An Asian American Poetry Companion: Fresh Collections for National Poetry Month 2021

Alt Copy: An Asian American Poetry Companion: April 2021. Clockwise from top left are cover images of: LAST DAYS by Tamiko Beyer, CONTINUITY by Cynthia Arrieu-King, CLEAVE by Tiana Nobile, PEACH STATE by Adrienne Su, IF GOD IS A VIRUS by Seema Yasmin, PROMETEO by C. Dale Young, THE SUNFLOWER CAST A SPELL TO SAVE US FROM THE VOID by Jackie Wang, and WHAT HAPPENS IS NEITHER by Angela Narciso Torres.
New and Notable Asian American Poetry Books for April 2021

It’s a heavy time to be celebrating National Poetry Month. In the face of continued violence, our Asian American community aches. And yet, as our guest editor this season, Eugenia Leigh, shared on Twitter with regard to our theme for the season, “The racist hate crimes against Asian Americans don’t get to silence us. We get to define what #AsianAmericanFutures looks like.” If the wealth of new poetry titles by Asian American writers hitting the shelves this year is any indication, then the future of Asian America looks bright. Poetry as resistance, as resilience, as vision, as voice, as witness, as document, as radical care, as light—that alone is something to celebrate.

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FEATURED PICKS:

Cynthia Arrieu-King, Continuity (Octopus, April 2021)

Cynthia Arrieu-King has not one, but two new books out this spring. In addition to her lyric essay, The Betweens (Noemi, March 2021), her latest collection, Continuity, hits shelves this month. Arrieu-King has observed that she envisions Continuity as the second half of a “double album.” While her previous collection, Futureless Languages, looks ahead, Continuity dips into the past, excavating histories of war and inherited trauma. Laura Jaramillo describes the poems in the collection as “sonically soft and visually holographic, sensorially pleasurable and richly melancholy.” If you’ve enjoyed Arrieu-King’s previous books as much as I have, then Continuity is sure to be a title you won’t want to miss.

Tamiko Beyer, Last Days (Alice James, April 2021)

Our theme for the season is “Asian American Futures,” a notion that issue 1 contributor Tamiko Beyer’s newest collection, Last Days, embodies wonderfully. Featuring a group of charismatic young revolutionaries and their struggle to navigate a post-apocalyptic world, Last Days celebrates hope, resilient joy, and the beauty of human interconnectedness. Beyer writes with the deep tenderness, empathy, and breathtaking lyric clarity that is a hallmark of her work. I had the chance to preview the collection earlier this year, and it’s been one of my favorite reads of 2021 so far.

Tiana Nobile, Cleave (Hub City, April 2021)

The title of Tiana Nobile’s first collection, Cleave, is a contranym—a choice that, per the Southern Review of Books’s interview with the author, nods to the complexity of her experience as a transnational adoptee. Accordingly, Cleave mixes research with personal history to interrogate the legacy of transnational adoption. The result, writes Cathy Park Hong, is a “mythic origin story that is beautiful, melancholic and powerful.” I’ve enjoyed reading individual pieces from Nobile’s project in the past and admire the way she’s combined meticulous craft with an unflinching sense of vision. Now that Cleave is finally out in the world, I can’t wait to dig into the collection in its entirety!

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MORE NEW AND NOTEWORTHY TITLES:

Adrienne Su, Peach State (U of Pittsburgh, March 2021)

Angela Narciso Torres, What Happens Is Neither (Four Way, February 2021)

Jackie Wang, The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us From the Void (Nightboat, January 2021)

Seema Yasmin, If God Is a Virus (Haymarket, April 2021)

C. Dale Young, Prometeo (Four Way, February 2021)

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We hope you’ll consider giving one of these books a read this month. As always, if you are able, we encourage you to support small presses and local independent bookstores (especially BIPOC-owned bookstores) with your purchases. And we’d love to hear from you! What Asian American poetry books are on your radar this April? Share your recommendations with us in the comments or on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).


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Cover image of Sonia Sanchez's COLLECTIVE POEMS

Sonia Sanchez, Collected Poems (Beacon, 2021)

Please consider supporting an independent bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–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-Asian-American-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

Six Questions for Senior Staff Reader Indrani Sengupta

Close portrait of Indrani Sengupta wearing a black, gray, and white top and standing in front of closed white window blinds. The purple tips of her long black hair fall past her shoulders. She is looking directly at the camera with a serious expression.
LR Senior Staff Reader Indrani Sengupta

It’s the last week of our 2021 youth folio reading period! Earlier this year, we introduced our 2021 guest editor, Eugenia, and in late 2020, we helped you get to know Karen, our fall intern (and current staff reader). Today, while you’re preparing those last-minute submissions, we thought we’d take the time to highlight another member of our editorial team: our senior staff reader, Indrani Sengupta. Indrani is a Pushcart Prize–nominated poet from Kolkata, India, who is, in her words, “currently braving Illinois weather.” She received her MFA in poetry from Boise State University, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Quarterly West, American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, Indiana Review, Copper Nickel, Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review, and Grimoire. As a key member of the LR editorial team for the past two years, Indrani brings a keen eye for craft and an empathetic approach to our submissions process, evaluating each poem she reads with fairness and care. If a manuscript crosses Indrani’s desk, rest assured that it’s in good hands! Read on to learn more about Indrani’s obsession with writing the body through fairy tales, garden spaces, and more in her own poetry; her thoughts on the importance of having the courage to play with abandon in one’s work; and her radical, canon-exploding dreams for the future of Asian American poetry. We know you’ll love her as much as we do by the time you’re through!

LANTERN REVIEW: How did you come to poetry?

INDRANI SENGUPTA: In grade school, we were given an assignment to write short free verse poems about natural artifacts: sun, sea, moon, earth, the like. I remember putting the full freight of my nine-year-old vocabulary into making them as pretty and wastefully lavish as possible. My teacher was pleased. My mother read them aloud over and over. I couldn’t stand it. I think I realized even then that there was something dishonest in what I’d written, so full of self-conscious beauty and so devoid of rage (which I had plenty of). I flirted with poetry for several years, writing well-behaved poems. I don’t think it was until I started reading poets like me — contemporary, female, brown — that I realized what poetry could actually be. Thorny, volatile, stunningly unfinished, devastating to writer and reader alike.

LR: What interests or obsessions are driving your work right now?

IS: Bodies, as they pertain to reproductive trauma and sexual assault, as they function in medical spaces, domestic spaces, garden spaces, hortus conclususes, witchcraft, the mythological canon, and the fairy tale canon. That’s . . . a lot of somewhat disparate topics, but I think the anchor point is always the body. Not even mine, necessarily. I’ve been enjoying getting into the sleeves of archetypal personas and anatomizing them from inside out.

LR: What’s one writing ritual or self-care practice that helps sustain you?

IS: The only thing that works for me is a sustained, penciled-in writing routine. It’s not as sexy as spontaneous inspiration, but I like to think there’s something good and worshipful about sitting with yourself for three hours and throwing nothing at a nothing-wall until something appears. For company, I keep a running doc of breathtaking poems from different journals and books that have nothing to do with each other, a running list of exciting words and orphaned lines that I want to use someday, and string lights that only come on when I’m writing (an attempt at conjuration).

Another completely unrelated practice: Dungeons & Dragons! It’s kind of like an act of communal, extemporaneous writing where you cannot fail—only die a little.

LR: What are some of your favorite poetry collections of the moment?

IS: These are not all of the moment, but I’m very much stuck on them: Bhanu Kapil’s Humanimal, Franny Choi’s Soft Science, Srikanth Reddy’s Underworld Lit, Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Kiki Petrosino’s Witch Wife, Kerri Webster’s We Do Not Eat Our Hearts Alone, Alicia Mountain’s Thin Fire.

LR: Looking back, what’s something you wish you could tell your younger self?

IS: Back in school, I once got feedback to play more with my work. I could not for the life of me figure out how. I thought I was already pushing the limits of what I was capable of. It took many years of hindsight to understand, and maybe I’m still in the process of understanding. If I could go back, I’d translate like so: throw out the loved image; interrupt the music; write the poem that doesn’t wrap neatly, that guts itself as it goes. Reapproach the work without a plan or a conscience. The good thing is, nowadays I have no real plan for anything. It’s terrifying! And I think that terror’s so very useful.

LR: What does “Asian American futures” mean to you?

IS: I attended grade school in India, but my first exposure to poetry was through the British canon. And I’m grateful to it, but I often think of who I’d be today if I’d encountered contemporary Asian American poetry sooner, or first. My hope for the future that kids like me (and unlike me) have that chance. Rework, expand, explode the canon.

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Many thanks to Indrani for sitting down with us to chat! For more from her, check out some of her poems here and here. And if you’re an Asian American poet or artist aged 14–24 and you haven’t yet already checked out our youth folio call for submissions, head on over to our Submittable page—there’s just under a week left to send us your work!


Cover image of WITCH WIFE by Kiki Petrosino (Sarabande, 2017)

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Kiki Petrosino, Witch Wife (Sarabande, 2017)

Please consider supporting an BIPOC-owned indie bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–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-Asian-American-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

Publishing 101: How to Submit Your Work (to LR or Any Literary Journal)

Publishing 101: How to Submit Your Work (to LR or Any Literary Journal). LR, lanternreview.submittable.com, Asian American Futures. Background image: black-and white photo of a wooden dock pointing out over open water. On the horizon are hills shrouded in misty fog. (Photo by Simone Mattielli on Unsplash)
Submissions are open for our youth folio! If you’re new to the world of literary publishing, read through this post for some tips before you head on over to send us your work.

It’s the first day of our youth folio submissions period, and we’re so excited to see your poems and art! Because we know that this might be the first time some of you are submitting to a literary journal, we thought we’d take some time today to discuss our best tips for navigating the submissions process. The advice below is geared toward sending your work to Lantern Review, but much of it will also apply to other literary journals. (Just remember that every publication is different, so be sure to read the specific guidelines for wherever you send your work!) Whether you’re new to sending out your stuff for publication—or you just want a quick refresher—these four key steps are an easy recipe to help you get started.

Step 1: Get to know the journal.

Before you begin, it’s a good idea to research any journal you’re submitting to. Take some time to read through past issues if they’re available, and look at whom they’ve published in the past to get a feel for the kind of work they like. (At Lantern Review, you can read our current issue here and browse our archive of older issues here.) As you read, ask yourself: What themes does this magazine tend to be interested in? Is there a style of work that they seem to publish a lot? Have they published any work in the past that seems similar to mine? Are there any pieces they’ve published that I really admire?

The idea is to get a sense of whether your work would fit well with what the journal usually publishes—as well as which of your pieces the editors might be most interested in. (For example, if the journal hasn’t published any poems that rhyme in the past, and you have some poems that rhyme and some that don’t—then you’ll know that you should send only unrhymed pieces.)

So what kind of work do we like to publish at Lantern Review? We talk about this and other related topics in our Submissions FAQ (which we highly encourage you to read!). But here’s what we have to say about our magazine’s particular stylistic preferences:

We love poems that surprise and challenge us, that are musical and filled with vivid, concrete imagery; that play with language in new and interesting ways; that take risks; that have something distinct to say. We tend to prefer unrhymed, free verse poems. We no longer publish translations. To get the best idea of what we publish, we encourage you to read through a few of our past issues.

[. . .]

For visual art, we’re looking for paintings in traditional mediums (like watercolor, oil, acrylic); lino or woodblock prints; collage; and abstract photos that we can juxtapose with poems and maybe even use as cover art. We’re fond of moody, monochrome color palettes, striking contrast, and interestingly textured play with shadow and light. As stated above, the best way to get an idea of the type of art we publish is to look at our past issues.

Other journals will have different preferences than ours, but regardless of where you’re submitting, it’s a good rule of thumb to take a poke around a magazine’s website or blog for any information about what they’re interested in publishing (tip: you’ll often find it tucked away on the “about” or “submissions” pages)—and then use that to help you decide what to submit.

Step 2: Read the guidelines. (Yes, really!)

It might sound like a no-brainer, but we can’t tell you how many submissions we receive that we unfortunately can’t review because the submitter did not read the guidelines—from sending us work in genres that we don’t publish to attaching book-length manuscripts that are far too long for us to consider. No matter where you’re sending your work, it’s important that you follow the guidelines carefully! Editors and staff readers see a lot of submissions at once, so if an entry does not meet the guidelines, they might not be able to give it their full attention. Abiding by the rules gives your submission the fairest chance possible.

At Lantern Review, we have a set of general guidelines that apply to all submissions, as well as specific instructions that apply to work for each category (poetry or art). And as is the case for many magazines, you’ll need to know a couple of publishing-industry terms. Here’s a quick breakdown of what they mean.

Rights revert to the author upon publication of the work. Most US-based literary journals claim what are known as first North American serial rights. This means that the magazine reserves the right to be the first North American periodical to publish a piece. However, journals usually do not hold onto the rights to a piece after it’s published. When a magazine states that “rights revert to the author upon publication of the work,” it means that after the issue containing your piece comes out, you (the author) own the rights again. When a journal says this, it generally means two things. First, you shouldn’t submit any work to them that has previously been published. Second, you don’t need to ask the magazine’s permission to republish the piece after the issue comes out (though most journals appreciate a short acknowledgment in the republished version—something like “This poem was first published in Lantern Review“).

Simultaneous submissions. A simultaneous submission is a piece that more than one journal is considering at the same time. As long as the guidelines say so, most magazines (like us!) are fine with this; they’ll just ask you to tell them which pieces are simultaneous submissions—and to inform them if another magazine accepts a piece before they do. There’s also an unstated etiquette rule here: it’s really bad form not to tell a magazine when a piece is no longer available because another journal’s accepted it first. So be sure to write or message the editors right away if you’re lucky enough for this to happen! (Don’t worry; no one will be offended—in fact, they’ll probably congratulate you on your news.) And rest assured: even if you withdraw a piece from consideration because it’s been accepted elsewhere, most journals (like us!) will still read and consider the rest of your poems.

Once you’ve read through the guidelines, you might find that you still have some questions. If that’s the case, you should first refer to any FAQs (here are ours) that a journal may have available on their website. If you can’t find the answer there, then go ahead and email the editors—if they’re anything like us, most will be delighted to answer your questions!

Step 3: Prepare a cover letter and bio.

In the literary publishing world, it’s normal to send a cover letter with each submission. Fortunately, this isn’t the high-pressure sort of cover letter that you send with job applications! In a literary cover letter, you usually just need to introduce yourself and your work and let the editors know of any important special information (like if some of the pieces are simultaneous submissions). If you’d like a great basic template to help you draft your letter, we suggest looking at this one from Adroit.

When you’re writing your cover letter, try to use slightly more formal language, and make sure that you’re addressing the editors accurately in your greeting. Many people begin their cover letters with just a simple “Dear editors,” but you can also look up and include the editors’ first names in your greeting if you like. If you do this, be sure to double check your spelling, and avoid adding titles like “Mr.,” “Ms.,” or “Dr.” unless you know the editors and their preferred titles personally. (For Lantern Review, if you want to address our 2021 team of editors and readers by name, you can write, “Dear Eugenia, Iris, Indrani, and Karen.”)

Many journals will also ask you to include a short bio with your submission. Lantern Review asks you to put this information in your cover letter, but other magazines might ask you to include it in a separate field in the submission form. Literary bios are usually short and are written in the third person (i.e., not “I” or “me”). Most include some information about the poet or artist’s identity and/or location, any notable past publications and awards, and even (sometimes) a couple of fun facts—like about pets or hobbies. Here’s a great example of a bio from a student we published in Issue 4:

Susan Li is 18 years old. She was born and raised and still lives in Brooklyn, where she graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School. She is currently attending Hunter College and pursuing a degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy, with a minor in Asian American Studies.

Step 4: Put together your best work and send it in!

Take a look at your work and choose a few pieces you’re proud of and think the magazine editors might like, too. How many you send is up to you—but definitely don’t send any more than the maximum number allowed (for Lantern Review, that’s four). We also think it’s a good strategy to send more than just one! Not only does sending more than one piece help editors to get a better sense of your work; it also gives them more options to choose from. For example, if the Lantern Review team gets a submission with three pieces in it, we might like the second or third piece even if we don’t want to publish the first. If you only send one poem, you’re only giving yourself one chance to get our attention.

If you’re a poet (the following doesn’t apply to visual art submissions), combine the pieces you’ve chosen into a single document (editors call this a manuscript or an MS or MSS), in whatever format the guidelines suggest. While you’re compiling your manuscript, it’s also a good idea to think about the order you want editors to read each poem in. If you can’t decide, at least try to put the strongest poem first!

Give your cover letter and manuscript one last, final proofread—then head on over to the submission form, and hit “send.” Congratulations; you’ve just submitted your work!

Extra Credit: Say “thank you” when you get your reply.

After you submit to a journal, you can generally expect to wait anywhere from several weeks to a few months before you get a reply. Most journals will give you an estimate of their response time (ours is eight weeks after the close of the submission period). If you don’t hear back within that time, it’s okay to send a polite message asking for a status update! But once you do get an official acceptance or rejection, it’s really nice if you can send a short reply. For acceptances, you’ll usually need to reply in order to give the journal written permission to publish your work. For rejections, replying is totally optional, but if you get a personalized rejection (which is when an editor writes back encouragement or feedback or asks you to consider submitting again), that’s considered a compliment—so it’s generally a good idea to write back with a quick note of thanks!

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We know it takes guts to put your work out there—but we hope that this breakdown has helped make at least the submissions process at Lantern Review feel a little less intimidating and mysterious. We encourage you to check out our Submissions FAQ and to email us at editors [at] lanternreview [dot] com if you have any questions. We’re here for you! And we’re ready and waiting to read your work.

Click here to Submit to our 2021 Youth Folio: Asian American Futures (Powered by Submittable)

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Cover image of THE AGE OF PHILLIS by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan, 2020)

Please consider supporting an indie bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–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-Asian-American-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

“Each Poem a Window”: A Conversation with Brian Komei Dempster

Header graphic. At the top, the LR logo and the words "A Conversation with Brian Komei Dempster." Below, a photo of Dempster, a poet with short, spiky, dark-brown hair and 
wearing a blue button-down shirt with a small white dot pattern. He is standing against a wall of long, gray stone tiles and looking off to the left. At bottom right is the cover of SEIZE, with white title text on a painting by Suiren—green, red, and white abstract brushstrokes on a tan ground.
Brian Komei Dempster and the cover of his latest collection, SEIZE

This winter we had the privilege of speaking with poet Brian Komei Dempster about his new collection Seize, published last fall by Four Way Books. Dempster is a professor of rhetoric and language at the University of San Francisco, author of Topaz (Four Way Books, 2013), and editor of the award-winning From Our Side of the Fence: Growing Up in America’s Concentration Camps (Kearny Street Workshop, 2001) and Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement (Heyday, 2011). In this interview, we discuss the historical and ethical stakes of Dempster’s artmaking, his creative lineage as a mixed-race Japanese American, and, of course, the luminous figure of his son Brendan, whose epileptic seizures and resilience act as both inspiration and occasion for this remarkable new book.

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LANTERN REVIEW: First off, congratulations on your just-released book Seize (Four Way Books, 2020)! Your poem “Night Sky” is such a beautiful opening, and the poem that came to mind as I was reading it (this, to be certain, says more about our friendship and ongoing conversation as fellow Japanese American poets than anything else!) was Lawson Fusao Inada’s “Concentration Constellation,” with its imagery of stars, jagged lines, and the flag/nation. Even if they exist only in my own mind, I sensed Inada’s words about the “jagged scar . . .  the rusted wire / of a twisted and remembered fence” moving in the backdrop of the poem. 

I hope this isn’t imposing unfairly on your work, but my sense is that you’re asking readers to understand the relatedness of these things: your son’s life and his epilepsy alongside your mother’s experience as an incarceration camp survivor, as well as other histories of seizure and brutality. Now that the book is written, these relationships feel obvious, vital; but I can imagine a time in which this was not yet the case, when you were perhaps moving blindly through your reactions to your son’s diagnosis and needs without a sense of how they might be connected to these more historical or political realities. How did you find your way into this book’s articulation? 

BRIAN KOMEI DEMPSTER: I love that connection to Inada’s poem and that resonance, which I had not thought of before. Stars are such a mythic, long-standing image and symbol in poetry, and I can’t help but see our ancestors behind “the rusted wire” of this “twisted and remembered fence,” looking up at the night sky, imagining a ladder towards the stars, climbing rungs into the sky’s vast freedom.

Just as the suddenness of Executive Order 9066 and swift, forced removal from their homes must have been shocking for our families, so, too, was my son’s diagnosis a shock to our systems. Our lives upturned in an instant. Our expectations subverted. Like my mother and her family, my wife, Grace, and I had little time to think. Like them, we needed to act fast. At first, the reactions, as you point out, were involuntary, a river’s current shuttling us swiftly downstream as we paddled frantically for unseen shores. The poems, too, spilled out, some bursting blue sparks of rage, some bathed in a sad orange glow, flickering with guilt. Raw emotion superseded poetic craft or intention or anything else for that matter.

Only with the passing of time, as I stepped back from the immediacy of that initial shock, could I see the poems clearly. What was initially therapeutic venting onto the page—which I acknowledge was so important—became something different. As I moved from grief towards acceptance, these drafts began to speak to me as poems. When I cut away the rough edges, chiseled the black granite of words, I found jewels, arrived at a language that was beautiful in its realness as it sang our complicated truths. While I went through that process, it was helpful to remember the wise insight that Michael Collier—former director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference—had shared with our group many years ago in his workshop. It went something like this: “A poem is smarter than we are. To realize a poem, we must listen to what it is trying to say to us.”

Following that cue, I saw that candid confessions and raw energy were powerful but, by themselves, not enough. I thought of my dual responsibility as an artist: to commit to the doing, which meant sitting down to do the hard work of writing and revising the work, and, at the same time, to inhabit the being, which was opening to and receiving the poems and their essence. This required a quieting of—and even playful dialogue with—the ego and its chattering voice, a letting go of perfectionistic tendencies, a tapping into energies that transformed the exhausted feeling of laboring through drafts into the excitement of creative discoveries, the pure fun of linguistic play and experimentation. Above all, I did my best to have an unwavering faith in process and hold firm to the belief that staying in such a space would keep me grounded, sane, and optimistic, and would lead to positive outcomes. I imagined myself in a house with many rooms, the poems crackling and alive, voices speaking to me through the walls. I cupped my ear to the walls, really listened to what the poems were trying to tell me. What images and details were they offering up, and how could I navigate and shape them? How could I effectively merge these specifics with the father-son story I was trying to tell? How could I get to the real truth of my son, which was something beyond language, when language was all I had, and my son communicated through touch and a primal language that alternated between euphonious and guttural sounds? How could I describe a boy who was both real and unreal, present and here, yet transcendent and otherworldly?

When I really opened my heart, it became a chamber my son could walk in or through, escape to or from. He became the boy that the poems were making him, and the work magically transformed. He became a bird, an angel, a lion, a sunflower, an oak. His journey morphed into a larger saga. The storms in his head became the storms my mom blinked at as a baby in Topaz. The seizures that gripped him became the hands of men who bound and chained others.

As I write this, these events still seize us, these linkages still sicken and sadden me. But they also show the power of my son. At the center of the storm, he takes us inside our collective vortex. As we swirl through histories and lives of trauma and pain, we search for love and bravery, forgiveness and calm. Here I quote Haruki Marukami: “And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.” Marukami’s words and my son remind us: because the storm gives us such an extreme and opposite reference point to normal life, the storm makes us feel and see everything more clearly. When we pass through the storm, we are changed. When the storm ends, we rest. The only way out is through.

LR: While many of the poems in Seize address experiences of brutality, at the book’s heart lies an unwavering commitment to care—though of course that commitment is not without its own journey through violence. This may be more of a question about self care, but how did you guard the space necessary to make these poems—to regard your son Brendan with such tranquility amidst the tumult, to speak with such lyric clarity into moments of pain, inherited and otherwise?

BKD: I am touched by your tender recognition of the emotional challenge I experienced writing this book. Your insight allows me to reflect on a larger question that is relevant to all of us as writers: How do we create safe spaces that allow us to dig deep into the psychic terrain of ourselves and, at the same time, remain in balance? The image that comes to mind is that of a garden. Our bodies, our minds, our art—all of it must be tended. In our lives, we plant seeds, we hope things will bloom. Along the way, we contend with periods of frost, drought, scavengers who threaten our crops; to make it through, we must believe in our harvest, its eventual fruition. What does this really mean as we navigate the real responsibilities and pressing demands of our own lives?

Guarding the space, as you nicely put it, means defining your relationship to your art. We are all different and need to figure out how to best weave writing into the fabric of our lives. When I was younger, I sometimes romanticized the notion that being a great poet meant giving oneself away to one’s art. As I grew older, however, I realized that being a writer needs to be integrated with being a good husband and dad. This model originates from what I witnessed in my family growing up: my mother painted and played the piano; my father played trombone and other instruments. They both worked full-time as educators. While my father, in particular, had to maintain a tricky balance between travel for music and commitment to family, we knew that he loved and cared for us. We, as children, were an integral part of our parents’ artistic and professional lives. Their passion for art did not threaten to extinguish us; nor did their goals diminish our importance on a daily basis.

To keep the space intact, we must create a system that allows us to protect our own time and energy. For us, this biggest factor is Brendan himself, who needs one-on-one care at all times. Caring for ourselves meant making sure Grace and I had enough help with him; when we did, I set aside hours on certain days where I attended only to the poems. When we didn’t, I tried to accept that the writing would have to wait. And with the demands of caring for him, Grace and I needed to be mindful of our relationship. Fortunately, because we are both writers, we understand the space and maintain a healthy reciprocity in terms of the amount of care we each do for him and also in terms of supporting things—from writing time to retreats and conferences—that allow our work to flourish.

While guarding the space is a process largely within our control, keeping faith in our work—and a good outlook—involves focused intention and effort. When my thoughts darkened, and I despaired about my son, his future; when I felt exposed or worried by what I had revealed about myself or him in a poem—I practiced the Buddhist discipline of abstracting thoughts, stepping outside them and seeing them from afar. I meditated, even if just for five or ten minutes. When I swam laps, water cleansed away toxic ruminations, reinvigorated me. I tried my best to live in Keats’s unresolved state of negative capability, the mystery and uncertainty that Buddhism encourages you to lean into rather than resist.

During the writing of Seize, all of this, of course, was challenging, and I wasn’t always successful. There were stops and starts, times when I thought a poem or the book wouldn’t come together and when we were exhausted from trying to care for our son while working full time and being called into the duties of our many roles. On certain long days of caregiving, it took effort to stay engaged and not become dulled by the monotony of feeding, dressing, and bathing my son. Yet when I entered his wavelength, I found joy in his clicks and coos for favorite foods; his shrieking laughter when I turned on the shower and he slammed the silver hose against the wall.

Edward Hirsch once talked about this idea to us in a poetry workshop, something to the effect that “Life doesn’t make room for poetry. You need to carve out that space on your own.” With a blend of imagination and pragmatism, we can find our own ways to build a fortress that fends off the intrusive, encroaching forces that oppose our artmaking. Here, I return to the garden. In the rich soil of our complicated lives, we turn up earth, pull out weeds, plant things, remain patient as they grow. It’s vital to care for our work as we do ourselves, to tend to it as we do our loved ones. If we can do that—and, in turn, defy the stereotype that writers must drink themselves to death or go crazy making their art—then we can reinforce the emergent model of the twenty first–century artist: one who harmonizes their life and creates in a sustainable way.

Continue reading ““Each Poem a Window”: A Conversation with Brian Komei Dempster”

Six Questions for 2021 Guest Editor Eugenia Leigh

Photograph of Eugenia Leigh, poet with long, dark hair and thick-rimmed glasses. She is wearing a white, puffy jacket with a bright red vest layered on top and is standing in front of a moody seascape with rocky crags and crashing waves visible in the far distance.
2021 Guest Editor Eugenia Leigh

This season, we’re privileged to welcome Eugenia Leigh to our team as guest editor. Eugenia is the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014) and the recipient of fellowships and awards from Poets & Writers magazine, Kundiman, Rattle, and elsewhere. She’s previously served as poetry editor at Kartika Review and Hyphen magazine, and she’s also a past contributor to the magazine and the blog here at Lantern Review. As Eugenia will be working closely with us to curate and produce the magazine this season, we thought we’d take a minute to help you get to know her. Read on to learn about some of her favorite reads of 2020, the Word document she keeps on her desktop for inspiration, what “Asian American futures” means to her, and more.

LANTERN REVIEW: How did you come to poetry?

EUGENIA LEIGH: Like many children from dysfunctional, abusive homes, I was taught to lie about my life as a child. Given that my parents were also pursuing ministry work in Korean Christian churches, the lying was even more imperative to maintain the illusion of our nice family. This made for a pretty lonely childhood. In junior high, an English teacher gave us the assignment to adopt a poet of our choosing, create a report, and recite one of their poems from memory for the class. I chose Anne Sexton randomly with no knowledge of who she was, and I recited a posthumously published poem, “Red Roses”—a poem about child abuse, thinly veiled. I still remember reciting this poem to the class and feeling the electricity of being able to tell at least one small truth in this artful way. After discovering Anne Sexton and the confessional poets, I often turned toward poetry to process and work through a lot of my ongoing childhood trauma during my teenage years. I’ve grown comfortable admitting that before poetry became an “artistic pursuit,” poetry was first an important coping mechanism and survival tool for me.

LR: What’s something you wish you had known when you were just starting out as a writer?

EL: When I was a senior at UCLA, a dear older white male poet announced to our poetry workshop—after critiquing one of my poems—that “if you’re forty and you’re a poet, then you’re a poet. But if you’re twenty and you’re a poet, you’re just twenty.” I’m nearly forty now, and I can still recall the humiliation of that statement, which stayed with me longer than it should have. When I was starting out as a writer, I wish I’d known to block out the many toxic voices I allowed into my ever-anxious, ever-insecure mind. I wish I’d believed in myself and in my writing, and I wish I’d applied for every chance to learn, grow, and showcase my work. I wish I’d had Michelle Obama’s voice to quiet my imposter syndrome by saying, “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the UN; they are not that smart.”

LR: What interests or obsessions are driving your work right now? 

EL: A few years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and complex PTSD, and this has fueled a new interest in the ways mental illness intersects with intergenerational trauma, especially within Asian American (and more specifically, Korean American) families. As a new parent, I’m also interested in narratives that upend the curated, Instagrammable stories of parenthood and have been a little hellbent on putting the uglier bits of this life into my newer poems.

LR: What are some of your favorite poetry collections of the moment?

EL: A few favorite poetry collections from 2020 that I can’t stop thinking about or recommending to people: John Murillo’s Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, Leila Chatti’s Deluge, Yona Harvey’s You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love, and Choi Seungja’s Phone Bells Keep Ringing for Me (translated by Won-Chung Kim and Cathy Park Hong). I’m also pretty obsessed with these 2020 nonfiction books by Korean American poets: Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings and E. J. Koh’s The Magical Language of Others—both of which made me cry multiple times. I feel actual gratitude that all these books are out in the world.

LR: What’s one writing ritual or self-care practice that helps sustain you?

EL: I keep a Word document on my desktop called “Anthology of Quotes”—an ongoing collection of inspirational quotes to keep me going when I want to quit. I read through it when I feel unable to continue writing. A lot of Audre Lorde in there, some philosophers, even some from contemporary actors or anonymous quotes floating around Instagram. And one Bible verse (though I’ve completely forgotten its context now): “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands’” (from the book of Nehemiah, chapter 6, verse 9).

LR: In keeping with this season’s theme, what does “Asian American futures” mean to you? 

EL: When I think of “Asian American futures,” I imagine new generations of Asian American poets putting to paper what our parents, grandparents, and ancestors could never bring themselves to say. I envision poetry that refuses to wait around for permission. Poetry with an urgency that matches the times. Poetry that cost the poet something to write.

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We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Eugenia to our editorial team for the season! For more from her, check out her website—or head on over to read our previous interview with her, right here on the LR blog. (And don’t forget to send us your own takes on “Asian American futures”! Our regular open submissions period closes on February 11th.)

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ALSO RECOMMENDED

Cover of YOU DON'T HAVE TO GO TO MARS FOR LOVE by Yona Harvey

 Yona Harvey, You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love (Four Way Books, 2020)

Please consider supporting an indie bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–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-Asian-American-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

Submissions FAQ: What to Know When Sending Us Your Work

Submissions FAQs: What to Know When Sending Us Your Work (LR: lanternreview.submittable.com, Asian American Futures). Background image: black-and white photo of a wooden dock pointing out over open water. On the horizon are hills shrouded in misty fog. (Photo by Simone Mattielli on Unsplash)
All your pressing questions answered: read on below before you submit!

Our first submissions period of the season is officially open as of this morning! Over the years, we’ve been asked a lot of really great questions about our submissions process, so today on the blog, we thought we’d take some time to answer a few of the most frequently asked. First time sending us work? Or new to lit mag submissions in general? Before you head on over to check out our official guidelines on Submittable, we encourage you to take a quick read through the following.

1. What types of poems do you publish?

We love poems that surprise and challenge us, that are musical and filled with vivid, concrete imagery; that play with language in new and interesting ways; that take risks; that have something distinct to say. We tend to prefer unrhymed, free verse poems. We no longer publish translations. To get the best idea of what we publish, we encourage you to read through a few of our past issues.

2. What kind of art are you looking for?

For visual art, we’re looking for paintings in traditional mediums (like watercolor, oil, acrylic); lino or woodblock prints; collage; and abstract photos that we can juxtapose with poems and maybe even use as cover art. We’re fond of moody, monochrome color palettes, striking contrast, and interestingly textured play with shadow and light. As stated above, the best way to get an idea of the type of art we publish is to look at our past issues.

3. How many times can I submit? Can I submit to both the poetry and visual art categories? Can I send you work during both reading periods this year?

You’re welcome to submit to both categories in a given reading period! However, please submit only once per category during that period. Additionally, this year, our second reading period (Mar/Apr) is reserved for Asian American writers and artists aged 14–24 only, while our current reading period (Jan/Feb) is for Asian American poets and artists of any age. We ask that you please respect these categories and only submit during the appropriate reading period.

4. If I’ve been published by LR before, can I submit again?

We ask contributors to wait one calendar year/season after publication before submitting again. (This means that anyone we published in 2020 should not submit this year.) Otherwise, past contribs are welcome to submit again!

5. Do I have to be Asian American for you to publish my work?

Our mission is to highlight Asian American poetry and art. At the present moment, that means we’re prioritizing work from writers and artists who identify as Asian American. We also realize that “Asian American” is a broad and complex category—but bottom line, if you self-identify as Asian American, we want to see your work! (And if you don’t, we’d ask you to respectfully refrain from submitting.)

6. How many poems should I send?

Our guidelines specify a maximum of four poems totaling no more than than eight pages. (Please don’t send more than that; we won’t be able to read the extra poems.) But within that limit, feel free to send as many or as few as you’d like! It is often a good strategy to send at least a couple if you’re also sending your work to other journals, however—that way, if one of your poems gets snapped up by another magazine first, we still have something to choose from if we want to publish your work.

7. Can I email you my work instead of using Submittable?

Unfortunately, we don’t accept unsolicited submissions via email. If you experience a problem with our Submittable forms, feel free to ask us about it via email, but we’ll still eventually ask you to submit your work via Submittable. This is actually a good thing for submitters—it’s easier to keep track of submissions when they’re all in one place, so by sending your work via Submittable only, you help ensure that we won’t accidentally miss or lose your work!

8. Your guidelines say that a poem can’t be previously published. What counts as “previously published”?

“Previously published” means that a piece has previously appeared in a published periodical (such as a literary journal), anthology, chapbook, or collection (book), whether in print or online. This includes self-published chapbooks and books. (As a literary magazine, we claim standard first North American serial rights, and rights revert to you upon publication.) However, if you’ve simply performed the poem at an event, posted it on your blog, or shared it on your personal social media, we don’t consider it published. We realize there are lots of ambiguous cases out there, though, so if you’re ever unsure whether a piece that you intend to submit counts as “previously published,” please don’t hesitate to send us an email and ask!

9. What are simultaneous submissions? What if my work gets accepted somewhere else while it’s still being considered by Lantern Review?

Simultaneous submissions are pieces that are currently being considered by more than one journal or contest. LR allows submitters to send in simultaneous submissions, but should a piece be accepted elsewhere, you must immediately contact us to withdraw it. The easiest way to do this is to message us on Submittable or to add a note to your submission indicating which piece is no longer available.

10. Submittable says that you are not accepting submissions, but the deadline hasn’t passed yet. What’s going on?

This probably means that we’ve maxed out our submissions limit for the month. Submittable limits small publications like ours to a certain number of total submissions per calendar month. Once we’ve received that number of submissions, the form automatically shuts down for a time. Unfortunately, this is not something we have control over—but the good news is that the form will always reopen (and the counter will reset) with the start of the next calendar month. Should this happen before the end of January/March, we are so sorry—but please don’t worry! The form will be up and running again on February 1st/April 1st.

11. How soon will you get back to me?

We aim to get back to you within about eight weeks’ time after the submissions period ends. However, we’re a very small team, and occasionally, there may be delays. We ask for your patience while we go through the pile; please know that we haven’t forgotten you if you don’t hear from us right away after submitting—we’re working through as quickly as we possibly can.

12. Given the theme, “Asian American futures,” does my work have to be about the future? Does it have to be about being Asian American?

Your work never has to be “about” being Asian American. We love getting to highlight the enormous diversity of topics and themes that contemporary Asian American poets are writing about—we’re so much more than boba and rice! Regarding the “future” part of the 2021 season theme, if you’re submitting to our Jan/Feb open submissions period, then, yes, we ask that the pieces you send have the future in mind in some way. If you’re 14–24 and submitting to our Youth Folio (Mar/Apr), then your work does not need to specifically be about the future—we consider that you (and your perspectives) already are the future of Asian America.

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We hope this helps to clarify our submissions process a bit! We encourage you to send in your work early and to carefully read both our general guidelines and the guidelines for your category (poetry or art) before hitting “Submit.” And as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out via email (editors [at] lanternreview [dot] com) or on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview) should you have any questions. We look forward to reading your work!

Click here to Submit to Jan/Feb Open Submissions: Asian American Futures (Powered by Submittable)

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ALSO RECOMMENDED

Cover image of DON'T CALL US DEAD by Danez Smith

Danez Smith, Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf, 2017)

Please consider supporting an indie bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–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-Asian-American-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

Introducing Our 2021 Season: “Asian American Futures”

Call for submissions information graphic. LANTERN REVIEW. Call for Submissions: Asian American Futures. Regular Submissions (Asian American poets & visual artists): Jan 11–Feb 11. Youth Folio Submissions (Asian American poets & visual artists 14–24): Mar 11–Apr 11. lanternreview.submittable.com. (Black-and-white background photo of a wooden dock extending out over water into a foggy horizon; photo by Simone Mattielli on Unsplash.)
Save the date! Our first 2021 reading period opens soon.

It’s hard to believe that 2020 is nearing its end. (And what a year it’s been!) As we look ahead to 2021, we’re excited to announce that some changes are coming to LR’s magazine in the new year.

To begin with, we’re beyond delighted to announce that guest editor Eugenia Leigh will be joining our team for the duration of the 2021 season. Eugenia is an award-winning poet, the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows, a seasoned teaching artist, and former poetry editor at both Kartika Review and Hyphen. She’s also a past LR contributor and has written in the past for our blog. Eugenia will be helping to co-curate the magazine, and you also might hear from her via our social media from time to time. We’re so excited to get to collaborate with her next year, and hope you’ll join us in giving her a warm welcome!

Additionally, in 2021, our magazine will center around the theme of “Asian American Futures.” For the first time, we’ll also be having two separate reading periods: from Jan 11–Feb 11, we’ll accept regular submissions, and from Mar 11–Apr 11, we’ll be inviting young Asian American writers aged 14–24 to submit their work to a special youth folio.

We’ll post again to remind you when the first submissions period goes live on the blog starting next month. But in the meantime, here is the official call. We hope you’ll read it through, save the date, and consider sending something our way!

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2021 Open Submissions (Jan 11–Feb 11): “Asian American Futures” 

As we enter 2021, many of us face uncertainty or grief, but the new year gives us a chance to dare to hope. And there is so much to hope for in the Asian American community, from the leadership of young Asian American activists on the protest lines to the rising profiles of Asian American artists, writers, and scholars on the national and global stages. This season, we’re hoping to publish poetry and visual art that embodies the spirit of a “love letter” to the future of Asian America. Maybe you have something to say to the young people in your life. Maybe you look at Kamala Harris and see a glimpse of your own childhood dreams or even the dreams you haven’t yet dreamed. Or maybe you’re thinking about the work we still need to do: about climate change, police brutality, anti-Asian racism, incarceration at the border, rising food insecurity, the model minority myth. Maybe you’ll channel the prophetic, the visionary; maybe you’ll see glimmers of hope in the ordinary. However you interpret this call, we look forward to hearing what you have to say. Please read our guidelines and tips carefully and send us your work by February 11th.

This call is open to all poets who identify as Asian American. We especially welcome submissions from poets who identify with marginalized groups within the Asian American community. If you are a young poet aged 14–24, we encourage you to send us your work during our Youth Folio submissions period (from March 11th–April 11th) instead.

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Youth Folio Open Submissions (Mar 11–Apr 11): “Asian American Futures” 

Young Asian American writers are the embodiment of our present and future. For the first time ever, we are actively seeking open submissions from you: Asian American poets and visual artists aged 14–24. We have grown increasingly in awe of the passion, conviction, and creativity of young people in our community, and we feel inspired to offer this space as our love letter to you. We hope to create a folio filled with your own “love letters” to the futures you will claim, embody, become. Send us your best work on any topic—past, present, or future. It can be about things political, or it can be an expression of where you are now, what makes you tick, your personal hopes and dreams. We can’t wait to hear from you. Please read our guidelines and tips carefully and send us your poems or visual art by April 11th

This call is for Asian American poets aged 14–24 only; if you are 25 or older, please submit during our open submissions period (from January 11th–February 11th) instead. We especially welcome submissions from poets who identify with marginalized groups within the Asian American community.

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We’re excited for the new things to come in 2021: for Eugenia’s partnership, for our new youth folio, and to read what you have to say about the future of Asian America! Please stay tuned for more updates in early January. In the meantime, we’re sending our warmest wishes to you and yours for a happy, healthy new year.

Peace and Light,
The Editors

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WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier

Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf, 2017)

Please consider supporting an indie bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–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-Asian-American-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

A December APA Poetry Companion: Warm Books for Winter

An APA Poetry Companion: December 2020. Cover images of MON by Mina Khan, FUGITIVE ATLAS by Khaled Mattawa, WOMEN IN THE WAITING ROOM by Kirun Kapur, PINK MOUNTAIN ON LOCUST ISLAND by Jamie Marina Lau, FABLESQUE by Anna Maria Hong, SOME GIRLS WALK INTO THE COUNTRY THEY ARE FROM by Sawako Nakayasu, PHONE BELLS KEEP RINGING FOR ME by Choi Seungja (trans. Won-Chung Kim and Cathy Park Hong), SALAT by Dujie Tahat
New and notable APA poetry books for December 2020

As it gets deeper into winter, here are some exciting new and forthcoming releases to warm your spirit.

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FEATURED PICKS

Anna Maria Hong, Fablesque (Tupelo Press, Sep 2020)

Anna Maria Hong’s second poetry collection, Fablesque, was the winner of Tupelo Press’s 2017 Berkshire Prize. The book connects old animal fables with women of the modern world, weaving in trauma and rebirth in the context of the #MeToo era. We’re delighted to see this collection on the shelves and hope you’ll look for it, too. 

Sawako Nakayasu, Some Girls Walk into the Country They Are From (Wave Books, Oct 2020)

Another book we’re excited about is Sawako Nakayasu’s first poetry collection in seven years. Some Girls Walk into the Country They Are From follows a cast of “girls” who embody various representations of the female diasporic subject. We can’t wait to dive into the pages of this book and hope you’ll check it out as well. 

Dujie Tahat, Salat (Tupelo Press, Jan 2021)

Issue 7.1 contributor Dujie Tahat brings us a new collection, Salat, for the start of the new year. In it, he takes prayer as form. Hanif Abdurraqib writes that Tahat’s poems add “history, image, and narrative flair. [The poet] weaves all of these things together like a song, summoning people to a holy space.” If you’ve enjoyed Tahat’s work in the past as we have, you’re sure to enjoy this upcoming release as well.

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MORE NEW AND NOTEWORTHY TITLES

Kirun Kapur, Women in the Waiting Room (Black Lawrence Press, Oct 2020)

Mina Khan, MON (monuments monarchs & monsters) (Sputnik & Fizzle, Oct 2020)

Jamie Marina Lau, Pink Mountain on Locust Island (Coffee House Press, Sep 2020)

Khaled Mattawa, Fugitive Atlas (Graywolf, Oct 2020)

Choi Seungja (trans. Won-Chung Kim and Cathy Park Hong), Phone Bells Keep Ringing for Me (Action Books, Oct 2020)

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We hope you’ll enjoy some of these picks—and even share them with friends and family—this winter. 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 KONTEMPORARY AMERIKAN POETRY by John Murillo

ALSO RECOMMENDED

John Murillo, Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry (Four Way Books, 2020)

Please consider supporting an 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.

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

ALSO RECOMMENDED:

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.