Wang Ping

Immigrant Can’t Write Poetry: Mad Yak Corso

In the courtyard of St. Mark’s church
Poets milled around, waiting for the event
Of the year, organized by Poetry Project.
Allen was going to read “Howl.”
I was scheduled to read before Allen.
I had spent three weeks writing a poem for this event:
The Song of Calling Souls, story of Chinese
Immigrants who drowned in Rockaway NY
After jumping the ship to run from the cops.
It was a big crowd, with people I knew well—
Lewis, Ron, Ed, Rudy and Yvonne, and people I never met.
Flowers were booming, and the church
Looked beautiful and dignified as usual.

Someone grabbed my legs, shouting
Things I couldn’t understand.
I screamed and jumped, but the man
With wild hair held onto my ankles
His body mopping the church yard
As I tried to move away from him.
People were laughing as if it was something normal
Even entertaining, until Allen rushed over
Picked him up and dragged him away.
I heard him say, “Take it easy, Greg.
Go home and sleep it off.”
Then he turned to me:
“No worries, Penny. He’s harmless.
He’s just being Greg Corso.”

I didn’t know who Greg Corso was.
I thought I didn’t know, but my spirit already knew.
I should be startled, but I was not.
No, I was more than startled. I was electrified
Like the first thunderbolt striking winter fields
Where seeds, roots and worms had been awaiting.

That night I read my poem along with Ginsberg.
His “Howl” and my “Song of Calling Souls”
Set the crowd and church on fire.

In St. Paul, I taught “Mad Yak” and “Marriage”
To elite students at an elite college, together with
Ginsberg, Snyder, Kerouac, Waldman, Alexie, Erdrich, Troupe…
Till I heard Greg passed in Robbinsdale, 20 miles from me
Till I got booted out for teaching things “unsafe”
And “inappropriate,” for “appropriating Native and Black
Cultures” as a Chinese, and "anti-white," and worse,
“Manipulating students' emotions with poetry.”

But nothing can put out the fire and thunder
Gregory Corso ignited in me
As he grabbed my legs and mumbled magic
Into my soul at St. Mark’s Church.
He was blessing me with his essence.
He was passing his torch to a girl from China
Who is just as untamable as Mad Yak Corso
Writing and teaching poetry in English
Defying the mocking from elite critics:
“Immigrants can’t write poetry.”

Wang Ping is a poet, writer, photographer, performance and multimedia artist. Her publications have been translated into multiple languages and include poetry, short stories, novels, cultural studies, and children's stories. Her multimedia exhibitions address global themes of industrialization, the environment, interdependency, and the people. She is the recipient of numerous awards, a professor of English, and founder of the Kinship of Rivers project. Her poems are affirming sips from the river of life, ever looking back to our origins while moving forward into our presence.