression," wrote founder and U.Va. alumna Sarah Gambito on the organization's Web site.

From public poetry readings to one-on-one private meetings with nationally known Asian-American poets, the Kundiman Summer Retreat again will host about 18 writers on Grounds today through Sunday.

A reading, free and open to the public, will be held Friday at 8 p.m. at the Bridge in Charlottesville, featuring the three visiting master poets: Rick Barot, Staceyann Chin and Myung Mi Kim.

Now in its sixth year, the retreat includes daily workshops and nightly "salon-style" informal gatherings. The event is the only such conference in the country dedicated to Asian-American poetry, according to Carolyn Micklem, Kundiman's executive director.

"Through this retreat, Kundiman hopes to provide a safe and instructive environment that identifies and addresses the unique challenges faced by emerging Asian-American poets," Gambito wrote.

Participants responded enthusiastically about what the gathering means to them.

"To construct this rich and deep network of emerging Asian-American talent as we are embarking upon careers in such a nurturing greenhouse is a remarkable accomplishment," wrote one student.

"Kundiman creates a safe space to discuss why we write and read poetry, who we are as Asian-Americans, our roles in the global family and what values we have as human beings," commented another.

"In the end, I've found in Kundiman other poets who believe as strongly as I do that poetry can be a way to examine our experiences as Asian-Americans, as women, as men, as straight folks and queer folks – a way to say: This is how the world should be, and with each word I write, I am working to bring that world into being," wrote another student.

This summer's poet-teachers are a varied group.

A professor of English at the State University of New York-Buffalo, Korean-American Myung Mi Kim has published the poetry books "Commons," "Dura," "The Bounty" and "Under Flag," the latter the winner of the Multicultural Publisher's Exchange Award.

Staceyann Chin, winner of several poetry slams – public, oral competitions of verse – was featured on CBS News' "60 Minutes." She also performed on the second and third seasons of the Peabody Award-winning HBO series, "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry." She has been co-writing and performing as one of the original cast members of the Broadway and Tony Award-winning version of "Def Poetry Jam," created by Simmons, whose Def Jam Records launched the careers of artists such as LL Cool J and Jay-Z.

Rick Barot was born in the Philippines and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. His books of poetry include, "The Darker Fall," winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry, and "Want," both published by Sarabande Books. He lives in Tacoma, Wash., and teaches in the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and at Pacific Lutheran University.

The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, where the reading will be held, is located at 209 Monticello Road. For information, contact 434-984-5669 or visit the Web site.

— By Anne Bromley