Tarfia Faizullah on Contemporary Asian American Literature

Brooklyn-born poet and author of Seam, Tarfia Faizullah speaks at the Phillips as part of the Asian American Literature Festival on July 28. As a featured writer, Curatorial Research Intern at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Carlo Tuason asked her a few questions about her work and the state of contemporary Asian American literature.

Tarfia Faizullah

What do you think having an Asian American literature festival means to the broader Asian American community? What does it mean in regards to the state of Asian American literature?

I think it’s always interesting to get folks of different generations, heritages, life experiences, talents, and perspectives into the same space at the same time, because it shows us what is possible, and how far we have already come. Some of the folks who will be there have provided, in decades past, the initial momentum and ambition that have helped newcomers blaze their own wondrous trails through the world of arts and letters. We have much to learn from each other, and we shouldn’t be content to merely maintain our own individual silos of experience—I’m excited about how different we all are from each other, as well as where we overlap and intersect. I hope to eavesdrop on as many conversations as I can! In all seriousness, this is an opportunity to add another point of view to our own, and to find enjoyment in each other’s company, which I don’t think should be underestimated as a potentially powerful tool of change. I just took another look at the lineup and schedule for the festival, and frankly, it means a time spent listening to, and being around, extraordinary and extraordinarily decent people who have a lot to share.

What do you want festival attendees to take away from “Tea with Tarfia”?

Registers of Illuminated Villages, Tarfia Faizullah. Releasing in March 2018.

I have so many fond memories of listening to my mother and her friends speaking intimately and openly to each other over tea. I was often surprised by how deep and vast the conversations could be. Sometimes, my mother and her friends would challenge each other’s perspectives, and it would lead not necessarily to agreement, but to understanding, which actually seems more difficult to achieve. My mother is still close with those friends, and I still return to and value the insights I got from just listening to the way others think. I appreciate that informality can lead to surprising and surprisingly deep forms of connection and intimacy. I’m hoping we’ll learn something fascinating about ourselves and each other in all sorts of delightful and unforeseen ways, and I’m hoping for laughter.

Also, these days, I’m often the one in the hot seat, so I’m excited for the chance to ask others what their current and primary concerns are. My hope is that folks who come will experience the pleasure of spontaneous, connective, and candid conversations, and that we’ll all leave with insights that may aid us in sorting through and better understanding the nuances of our own lives and the lives of others. Basically, I’ve always secretly maybe wanted to host my own talk show, and this is my chance! We’ll have tea! And I’ll have lots of questions.

Are there any themes that permeate throughout your work?

I would say there are certain obsessions that keep choosing me—memory, its fallibility/flexibility—time, basically, and how to express the strange music of all this pain and love and sorrow and joy.

Poetry Challenge: What’s the Story?

In addition to being an artist, Markus Lüpertz was a poet. Throughout the exhibition, share your Lüpertz-inspired poems with us to win prizes. Every other week, we’ll issue a new poetry challenge based on images or themes in the exhibition for fresh inspiration and chances to win.

Mann im Anzug – dithyrambisch II (Man in Suit—Dithyrambic II), 1976. Distemper on canvas, 98 1/2 x 73 1/2 in. Private collection

THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE:
What’s going on in Markus Lüpertz’s Mann im Anzug – dithyrambisch II (Man in Suit—Dithyrambic II)? Write a poem describing the story behind this work.

THIS WEEK’S PRIZE: A Dual/Family Membership to The Phillips Collection

TO ENTER: Leave your poem in the comments here, or share on social media with #LupertzPoem. We’ll select winners on Friday, July 21.

**UPDATE: There was a tie for the winning poem! They are:

Submitted by J.C. Thomas:
He wanted to feel blue
And hear the way he felt
Clenched fists and
Tighter neckties
Drowning out the sky
He imagined to be blue
He wanted to feel blue
And see the way he felt
An open book
Without words
He wanted to feel blue

Submitted by Karla Daly:
Save the Man for a Different Painting

It’s a fine suit, after all,
notched lapel, long vest,
Cerulean sheen.

The man, a mere suggestion,
hands of putty,
a swipe of a head.
A body, if there were one,
in motion.

So let us get back
to the impatient suit
not waiting for a man
to give it purpose.
A suit passing you
on the sidewalk,
a whiff of cedar and spice.
It whispers
hushed dining room,
side entrance,
embassy chamber with thick walls.

Save the man for a different painting.
Ask the tree trunk in mid-air,
indifferent to the ground.

Poetry Challenge: Reacting to Lüpertz in Haiku

In addition to being an artist, Markus Lüpertz was a poet. Throughout the exhibition, share your Lüpertz-inspired poems with us to win prizes. Every other week, we’ll issue a new poetry challenge based on images or themes in the exhibition for fresh inspiration and chances to win.

Ohne Titel (Untitled), 2010. Mixed media on board, 19 x 26 3/4 in. Private collection

THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE:
In a haiku, describe how you feel when you look at this work. Reminder: a traditional haiku is a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count.

THIS WEEK’S PRIZE: Phillips prize package (art supplies from the museum shop!)

TO ENTER: Leave your poem in the comments here, or share on social media with #LupertzPoem. We’ll select winners on Friday, July 7.

**UPDATE: The winning haiku was submitted by E. Egan:
At the edge of shade,
the sun about to find out
what the grass feels like.
Thank you to all who participated! Check back on our blog Monday, July 10 for a new challenge and chance to win prizes.