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Keeping Tabs: Watershed

Memories between oceans, migrations across seas, bodies of water, trout on land, and more.


On our last Keeping Tabs, we explored the politics of movement and migration. This week, pack up and prepare for a specific type of motion — that of water. We’re flowing along this week, but with consideration to how such flow occurs for transnational politics, immigrant waves, and spaces of war and home. Dock yourself here and scroll down for your weekend reads!


Scavengers by Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong’s latest published poem notes an encounter between two trout and a fisherman, on the New Yorker.

Two trout gasping
on a June shore.
Side by side, I see
what I came for, behind

your iris: a tiny mirror.


“A Way I Could World-Build in Poetry”: An Interview with Margaret Rhee by Matthew Thorburn

Margaret Rhee and Matthew Thorburn discuss poetry, intimacy, and how robots can teach us what it is to be human, for the Ploughshares blog.

The question does draw upon Alan Turing’s question, “Can machines think?” As a poet, I switched the “think” to “love” within the introduction of the chapbook. I hoped it would frame the collection and urge thinking about love in explorations of artificial intelligence (AI). I do believe that Alan Turing was able to conceptualize AI through his own sexual transgressions and freedom, in the blurring of the rigid binary between male and female in his same-sex desires. I have written about this aspect of Turing’s sexuality and about my work developing the Turing Test Tournament as a new media artist in a short article entitled “On Beauty.”

In some ways, while “robots” are not actively present in our lives, we can look at the everyday presence of digital devices and the intimacy that humans share with them. Something as small as the iPhone evokes much emotion within humans. Additionally, how humans find other humans in their pursuit of love is increasingly digital. We live in an ever-increasingly digital object-orientated world.


A Troubling Culture War Between India and Pakistan by Rozina Ali

Rozina Ali’s latest piece for The New Yorker explores the recent ban of Pakistani talent in Bollywood due to the incursion pro-Hindu nationalist politics into the entertainment industry, and questions what the future of Indian nationalism will entail.

Culture and cinema have long been a way to thaw the frosty relations between the two countries—one of last year’s most popular Bollywood films was about a Hindu man helping a lost Pakistani girl find her way home. Today, the cultural bridge has been severed by what Dass calls a patriotism that is “defined according to jingoist terms.” Not long after the M.N.S.-enforced ban on Pakistani actors, Pakistan responded by declaring a blanket ban on Indian content on its radio and television. Meanwhile, the tensions between the two countries have worsened. In a recent incident, India expelled an officer from the Pakistani embassy after accusing him of being a spy. Pakistan retaliated in kind.

The ban on Pakistani talent seems like the latest iteration of the cold war between the two South Asian countries. But this row doesn’t reflect their long-standing conflict so much as it casts light on the struggle to define nationalism in India. Johar’s video and his deal with the M.N.S. have set a dangerous precedent. The incident has validated the leap a politician can make from a militant attack to a forceful censorship of the arts. It has left many artists uncertain about what will be considered “anti-Indian.”

Content warnings in the following piece for sex, drugs, and alcohol.

Brown Girls (2017) — Trailer by Fatima Asghar

Previously published in the Margins’ weekly Poetry Tuesday feature, Fatimah Asghar’s upcoming webseries will explore a friendship between two women of color.

A new web series by Fatimah Asghar that follows Leila, a South Asian-American writer just now owning her queerness and her best friend Patricia, a sex-positive Black-American musician who is struggling to commit to anything: job, art and relationships. While the two women come from completely different backgrounds, their friendship is ultimately what they lean on to get through the messiness of their mid-twenties.


The Migrant Crisis as an ‘Echo From The News’ by Sukjong Hong

Grappling with humanitarian discourses, hyperefficiency of state handlings of migrant influxes, and the ‘sting’ of truth, Sukjong Hong profiles Gianfranco Rosi’s new documentary on North African migrants’ voyages from North Africa to the island of Lampedusa, ‘Fire at Sea,’ in the New Republic.

The mystery of this parallel existence is the slow reveal at the heart of Rosi’s film. The paradox of Lampedusa, he has said, is that on an island that is barely eight square miles, its residents only experience the refugee crisis as “an echo from the news.” Indeed, in one of the film’s early sequences, we segue from the local radio station to the kitchen of Samuele’s grandmother as the DJ announces that a boat with 250 passengers has sunk without a single survivor. “Poor souls,” tsks the elderly woman as she cuts tomatoes. But neither she nor any other resident has anything more to do or say about the sinking. Life goes on.


Can’t Wait Forever by Aviva Stahl

Matt Peterson and Malek Rasamny discuss their multimedia project and upcoming film The Native and the Refugee on Native reservations in United States, refugee camps in Palestine, and the violence of waiting with Aviva Stahl for the New Inquiry.

Waiting is big. In both cases, among the younger generation, there’s a sense of trying to combat this position of being in waiting perpetually for an outcome that is undetermined and that you have no power over. Because the whole point of what the United States government has done to the Natives, as Olowan says in “We Love Being Lakota,” is to put them in a position of waiting, waiting for handouts. And it’s the same thing with the Palestinians: wait for the UN, or these giant political international bodies to make a decision on your behalf, and in the meantime don’t do anything. In both cases there’s the sense that you should just sit tight forever and wait for them to come to a decision. And among the youth in both of these places there’s a sense of “no,” that waiting cannot go on forever.


A tale of 2 Californias: Hmong farmers flounder, Silicon Beach flourishes by Alex Cohen and Austin Cross

Take a listen to Alex Cohen and Austin Cross’ interview with Chukou Thao and Derek Smith on Southern California Public Radio on the challenges facing Hmong American farmers in the Central Valley, juxtaposed with the currently booming LA tech industry.

The Hmong people came from Laos. They’re part of the group that helped support the United States during the Vietnam War. And after the war they came to the United States as refugees — refugees coming without choice. It was either come to the United States or be killed.

They came to the Central Valley for the opportunity to farm because many of them do not have the language skills, the job skills or the tools to be successful in the mainstream workforce.

We, the Hmong people came here, it was like time travel. There was no running water; there was no electricity. So coming here is 100-times better than what they have in the homeland, but compared to what’s happening in Los Angeles? It’s still two different worlds.

Content warning in the following webpage for partial nudity.

Sound of Silence by Alexander Chee

Between strung-together snippets and moments of pause, Whiting Award winners and friends of the Workshop Ocean Vuong and Alexander Chee sit and dwell together on shifting from fiction to poetry, traversing gaps in memory and territory, and finding destinations along family lines, in this conversation for Bon.

I learned from poems that the reader will make those leaps. So much could be said in silences. [John] Ashbery gets a lot of flak for his non sequiturs, but they demand a lot of participation from the reader. I think of the poet Li-Young Lee, who says, “The real subject in poetry isn’t the voice. The real subject is silence. It’s like in architecture, where the medium is not really stone or metal, but space.” That’s what I felt in your book. In those section breaks, I don’t see a void, I see life. My life.


Water’s fluidconscious by Tr?n B?ng Khuê

Tr?n B?ng Khuê gets carried by the current of water, drifting into dreams, past death, and along the stream in this piece from Ajar Press’s current features.

Now, I seek the fluidconscious, from the external vibrations, from the profound liaison between memory and presence, from the existence and demise of a possible being that I know, I have, I connect to.

Sometimes, I imagine them to be quite simple: as mere drops of water dripping onto my palm — calm, whispery, gentle to all the lively present beings surrounding me. They are not tied down by any physical exertion. They are free. Completely free. Waterdrops of heaven and earth.

Once in awhile, I’m seized by a tremor, as I myself am at a loss as to whether they are purposefully trying to cajole and disturb my dream-filled sleep in the wavering thin lines between being conscious and being awake.

Then my mind wanders off to the other present beings.