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Excerpts from Sesshu Foster Interviews


"For years - maybe decades - I felt that I'd been avoiding the form of the prose poem because I felt that it was middle-of-the-road: not fiction and not poetry. But I have always been interested in it because I'm a continual reader and writer of both fiction and poetry. The prose poem was a voice that kept calling. So I decided to use this form for CTFM."

"Prose poems allow me to use a voice and voices to structure lines and language. Rather than have paragraphs and chapters in prose or lines, phrases and diction in poetry, I could work all the voices more directly. I could have a variety of voices, a community of voices. This is important. because CTFM’s poems take on the voices of people I knew growing up (although) some are fictionalized because I didn't want a portrait gallery. I wanted to create something like a human landscape."

"CTFM has a personal basis. [. . .] I have a background that I often have had to simplify for people. When people first meet me, they ask, 'Who are you? What's your background?' I have a white Dad and Nisei mom and grew up in a Chicano barrio. I grew up with Asians, Chicanos and people with mixed heritage - but I've always had to simplify for people who come from outside that experience."

"I've been writing for as long as I can remember. My first publication was in a Little Tokyo newspaper published by activists called Gidra (a Japanese cartoon of monster). Gidra was published by community activists fighting the urban renewal of Little Tokyo in which Japanese capital pushed the Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants) out of Little Tokyo. The New Otani Hotel replaced buildings where Issei retirees lived. And these activists' newspaper was where I was first published. And so that was what I knew as I grew up. On the one hand, I grew up with the Vietnam War and its associations, the continual turmoil in the country; on the other hand, I grew up in a neighborhood where activists were dealing with community issues. In East L.A., there were student activists protesting the wars, dealing with drug dealers and trying to stop gang killing."

"And because I grew up in a Chicano barrio, part of my coming of age was the Chicano movement, reflecting a change in consciousness among the community. The Chicano movement came in part from anti-Vietnam activism. The 1970 Chicano Moratorium mobilized thousands of people in the streets protesting and calling for an end to the draft. Because it was primarily the poor who were being drafted, blacks and Chicanos were dying disproportionately in Vietnam versus their percentage of the U.S. population. The protesters were attacked by sheriffs and three people were killed, including a Chicano journalist, Ruben Salazar. Vietnam provided a main impetus and example to the anti-war activists. In CTMF, there is a deliberate blurring of which war is being addressed by some of the poems - whether Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, urban renewal or community-related wars - because many activists became involved with one war and then another, right on up to the Gulf War."

"There was a nationalism going an at the time. The Chicano movement was founded on the idea that Southwestern United States was part of Mexico that was taken over by the U.S. and so should constitute its own separate nation. Blacks were calling for Black Power and Black Liberation."

"East L.A. was right across the river from Little Tokyo - I went back and forth; I had family and friends in both places. But because there was a nationalism going on at the time, there were feelings of exclusiveness and the fact that I was going back and forth bothered some of the people I knew. But I could never not deal with people just because they were of different ethnicities. I could never deal with turning Little Tokyo into a Bosnia, its own enclave."

From Eileen Tabios, Black Lightening: Poetry-in-Progress. Asian American Writers Workshop / Temple University Press, 1998.

"I'm interested in voices - especially in the rhythm of the spoken language. To me, that's a kind of poetry; that's an important part of this aesthetic of how working people talk.

[. . . .]

There are all kinds of combinations of spoken dialect and tones of writing; there’ll be language that's obviously media-driven language, journalistic kind of language, fictional or literary kinds of description mixed in with spoken expression. I was looking at the juxtaposition and interplay of all these different types of language in CTFM.

One of the things that interests me is that something is happening with those kinds of tones. Definitely there's a recycling of combined tones of language throughout all the (prose poems). I feel that's reflective of an urban experience, that we're continually enveloped in media-driven language and street expressions and workplace discourse. We're continually thinking on all these levels, and I feel like one of the ways my writing can evoke the city is by evoking these rhythms. Those kinds of technical things, that's what I like to do when I'm writing. If there aren't interesting technical questions happening all the time when I write, I get bored."

From an Interview with Amy Uyematsu, in disOrient Journalzine (Volume 5, 1997).

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