Video highlight clips: Ashley Toliver reads two poems, each entitled "Housekeeping" | Jason Bayani reads his piece beginning "When my mother comes to America...."
Join us for this reading by Poetry Center Book Award winner Ashley Toliver, for her book Spectra (Coffee House Press). She's joined by award judge Jason Bayani, reading his own work, with the two poets in conversation with one another and the audience. With emcee, Brent Awa Jensen.
- Ashley Toliver’s Spectra is an immensely moving work. Its three-act structure entrenches within the violent friction between nature and manmade forms and between nature and the human body. Under Toliver’s carefully measured pen, this movement through violence brought to mind for me, persistence: the persistence to withstand the structures of domesticity (and all those structures domesticity is nestled under); the persistence to withstand an attack from within the body as that same body is bearing a new life. It is Toliver’s persistence that tempers and, at times, wields the flame of this violence, it is this persistence that seeks to create from absence, and from the first page to the last it absolutely mesmerizes me. In the poem “Standing Outside Your House with a Match and a Gallon of Gasoline”, Toliver writes “I still don’t know what kind of woman/ I am. But as the flame nears the fingers/ that trust the match, as close as the skin/ can stand it to singe, I call this the nerve/ to find out—”. As taken as I am by the journey within the book, I am also moved by the vision the book creates, a vision of a woman holding both the fire of life and death in her hands, that searches within it all with a keen strength and wonder. And how gorgeous and powerful of a vision Ashley Toliver makes, what this vision, when we acknowledge it from a Black woman’s lens, means within the context of this time; what it pulls back from erasure; what it invokes and empowers. I am deeply in awe of this book— this book that is constantly seeking, that seeks to reclaim and repossess, that knows this is worthy of our persistence, at least until death, which, as Toliver writes, is “the last road to awe I know.”—Jason Bayani
Ashley Toliver is the author of Spectra (Coffee House Press, 2018), which in addition to being awarded The Poetry Center Book Award, was a finalist for the 2018 Believer Book Award, 2020 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and the Oregon Book Award. She teaches poetry at the The Attic Institute in southeast Portland and serves as poetry editor at Moss. A Journal of the Pacific Northwest. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, Oregon Literary Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. She received her MFA from Brown University in 2013.
Jason Bayani is the author of Locus (Omnidawn Publishing, 2019) and Amulet (Write Bloody Publishing, 2013). He's an MFA graduate from Saint Mary's College, a Kundiman fellow, and works as the artistic director for Kearny Street Workshop, the oldest multi-disciplinary Asian Pacific American arts organization in the country. His publishing credits include World Literature Today, Muzzle Magazine, Lantern Review, and other publications. Jason performs regularly around the country and debuted his solo theater show "Locus of Control" in 2016 with theatrical runs in San Francisco, New York, and Austin.
"Ashley Toliver's 'Spectra' Is Her First Major Book Of Poems," interview with Scott Simon on NPR, Sept. 22, 2018 (audio and text)
"Jason Bayani on Asian Pacific America," interview with Robert Handa, April 30, 2019 (video)