‘Spontaneous Overflow’

In honor of National Poetry Month, UCSB celebrates its own creators of verse
Monday, April 23, 2018 - 11:00
Santa Barbara, CA

In the preface to his “Lyrical Ballads,” William Wordsworth described all good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.” April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate this auspicious literary occasion The Current is highlighting some of the campus’s resident wordsmiths.

Throughout the month, we are publishing pieces by faculty and staff poets whose work has been recognized nationally and internationally.

We continue today with a poem by Yunte Huang, professor of English.

Here are the poets we’ve already highlighted: Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Swati Rana, Robert Krut, John Ridland, Stephanie Batiste and Teddy Macker.

To Be An Asian Poet

To be or not to be

That’s out of the question

Between Asia and America

I choose the life of a poet

Between English and Chinese

I prefer the authenticity of translationese

Between black and white

I have no choice but be yellow

Between truth and lie

I would rather get high

Between real and unreal

Well, it depends how I feel


I’m a Chinese poet on Angel Island

A Japanese poet in internment camps

A Filipino poet in sugarcane plantations

A Korean poet in LA riots

An FOB poet on Boeing 747

A Transcontinental poet on World Wide Web

A restaurateur poet in Alabama

A Language poet in Buffalo

A coolie poet at Harvard Yard

An academic poet in Santa Barbara

A funny poet in my kids’ schoolyard

A chicken poet in the year of the Dog


When they ask me

What kind of ‘nese are you

Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese?

I ask them

What kind of ‘keys are you

Yankee, donkey, or monkey?


I singsong

When they ask me to sing a song

I tango

When they call me Tang O

I write a locu

When they ask for a haiku

I write poems for fortune cookies

Where they expect to read

“A Great fortune is awaiting you!”

“You are a talented person”

Or “You are so beautiful!”

I put in “Watch out!”

“We know what you did last summer”

Or “April is the cruelest month”

Where they want to find

Their superlotto numbers

I write in the amount they will lose


To be or not to be

That’s out of the question

Between Asia and America

I choose the life of a poet

Between English and Chinese

I prefer the taste of translationese

Between black and white

I want to be a rainbow

Between truth and lie

I can usually get by

Between the real and unreal

I prefer the impossible

— Yunte Huang, professor of English


 Shirley Geok-lin Lim

Learning to Love America

because it has no pure products


because the Pacific Ocean sweeps along the coastline

because the water of the ocean is cold

and because land is better than ocean


because I say we rather than they


because I live in California

I have eaten fresh artichokes

and jacaranda bloom in April and May


because my senses have caught up with my body

my breath with the air it swallows

my hunger with my mouth


because I walk barefoot in my house


because I have nursed my son at my breast

because he is a strong American boy

because I have seen his eyes redden when he is asked who he is

because he answers I don’t know


because to have a son is to have a country

because my son will bury me here

because countries are in our blood and we bleed them


because it is late and too late to change my mind

because it is time.

— Shirley Geok-lin Lim, professor emerita of English


 Swati Rana

Plane Ride After 9/11

Sash is half

down to block the sun

coming out instead


of its reflection

in the ocean.

Waves are still


moving minutely

like sand. A boat

blemishes hills


of water, more boldly

shaded by the drag

of clouds. Where ocean


ends and sky

begins, can’t say,

a heavy ledge


then lighter grey

retreating. Clouds mount

the horizon, soundless,


aroused by a wide

mad expanse.

The coast intrudes,


casts an edge,

but the sun

is driving


up the mouth

of an estuary.

This is where we begin


to exist

upon the fetid

soil, its long


cultivated skin,

the effort

of order exerted


on a landscape.

A furious shine passes

over lakes, ponds,


metal siding.

The plane slants aside

till the earth’s face


meets mine,

horizon climbs up

then down again through


clouds, cavernous

breath. Spit out,

we break from land


traces, abridged

sky. The hot cabin

is like waking


from a restless

night, window

closed too tight—



I see another plane

fly in the opposite


direction, occult

mirror of the sky

briefly revealed


to contain

our own precarious

situation. I see myself



from below a half

downed sash,


brown skin,

a kind of


Swati Rana, assistant professor of English


 Robert Krut


Virus-blind, you stumble to an alley,

under a lentil rainstorm, a preacher

waves rudder arms to the thunder,

makes lightning scatter until five canaries

escape his sleeves, singing condolences,

a misdirection from the transistor radio

around his neck, beneath his vestments,

its zealous torque fusing electrodes

to your breath, turning thoughts to words,

your face a cannon, and the realization

that he was merely a collection of discarded

nightclub flyers lifted by wind

between graffitied walls.

— Robert Krut, lecturer, UCSB Writing Program


 John Ridland

To the Brave Generation

   Who have been fired on, and march now for their lives

Those who should lead this land of the free and the brave,

Who should have led you, must now themselves be led

By you who learned too early what it is to give

A life, or rather, to have it taken away

For no good reason except that it was there

For the gun and the shooter who could shoot anywhere,

Who had no image of what it means to live,

Moved by a spirit angry as it was dead.

You learned how easily night can shadow day

By pulling a switch, a trigger. You survive,

You have been tested by fire, and chosen to save

Our nation from itself: you'll be The Brave

Generation, and the Free, who can keep us alive.

— John Ridland, professor emeritus of English


 Stephanie Leigh Batiste


Loops remain.

Remnant of the tangled thread

Memory restored to the past,

the present

threads forth across the knot

Restored towards prismatic being.


Losing One

Losing one’s mother

is like losing your root.

being unattached

to the world

to history

yesterday now and the day before are doubtful

perhaps not having been at all


a wall of static

beyond it

a tear that might swallow

and you wonder


is it possible

no longer to belong

to this planet.

Is it even still


— Stephanie Leigh Batiste, associate professor of Black studies and of English


 Teddy Macker

The Otter and the Seaweed

This is what you need to know:

you need to know that otters wrap themselves

in seaweed so they won’t,


while sleeping at night, float out to sea…

Are you imagining this?

Can you see the otters actually doing this?


Does it break your heart a little?

Does it seduce you just a bit

into loving more


this odd hard world?

Oh otters, wrap yourselves tight! And sleep,

exactly like you do, floating but seaweed-held


in our salty living waters! Oh otters,

wrap yourselves tight! And you,

the one who doesn’t, the one who doesn’t


tether himself down right,

we are with you as you float away,

we are with you as you sleep


and lose yourself in the night.


On This Earth

after a line by Mahmoud Darwish

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:

the perfume of a sleeping child, the four rain-colored wings

of the dragonfly, the hourglass on the black widow’s belly

pouring blood into blood. We have the mineral green innards

of cucumber, rain-pocked snow, the plastic crucifix 

on the sick whore’s wall, sincerer than any cathedral. 

We have an alley of poplar trees and road-darkened feet,

bats sipping clear water from a dwindling creek,

we have slices of black bread at a blue table by the sea. 

We have on this earth what makes life worth living, 

what makes it so queer and lovely and painful, 

moon on the snake in the dying rosemary, 

and the young couple upstairs in bed

undressing each other regardless.

— Teddy Macker, lecturer, College of Creative Studies




Contact Info: 

Andrea Estrada
(805) 893-4620