In trying to maximize my understanding of my environment, I have noticed how poetry seems to concern relatively few people. Notwithstanding what some have called the "rebirth" of poetry in the United States (e.g. through "spoken word" and poetry slams), most people still seem to view poetry as a matter of little relevance (perhaps merely something they once studied in school) instead of something that can become part of their lives.
Consequently, working to expand the cultural presence of poetry has been an integral part of my activities as a poet. I not only write but also work as an editor, cultural activist, publisher and critic in order to promote poetry. Most recently, my attempts to live instead of just write poetry resulted in a multidisciplinary and interactive project entitled "Poems Form/From The Six Directions."
Six Directions relates to the Native American concept of the directions consisting of north, south, east, west, up and down. The concept resonates for me in terms of how its multidimensionality relates to my belief that poems are not just words lying flat on the page but are living breathing creatures. Six Directions began in part when I was trying to envision the visual equivalent of a poem. I had been considering the oft-quoted phrase "Poetry is not words but what lies between words, between the lines." Because this concept implies that poetry is invisible, I wondered what a poem's "body" might look like, and determined to answer my own question by "sculpting" poems. I thought of the sculptural process because sculptures are three-dimensional (which would be opposite from lying flatly against the one-dimensional field of a page). Thus, I created mixed-media sculptures whose processes also engendered verse-poems. Through the Six Directions approach, I ended up with poems that work as texts on the page as well as objects that symbolized the three-dimensional bodies of poems.
However, in a development that I never anticipated while conceiving of the project, Six Directions culminated in August 2002 with me helplessly bent over in amusement at the sight of a hairy man itching in my original wedding dress. There I was at LOCUS, a performing arts space in San Francisco, tears streaking down my cheeks, laughing robustly as Amar Ravva stripped down to his boxer shorts and then gingerly put on my satin gown. Ravva, a South Asian poet, had volunteered to wear my dress as part of a "happening" that featured my latest poem-sculpture, the interactive "Poem Tree."
"Poem-Tree" symbolizes my commitment to poetry through my marrying "Mr/s Poetry." In prior happenings, those wearing my dress were Filipina female poets (Natalie Concepcion and Barbara Jane Reyes) to reflect my status. For the last happening which was part of the launching of Interlope #8, a publication that features innovative writings by Filipino/a-Americans (see http://www.interlope.org/issue8writers.html), Ravva was chosen because poetry is presumably neither ethnic- nor gender-specific.
At Pusod, artist Marie Saquing and poet Del Ray Cross pin poems (yellow pieces of paper) on the wedding dress worn by Barbara Reyes. (Photo by Michelle Bautista.)
Nonetheless, Ravva, while petite enough to fit into my dress, is quite hirsute. His physicality offered a (wonderfully) dissonant contrast against my wedding gown festooned with lace, seed pearls, and white sequins. I had excavated my dress, along with a 12-foot train, from my parents' attic for Six Directions' purposes. Seventeen years ago, Mom went overboard as she helped choose the baroque style of my dress (this was her one shot to be Mother of the Bride). If my dress were cheese, it would be of the oozing, triple crème variety. Its elaborate style only highlighted the oddness of it draping the shoulders of a bearded man with a bemused expression and flat, black shoes that peeked out from the voluminous bottom folds of the skirt. (Whew! Was I glad Mom was not in town to witness Ravva in my dress!)
To see Ravva's black chest hair poking out from my dress' pearl-strewn décolletage sent me roaring. Whenever I hiccupped my way to some control, my eyes would latch onto his beard grazing delicately along the lace edgings of my dress, and I would howl again. I couldn't stop laughing even when my husband Tom, whom I'd asked to photograph the occasion, turned away from the sight; as Tom later explained to me, "Sorry, dear. But a guy in your dress is ruining my memory of you walking down the aisle to marry me." I was tempted to reply something about how commitment always costs and sacrificing my wedding dress to Poetry's altar (pun intended) seemed fitting. But, recalling the grimace on Tom's face, perhaps it's just as well that I kept my thoughts silent (even as I lapsed into giggles over his statement).