Interview | TAST Creator Binh H. Nguyen Talks About Sassy TAST, Events In San Diego, & The Future Of The Reading Series

Binh H. Nguyen from TAST 2.1 Reading his work | The Black Lion Journal | The Black Lion | Image © 2016 Christina Lydia
Binh H. Nguyen

When Thru A Soft Tube’s creator, Binh H. Nguyen hosts an even, you better be sure to go. That’s what I did for a few of readings of TAST, a series featuring MFA and non-MFA candidates of San Diego State University. I humbly asked Binh if he would answer some questions for The Black Lion Journal, and, he has humbly agreed!

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
I’m so excited! Thank you for answering my questions. Alright, Binh — I’ve known you from one of my classes (I sat next to you) and from our formal introduction when I attended my first TAST event. Now I’ve attended two TAST events — loved them both. Tell me a bit about how you got started. What are TAST’s roots? Or when, I should say, did you first think about TAST? What are it’s origins?

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
“Thru a soft tube” is a line from a poem of mine called “Anatomy of Hookah,” and it refers to the soft hose through which smoke comes out of a narghile, the Middle Eastern tobacco pipe—otherwise known as hookah. Many readings take place at a bookstore, a coffeehouse, or at a bar, I say, why not something different for a change? TAST is short for Thru a Soft Tube, the name of a reading series that has its beginnings at a hookah lounge in San Diego.

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
Why a hookah lounge? Is it something that you enjoy doing?

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
I love smoking hookah! And I frequented Prince Hookah 2 for some time.

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
I’ve never been to a hookah lounge! What about the other MFAers? How did you get them to help you get started at the hookah lounge?

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
TAST started out with me getting together with a bunch of poet- and fiction-writer-friends of mine who are in the MFA program in Creative Writing at San Diego State U. I proposed my idea of hosting a poetry reading with the manager of the lounge and he enthusiastically went along. I then checked in with my MFA-mates and a good majority of them loved the idea.

Our first reading took place at the North Park/Hillcrest hookah lounge in the summer of 2016, and the rest, as they say, is gliterati history. Since then, TAST is a monthly event. Prince Hookah changed owners and we’ve had a few other readings under the new ownership—until I mixed things up a little more.

TAST At The Wine Lover In Hillcrest - The Back Patio Filled With Intimate Lowlights And A Relaxing Atmosphere Perfect For Hosting Events | The Black Lion Journal | The Black Lion | Image ©2016 Christina Lydia
TAST At The Wine Lover In Hillcrest – The Back Patio Filled With Intimate Lowlights And A Relaxing Atmosphere Perfect For Hosting Events. Photo by Christina Lydia, 2016.

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
Oh No! So what happened next? Is that why you moved TAST to The Wine Lover?

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
Back in my wild partying days in Hillcrest, I used to go to a fine, small wine bar called The Wine Lover. I visited the wine bar every now and again—the proprietors are really nice and friendly guys. During one occasion, I shared with them about TAST and asked them if I can host a reading at their joint. They agreed. We began holding TAST readings at The Wine Lover—though I still kept the original name of the series as I don’t easily forget my beginnings.

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
What was it about The Wine Lover, besides going there during your wild partying days, that appealed to you?

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
Wine Lover has this small, real intimate outdoors patio, which seemed was built expressly for TAST.

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
I love that patio.

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
Since we writers and audience members enjoy a bit of vino, we’ve held our readings here ever since. For next month’s reading, TAST will be two years and four months old. The waddling may not be from the wine but because we are still in our infancy.

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
HA! Okay: Talk to me about the city a bit. San Diego has such a great literary scene. There are a few large events for So Say We All that I’ve attended, which were great. You’ve chosen Hillcrest as your destination for TAST. I love Hillcrest and it’s atmosphere — I think you made a great choice! What is it about this place?

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
Hillcrest has been and still is my second most-frequented neighborhood, after the College area. I feel “at home” here. I love smoking, dancing, drinking, dining here. I introduce classmates to the gayborhood, and they, too, like it. So it’s natural that TAST is held in and around Hillcrest. Poets and writers mediate, talk, write about “a sense of place” and, for me, I consider San Diego to be my hometown, with Hillcrest being a near-and-dear ’hood to my heart.

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
And what ever happened to TAST’s original home? You said it’s under new ownership now?

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
TAST’s original hookah lounge has changed ownerships, as I said, with a new name: Hookabana. Different owners but still the same great hookahs, at affordable prices. Since you’ve been asking me questions, now’s my turn: Does this interview sound vaguely like a commercial? If I failed in poetry writing, do you think I should consider club promoting?

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
Why yes it does. You should get paid! Oh, I think you will be fabulous at promoting any event if you fail in poetry writing.

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
Oy!
 

TAST 2.1 Literary and Reading Event At The Wine Lover In Hillcrest, San Diego, CA
The Wine lover in Hillcrest. Photo by Christina Lydia, 2016.

CHRISTINA LYDIA
Alright, alright, alright! I don’t anticipate any poetry failing on your end. You’re too good. So tell me a bit about what has changed this year.

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
This Fall semester welcomed a new class of writers. At the MFA meet-&-greet, I met a young woman-poet, and somehow TAST came up. My new classmate told me it’s neat that I commenced a nice, special space for poets and writers to share their works and to practice their presentation skills to a public. She went on to say that she would like to do something like TAST, but her open mic event would be geared towards other languages in addition to English, considering the diversity of San Diego. I was like, Oh, ha-aa-ay, gurl, fabulous! Since TAST’s unofficial official location is at The Wine Lover now, I thought to introduce my new friend Valorie—with an ‘O’—to the owner of Hookabana. Valorie got in touch with Hookabana peeps and she herself has her own event. It features not just poets and writers but singer-song writers and musicians of all stripes. A new generation of wordsmiths and PALABRAS: Performance Series & Open Mic is born. You can find more info about this happening on Facebook.

 
CHRISTINA LYDIA
YES! That’s the way to go. I chatted briefly on Facebook with the host of PALABRAS because I shared her page on my Facebook page, Christina Lydia, and it sounds like it’ll be a great event to be at. It’s definitely on my to-go-to list. Speaking of a new generation, where do you see the future of TAST? What about your future?

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
I would like to keep Thru a Soft Tube going for as long as possible while I’m in the MFA program, which ends at the end of the spring semester, 2017. I would like to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Guadalajara to really learn the language, and to translate from and read in Spanish. If and when I get accepted into the program, I plan on taking TAST with me to Mexico, and have a Spanish iteration of the current popular reading series in San Diego. Future pans. I have been sending out my poems and chapbook to various contests and competitions since my undergraduate days circa 2004. It’d be nice to win. You will be one of the first to hear from me should I land something in the next year or so.

CHRISTINA LYDIA
Binh, you’ve been wonderful. Thank you for humoring me with your answers and my pestering. I’ve enjoyed our conversation! TAST is a great event and you’re great at promoting it. I wish you the best — and yes, let me know what happens. I’d love to write an update feature about you and what you’re up to.

 
BINH H. NGUYEN
Thank you, Christina, and The Black Lion, for providing me a space to talk about TAST. I hope you and your readers have gotten a dose of sass along with some class.

• • •

 
On behalf of The Black Lion Journal, I want to thank Binh for his time here! Be sure to keep track of TAST’s updates on their Facebook page. TAST won’t be a stranger here — I’ll be sure to keep you all informed of its happenings.

 

Continue the fun and be sure to read about TAST 2.1!

 

¡PSST! ©2016 The Black Lion Journal. Images by Christina Lydia, 2016.

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