Happy New Year! 2019 promises to be another exciting year in the world of APA poetry, and so thought we’d start the year off with a bang—by celebrating three fantastic new books that are the top of our reading list this January. For this month’s roundup, we’ve gathered three collections that explore lineage lost, erased, revived for the poets to come. They are precious works that speak to the interdependencies and support that are central to writing and bearing witness, generation after generation. We hope you’ll enjoy these books as much as we have and that, in savoring them, you’ll be able to engage in your own times of reflection this January—to consider those who came before and those who will come after.
Sally Wen Mao’s Oculus is a jolting lyric study of the white heteropatriachal gazes that have vivisected racialized bodies throughout history. This tradition begins early—Afong Moy, for instance, was the first female immigrant in the US, who was sold to an Orientalist exhibition. In a series of persona poems, Mao envisions Moy aching for home, hollering, and smashing trinkets—small acts of agency even as she is trapped under an exploitative system of tokenism. Then, in “Anna May Wong Makes Cameos,” Mao revives and reimagines the famed Chinese American movie star in movies of the early 2000s, only to illustrate how she would be cut from the scene, crushed underfoot. These poems bring to mind literary scholar Anne Cheng’s Ornamentalism, in which she writes of the defiled body, “Having been made stranger to oneself by unimaginable brutality means that one must reapproach the self as a stranger.” By reencountering the body stripped of self and agency, by reasserting the place of women of color in history, Mao’s poetry stages a form of reencounter that is ultimately protective so that those who follow can be freely generative—to “cross the text out,” to “rewrite this” (10).
The latest collection from Lee Herrick, Scar and Flower, considers what it means to make room in a brutal system of continuous war, climate disaster, mass shootings, deportations, and suicides. As Herrick builds psychic dwellings for repair, the poems in Scar and Flower bring to mind the etymology of “stanza”—a room, a resting point, a space to breathe. By drawing from familiar words and worlds, Herrick gives dimension to these spiritual spaces: the sky’s numerous stars are a reminder of his heritage as a man “born on the other side / of the world” (46); water reminds us of our “resting state” (23); the body is “a song called birth,” venturing out into the world, seeking out and losing its lyrics (48). Lee’s rhapsodic moments return to inherent contradictions of pain and desire—and guide the reader as these knots are worked out through communion with self, other, and world.
Reading Loves You by Sarah Gambito is like thumbing through a grandmother’s scrawled cooking notes, like setting the table for one’s chosen family. Central to Gambito’s collection are poem-recipes, which gain significance through context—“Watermelon Agua Fresca (For When You Need Me),” for instance, takes the form of a list of instructions but ends as a subtle, loving address: “Serve in ice-filled glasses and know how much I love you” (64). At the same time, cooking, as in the poem “Cento,” can just as easily become absorbed, commodified, and twisted into demands for a domestic worker to “do the food,” followed up by: “You cannot cook Filipino food in the kitchen” (18). Even as Gambito never lets her readers forget that love, too, is labor shaped by the legacies of capitalism, imperialism, and colonization, Loves You is a crucial reminder that cutting up chicken and piping lychee cream can be sacred gestures of abundant love, crucial links to homes an ocean away.
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What poetry collections have you been reading to start out your new year? And what books are you looking forward to in the coming months? Share them with us in the comments or let us know onTwitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).
It’s late in the season, but if you still have a poet friend for whom you want to find a last-minute present this year, you might be wondering what to give them.
Well, this Friday, in our last Lumen newsletter of the year, we have you covered. In this quarter’s letter, we will be sharing five ideas for giving a thoughtful, unique gift to a poet. Here’s a sneak peek:
“If you’re anything like me [Iris] when it comes to giving gifts, you like to give objects or experiences that will be truly meaningful—that will support and encourage the recipients in pursuing their passions. So how does one choose a thoughtful gift for a poet that will do more than collect dust after the thank-you note is sent? In keeping with the principle that gift-giving is not about the money spent, here are some ideas of how to give gifts to poets (or any writers, really) that will inspire and support them in their vocation—whether during the holidays or at any time of year.”
Whether you’re shopping for a poet or you are a poet whose loved ones occasionally ask you for gift ideas, we hope this issue of Lumen will help provide some inspiration. And if you’re still not subscribed yet—you still have four more days to do so before the newsletter drops! Just click here to sign up.
We hope you have a happy and healthy end of 2018. Cheers to the end of yet another year of fantastic Asian American poetry, and here’s to a new year full of still more brilliance—ever more light—in 2019!
Recently, we had the privilege of speaking with poet, essayist, and visual artist Mary-Kim Arnold about her book-length essay, Litany for the Long Moment (Essay Press, 2018), included in the Entropy Best of 2018 Nonfiction Booklist and as part of the Brew and Forge Book Fair. Litany is a luminous work that yearns for lost parents and homeland, that refashions aesthetic and historical lineage out of an obscured past. Arnold shared with us her reflections on dominant narratives of transnational adoption, the limits of language, and the process of placing oneself under scrutiny. An excerpt of Litany can be found on AAWW’s The Margins.
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LANTERN REVIEW: You title your book Litany for the Long Moment after photographic processes and begin the essay with reflections on Francesca Woodman, who, as you note, transformed photography into a medium for self-discovery and self-destruction. What was photography’s role in your process of composing the book, and how do you view its relationship to language?
MARY-KIM ARNOLD: I was interested in the handful of photographs of myself as a child in Korea—a self I could not remember and would never know, a self who really no longer existed. So I knew I wanted to incorporate those photographs in some way, to examine this ghost self who haunted my life as I knew it.
I was taken with the idea of the long exposure and how that process could show motion over time, but the effect was a kind of blurring or obscuring of the subject. I think this is a bit of a metaphor for the life of the adoptee. For me, as a transnational adoptee raised by white parents, the interruptions in family lineage were made visible. My Koreanness amid their whiteness was always visible, always subject to scrutiny, always asked to account for itself.
Despite that constant scrutiny, there is something central to the life of the adoptee herself that remains unknowable. Being visible is not the same as being seen, not the same as being known or recognized as a whole person. Under the persistent gaze, the adoptee becomes flattened, a kind of symbol, not fully human, but a representation. Ultimately, Woodman’s work and the photographic process she was using toward the end of her life provided a starting point for me to consider the role of the female artist, writer, subject. There is a way in which the female artist is simultaneously both subject and object. Woodman’s photographs and the critical writing about her work gave me language to think about myself in relation to the photographs of myself.
IH: In the book, you observe and resist romanticized adoption narratives—from the dream of maternal return to a dissonant press release from the Korean government that presented adoptees as “a precious resource for the international development of Korea.” How did writing Litany shift your own meditations on absence and separation—on both the personal and national-historical levels?
MKA: I think subconsciously, I have always wanted a romantic reunion, too. I think there’s a part of me that has always thought one day, something would happen, things would fall into place, I would have something handed back to me that made sense.
Through the process of writing the book and over time, I have come to recognize that there is no romantic reunion possible. The fantasy of reunion for me, as an adoptee, has been perhaps a kind of self-imposed exile from the realities and complexities of the life I have built for myself here. Recognizing this does not erase or deny the trauma of that initial separation. Nor does it obviate my grief for the life I might have had, the family I might have had. But it perhaps makes certain realities of the life I do have more knowable. If the reunion fantasy made me brittle, inflexible, closed off to the richness of my real life, letting the fantasy go has perhaps allowed me to be more porous. I can take in and absorb more of what is real and possible in my life.
As for the national-historical level, contextualizing my personal story within the larger political and socio-cultural intricacies of US-Korea relations lifted a kind of burden of personal responsibility and shifted the focus to the policies, systems, and institutions that made abandonment and transnational adoption the desirable course of action. I think the dominant narrative around Korean adoption in my generation focused on individual failures and choices—the single woman who was too poor to keep a child, the young woman who had an affair with a married man, the child who was born with health complications too serious for a poor family to contend with. And for the most part, what was absent from the discourse around adoption was the failure of social service infrastructures, systems and policies that made the relinquishment and export of a nation’s children seem not only an acceptable but a desirable course of action for Korea in which families in the US were encouraged to participate.
IH: I was struck by your reclamation of “taking life” as “taking it in”—an act that not only reasserts your own agency to write into rupture but also stakes out territory for Francesca Woodman, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Lady Hyegyong, among others. What is the connection between reclaiming the self’s history and body and reclaiming those of another?
MKA: I like to think that the more we try to tell the truth of our experience, the more we make space for others to do the same. I think the increasing numbers of narratives of adoption written by adoptees maybe pave the way for others—so that adoption can be understood as having more than one narrative arc, as being more than the dominant narrative. I think that narrative has historically positioned adoptive parents as selfless saviors and adopted children as forever indebted to them. Perhaps adoptees whose own experience of adoption was not like this, [and/or] did not feel like this, can find permission to tell their own stories, too.
IH: In Litany, you quote Lady Hyegyong: “Many things were hard to speak of . . . and I have left them out.” What are the differences between the excisions involved in self-portraiture versus those required in documentary?
MKA: Lady Hyegyong’s memoirs allowed me to think about memoir and self-reporting as a political act. She claimed the truth of her experience, even though it conflicted with the accepted, official record of courtly life. In self-portraiture, I don’t think I feel the same level of accountability to telling the whole story as I might in documentary. I’m not attempting to talk about the adoptee experience in general; this is just my own story, my own experience, as best I can attempt to represent it at this particular moment in time.
IH: In Litany, you write, “I fear this is asking too much of syntax.” What do you understand as the intellectual and bodily limits of language?
MKA: I wanted language to be this kind of bridge between my Americanness and my Koreanness. I wanted to be able to claim and inhabit Koreanness through learning this language as if uttering words or phrases in another language gave me a sort of bodily access, bodily knowledge to Koreanness. But learning a completely unfamiliar language is very difficult as an adult, and some of the fragmentation, some of the silence arises from that gap—the desire to lay claim to Koreanness but the inability, at the most basic level of language, to do so. All the same, I think we’ve become very removed from knowledge that is not purely discursive and bound by language. There is knowledge that resides in the body, in memory. I think there is a limit to what the body can take in and process through language. I was thinking about the ways in which language is inadequate, particularly in grief. Silence is its own strategy, has its own textures and weight.
IH: How do you step back to gain critical or emotional distance from your research and writing?
MKA: It takes time, I think. Just a lot of time. Lots of stepping away, putting it aside, coming back to it. It was an intense process, but it was also exciting, artistically, to set myself these little problems to solve.
I am reminded of a line I came across in a poem years ago. I don’t remember the context of it, but it was something to the effect of waiting for the words to have soaked up enough. That feels like part of it. Letting the language steep and become its own thing. At some point, it wasn’t as directly, as personally, about me. It was about trying to tell some kind of story and maintaining some sort of devotion—to the story rather than to me and my own feelings.
IH: What has been most challenging about placing yourself and your life under poetic scrutiny?
MKA: I was concerned about how my family members might react—my sister; my aunt (who is my mother’s sister); and even, to a lesser extent, my own children. My family went through a lot of trauma during the period of time I cover in my book, and I did, at certain times and over certain details, feel very protective of us all, of who we were then, of what we were living with.
IH: In your interview with Essay Press, you talk about the various paths of research you took to compose Litany—from Lady Hyegyong and courtly life to US involvement in Korean adoption. What parts of your process for Litany do you want to extend into future projects? How has the process for your second, forthcoming poetry collection, The Fish and The Dove, been related to or different from your process for Litany?
MKA: Some of the research led me to the Korean War, and while I was watching a lot of war documentaries, this notion of enemy and loyalty started taking shape. In that context of war, these questions—who are you, where are you from—demanded a kind of reckoning, a kind of accounting for the self in a public way that’s made visible for approval. Several of the poems in The Fish and The Dove attempt to address divided or complicated loyalties.
In that collection, I have also been thinking about particular kinds of language—institutional language that purposefully hides itself and obscures truth in an attempt to deny accountability. Statements like “mistakes were made” and “lives were lost” purposefully obscure the subjects, the actors. Who made these mistakes? Who took these lives? I am trying to think about and give breath to the casualties of institutional language.
IH: You similarly explore lineage, adoption, and Korean identity in visual art—as with “(Re-)Dress: One for Every Thousand” or “Guidelines for Arrival and Transfer.” Could you talk a bit about how visual art and writing inform one another in your practice and research? How has each medium allowed you to discover, or come to terms with, different aspects of identity?
MKA: I think for a very long time, I had resisted the idea that the fact of my adoption—the rupture of it—was as significant as it was to my sense of self. When I finally was ready to take it on in a meaningful and direct way, it was like floodgates opening. Suddenly, there were all these questions I had that I had only previously considered in superficial ways. Like: Why did this happen? Not just to me, but to 200,000 Korean children, 200,000 families. I wanted to think about that scale. Thinking about that scale allowed me to think beyond the individual level—no longer were the questions: What were the circumstances of my family? Why did my mother feel as though this was the choice she had to make?—the emphasis shifted from the individual to the systems. What was happening in the interconnected political, social, economic, and cultural conditions in the US and in Korea that made this unprecedented separation of families possible? So, I suppose if Litany for the Long Moment is focused more on my own individual experience, perhaps “Re-Dress” is a way to think about the larger forces at work.
IH: You are currently a visiting lecturer at Brown University. How does your emphasis on experimental, interdisciplinary work influence your pedagogy?
MKA: I think of formal choices as necessarily political. The decision to make something “accessible” or invisible or easy to read, where the underpinnings of language can be overlooked so that the content is foregrounded—that’s a particular kind of choice and relies on a set of assumptions and internalized values. I talk a lot about the kinds of stories that resist a narrative line. Who gets to tell stories with neat conclusions? Whose stories are interrupted, silenced? When we talk about a conclusion in an essay, a resolution, who is that resolution for? I talk about writing—and mostly I’m dealing with creative nonfiction—as exploratory rather than as persuasive. This shifts the emphasis from conclusion to inquiry.
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Mary-Kim Arnold is the author of Litany for the Long Moment. She is a poet, writer, and visual artist based in Rhode Island, where she teaches at Brown University. Arnold’s work appears in The Georgia Review, Hyperallergic, and The Rumpus, among other publications. She is currently working on a novel, Nine Men’s Misery, and a poetry collection, The Fish & The Dove(forthcoming from Noemi Press in 2020). More of her work can be found on her website: mkimarnold.com
[Edited on 12/1/18: We’ve extended our deadline to December 3rd to accommodate some possible technical difficulties with our form that may have occurred on Friday. Our sincere apologies if you had trouble with our form last night. You now have one more weekend to send us your work!]
Happy Thursday, LR family! We’re coming at you this brisk fall morning with a quick reminder that our open submissions period closes tomorrow evening (November 30th). Our thanks to everyone who has submitted so far; it’s been so exciting to watch your poems, translations, and visual art pour in over the course of the last couple of months, and we can’t wait to dig in and start reading in December. And if you haven’t yet sent us anything, now’s your chance! Head on over to our Submittable page and send us your best before the end of tomorrow. We look forward to seeing your work!
This past summer, the NEH released data that sent news outlets into a frenzy: over the past five years, the number of poetry readers has nearly doubled to 28 million adults. To us, this news was incredibly validating and exciting, given the staggering variety of powerful contemporary poems we’ve been lucky to read and publish over the years. Even as we’ve cultivated Lantern Review as a space for Asian American poetry, we recognize that the lantern is a symbol of enlightenment across cultures, a guiding light that celebrates continued exploration of disparate but interlocking communities. So this month, we pay homage to our namesake and highlight four recent poetry titles that we’ve loved for the ways they’ve challenged exclusionary definitions of “Americanness” in political, social, and literary life. Whether you are a regular reader of poetry or a newcomer to verse, we hope these books can serve as a guide to the diverse traditions of American poetry.
The title of US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s anthology invokes past laureate Robert Hayden and his poem, “[American Journal].” But while Hayden’s speaker is an alien who observes “the americans this baffling / multi people” from the outside in, Smith’s assembled communities of voices consider their various amorphous Americas from the interior. Several of our favorite APA poets—such as Tina Chang, Cathy Park Hong, Solmaz Sharif, and John Yau—appear among the radiant, haunting, and witty voices herein. Wrought from revenge for seized land, the joys of fatherhood, the despair of unimaginable loss, the wonder of what remains, these selected poems—or “reports,” as Smith calls them—consider and coax and challenge borders at a moment when our definitions of “nation” and “neighbor” are increasingly unstable.
Citizen Illegal is a fierce and playful rewrite of America through Chicanx experiences. José Olivarez exposes the quintessential dissonance and violence of everyday America—in one poem, a white partygoer claims the absence of Mexicans in “this part of New York City” even as the speaker beholds a waiter who “pushes his brown self through the kitchen door” (31). But if white supremacy systematically negates black, brown, and indigenous experiences, Olivarez is a cunning new architect who seizes and repurposes that scaffold. By Olivarez’s pen, heaven is no longer the sterile playspace of the white and moneyed. Instead, it is “gross” (a space where Mexican women can finally revel in novelas), and it is intimate (there are no gentrifiers who destroy family and language). Each poem is unsparing, negating white America’s practices of erasure and affirming Mexican American experiences with song.
bury it by sam sax (Wesleyan University Press, 2018)
The crevices between boy and monster, dead and undead are dangerously thin, and sam sax toes the line brilliantly. He concludes this, his second collection, with a hefty question: “how deep am i indebted to the dead?” (83). The book strives to answer this from the beginning. In the first poem, a fisherman perceives a tug and pulls up “boy, // after boy, / after boy, / after boy, / …” (1). The confessional intertwines with the surreal in these poems of mourning, which salute gay teens lost to suicide, forebears consumed by AIDS, and betraying lovers who have in turn been betrayed by others. This collection is sax’s incantation of a vital lineage—including figures like W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Tyler Clementi—that makes the dead marvelously undead.
If They Come For Us reminds us that the titular question may not be “if” but “when.” Fatimah Asghar writes from her personal and political history as the daughter of Pakistani, Kashmiri, and Muslim diasporas, observing that any sense of material and emotional security must reconcile with the knowledge that “I build & build / & someone takes it away.” In response, Asghar fashions poems that probe brutality while preserving the ordinary: She describes an encounter between her Barbies and stuffed animals, an erotic playdate that devolves into military conquest (35). She points out that perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and genocide during the India/Pakistan partition of 1947 were “Men who wear matching shirts,” “neighbors who like to kill each other” (16). Her measured observations of the ordinary also honor the notions of shelter, kin, and abundance—which are not lost to bloodshed and trauma but are grounded in an auntie’s laughter, a track team’s devotion, and endless jello at the Old Country Buffet. In her essay “Against Witness,” Cathy Park Hong argues that poetry has failed remembrance in this “era of total recall.” Accordingly, Asghar’s poems propel beyond memory and instead stage everyday scenes that grapple with historical atrocity and personal loss. A continuing legacy of violence, she reminds us, “is the cost / of looking the other way.”
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As always, there are so many more incredible new collections than we have space to describe. Here are just a few other other recent books, including a few of this year’s National Book Awards’ finalists, that have been on our radar for the ways in which they push or transform the boundaries of Americanness and American poetry:
What boundary-transgressing collections would you recommend to new readers of poetry? To old-timers? Share them with us in the comments or let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).
It’s now a good solid month or two into the new academic year, and just in time to get ahead of that mid-semester slump, the fourth issue of Lumen is dropping on Friday! Following up on Lumen No. 3, in which Iris shared some of her favorite middle-grade and YA books for young APA readers, in Lumen No. 4, Mia writes about books for younger children that she has enjoyed reading and sharing with her family. Here’s a sneak preview of some of her thoughts on the matter:
”It’s a privilege to raise children in a literary landscape that includes such a wealth of talented APA children’s authors. . . . As a parent, I want nothing more than for my children to read books that enrich the imagination, that broaden their capacities for empathy, and that expand their worlds to include unfamiliar places and ways of living, while also affirming their lived experiences and the experiences of those around them. “
If you’re not already subscribed to Lumen, you’re in luck! Not only are there four more days to subscribe before the newsletter hits inboxes this Friday, October 5th, but we are also celebrating by randomly giving away a copy of Mia’s new book, Isako Isako, to one of our subscribers. All you have to do to enter is the following:
Be subscribed to Lumen by 11:59 pm PDT on Thursday, October 4th. (If you’re not yet a subscriber, you’ll need to sign up first, but existing subscribers are also eligible to enter!)
Leave us a comment on this blog post with your name and the title of a contemporary kids’ or teen book by an APA author that you wish you’d had as a kid. (It can be a picture book, an early reader book, a middle-grade book, or YA book of any genre.) [UPDATE on 10/4/18: We’re now expanding the giveaway to our social accounts, too! See today’s posts on our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts for instructions specific to each. Lumen subscribers can enter more than once, on more than one platform (as well as on the blog)—so fire away! We look forward to hearing from you.]
Lumen subscribers may enter as many times as they like—each new comment that is left with a book title will count as one entry (though the same person may not repeat the same book’s title for more than one entry). After the giveaway closes, we’ll randomly choose one winner amongst the entries and will get in touch via the email address with which the winner is subscribed to Lumen.
[UPDATE on 10/5/18: Congratulations to Rachelle Cruz, our randomly chosen giveaway winner! Rachelle shared with us on Instagram that she wishes she’d had Ellen Oh’s Spirit Hunters when she was a kid. Thanks for the recommendation, Rachelle—we can’t wait to check out this spooky, October-appropriate tale. We’ll be in touch soon to coordinate sending you your prize copy of Isako Isako.]
We hope you’ll discover a new title or two to share with your favorite little ones in Lumen No. 4. In the meantime, we look forward to hearing about the books you wish you’d had when you were a kid!
This fall, for the first time ever, we’ve been privileged to welcome an editorial intern onto the Lantern Review team.Irene Hsu is an emerging Bay Area poet with an impressive resumé, including an English degree from Stanford,past internships at Graywolf and the Loft Literary Center, reporting experience for The New Republic, and publication credits in AAWW’s The Margins and on the Loft’s blog, Writers’ Block.In addition to her editorial duties in helping to run the magazine, Irene has been managing our Twitter account, and she’ll also be contributing to our blog from time to time. (You might have seen her first blog post for us—a roundup of fall APA poetry collections—last week.) We feel extremely blessed to have Irene’s talent, passion, and sense of vision on board, and because you’ll likely be hearing a lot from her over the course of the next several months, we thought that it would be fun to help you get to know her with a little Q&A. Read on to find out how a Gabrielle Calvocoressi collection shaped her earliest forays into poetry, the name of the song that she’d love to perform in an “Aggretsuko-style” karaoke showdown—and more.
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LANTERN REVIEW: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to poetry?
IRENE HSU: I thank the stars for one generous and intelligent mentor, Teresa Kim, who sent off my high school self with Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart. This collection forever shaped my understanding of poetry as a place for observation and a vehicle for time travel. Like many high-functioning kids, I grew up with a misguided sense that I was constantly running out of time to get from point A to B—without quite knowing where I was going, where I was coming from, and what I was allowing myself to fall into. In a significant way, poetry rescued me. Reading and writing poetry gave me a space to be more thoughtful, critical, and imaginative. It gave me permission to return and refashion. In college, Solmaz Sharif, Essy Stone, NoViolet Bulawayo, and Kai Carlson-Wee introduced me to other writers like Tracy K. Smith, Sharon Olds, Aracelis Girmay, Terrance Hayes, among others, who reconfigure sight, breath, and meaning to slow down and interrogate drawn boundaries. When I understood there was this literary ecosystem, I wanted to be a part of it, to learn how it ticked, and to tend to the corners that made transformative reading and profound writing possible.
LR: What obsessions drive your writing?
IH: Right now, this quote from Jenny Zhang: “Why doesn’t anyone consider the fact that when you are a second-generation immigrant and you speak this very specific mixture of Chinese and English, that’s also a dying language? After I die, my children, if I have children, they won’t speak that blend of Chinese and English.” I’ve been thinking about what it means to document and celebrate this fleeting and unstable space of bilingualism. It’s not simply a question of vocabulary, but also of grammatical nuance and non-standard accent that disappear because they are eradicated and, if not, looked down upon. I’ve been trying to cherish the fact that, long before I myself knew, my tongue and my mouth knew that they were not beholden to any one dialect or place.
LR: What are your favorite poets, poems, or poetry collections of the moment?
IH: I find myself returning to poems that also double as stories vignettes, essays, and even films. Sally Wen Mao’s [short story] “Beasts of the Chase,” Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Yanyi’s poems from The Year of Blue Water, Danez Smith’s “Dinosaurs in the Hood,” Richard Siken’s “You Are Jeff”—poems that aren’t afraid to challenge narrative. Poems that use rhythm, word choice, image, and timing to rewrite and overwrite the dominant logics that shape the most intimate of moments.
LR: Go-to karaoke song?
IH: At the moment, Rina Sawayama’s entire album RINA. But I especially would be down for an Aggretsuko-style showdown with the daredevil power pop anthem “Take Me As I Am.”
LR: In an ideal world, where do you envision the future of Asian American poetry ten years from now?
IH: I imagine Asian American poetry not just as an ever-growing field of profound, creative works, but also as a robust system of support and cycle of mentorship for growing writers and readers. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have mentors who, at crucial times in my life, have willingly taken me under their wings, coached my writing, and encouraged a diverse reading diet. I want this for anyone who even remotely considers making writing and reading a significant chunk of their life. I want there to be a space for everyone who wants to be a part of this, wherever they are—in a city, in a suburb, in a small town.
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We hope you’ll join us in warmly welcoming Irene to the LR team. We are so excited to be working with her this season and can’t wait for you to read more from her in the months to come. For more about Irene and to read some of her writing, visit her website, irnhs.squarespace.com.
As summer comes to a close, we wanted to alert you to a number of exciting collections by Asian American poets that are forthcoming this fall. These poems are both luminous vessels of time travel and crucial artifacts of our milieu. They are guides that point out the boundaries between worlds and identities and—with a sleight of hand—expose a hidden latch, revealing unseen horizons. We hope these poets’ offerings of sight, memory, and sound will help to sustain you this autumn. May they inspire you to continued resistance and resilience.
Emily Jungmin Yoon’s collection is a persistent and lucid study of sexual violence, colonization, and war. Over and over, Yoon deploys language, documents its destruction. She returns to mourn; she collects the remains. At the heart of her project is “Testimony,” a section that gathers the stories of Korean women who survived Japanese occupation. In another sequence, “An Ordinary Misfortune,” the speaker asks, “How could I put a child in a haunted place.” This question resounds throughout the pages of her collection, relentless, resilient, and shapeshifting as Yoon’s lyric “I.”
Sardonic and erotic, Monica Ferrell’s second collection reads like a tête-à-tête gone rogue. Given voice, brides and beloveds come alive, unbraiding their limbs from Flaubert, Duchamp, and Tolstoy. Once stripped bare, now decked in furs, the women of Ferrell’s poems stalk and stomp, recognizing the bridegroom’s cry for what it is: “a lost boat’s foghorn bleating.” You Darling Thing arranges the savage dance of courtship, only to split the social contract of marriage: “A woman alone is a cave of violets, / A man alone a squirming rat, who squeaks.”
The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin knits poetry with prose, Tokyo with Manzanar. Probing an elusive Japanese American identity and reaching deep into traditional Japanese poetic forms, past LR contributor Hellen writes boldly, “I have a mouth to tell my story.” The result is a hybrid collection that acts as star chart for the present and enacts a communion with the past.
Isako Isako by Mia Ayumi Malhotra (Alice James Books, Sept 2018)
We’re beside ourselves with excitement for our very own founding editor Mia Ayumi Malhotra, whose first collection just hit shelves yesterday! Inspired by the stories of Malhotra’s own grandmother and great-grandmother, Isako Isako grapples with Japanese incarceration and American occupation, as well as mass displacement and transnational migration.Four generations of women reach across lost decades and burning cities, and they convene in the poems to brush palms, slip tissues, and share war rations. When her speaker calls out, “Isako Isako are you leaving me. How much longer Isako will you remember me,” Malhotra sets forth a yearning that knows no bounds—after all, as the poems remind us, survival is nothing without remembrance.
The Bindery in San Francisco will be hosting a launch event for Isako Isako this evening, September 5, where the author will be joined by Jennifer S. Cheng (author of Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems) as well as experimental improv drummer Paul Sakai. If you’re local to the Bay Area, we hope you’ll consider coming out to celebrate our Mia with us!
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In this season of harvest, what collections are on your reading list? Which poets and what images do you find yourself returning to? Share them with us in the comments or let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).
Happy Monday, Lantern Review community! This morning, we’re coming at you with a huge piece of news: as of today, we’re officially knocking the dust off the magazine and are finally (yes, finally!) opening our doors to submissions for our 2019 season. We can’t tell you how good it feels to be able to announce this; it’s our first open reading period in a really long time.
We know this is a development for which many of you have been patiently waiting, so before we say anything else, we’d like to take a moment to thank you—both for your patience and for your continued belief in us and in our work. It’s been your confidence in our mission and your encouragement that has continued to sustain us in these past few years while we’ve been slowly retooling our editorial focus and workflow. And while we can’t say that we’ve got everything figured out (because—let’s face it—we haven’t), we’ve come to realize that more than anything else, it’s the magazine whose absence everyone (including us) has felt the most. The one question that so many of you have faithfully, persistently continued to ask us—at readings, at conferences, at every event we’ve been to in the past four years—has always been this: “When are you going to start taking submissions again?”
Well, we’ve been listening. And we hear you. So today, we’re thrilled to be taking that first step toward bringing the magazine back. I think we can all agree that it’s about time.
Here are the logistical details. Our fall 2018 reading period officially opens today and will run until November 30, 2018. As in the past, we are looking for original poetry and new translations in a wide variety of voices and styles. And we are also eager to receive submissions of visual art and photography. To get a feel for the type of work we like, we suggest that you take a look at our archives—especially our most recent two issues (issue five and issue six).
One more important detail: In the past, we solely accepted submissions through our own, proprietary portal; however, in keeping with current digital practices in the literary world, we’ve decided to adopt Submittable as our new submissions platform going forward. The “Submit” links on our main site and blog will now take you to our Submittable page, where you can find both our guidelines and forms with which to submit your poetry, translations, and artwork. For the first time ever, you’ll also be able to better track your manuscript through our screening process—and we can now even accept multiple files at once for art submissions.
Whether you’re a past contributor or you’ve never submitted to us before, we hope that you’ll consider sending us a poem or two! And just in case you might still be on the fence, here are a few compelling reasons why we think you should send us your work:
Reason #1: It’s free!
We don’t like the idea of missing out on exciting new poetry and artwork just because of a submission fee, so you won’t have to pay to send us your work. Submitting to the magazine during our open reading period is completely free.
Reason #2: We love featuring newer voices alongside more established ones.
We’ve been blessed to have our pages graced by the likes of literary powerhouses like Oliver de la Paz, Amy Uyematsu, Luisa Igloria, Barbara Jane Reyes (among others!) in the past. But we’ve also enjoyed getting to publish emerging writers’ work—Ocean Vuong, for example, is highly successful today, but when we first published his work, he was still several years away from his first full-length collection. All this to say: We love getting to help our readership discover (and, hopefully, fall in love with) newer voices as well as more established ones. We’re conscious of trying to remain an accessible platform for writers with strong poetic voices at every stage of their careers.
Reason #3: We care about design and accessibility.
The visual impact of a poem matters to us. As does the user’s experience of navigating through it online. We love to work with our contributors to ensure that even pieces that float words across white space in complex formations are laid out in a way that honors the poet’s original vision. We don’t just throw the text of your poem into a preset blog template—we hand code each issue to ensure as much consistency among our readers’ experiences as possible, regardless of what browser or device they may be using. Furthermore, as we code, we keep in mind the fact that some of our audience may be using voice readers—and for future issues, we hope to be able to improve upon this further to create an even more accessible reading experience for all.
Intrigued? Head on over to our new Submittable page and send us your best. We can’t wait to read your work!
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month may be nearing its close, but as we all know, the challenge of representing APA voices on the page is one that continues year round. Lumen No. 3 (the third installment of our email newsletter) is about to drop into inboxes tomorrow, and we’re excited to announce that it will be the first of two newsletters focused on the topic of Asian American literature—not for adults, but for kids! These days, there is so much exciting, diverse work that is being published in the world of children’s books, and the titles that we’ll be talking about are stories that we have loved sharing with the youngsters in our lives and that we wish we had had as kids.
Why, you might ask, do we feel so strongly about this topic—though children are not LR ‘s primary audience? Here’s how Iris explains it in Lumen 3:
“Kids need books that will challenge them to see worlds outside of their own—but they also need books that offer them mirrors in which they can see themselves. And in the nineties [when I was the same age as my sixth graders], there just weren’t many kids’ or teen books that had characters like me or families like mine. . . . In short, I wasn’t only bored with the books in the teen section of the library; I just couldn’t relate to them.”
In this quarter’s newsletter, Iris will be putting on her “teacher hat” to discuss middle-grade and YA titles, focusing on three books that she enjoyed getting to share with her sixth-grade ELA students this past school year, and in Lumen No. 4 (to come in a few months’ time), Mia will be meditating on her thoughts as a parent on finding diverse books to share with younger APA readers.
If you’re already a Lumen subscriber, we hope you’ll enjoy sharing the books we talk about in these next two newsletters with the young people in your life. And if you’re not yet subscribed, there’s still time! Click here to sign upso that you won’t miss out when Lumen No. 3 drops tomorrow.
A very happy and healthy Memorial Day to all of you, and cheers to another wonderful APA Month!