Poetry for an Exhausted World: A Conversation with Chen Chen

A Conversation with Chen Chen. Photo of Chen Chen, poet wearing clear glasses and with short brown hair, slicked back. He wears a dark shirt with a grey suit jacket and is standing against a blurred background of apartment buildings.
Chen Chen (Photo by Paula Champagne)

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with poet and professor Chen Chen about his upcoming poetry collection, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, and how he envisions the poems in this manuscript as rest, fuel, and a tool for writing through trauma. Read on to learn more about his other collaborative projects, his experiences writing in quarantine, and more. (For more on Chen Chen, check out our previous interview with him in conversation with Margaret Rhee.)

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LANTERN REVIEW: Can you share with us a little bit about your upcoming second full-length poetry collection, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, and what inspired you to embark on this project? How do you think the current sociopolitical landscape has affected or complicated your work?

CHEN CHEN: At this point, pretty much all the poems are written and in their final form. There might be one or two more poems the collection needs. Of course, I thought I was at this close stage last year. And then I kept writing new poems. And those poems influenced revisions on older ones. That’s how it goes. 

This second book explores some of the same subjects as my first: blood family, chosen family, immigration, sexuality, and how to be a person fully embracing every aspect of my experience and identity. The key difference between the first book and this one is now I’m examining these subjects from an older perspective, much more of an adult perspective—whereas before, I was interested in childhood and adolescence. I think Your Emergency Contact is a sadder and angrier book, and at the same time, a funnier one. That tonal shift or tonal deepening has a great deal to do with the current sociopolitical landscape. Writing in and about the Trump era has led me to deeper grief and outrage, as well as sharper humor. The humor is a coping device, but also a way into the difficult emotions. 

There’s a shift in setting, too. Your Emergency Contact grapples with what it meant to reside in West Texas—as a PhD student, as a young teacher, as a queer Asian American in a very conservative part of the country, a particularly conservative part of Texas. Some poems look at gun violence and gun culture. There are poems addressing the Pulse nightclub shooting, which took the lives of people who were (for the most part) queer and Latinx. These were deeply complicated poems to write, as I didn’t want to speak for anyone else, yet I needed to engage and process my own sense of grief regarding this violence. 

Ultimately, Your Emergency Contact is about an exhausted world, a world in which those I’ve relied on for care during crises are themselves experiencing calamity and depletion. The hope is that these poems create a space, however small and fragile, for the vital practice of recognizing marginalized people’s exhaustion. I’m tired. Those I love and those who love me are tired. Maybe these poems can offer some rest and some fuel. 

LR: Can you share with us the origins of your collaborative chapbook project GESUNDHEIT! with Sam Herschel Wein? Why did you decide to embark on this project?

CC: Sam and I started writing collaborative poems years ago. Part of the genesis of our friendship was realizing we had many shared poetic sensibilities. We both love humor and play. We’re both obsessed with pop culture and queer culture. It felt completely organic to write together. I’d send Sam a line over email, and he’d reply with the next line, and so on. These early attempts were not very good. But we had so much fun. We kept dreaming of a collaborative body of work. Eventually we decided that it would be a chapbook containing poems we had each written individually, plus a couple we wrote together in this trading-lines-back-and-forth fashion. Fun fact: originally the chapbook was called Scarves of My Gayborhood. (We might still use that title for something else!) 

As we put the chapbook together, it became apparent that friendship would be one of the major themes—in particular, queer friendship and how we grew to be part of each other’s chosen families. Sarah Gambito blessed us with the absolute best blurb, which includes this perfect summation of the work: “these gorgeous poems hold high the cherished intimacy that is activated in deep friendship.” I love that verb, activated; it speaks to how my friendship with Sam feels—active, empowering, full of action toward true mutual growth. GESUNDHEIT! is an ode to working together, playing together, discovering together. Rather than eliding or flattening out differences, the chapbook celebrates how we’re distinct poets and people, while simultaneously celebrating the conversations between us. 

LR: You are the coeditor and cofounder of literary journal Underblong. How has your role as coeditor and cofounder inspired and helped you in writing? What have been the biggest challenges? What have been the biggest rewards? 

CC: Underblong is a labor of love and laughter and the longest FaceTime calls with my coeditor and cofounder, Sam. Recently we brought on a fantastic managing editor, Catherine Bai, who’s helping us stick to our goals and to a better timeline for assembling our issues. We also brought on five wonderful new readers, Aerik Francis, Albert Lee (李威夷), Angelina Mazza, Cassandra de Alba, and Juliette Givhan. We’re ecstatic to welcome these new team members, or “blongees,” as we affectionately call them, and one of our main activities this fall has been working to make sure everyone gets to know each other. We’ve already been so lucky to work with readers E Yeon Chang (장이연), Emma William-Margaret Rebholz (a.k.a. Billy), and Mag Gabbert. Mag also serves as our fabulous interviews editor. I just had to shout out the whole team because they’ve been integral to the journal’s success and ongoing vibrancy or “blonginess.” Each team member has expanded our notion of what the journal can be. 

Sam and I started the journal because we wanted to do something different from what we’d seen in the literary landscape. We wanted a journal that wasn’t afraid to break with so-called “professional” conventions and decorum. We wanted a journal that embraced poems about butts, poems about glitter, poems that speak back to racism and imperialism, poems that listen deeply to urgent cultural currents, poems that reimagine the future and insist on a more livable now. We envisioned Underblong as a space not only for publishing work that we feel pushes the boundaries but also as a space for us, as editors, to be as wacky and imaginative as we need. I think this freedom is reflected in each issue’s editors’ letter, in the “what we like” page, in the call for submissions page, in the website design, in the response letters to submissions, and in the overall vibe of the journal. And we wanted, from the very start, to center the voices of queer and trans Black writers, queer and trans writers of color. With each issue, we try to deepen our commitment. 

My role has inspired my writing in all sorts of ways. I’m inspired by the work we publish. I’m inspired by the conversations about submissions. I’m inspired by the cover art. I’m inspired by responses from those who read the journal. I’m blown away by the support and enthusiasm folks have expressed for Underblong. That’s the biggest reward: seeing how the work we publish reaches people. For instance, how often the poems in Underblong inspire others to write their own. Another giant reward is, of course, getting to publish work we completely believe in, especially poetry by lesser-known writers—and most especially to be the first (or among the early ones) to publish an exciting voice. 

The biggest challenges all have to do with time management. I teach undergraduate classes and also work with MFA students. I have my own writing projects. I have time commitments when it comes to my beautiful partner and my beautiful friends. Sam and I started Underblong with the goal of publishing two issues a year. It’s been one issue a year, and we’ve always struggled to release issues when we say we’re going to. I’m hopeful that will change with this next issue (scheduled for December) and with next year’s issues. 

LR: In other interviews, you’ve talked about being a manic reviser. Can you tell us a little more about your revision process?

CC: It’s taken me a long time, but I really have come to love revision, as utterly frustrating as it can be sometimes. I’ve come to see the challenge as an invitation to continue discovering something through the act of writing. I cherish the surprise of finding something out about myself or about the world—something strange and sparkling I couldn’t have known without writing that exact poem. 

Often, a first draft is merely the skeleton of what the poem ultimately needs to become. I know there’s placeholder language I’ll have to replace with excitement. I know there’s flatness I’ll have to transform into a mountain full of swaying trees or a sea roaring with all its sea-ness. And most frequently, in my poem drafts, there’s humor that starts off as just a silly riff on a stray thought or as a jumping-off point—and I know I’ll have to make the laugh as necessary as the lament. I’ll have to find that balance between tickling and truth telling. But first, I try to give myself complete permission to goof off, to experiment, to generate and generate. 

I usually overwrite and then pare away. I like having a wide field of material to work with; from the field I whittle things down to the row that’s most alive, then tend to each stalk, each bulb, each petal. Sometimes I overwhittle and then have to zoom out again, add back a detail I’ve cut, or write something fresher in its place. Maybe the poem actually needs to be a whole wide field and not just one row. The unpredictability can be maddening or glee inducing; I tend to oscillate between the two states while revising. A poem can start off as six pages, then shrink to one, then grow into three. 

LR: How have you been engaging with writing poetry and the poetry community since quarantine?

CC: I haven’t written a lot of poetry during this time. Actually, I’ve been writing more prose. I was asked by Spencer Quong at Poets & Writers to contribute short essays for an online series called “Craft Capsules.” My essays have ended up being sort of unconventional—a weird mix of craft commentary and personal writing. That’s just how I had to write them. I guess I was getting tired of being asked to produce prose along the lines of neat, easily digestible article or column writing. I needed to break out of those boxes. Fortunately, Quong and Poets & Writers have been very supportive of me doing things more my own way. Quong has also provided immensely thoughtful editorial feedback on all the essays. These pieces would be such a mess without his critical input and super-smart line edits. 

I was also asked by Swati Khurana to write flash fiction for a new series at The Margins, the online magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Though I think of the piece I wrote as basically a lyric essay or an extended love poem, it’s been really lovely to see folks read it as a flash story. My first fiction publication! And Swati, as an editor, was also incredibly generous and insightful with feedback. 

It’s been scary, writing and publishing in a genre I’m less experienced with and comfortable in. I did study creative nonfiction in graduate school; indeed, during my PhD, it was my secondary genre. I love reading creative nonfiction of all types. But as a writer, I feel very much at home in poetry. Poetry, including prose poetry, feels like how my brain works. Straight-up prose feels like trying to walk around in someone else’s brain. Or like spending a week at someone else’s apartment. I’m intrigued and I learn a lot, but by the end of the week I’m eager, I’m more than ready to return to my apartment. 

My literal apartment is where I’ve been spending most of my time this year. It’s been difficult, much more difficult than I anticipated. I thought I’d be sad but still fine since I’m an introvert. But I’ve realized that becoming a part of poetry communities over the last several years has turned me into a bit more of an extrovert. I need people. I need conversations with people who also wildly love this wild thing called poetry. In 2020 I’ve had many of those conversations over Zoom, and they’ve been nourishing—but still not the same as in-person interactions. 

I miss the literal nourishment of sharing food with poets. The metaphorical nourishment of conversation alongside the food on the table is magical. There’s something about sharing a meal with fellow poets and talking not about poetry but about the food. I mean, poets have a special craving for words, and that comes out no matter the topic, though my favorite non-poetry topic is food. Or gay sex. 

LR: You teach at Brandeis University. What is the most rewarding thing about teaching poetry?

CC: The most rewarding thing is getting to hear students say, “I didn’t know you could do that in a poem!” This exclamation has happened after reading Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, with its two-act play structure and its use of sign language. It has happened after reading Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche, with its experimentation with formatting and its use of Chinese script. It has happened after reading Sarah Gambito’s Loves You, with its recipes as poems and poems as recipes. It has happened after reading Diana Khoi Nguyen’s Ghost Of, with its stunning triptychs of family photographs, body-shaped poems, and erasure poems with body-shaped cutouts. It has happened after reading Patricia Smith’s Incendiary Art, with its mix of documentary and surrealist poetics. Students come in thinking that poems have to look and sound a certain way. It’s such a fun honor to get to show students that poetry is a laboratory, and they get to be innovators, too. 

For the final project in my poetry workshops at Brandeis I ask students to invent their own poetic forms. They always end up doing the most incredible things—playing with white space, with punctuation, with diction and syntax, with imagery, with typography, etc., etc. I’m always wowed beyond what I thought was my capacity for being wowed. 

LR: In your interview with AAWW, you speak about finally realizing that queerness and Chinese identity can come together to form an intersectional identity. In fact, writing about these identities is central to your work. For me, also as a queer Chinese person, I find it hard to write about traumatic events tied to my identity. How do you go about approaching trauma at the intersection of these identities?

CC: I let myself write as slowly as I need to. Sometimes in graduate school it was hard to stick to a slow process because I had to turn in poems on a much faster schedule (though deadlines can also be helpful; they keep me from endlessly tinkering and staying in my own head). Ultimately, I believe that each writer has their own pace. And for marginalized writers, it’s important to question why one is writing about trauma. How much of that comes from a white gaze, from the expectation that one should be writing about trauma, about suffering? I think it’s crucial that one has one’s own reasons for writing about these subjects. 

One of my main reasons is I want to examine the narratives that I’ve inherited—my father tells me one narrative for immigrating to the United States; my mother tells me another. I want to understand better why my parents have these different accounts. Another main reason is I’m invested in complicating the stories I’m used to telling about myself and my past. Why do I talk about my coming out to my family in this way? Why not another way? So the poems aren’t about constructing one neat picture of my experiences; they’re about giving myself a multiplicity of interpretations, a liberating complexity. Slowness is essential for writing this way. I have to first do some personal work, some deep emotional work, to process the traumatic events. Then I write. 

Often it’s messy, and I do relive some of the trauma, but the poems can’t be a pure reliving of the trauma. If it starts to be that way, I have to take a step back. I have to take time. I have to slow down further and protect myself. I’m not interested in subjecting myself to remembering over and over the worst things that have happened to me for the sake of a white audience—for the sake of any audience, really. 

Poems can be healing, but they can’t be the only form of healing I rely on. If I overrely on poems for my mental health and well-being, poetry becomes a toxic force. It’s similar to overrelying on a romantic relationship for all one’s needs. I need to take care of myself outside of writing, then step back in. For weeks I might write just one more stanza. For months I might work on other kinds of poems. For years I might have no firm idea of where a poem grappling with trauma is headed. I trust, though, that if I’m doing this for the right reasons, the right language will come. 

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Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions), which was longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry and won the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, among other honors. He has received a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from Kundiman and the National Endowment for the Arts. With Sam Herschel Wein, he runs the journal Underblong. He teaches at Brandeis University as the Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence.

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Cover of SIMULACRA by Airea D. Matthews

Also Recommended:

Airea D. Matthews, Simulacra (Yale, 2017)

Please consider supporting an independent bookstore with your purchase.

As an APA–focused publication, Lantern Review stands for diversity within the literary world. In solidarity with other communities of color and in an effort to connect our readers with a wider range of voices, we recommend a different book by a non-APA-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

LR Issue 8.2 Is Here!

Cover Image: LANTERN REVIEW Issue 8.2, “Recoveries” (featuring a film still from Cindy Nguyen’s “Tokyo Glances”: blue-tinted photo of a waist-up, silhouetted figure in profile, wearing a white shirt and with short hair against an overcast sky. In the backdrop, a skyscraper with glass windows and another brick skyscraper to the side.)
Lantern Review Issue 8.2, “Recoveries”

It’s our pleasure today to announce that Issue 8.2, our second and final issue of the 2020 season, is live! Titled “Recoveries” after a line from antmen pimentel mendoza’s poem “Ode to the Moon, the Earth’s Only Satellite, with Years of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” this issue speaks to the notion of survival, enacting creative resistance in the face of trauma and inviting us to consider how the work of the artist may chart new paths through the processes of healing and regeneration.

When we first chose the work that appears in Issue 8.2, we had no idea how 2020 would play out, nor how prescient these pieces would feel in the midst of the present moment. In addition to mendoza’s poem, Issue 8.2 features striking cover art by Cindy Nguyen, as well as powerful poems by MICHAEL CHANG, Tiffany Hsieh, and Heather Nagami. As we put the issue together over the course of the last two months, we were struck anew by these singular pieces and how they seemed to speak with even greater urgency to our current reality, transgressing boundaries of time, form, and geography to insist upon being heard above the fray. Today, we’re excited to finally share them with you.

We hope you’ll enjoy Issue 8.2. And as always, we’d love to know what you think—leave us a comment below or let us know on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter: @LanternReview.

Wishing you peace and light always,
The LR editorial team

Click here to read Lantern Review Issue 8.2: “Recoveries.”

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Cover of WADE IN THE WATER by Tracy K. Smith

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Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf, 2019)

Please consider supporting an independent bookstore with your purchase.

As an APA–focused publication, Lantern Review stands for diversity within the literary world. In solidarity with other communities of color and in an effort to connect our readers with a wider range of voices, we recommend a different book by a non-APA-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

An October APA Poetry Companion: Books to Curl Up With for Fall

An APA Poetry Companion: October 2020. Cover images of MAPS FOR MIGRANTS AND GHOSTS by Luisa A. Igloria, RAIN IN PLURAL by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. BESTIARY by K-Ming Chang, THIS IS THEN THAT WAS NOW by Vijay Seshadri, STRIP by Jessica Abughattas, THE VOICE OF SHEILA CHANDRA by Kazim Ali, WHAT HE DID IN SOLITARY by Amit Majumdar, and UNDERWORLD LIT by Srikanth Reddy
New and notable APA poetry books for October 2020

As the leaves change colors and fall, here are a few September and October books by APA poets and writers we’re excited to dig into. 

FEATURED PICKS

Kazim Ali, The Voice of Sheila Chandra, (Alice James Books, Oct. 2020)

We’re excited to see that Kazim Ali has a new poetry collection out, The Voice of Sheila Chandra. Named after a singer who lost her voice, the book weaves three long poems together to make a central statement that Ilya Kaminsky says is “far larger than the sum of its parts.” Sam Sax describes the collection as “part research document, part song, part deep excavation of the soul.” With that kind of ringing endorsement, this book is certain to be one we’ll enjoy. 

Luisa A. Igloria, Maps for Migrants and Ghosts, (Southern Illinois University Press, Sep. 2020)

Two-time contributor Luisa A. Igloria, who was recently named poet laureate of Virginia, also has a new book out this fall. Maps for Migrants and Ghosts explores the diasporic experience and brings in the poet’s own personal history, from the Philippines to her immigrant home in Virginia. We’re big fans of Igloria’s work here at LR, and we look forward to reading her latest.

Srikanth Reddy, Underworld Lit, (Wave Books, Aug. 2020)

Wave Books describes Srikanth Reddy’s Underworld Lit as “a multiverse quest through various cultures’ realms of the dead.” A serial prose poem, the book takes readers on a “Dantesque” tour from professor’s classrooms to Mayan underworlds and beyond. We’re excited to dip into this epic journey in verse and hope you’ll check it out, as well.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Rain in Plural, (Princeton University Press, Sep. 2020)

Issue 6 contributor Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s fourth book of original poems, Rain in Plural, just hit shelves last month. In this collection, she uses language to uncover questions of citizenship, memory, and image. We love Sze-Lorrain’s lush, musical sensibilities and have covered several of her previous books on the blog. If you’ve enjoyed her work in the past, you’re sure to enjoy Rain in Plural, too!

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MORE NEW AND NOTEWORTHY TITLES

Jessica Abughattas, Strip, (University of Arkansas Press, Oct. 2020)

K-Ming Chang, Bestiary, (Penguin Random House, Sep. 2020)

Amit Majmudar, What He Did in Solitary, (Penguin Random House, Aug. 2020)

Vijay Seshadri, That Was Now, This is Then, (Graywolf Press, Oct. 2020)

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We hope youll curl up with some of these picks this upcoming fall. What else is on your reading list? Share your recommendations with us in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).

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Cover image of EVERY DAY WE GET MORE ILLEGAL by Juan Felipe Huerrara.

Every Day We Get More Illegal by Juan Felipe Huerrera (City Lights Publishers, 2020)

Please consider supporting an independent bookstore with your purchase.

As an APA–focused publication, Lantern Review stands for diversity within the literary world. In solidarity with other communities of color and in an effort to connect our readers with a wider range of voices, we recommend a different collection by a non-APA-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

Poetry Toolkit: Holding Space for Grief & Healing in the Classroom

Header image. Poetry Toolkit: Holding Space for Grief & Healing in the Classroom. Gray and white text on a yellow watercolor-textured background. Black-and-white LR logo in the corner.

As I (Iris) write this, my heart is weary. Just last week, only one of the three police officers involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor was charged—and not for her murder. The evening of that announcement, I spoke with a friend who lives in Louisville. She told me: we are tired, we are frustrated, we are angry. Still, there is no justice.

California, the state where I live, is still burning. Last week, I read about Kao Saelee, a Mien refugee whose family fled to the US when he was small. During the last two (also incredibly devastating) wildfire seasons, Saelee worked to control the blazes as an inmate firefighter. This August, on the day he was released from prison, California transferred him not to his sister’s waiting car but to ICE detainment. Still, there is no justice. 

And still, around us, pandemic rages. The government moves to erase systemic racial injustice from history textbooks. Egregious human rights violations continue to be visited upon the refugees incarcerated at our border. And on and on and on and on.

For a while now, we’ve wanted to share some tools for making space for grief and healing through poetry. We know that many of you are teachers working with young writers during this deeply difficult (even traumatic) year. As educators ourselves, we know how creative writing can sometimes allow students needed space and permission to process, to breathe. And as poets, we know how the act of writing into grief can sometimes offer us just enough self-compassion and strength to go on. That sometimes, in the midst of suffering, poetry allows us not just catharsis but also access—to hope, to meaningful remembrance, even to joy.

The below prompts (each based on poems by writers of color—some APA identified, some not) and their variations are written with teachers and students of particular age ranges in mind. But you could write into any of these prompts (regardless of how they’re labeled) outside an academic context, as well.

Continue reading “Poetry Toolkit: Holding Space for Grief & Healing in the Classroom”

Six Questions for LR Editorial Intern Karen Zheng

Photo of Karen Zheng by Ray Ren (Poet with short hair and brown-rimmed glasses, wearing a black-and-white striped buttoned shirt and standing in front of a background of ivy)
LR Editorial Intern Karen Zheng (Photo by Ray Ren)

This fall, we’re privileged to welcome Karen Zheng onto the LR team as our editorial intern! Karen is a first-generation, queer, Chinese American undergraduate student at Dartmouth College studying English and creative writing (poetry). She is interested in exploring her intersectional identity in her creative work and, in her free time, hosts and produces the podcast Mx. Asian American. Karen will be helping us out behind the scenes with getting Issue 8.2 ready for publication, prepping social media content, and contributing to the blog. As you’ll be hearing from her from time to time, we thought we’d take a minute to help you get to know her. Read on to learn about Karen’s love for Ocean Vuong’s and Jericho Brown’s work, the activities that help her recharge when she’s not studying or writing, and more.

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LANTERN REVIEW: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to poetry? 

KAREN ZHENG:  I started writing poetry in middle school. In seventh grade, we were studying Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe. One of the assignments in that unit was to write our own poems. I remember we were studying Hughes’s “Mother to Son” and analyzing the crystal stair. We had to write something that was similar, using the same metaphor of stairs. After I wrote a draft and showed it to my teacher, Ms. Mickish, she told me that I had talent and encouraged me to pursue poetry further. Ever since then, I’ve been writing. 

LR: What obsessions drive your writing and other creative work? 

KZ:  One of my poetry professors, Vievee Francis, always talks about a poet’s obsession, something that the poet always goes back to, writes about, and thinks about. For me, my obsessions lie in my Asian Americanness, queerness, and other childhood trauma that came with the intersectionality of those two identities. I also dabble in other creative work like podcasting and dancing. In my podcast, I aim to highlight others in the Asian American community as role models because I never had those growing up. 

LR:  What are your favorite poets, poems, or poetry collections of the moment?

KZ:  Ocean Vuong is my all-time favorite poet. His memoir, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is so painfully beautiful. Other poets that I really enjoy are Danez Smith, Victoria Chang, Chen Chen, Matthew Olzmann, Terrance Hayes, Illya Kaminsky, Tyehimba Jess, and Jericho Brown. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with Jericho Brown’s The Tradition.

LR: Go-to karaoke song? 

KZ:  I’m actually the mic hogger at karaoke, but I usually only sing Chinese songs. I always have to sing《其实都没有》by 杨宗纬.

LR: Self-care is so important for creatives, especially during these times! What’s your favorite self-care tip? 

KZ: “Relax” is probably the best tip in general. I have trouble relaxing. I get restless during breaks. Reminding myself it’s okay to watch a few more episodes of a show, to journal, to draw, to color, or to space out every once in a while is crucial. Allowing myself to indulge in these activities really helps me to refuel and recharge. 

LR: Who are your APA role models? What are your hopes for the future of APA lit? 

KZ: Honestly, there are so many role models out there. All the poets I just mentioned, those who are doing nonprofit work, entrepreneurs, fitness influencers, etc., etc. Here, I’d like to talk about the Asian Hustle Network. Asian Hustle Network is a Facebook group where hustlers, young professionals, entrepreneurs, creatives, and business owners from the Asian American community can come together and share their stories. Everybody there is so inspiring. It gives me hope for the community to continue growing and changing the world. My hope for the future of APA literature is for us to break into the “canon” and have APA literature be taught in schools, inspiring and influencing future generations. 

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We hope you’ll join us in warmly welcoming Karen to the LR team. We’re excited to have her on board this semester and can’t wait for you to hear more from her soon!

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Seeing the Body by Rachel Eliza Griffiths (Norton, 2020)
Please consider supporting a BIPOC-owned indie bookstore with your purchase.

As an APA–focused publication, Lantern Review stands for diversity within the literary world. In solidarity with other communities of color and in an effort to connect our readers with a wider range of voices, we recommend a different collection by a non-APA-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

An August APA Poetry Companion: Books to Celebrate the End of Summer

Header Image: An APA Poetry Companion, August 2020 (Cover images of the following books: W. Todd Kaneko, THIS IS HOW THE BONE SINGS; Sumita Chakraborty, ARROW; Jihyun Yun, SOME ARE ALWAYS HUNGRY; Kimberly Alidio, : ONCE TEETH BONES CORAL :, Barbara Jane Reyes, LETTERS TO A YOUNG BROWN GIRL; Aimee Nezhukumatathil, WORLD OF WONDERS; Sachiko Murakami, RENDER; Angie Sijun Lou, ALL WE ASK IS YOU TO BE HAPPY)
New and Notable APA Poetry Reads for August & September 2020

As the summer winds down and the academic year ramps up, here are just a few August and September books by APA poets that we’re excited to crack into.

FEATURED PICKS

Kimberly Alidio, : once teeth bones coral : (Belladonna*, Aug 2020)

We were delighted to learn that Issue 2 contributor Kimberly Alidio’s new book, : once teeth bones coral :, is out this month from Belladonna*. Alidio’s deft syntactical and structural play appears to be in full force in this new collection, about which Cheena Marie Lo writes, “Alidio’s poems reveal the ‘luminous familiar,’ traces of the interior that make visible the simultaneity of histories and futures, the possibilities inherent in queer connection, kinship, and refusal. These fragments are precise and expansive, and will resonate for a very long time.”

W. Todd Kaneko, This Is How the Bone Sings (Black Lawrence, Aug 2020)

Another book that we’re excited to see hit shelves this month is two-time contributor W. Todd Kaneko’s This Is How the Bone Sings. Kaneko’s second collection, This Is How the Bone Sings interrogates ancestry and fatherhood through myth, legend, and history, including the poet’s family’s experience in the Minidoka concentration camp during WWII. We’ve long admired the striking imagery and music of Kaneko’s work, and this new book promises to be no exception. (As a bonus, Kaneko’s poem “The Birds Know What They Mean,” which we published in Issue 7.2, appears in the book. If you enjoyed that piece as much as we did, we hope you’ll check out the collection, too!)

Barbara Jane Reyes, Letters to a Young Brown Girl (BOA, Sept 2020)

We’ve been looking forward to Issue 1 contributor Barbara Jane Reyes’s latest collection, a series of epistles addressed to young (especially Filipina/x) women of color, for months now. At a time when mentorship and the importance of literary lineages (especially feminist, WOC lineages) have been top of our minds, Reyes’s book seems especially timely. Writes Asa Drake in her review of the book for Entropy, “These are poems about what we give ourselves, rendered in language to assure the young brown girl writing in America that she is not alone. What is a mixtape if not a love letter that confirms we have all existed in the world, and we have been listening, perhaps together?” This is one love letter that we can’t wait to read.

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MORE NEW AND NOTEWORTHY TITLES

Sumita Chakraborty, Arrow (Alice James, Sep 2020)

Angie Sijun Lou, All We Ask Is You To Be Happy [Chapbook] (Gold Line Press, Aug 2020)

Sachiko Murakami, Render (Arsenal Pulp, Sep 2020)

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments [Essays] (Milkweed, Aug 2020)

Jihyun Yun, Some Are Always Hungry (U of Nebraska, Sep 2020)

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What new and notable books are on your reading list this month? Share your recommendations with us in the comments or on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).

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Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine  (Graywolf, Sep 2020)
Please consider supporting a Black-owned bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–focused publication, Lantern Review is committed to promoting diverse voices within the literary world. In solidarity with the Black community and in an effort to amplify Black voices in poetry, we’re sharing a different book by a Black poet in each of our blog posts this summer.

LR News: LR on Sundress’s Publishing Roundtable

Sundress Roundtable logo: three cartoon speech bubbles of different shapes—one pale blue, one pale purple, and one pale green—with the words "Sundress Roundtable" overlaid on the foremost (purple) bubble.
Sundress Roundtable: So You Want to Start a Literary Journal (Part 1 | Part 2)

Recently, I [Iris] had the opportunity to participate in a two-part roundtable on Sundress Publications’ blog with a few other literary journal founders. As we just celebrated the tenth anniversary of LR‘s first issue this summer (and are almost at eleven years in existence on the internet—our blog first went live in fall of 2009), it was especially meaningful to get to look back and reflect on our early years. It was also fascinating to hear from the other editors about their publications’ stories and how, like us, many of them began their journals in response to a felt need or representational gap in the literary landscape. For Mia and me, the work of creating and publishing LR has felt as much like a journey of self-discovery (for us as writers, editors, teachers, collaborators, and friends) as it has been an opportunity to serve by carving out a space for our community, and it was lovely to hear and learn from what others have figured out—about themselves, about editing, about running a journal, about literary impact and community—along the way. Our thanks to Sundress Publications and to panel coordinator Marci Calibretta Cancio-Bello (from Print-Oriented Bastards) for the opportunity, as well as to fellow panelists Sarah Clark (from ANMLY, beestung, Bettering American Poetry), Sarah Feng (from COUNTERCLOCK Journal), and Luther Hughes (from Shade Literary Arts) for their insights!

To see our conversation, head on over to these posts on Sundress’s blog:

Sundress Roundtable: So You Want to Start a Literary Journal, Part 1

Sundress Roundtable: So You Want to Start a Literary Journal, Part 2

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If you’ve ever founded a journal yourself, what are some of the things you’ve learned along the way? (Or if you’re thinking of starting a journal, what questions do you have?) We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a note in the comments in the comments or on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).

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The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon, 2019)
Please consider supporting a Black-owned bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–focused publication, Lantern Review is committed to promoting diverse voices within the literary world. In solidarity with the Black community and in an effort to amplify Black voices in poetry, we’re sharing a different book by a Black poet in each of our blog posts this summer.

10 Years of LR | Process Profile: Lee Herrick on “The House Is Quiet, Except”

In celebration of our magazine’s ten-year anniversary, we’ve been catching up with past contributors via our process profile series. Today, in the last of this summer’s series, Issue 6 contributor Lee Herrick reflects back on his poem “The House Is Quiet, Except.”

LR: Celebrating 10 Years, 2010–2020; Process Profile: Lee Herrick. Photograph of Lee Herrick (Asian American poet with short hair and dark-rimmed glasses standing against a background of greenery).
Issue 6 contributor Lee Herrick (Photo by Curtis Messer)

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When my daughter first touched a book, she slid her tiny finger along the soft, padded page of the picture book like it was a kind of miraculous discovery. By the time she began to read, she often sat with her legs crossed on the ground near a bookshelf while she read. Once, on the occasion that inspired this poem, she was reading and whispering the words into the air, and it struck me: What might she be discovering? What worlds is she entering?

In “The House Is Quiet, Except,” I imagined her future life like I imagine most parents imagine about their children. More than anything, I want her to be happy and to have the fortitude to make it through the unhappy times. I hope she knows that she is loved. I hope she will find love or that love finds her, whatever form it takes. I don’t know if she will ever need saving, but I want her to know that books can save us in times of despair, isolation, or doubt, and that there is something living or holy inside of a book, like there is inside of us. She’s a teenager now, and she is still a voracious reader. It calms me to know how she loves books.

Watching my daughter read is watching her world grow. I think of the hundreds of years before us, the hundreds of years after us, and the gift of the present moment—how these merge into a good book and surge through us, our lives.

The biggest challenge in this poem was cutting it down, finding enough precision but letting it breathe enough. Speaking to the joys and wonders of fatherhood but not getting lost in sentiment. The last line of the poem was imagined, partially. I can’t be sure there was a light around her body. But I can’t be sure there wasn’t.

I wrote this poem almost as a meditation, and it became the last poem in Scar and Flower.

With her permission, when I read the poem to an audience, it’s often the final poem. There’s a hopeful finality that also opens back up at the end of a good book. I wanted this feeling in the poem, too. 

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Lee Herrick is the author of Scar and Flower and two other books of poems, Gardening Secrets of the Dead and This Many Miles from Desire. He is coeditor of The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit (Orison Books, 2020). His poems appear widely in literary magazines, textbooks, and anthologies such as One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form; Indivisible: Poems of Social Justice, with an introduction by Common; Here: Poems for the Planet, with an introduction by the Dalai Lama; California Fire and Water; and Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, among others. Born in Daejeon, Korea, and adopted to the United States at ten months, he served as Fresno Poet Laureate from 2015–2017. He lives in Fresno, California, and teaches at Fresno City College and the MFA Program at Sierra Nevada University.

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Forest Primeval by Vievee Francis (Northwestern University Press, 2015)
Please consider supporting a Black-owned bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American-focused publication, Lantern Review is committed to promoting diverse voices within the literary world. In solidarity with the Black community and in an effort to amplify Black voices in poetry, we’re sharing a different book by a Black poet in each of our blog posts this summer.

Issue 8.1: Celebrating Ten Years of LR

Cover Image: LANTERN REVIEW Issue 8.1, "Remnants" (featuring Miya Sukune's oil painting "Looking to the Horizon": scene from an artist's workshop with a bass drum pedal, succulent, stone, eraser, paint brushes, and palette on a paint-streaked wood table. On the window and hanging from it are a sand dollar, a small statue, a spherical glass suncatcher, and another potted plant. Out the window, we can see snowcapped mountains and trees in the distance.)
LANTERN REVIEW Issue 8.1: “Remnants

We’re so very excited this morning to announce the release of our tenth-anniversary issue—Issue 8.1, “Remnants.” Featuring new poems by four of our past contributors (Rajiv Mohabir, Khaty Xiong, Vuong Vu, and Luisa A. Igloria) in addition to artist Miya Sukune’s stunning oil paintings, this slim but powerful volume serves as a celebration of past, present, and future.

Over the past ten years, we’ve had the opportunity to publish the poetry, prose, translations, and artwork of 107 writers and 27 visual artists in the magazine’s pages—as well as countless more curated writing prompts, interviews, reviews, process profiles, reflections, and featured poems (written by a combination of staff and guest contributors) for our blog. We’re incredibly indebted to you, our community—the readers, contributors, staff, partners, family, and friends who’ve read and commented on the blog and magazine, submitted work, subscribed to our newsletter, attended our events, volunteered your time and resources, visited our table at book fairs and literary festivals, and shared our content. 2020 feels, by all accounts, like a strange and difficult year in which to be celebrating anything, but as we reflect back on where we’ve come, we can’t help but feel both immense gratitude and renewed determination for the road ahead. The past ten years have only served to strengthen our deep belief in the necessity of poetry and in the rich, vibrant beacon that is the APA literary landscape. We look forward to continuing the work of highlighting and celebrating APA poetry—in concert with our community and in solidarity with others—in the years to come.

Thank you for your support throughout the years, and cheers to the future of APA poetry! We hope you’ll enjoy Issue 8.1.

Enter Lantern Review 8.1: “Remnants”

With peace, light, and unending gratitude,

Iris & Mia
LR Editors

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Cover Image: CATALOG OF UNABASHED GRATITUDE by Ross Gay

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay (U of Pittsburgh Press, 2015)
Please consider supporting a Black-owned bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–focused publication, Lantern Review is committed to promoting diverse voices within the literary world. In solidarity with the Black community and in an effort to amplify Black voices in poetry, we’ll be sharing a different book by a Black poet in each of our blog posts this summer.

Rajiv Mohabir’s “Daughter of the Sea, Child of Mountain” (Featured Poem)

LR: Featured Poem. Daughter of the Sea, Child of Mountain. Rajiv Mohabir. Photo: poet with shaved head, goatee, and glasses, wearing a gray blazer and various accessories (including a starry whale pin on the lapel). He looks into the camera thoughtfully with head tipped to one side and chin poised in his right hand.
Rajiv Mohabir (Photo by the author)

This morning, we’re sharing a new poem and reflection from Issue 2 contributor Rajiv Mohabir. As our nation enters the fourth week after the murder of George Floyd, Mohabir sings a prayer over his sister’s newborn child even as he wrestles with the ways in which legacies of colonial oppression have intersected with anti-Black racism in his family. “What new world will I help to create for my Saiya?” he writes. His words remind us that combating injustice is an urgent task that requires faith and sustained labor—and that we must not allow ourselves to weary as we continue the work of interrogating and uprooting systems of racial oppression within our nation, ourselves, and even, sometimes, our own cultures and families. Here is Mohabir—in his own words.

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We are watching Black people die disproportionately in the United States. COVID-19 threatening Black communities, the police hunting Black bodies. It’s time to become the ancestors who fought for Black liberation. My sister gave birth on February 20, 2020, to a Black child with eyes like moons. She gave birth to a Black child in the middle of a global pandemic. A moonrise in the middle of a global pandemic. What new world will I help to create for my Saiya? This poem came to me as a prayer while considering my extended family’s anti-Black racism in the United States, Canada, and England. Being Guyanese immigrants for their generation meant fleeing oppressive regimes, only to vilify Black bodies.

What does it mean to be in a precarious body, to be brown, and to ally with family and friends despite the define and rule lingering in our psyches, gifted to us by our colonial masters? What about how Hinduism is mobilized against Black communities in Guyanese and Caribbean practice? What about how Hinduism is the machine of savarna oppression; mobilized into anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit violence? What if I am queer and have ancestors with unknown and Dalit histories? These are some questions I have been grappling with for years.

I do know that queerness disrupts colonizing logics. I do know that somewhere in my ancestry were casteless people who fought for their rights and the rights of the people around them. This poem is a prayer to a casteless goddess of rage and vengeance that lives inside of us all. She is the Lord that is you and me. I summon her to summon courage to act against these calculated deaths engineered by the United States government.

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Rajiv Mohabir

Daughter of the Sea, Child of Mountain

In mornings of thick gravity
to see through tears and police
teargas, against the government’s
buffalo head impervious to man,
make me queer and animal;
place in my hands your lotus
of creation, your trident of ruin,
that I may gallop on tiger-back, teeth
bared, loose haired, that I may
trample under red foot, injustice—
Hindus who raze Dalit and masjid;
America that smashes Black bodies
under knee. Here, I raise your sword;
Goddess, I am your conch.

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Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Cowherd’s Son (Tupelo Press 2017, winner of the 2015 Kundiman Prize; Eric Hoffer Honorable Mention 2018) and The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books 2016, winner of the Four Way Books Intro to Poetry Prize, Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in 2017), and translator of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (1916) (Kaya Press 2019), which received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Award. His memoir won 2019 Reckless Books’ New Immigrant Writing Prize and is forthcoming 2021. Currently he is assistant professor of poetry in the MFA program at Emerson College and translations editor at Waxwing journal.

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Cover image of THE JANUARY CHILDREN by Safia Elhillo

The January Children by Safia Elhillo (U of Nebraska Press, 2017)
Please consider supporting a Black-owned bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–focused publication, Lantern Review is committed to promoting diverse voices within the literary world. In solidarity with the Black community and in an effort to amplify Black voices in poetry, we’ll be sharing a different book by a Black poet in each of our blog posts this summer.