Behind the Book: Oliver de la Paz Talks Writing THE BOY IN THE LABYRINTH

Header image. At the top left, the LR logo, a black circle with the white letters "L" and "R" inside. Beside it, the text "Behind the Book: Oliver de la Paz + The Boy in the Labyrinth." Beneath this header text are two images: a photo of Oliver de la Paz (the poet dressed in a blue shirt and standing against a pale yellow concrete wall dappled with leafy shadows and light), and, to its right, the cover of THE BOY IN THE LABYRINTH (abstract image of a falling figure surrounded with swirling, gauzy, fabric-like layers in colors of dark blue and green; the whole is overlaid with red, capillary-like veining, and with the author's name in blue and the title in bright green and yellow).
Oliver de la Paz & THE BOY IN THE LABYRINTH (Author Photo: Papandrea Photography)

Happy first week of autumn! Today, we’re excited to debut a brand-new blog series. In “Behind the Book,” we’ll chat with authors of new or recent collections about craft, process, and the stories behind how their books came into being. It’s our privilege to start off the series by chatting with contributor and longtime friend of the magazine Oliver de la Paz. Read on to learn how he pursues the discipline of returning to the page amid the busyness of family and academic life and how he grapples with writing about deeply personal subject matter—as well as about the long spool of a journey that led him to the heart of his breathtaking new collection, The Boy in the Labyrinth (U of Akron Press, 2019).

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LANTERN REVIEW: Can you tell us more about how the project for The Boy in the Labyrinth was born? Was there a specific generative moment, as in the encounter with Alicia Ostricker you recall in the Credo? How did the pieces of the story begin to make their way to you—and at what point did you realize that the boy in the labyrinth was your sons?

OLIVER DE LA PAZ: I had made a trip to read for the Slash Pine Festival in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, around 2007 or 2008. That was right around the same time my wife, Meredith, was pregnant with our first son. The poet David Welch had read a few poems, which really had resonated with me in terms of tone, so I tried my hand at a few prose poems that were operating at a similar tonal level. And I thought nothing of it. I kept writing these poems about a mysterious boy in a labyrinth. The writing got a little more frenetic as the magnitude of raising a neurodiverse child as someone who was neurotypical and completely uninformed about parenting started to sweep through my consciousness. But I didn’t connect the fact of the poems with the story of my sons until later, honestly. I continued with the strange little tone prose poems about this boy for almost ten years without looking up and realizing what I was doing. Once I realized their connection, I stopped writing them and started writing poems that ended up being the connective tissue—the questionnaires and the story problems started to trickle into the work about three years ago, and that was when I realized what I had in front of me. The poem “Credo” that opens the book was borne out of necessity. I realize that the book suffers a fatal flaw, and that is context. I had to acknowledge, in writing, my fumbling manner of writing around my anxieties and face them head on.

LR: You begin with apology (specifically, to your neurodiverse sons for writing about them)—something that, you inform the reader, is part of your writing ritual. What is the significance of apology in your writing process? While writing this book in particular, how did you weigh and wrestle with the implications and responsibilities of writing about your children?

OD: Well, I’m still quite uncomfortable about this book and that it’s out. Part of that discomfort is because I’m writing about my sons. At the time of the start of the work, they were really young and didn’t have a whole lot of say in what it was that I was doing. There was no correction from them in my wrestling with my understanding of neurodiversity. Now, my oldest kid’s almost a teenager, and he’s clearly delineated for me his boundaries. He’s read through the tricky parts, and he’s given me a nod, but further on down, I’m not sure how he’ll feel, and so we may have a very different conversation about this book. And so the apology is, in many ways, for the future. I acknowledge that this book is an artifact of a particular time that fixes my sons at a particular age with struggles that are/were particular to a specific moment in time, and in many ways we have all moved beyond that time. 

LR: The impetus behind this book is so personal. Did you ever feel the need to give it space for a period of time when engaging with it felt too emotional? If so, what did those moments of space look like for you, and how were you able to keep bringing yourself back to the work each time?

OD: Oh, absolutely. I worked on other projects to get my mind off of this project. I published Post Subject: A Fable, and I worked on a sixth manuscript. The two projects outside of The Boy in the Labyrinth were much more observational, though what remained intact was the allegorical nature of the writing. I think that thread spreads throughout my work. But then I’d be reminded that I also needed to tend to the more personal work. I don’t know about how other writers work, but I’m usually juggling two or three manuscript ideas at once so that if my mind is fatigued by any given project, there’s always another work that needs my attention. Again, I had worked on the poems in The Boy in the Labyrinth for nearly ten years, so I took many breaks away from the book to get my mind right but also to accommodate being a dad and being a teacher.

LR: How did you find your way to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and the use of the Greek ode as a form by which to structure the movement of the book? What craft considerations informed your process while trying to shape the narrative within this Classical framework?

OD: The structure came later. Part of my responsibility in working on such a large singular work is to usher a reader through its girth. It’s extremely dense and seemingly repetitive, which is the nature of obsession and writing through accretion. By imagining the work as akin to a Greek ode, I was also thinking about how the structure of the Pindaric odes commemorated events and how there were predictable elements of ceremony and ritual. I take my kids to church, and there are always particular rituals that they understand (they especially know when mass is about to end). So the Classical structure helped me organize the large morass of writing that I had done, but I also wanted to help the reader through the journey.

LR: How, if at all, did your process of composing the narrative prose poems in this book differ from your process for writing into the other forms that surround and weave through them (e.g., medical questionnaires, “story problems,” etc.)?

OD: I usually alternate between writing in verse and writing in prose forms. As I had mentioned, I’m usually juggling several projects at once, and I had been writing Post Subject: A Fable concurrently with The Boy in the Labyrinth. Both of these manuscripts take their cues from allegory and fable, and I had always associated parable and allegory with very short, concise prose. I wanted to interrupt the fabulist tendencies by writing in a more clinical mode. And I wanted to interrogate the form of the standardized test or the medical questionnaire, but mostly, in my process, I truly and actually needed a break from the discursive mode of allegory. The first of the works to be written outside of the allegorical mode was the “Autism Spectrum Questionnaire: Speech and Language Delay.” And that opened my mind up to other possibilities of writing that were in dialogue with the allegorical stories. They were all written together as a chunk—I don’t write throughout the year. I wrote almost exclusively in the summer for a very short and dynamic amount of time. So, naturally, when I started down the path of writing out these questionnaires, more and more came about because of the intensity of my limited writing schedule. 

LR: What were some of the joys and challenges of working on a project over such a long period of time? Do you have any advice for maintaining (or fostering) a sense of continuity among pieces written at very different points in time?

OD: Again, given my really limited amount of writing time due to parenting and all the other duties that are part of teaching in academia and being a spouse, I had to make some concessions with who I was as a writer, and so I developed a practice that grants me an immediate path when I take the task of writing up the following day. What you don’t see in The Boy in the Labyrinth are the cues that I left myself in syntax and structure that allowed me to continue the sequence. A number of them got cut in the final edits. I will say that Post Subject: A Fable shows many syntactic gestures that I used to help “warm up” my writing brain. I paint on big canvases. I almost always think of individual poems with respect to the poems adjacent to them—how a particular poem activates or negates the work surrounding it. I think in motif and pattern, and I love making bigger connections both in my own writing and in the work of writers whom I enjoy, either in individual poetry collections or a life’s work. 

Of course the challenge of writing in such modes is almost always sustaining the work, and I suppose I enjoy the discipline of continuous project building. In the end, there’s something about working on a singular, sustained project that is akin to controlling one’s time. 

My mother wakes up every day at around 4 AM, makes her coffee, reads, and then does her exercises. She has done this all my life. She is now in her late seventies, and she has Parkinson’s, but her ritual still persists. I admire her defiance, and in a way, writing in such an insistent, systematic, and sustained way is a kind of defiance for me. A way of making space for a ritual against the din of the world.

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Oliver de la Paz is the author of five collections of poetry: Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, Requiem for the Orchard, Post Subject: A Fable, and The Boy in the Labyrinth. He also coedited A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry. A founding member of Kundiman, Oliver serves as the cochair of the organization’s advisory board. He has received grants from the NYFA and the Artist Trust and has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes. His work has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as Poetry, American Poetry Review, Tin House, The Southern Review, and Poetry Northwest. He teaches at the College of the Holy Cross and in the Low-Residency MFA Program at PLU.

Announcing Our 2019 Best of the Net Nominees

Happy Friday! As we near the end of one year of our magazine’s being back in (virtual) print, the Lantern Review team is delighted to announce that we have nominated the following two poems for Best of the Net 2019.

Photo of Shamala Gallagher
(Portrait of the poet, with shoulder-length, dark-brown, gently windswept hair, dark-rimmed glasses, and a raspberry-colored top with a white floral print, smiling against a background of green leaves.)
Shamala Gallagher (Photo by Madeline Laguaite)

Shamala Gallagher, “Untitled (New Year’s Eve & a Death Tucked Inside)”
LR Issue 7.1 | March 2019

“It scared me when anyone loved anyone’s writing. For who then was left to love mine? And it is hard to write so punctuated by nights.”

Photo of W. Todd Kaneko  (Portrait of the poet, wearing black, rectangular glasses, a brown collared shirt with white embroidery on the yoke buttoned over a black tee, and a goatee. Books on white shelves line the wall in the background).
W. Todd Kaneko (Photo by Tyler Steimle)

W. Todd Kaneko, “The Birds Know What They Mean”
LR Issue 7.2 | May 2019

“I say, Minidoka—
what the birds mean is that
there is no such thing
as safety, barely shelter.”

Shamala and Todd’s poems sing in the dark. They whisper quietly in the mind’s ear, masterfully and unflinchingly tuning image and syntax line by line. Their tightly crafted openings and endings deliver a powerful gut punch each time we read them, and we’re so grateful to have gotten the chance to publish these two beautiful pieces this year.

Congratulations, Shamala and Todd, and we wish you the very best of luck in the Best of the Net selection process!

Three Diverse Poetry Anthologies to Teach This School Year

3 Diverse Poetry Anthologies to Teach This School Year: Cover Images of HALAL IF YOU HEAR ME (Ed. Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo), INK KNOWS NO BORDERS: POEMS OF THE IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE EXPERIENCE (Ed. Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond), OF COLOR: POETS' WAYS OF MAKING, AN ANTHOLOGY OF ESSAYS ON TRANSFORMATIVE POETICS (Ed. Amanda Galvan Huynh and Luisa A Igloria, Editors).
L to R: HALAL IF YOU HEAR ME (Ed. Asghar & Elhillo), INK KNOWS NO BORDERS (Ed. Vecchione & Raymond), OF COLOR (Ed. Huynh & Igloria)

A new school year is upon us, and if you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that we’re passionate about diverse books in the classroom. Anthologies are wonderful resources for teachers hoping to integrate a range of poetic voices into a curriculum, and luckily, 2019 has been especially bountiful in terms of new poetry anthologies and edited collections that feature diverse voices. Read on for three such titles that have caught our eye this year—and that we think would make fantastic additions to any classroom in the 2019–2020 academic year.

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Halal If You Hear Me
(Haymarket Books, 2019)
Edited by Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo

In assembling Halal If You Hear Me, editors Safia Elhillo and Fatimah Asghar set out to create a space that celebrates the diversity of the Muslim community. In her introduction, Elhillo writes of growing up afraid of “performing my identity incorrectly.” Asghar, too, writes of her own longing for acceptance. In contrast to shame and alienation, the editors have envisioned Halal If You Hear Me as a space of solidarity and freedom—a testament to the notion that, in Elhillo’s words, “there are as many ways to be Muslim as there are Muslims.” It’s safe to say that the editors have roundly succeeded: from Kazim Ali to Warsan Shire, the broad variety of poetic styles and backgrounds represented in Halal If You Year Me span a truly impressive range, singing and grooving across genres and generations. Halal If You Hear Me would make a fantastic choice for a high-school or community teaching setting, where its broad accessibility would make it an inviting point of entry into poetry. College-level and graduate courses, too, would benefit from the inclusion of this vibrant volume in their syllabuses.

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Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience
(Triangle Square, 2019)
Edited by Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond

In a time where the notions of borders, migration, and citizenship are under constant scrutiny, Ink Knows No Borders seeks to highlight and celebrate the diversity that immigrant and refugee voices bring to the table. Write editors Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond in their introduction, “These lived stories, fire-bright and coal-hot acts of truth telling, are the poet’s birthright—and a human right. [ . . . ] Not only does ink know no borders; neither does the heart.” Indeed, this anthology sings with colorful narratives that bear witness. Featuring more than sixty poems that engage an enormous range of communities and experiences, the volume combines beloved favorites like Li-Young Lee’s “Hymn to Childhood” with more recent works like Aimee Nezhukhumatathil’s “On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance” and features a star-studded list of contributors that includes many of my [Iris’s] own favorite poets to teach—Joseph O. Legaspi, Franny Choi, Ocean Vuong, Alberto Ríos, Juan Felipe Hererra, Ada Limón, Bao Phi, and more. Ink Knows No Borders would be a wonderful text to teach in any high school or community setting or as an addition to any undergrad- or graduate-level reading list, while individual poems from the volume could also shine in the middle-grade classroom. To get you started, Penguin Random House, which distributes the book, has even helpfully provided a teacher’s guide to aid with introducing selected poems from the book to young readers.

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Of Color: Poets’ Ways of Making
(The Operating System, 2019)
Edited by Amanda Galvan Huynh and Luisa A. Igloria

Born out of a student-teacher collaboration, this landmark volume thoughtfully collects together craft essays by poets of color—including numerous APA voices such as Ching-In Chen, Sasha Pimental, Ocean Vuong, and Craig Santos Perez. In keeping with the “windows and mirrors” principle, which proposes that students need to read texts that both offer glimpses into others’ experiences and reflect their own, Of Color tackles the need for diversity among not just primary works, but also among secondary writings on poetics, theory, and craft. In her introduction, coeditor Luisa A. Igloria recalls how the project came into being after a meeting when Amanda Galvan Huynh (who was then her student) confessed her frustration that “there was nothing in [her craft and theory courses’] syllabi or course reading lists that reflected who she was back to herself” (19). Indeed, the resultant volume speaks to a desire to carve out and create not just a resource—but a community. Writes Huynh in her own introduction, “To BIPOC writers: I hope you find what you need to hear in these pages, the support, the love, the struggle, and the reassurance that you are not alone in this poetic artistry” (16). A beautiful testament to the strength and importance of community, Of Color would be a strong addition to any undergraduate or graduate creative writing syllabus.

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What books that you encountered in school helped open your world to diverse voices? If you’re an educator, what texts have you loved for including racially diverse perspectives in your curriculum? Share your recommendations with us in the comments or on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).

Join Us at the 2019 Smithsonian APA Lit Fest This Weekend!

Text: "2019 Asian American Literature Festival, August 2–4, 2019, Eaton Hotel, 2012 K Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20005." Accompanying image: watercolor illustration of a city with multiple types of buildings arranged on grassy terraces, including several with many glass windows, brick and stuccoed buildings, and several tents in the foreground (including a thatched one, a round, white yurt-like structure, and a blue one with multicolored designs).
Join us in the Literary Lounge of the 2019 Asian American Literature Festival this weekend!

It’s that time again, and we’re headed off to the second Smithsonian APA Literature Festival this weekend in DC! Come visit us in the Literary Lounge on Friday, where we’ll be giving away awesome stickers featuring some of our contributors, as well as (in keeping with this year’s festival’s theme of “Care and Caregiving”) little poetry care kits designed to provide literary inspiration, activities for creative renewal, and prompts for the writer in need of self-care. Whether it’s tenderness, solidarity, or play that you need, we hope you’ll take a kit home this weekend to nourish your own creative practice or to share one with someone dear to you. The activities and writing prompts included can easily be adapted to share with kids, as well—so if you’re a parent or a teacher of a creative young person, we hope you’ll stop by, too! (Iris will be behind the table and would love to have a conversation with you about APA poetry in the classroom or APA books for young readers.) See you in DC!

LUMEN No. 7 Is Coming This Friday!

Get ready—the summer 2019 installment of our email newsletter, Lumen, drops on Friday, and it’s one for the books! For Lumen no. 7, we’ve asked some of our Issue 7.2 contributors to share the can’t-miss, APA-authored books that are top of their reading lists this summer. From Ocean Vuong to Seema Reza, this edition of Lumen is packed with fantastic reading recommendations. We can’t wait to dive into the titles they recommend ourselves—and hope you’ll discover a new favorite read or two, as well!

Photograph of a black mug containing milky tea and a copy of Lee Herrick's SCAR AND FLOWER lying open on its front (with the cover up—showing large, red-and-white, sans-serif display type on a dark background). The words "What to Read in Summer 2019" and the Lumen logo (a black circle with a white, hanging line-drawing of a pendant lamp and the word "Lumen" in white script font) take up the right side.
LUMEN 7: What to Read in Summer 2019. Click here to subscribe. 

If you’re already subscribed to Lumen, you can look forward to receiving this season’s letter in your inbox on Friday morning. And if you aren’t yet a subscriber, not to worry; there’s still time to make sure you won’t miss out! Follow the link below or click on the image at the top of this post to sign up:

Subscribe to Lumen

We hope this issue of Lumen provides you with some great inspiration—and would love to hear what’s on your reading list this summer!

Light and peace always,
Iris, Mia, and Irene

Arhm Choi Wild’s “At What Cost” (Featured Poem)

Photo of Arhm Choi Wild by Katharine Reece. Author with long, black hair, smiling broadly at the camera and wearing a baby blue-and-white baseball cap, a pale blue, short-sleeved,  buttoned shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, a watch with a white band, and a cream tie that has blue and taupe diagonal stripes. The subject's left arm is raised and her hand placed behind her head in a jaunty, carefree fashion.
Arhm Choi Wild (Photo by Katharine Reece | IG: @kereecespeeces)

In honor of Pride Month, we’re sharing spoken word artist Arhm Choi Wild‘s poem “At What Cost,” an intimate exploration of the price of claiming queer identity in many Asian and Asian American communities, here on the blog. This powerful piece requires little explanation—but in keeping with our goal to be a space that seeks to highlight not just Asian American poetic production but also craft, process, and performance, we’ve also asked the poet to reflect upon about the writing of this poem and what it meant to her. Here is Wild—in her own words.

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I wrote this poem when I was living in Seoul in an attempt to relearn the language that I had lost for the sake of assimilating into my American privilege. I lived there for six months, a foreigner in my homeland, to gather any Korean that would allow me to talk freely with my mother. If I were more fluent in Korean, could she understand my queerness and therefore accept it? If I had the words to express how, despite her fears, I was loved by a chosen family, would she be able to open her heart? If I gained this depth, would that make up for the closet I had agreed to live in while living in Korea?

I started to wonder if the hyphen in my Asian-American identity meant that I was constantly working an equation: my homeland at the cost of my full self, physical affection at the cost of queerness. Though this poem doesn’t imagine the ideal world where we all are allowed to be ourselves without apology, I wanted to show how complicated the deals are that we broker in order to love not only the motherland but also the self that simultaneously belongs and remains a stranger. Pride is such an important month to celebrate because of these equations that often point to lossand that we continue to strive to claim what is ours despite the potential of a closed door or a door that only allows part of us inside.

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Arhm Choi Wild

At What Cost

Arhm Wild, “At What Cost”

Gay people don’t exist in Seoul, South Korea

don’t get dragged behind cars or dream of lynching ropes
don’t scream underneath burning houses or the fire hose
don’t orgasm, don’t lose their teeth and then their dentures
don’t forget their tampons, don’t make love in the bathtub
and again on the floor because they have fallen in love twice
that day, don’t run a finger over a cheek, wake up for a second
to pull themselves closer, don’t pick up a hammer to bust in
an idea, don’t dream, don’t fuck, don’t say I love you, don’t
dream of fucking to say I love you, don’t skip brushing their teeth
don’t try to stay friends with their exes, because in Korea
gay people don’t exist.

But let me tell you what does.
Let me tell you what has come
from this homophobia
turned homo-blind on these streets
where glamorous ginkgo trees
stand guard.

A group of boys moves off the sidewalk
to give me space.
Boy on left with his hand in back pocket
of boy in the middle who reaches over
to brush the hair out of other boy’s eyes,
all three laughing,
all free to show love in this homo-blind world.

I walk past the boys, duck into a food stall.
It’s cold so I ask for the hot fish soup,
look up from styrofoam cup
to see a woman with her hand on the thigh of a friend,
a finger going up to wipe off a cheek and kiss it
all as part of the conversation
easy like punctuation marks, regular like periods.

My family is no different.
My aunt walks down the street holding my hand
as cars rush by kicking up the dirty ginkgo leaves.
Later that day, another relative talks to me
with the help of her hand on my knee
because I can’t speak deep in Korean.

They touch me with no idea
of what a woman’s hands have meant to me,
how the ways they curl around a coffee cup
or flip through a book have turned me on.
In my motherland,
I don’t dare ask how to say gay
because I’m afraid the word
doesn’t exist.

At what cost
can men get the affection
they need from other men?
At what cost
do I turn all past lovers into men,
Sarah into Samuel, Megan into Mark?
At what cost
will I come out to my family
and have them still see me?

It is for the cost of loving this country,
of finally feeling like I fit in,
like I have found the people
to whom I belong.

Gay people don’t exist in Korea,
and I am holding back a tongue
that could break this mirage
because seeing men not afraid to hold hands
and fix each other’s ties is too beautiful—
beautiful like a kiss
in the naked soft of morning,
beautiful like a mother
welcoming her daughter home.

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Arhm Choi Wild is a Kundiman fellow from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who holds an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She was a finalist for the Jake Adam York Prize in 2019 and has been published in the anthology Daring to Repair by Wising Up Press and in the magazines Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, Split this Rock, Foglifter, Two Hawks Quarterly, TRACK//FOUR, Peal, Otoliths, and Scholars & Rogues. She has worked as an
educator in New York City for the last six years and has competed in poetry slams and performed across the country, including at Brave New Voices, the New York City Poetry Festival, the Bowery Poetry Club, the Michigan Theater, and Asheville WordFest.

Writing into History All Year Round: Summer Craft Inspiration from Three APA Literary Greats

Book covers of A PORTRAIT OF THE SELF AS NATION by Marilyn Chin (red title on off-white background, featuring an illustration of a long-haired woman in a floral dress, dangling earrings, and lace-up ballet flats pulling a laden horse), THE UNDRESSING by Li-Young Lee (two white-featured wings closed at the joints as if in prayer or worship against a pale blue background; red title text above), and NIGHTINGALE by Paisley Rekdal (image of the torso, arms, and thighs of a white classical marble sculpture of a woman against a white background; blue title text). Beneath, the words: Writing into History All Year Round: Summer Craft Inspiration from Three APA Literary Greats
L to R: A PORTRAIT OF THE SELF AS NATION by Marilyn Chin, THE UNDRESSING by Li-Young Lee, NIGHTINGALE by Paisley Rekdal

Though APA Heritage Month officially concluded a couple of weeks ago, for so many of us, the necessity of engaging with lineage in our craft is a continual process that doesn’t just end on May 31st. Summer is finally here—a season that is often a time of great output, especially for writers who live on an academic calendar. Hence, this month’s post looks to some of the “greats” from within the APA literary community for inspiration on writing into history. Drawing from recent works by Marilyn Chin, Li-Young Lee, and Paisley Rekdal, we’ve gathered three writing prompts to energize your own writing practice this summer.

* * *

1. Write into a manifesto (Marilyn Chin, A Portrait of the Self as Nation, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018).

In Marilyn Chin’s most recent collection of poetry, A Portrait of the Self as Nation, Chin’s feminist manifestos serve as sharp reminders of how poetry is deeply intertwined with the body. In “Brown Girl Manifesto (Too),” for instance, Chin mocks and subverts the literary lineage of Orientalism:

“I am your parlor rug your chamber bauble
Love me stone me I am all yours
Pound Pound my father’s Ezra”

Through the use of wit and wordplay, “Brown Girl Manifesto (Too)” exposes how modernist poets like Pound chose to uphold their own fantasies and projections rather than engage seriously with existing Asian literary traditions. By summoning sense and sensation in her criticism, Chin evokes the body in all its glorious volatility, asserting fantasy on her own terms and in her own tone.

For this exercise, reflect on the history, lineage, and intentions that guide your poetics. What events inform your poetic style and themes? What circumstances have made possible the lines you write? For, after, or against whom do you write? List these out, gathering them into a lyrical statement—whether in paragraphs, as with “Postcript: Brown Girl Manifesto, One of Many (2010),” or in clusters of key words, as with “Brown Girl Manifesto (Too).” Write several versions of your manifesto—what happens when you experiment with the tone and the form? Allow your manifesto(s) to guide your future writing.

2. Build shelter in the moment before (Li-Young Lee, The Undressing, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018).

The second section of “Our Secret Share,” a poem from Li-Young Lee’s most recent collection The Undressing, takes Indonesia’s social unrest of the 1950s and 60s as its backdrop—but Lee’s focus is not on “the killing,” which “has already started / and will go on into the night / and the next day, night and day, day and night” (42).

Rather, the speaker conjures the moment before the violence, recalling an image of his sister being ferried across the Solo River by a boatman—she stands “still and straight beside her bicycle” as the reflections “slide along beneath them in the water” (42). By centering a fleeting moment of stillness, Lee underscores the permanent and unspeakable loss that lies just beyond the poem’s frame—but he also creates a safe harbor from which the speaker can safely reflect.

Consider a key moment of dramatic tension or revelation. Write about this conflict through the lens of the moment before, developing the image or scene over at least fifteen lines. What happens to the “moment after” when the events that lead up to it have been slowed down and expanded upon through poetry?

3. Stage a critical intervention (Paisley Rekdal, Nightingale, Copper Canyon, 2019).

At the center of Paisley Rekdal’s most recent collection Nightingale is a lyric essay, “Nightingale: A Gloss,” that begins with the Greek myth of Philomela. Questioning Ovid’s retelling of the myth in Metamorphoses, in which Philomela is raped and mutilated by her sister’s husband, weaves a tapestry to communicate her assault, and is transformed into a nightingale, Rekdal asks, “Why should Philomela sing, when our presence only increases her suffering?” (50).

By drawing from research on subsequent retellings of Philomela, Rekdal stages a critical intervention in the literary history of sexual violence. Bringing the speaker’s experiences and Rekdal’s own poetry into the conversation, “Nightingale: A Gloss” ultimately engages with the decision to put language to trauma, returning voice to the survivor: “I stand in the field. I whistle back” (54).

Consider with your own relationship with a character from myth or legend. How have others engaged with this narrative in the past? How do your own experiences resonate or diverge? Write a poem in which you bring these different approaches and intentions into conversation.

* * *

What works by APA literary greats or moments from history have affected or inspired your own craft? Share them with us in the comments or let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).

LR Issue 7.2 is Here! Celebrate APA Heritage Month 2019 with Us.

Cover of LANTERN REVIEW Issue 7.2

In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’re excited to announce the launch of our second micro-issue this year! For Issue 7.2, we’ve chosen the title “Home/lands,” inspired by the last line of Leslieann Hobayan’s ethereal “Wedding Departure Haibun,” which asks of us to consider oscillations between belonging and flight as we negotiate home and renegotiate history.

Along with Hobayan’s work, we’ve gathered poems by W. Todd Kaneko, Bryan Thao Worra, Kaysone Syonesa, Amy Uyematsu, Eileen R. Tabios, Brandon Shimoda, and Purvi Shah, as well as striking artwork by Kang Yoo A, Camino Santos, and Jenna Le. Finally, to commemorate the varied landscapes explored by the APA poets and visual artists featured in this investigation of “home/lands,” you’ll also find artifacts from some of our contributors’ personal histories hidden throughout the issue. Look closely, and you’ll see faces from the past reveal themselves in unexpected places. To enter the issue, click here or on the image at the top of this post. We’d love to hear what you think, so leave us a comment below or reach out to us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook to share your feedback and reactions.

Much gratitude, as always, for your support and readership.

Peace and Light,

The LR editorial team

LUMEN No. 6 is Coming on Friday.

Happy Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month! So much is already in motion this May—from Kundiman’s release of a special poetry folio in honor of the occasion to Penguin Books’s addition of four seminal Asian American literary works to their classics series—and over here at LR, we’re excited to be celebrating in our own way, too.

Writing Into Silence: Four Prompts for APA Heritage Month; Lumen by LANTERN REVIEW (Photo of purple flowers against a yellow wall by Mona Eendra on Unsplash)
LUMEN 6: Writing into Silence—Four Prompts for APA Heritage Month. Click here to subscribe. (Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash)

Later this month, we’ve got a brand-new issue focusing on APA history and literary lineage forthcoming, but first, a special APAHM edition of our newsletter, Lumen, featuring four prompts about writing into silence, drops this Friday, May 10th. During APAHM, when we often stop to consider the legacies of injustice and trauma that are written into our histories, it seemed appropriate to address what it means to grapple with silence in our craft, and we hope that the four exercises we’re sharing (each of which is inspired by a different Issue 7.1 contributor’s piece) will inspire and challenge you in your creative practice this May.

If you’re a Lumen subscriber already, you can look forward to seeing the new newsletter in your email inbox first thing on Friday morning. And if you’re not yet subscribed, there’s still time to get on the list to receive this quarter’s letter! Just follow the link below or click on the image at the top of this post to sign up.

Subscribe to Lumen

A very happy May to you. We look forward to hearing how you might use the prompts we’re sharing in Lumen 6 to inspire your writing this APAHM month—and can’t wait to share Issue 7.2 with you in just a couple of weeks’ time!

Light and peace,

Iris & Mia

Three New Collections that Sing the Hybrid Body among the Ruins

3 New Collections that Sing the Hybrid Body among the Ruins: Cover Images of MONSTERS I HAVE BEEN by Kenji C. Liu (Colorful text sans-serif text of the title overlaid on a comic-like image; Japanese characters appear beneath the English title), SOFT SCIENCE by Franny Choi (Image of a woman with pastel blue skin sheltering beneath a canopy in a cubist/polygonal mushroom-like, pink-toned landscape), ARABILIS by Leah Silvieus (Image of a barefoot woman in a pink chiffon gown; instead of a neck and head, pale pink flowers sprout from between her shoulders; one of her arms is raised and is watering the blooms)
L to R: MONSTERS I HAVE BEEN by Kenji C. Liu, SOFT SCIENCE by Franny Choi, ARABILIS by Leah Silvieus

Happy National Poetry Month! For our April roundup, we’ve selected three recent APA poetry collections that reflect upon the labor of vulnerability. These ambitious projects employ footnotes, coding syntax, Google Translate, and elegaic and pastoral forms to mine tenderness from the desert, tracing how tendrils may grow where no sun has touched, how hybrid bodies might emerge from our ruins. If you’re aching for sustenance in the midst of a barren season this month, we hope you’ll consider checking out one or more of these gutsy titles.

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Monsters I Have Been by Kenji C. Liu (Alice James Books, 2019)

Monsters I Have Been, Kenji C. Liu’s second collection, meditates on the wreckage left by histories of violence and domination. Fittingly, Liu deploys an original form in this book that he has dubbed “frankenpo”: juxtapositions of footnotes, musical scores, and lines in translation that can divine “new meanings often at odds with the original texts” (1). As Liu writes in “The Monstrosity: Notes Towards a Frankenpo,” the collection’s concluding essay, the frankenpo responds to the idea that “A monstrous presence is needed to respond to monstrous times” (82).

The resulting poems are both playful and rife with pain as they dismantle the bloody logic of imperialism and take apart the brutal performance of heteropatriarchal masculinity. Take “Footnotes to a Murder in the Third Degree,” a poem for Michael Chun Hsien Deng, who was beaten to death in 2015 while being hazed by brothers from his Asian American fraternity. Masculine identity defined by violence leaves the body of the poem, the mourned boy, absent. What remains are numbered fragments—”We broken brothers, tackling each other with belonging,” reads one footnote (22)—that gesture at the legacies of racism and cultural alienation that motivate cruelty as a mode of kinship. Monsters I Have Been calls for ownership, rather than abandonment, of history’s “indefensible monstrosities” as close as our blood relations: “What new bodies do we need in order to survive and live?” (90). Liu sows lines for new manifestos, for future modes of kaleidoscopic, intimate becoming; his monsters are “Not an attempt to create a new kind of man, but to grow a monster of compassion and ferocity” (88).

Soft Science by Franny Choi (Alice James Books, 2019)

Fears of AI domination revolve around the questions: Can machines think? Can robots become sentient? With glittering poetics, Franny Choi reminds us these are trick questions—the histories of machines and cyborgs have always been inseparable from histories of sentience. In her new collection Soft Science, Choi lends radical softness to ash, coral, cyborg, imaginary girl alike. All are just as vulnerable as we are to the specter of another animal’s rise, an animal that points to us and names us “animal / alien / bitch / stone” (15). Language, then, becomes the double-edged sword that Choi uses to probe moments of violence. In “Jaebal,” for instance, language manipulates and assaults; its failures give way to necessary quiet, a precious harbor and a parallel universe where the speaker is “hardening and bright and filling / my own room” (31), where language can be rediscovered as a tool for making sense and healing. In “The Cyborg Wants to Make Sure She Hears You Right,” Twitter harassment Choi received is run several times through Google Translate, resulting in lines like “flat face fetus,” “uppity, filthy immigrant girl,” and “I go back to my mudhole” (26)—so that the imperfections of layered automatic translation render hate speech as nothing more than a performance of power that falls flat. Just as language can inflict pain, Choi’s poems assert language’s ability to strengthen, to protect, to play.

It is fitting that the cover of Soft Science is a reprint of James Jean’s “Parasola,” a fantastical homage to photographer Ren Hang. When Ren took his life in 2017, he left behind his haunting photographs—of his friends’ nude bodies entwined with birds, pressed up against leaves—that articulated the messy, mutating, and mutilating world of embodied desire in a suppressive society. If Jean’s homage extends Ren’s world to create refuge in a pastel dimension, then Soft Science, too, enacts a process of returning from shelter to scenes of violence, reacquainting world with cyborg self—only this time, with a kinder yet more ferocious touch.

Arabilis by Leah Silvieus, (Sundress Publications, 2019)

In her first full-length collection, Arabilis, Leah Silvieus guides us through life and last breaths, allowing cycles of absence and abundance to unfold in lush lines. In “Field Dressing,” a father shoots a doe; his daughter holds its gutted heart “until it cool[s], then cast[s] it to the dogs.” In “Maryland Route 210 Elegy, Dusk,” the speaker reflects on animals struck by car, bodies curled “as if just borne / into the world” (34). And in an early poem, “So Blonde,” the speaker, a transracial adoptee, fails to will her hair into gold—and out of that failure, finds instead that her hair comes alive, “my horde of snarled darlings, so dark, so generous” (13).

Arabilis, sectioned by the turn of each season, is—as it must be—an exceptionally patient collection, one that observes how “abandoned long enough . . . a place becomes an elsewhere,” as Silvieus writes in “Parousia” (43). Through close observations of street debris, of wasp nests, of the strangling roots of a white swamp oak, Silvieus allows connective tissue to form between the reader and an always brutal, yet always tender, poetic world.

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What recent poetry collections have created new spaces for vulnerability in your emotional life? Share them with us in the comments or let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).