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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

Rajiv Mohabir

Daughter of the Sea, Child of Mountain

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

* * *

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

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ALSO RECOMMENDED

Cover image of THE JANUARY CHILDREN by Safia Elhillo

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

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

10 Years of LR | Process Profile: Brynn Saito on “Dinuba, 1959”

In celebration of our magazine’s ten-year anniversary, we’re catching up with past contributors this summer via our process profile series. In today’s profile, Issue 6 contributor Brynn Saito reflects back on her poem “Dinuba, 1959.”

LR: Celebrating 10 Years, 2010–2020; Process Profile: Brynn Saito. Photograph of Brynn Saito (Asian American poet with shoulder-length hair standing at a 3/4 angle against a black background)
Issue 6 contributor Brynn Saito (Photo by Schoenwald Photography)

* * *

Inspired by communion with a photograph, this short poem inquires into the life and spirit of my mother, Janelle Oh Saito. In the photograph, my mother is about five years old, appearing as the poem describes: bright-eyed before the Dinuba, CA, farmhouse in a white dress. Rereading it now, I see how much my “terrible need to know” has shaped my poetics over the course of the last decade, in the time since the poem manifested itself on the page. In my mother, I’ve forever intuited an unsheltered, untouched wonder—a powerful wonder that tips into joy and laughter so easily. Alongside this energy, I’ve felt a fiery rage, born from what she endured as a child and fueling her current community work. In trying to understand her life, her personhood, I was—I am—subconsciously seeking to know something elemental about myself and something true about the histories shaping our family and making possible the worlds awaiting us. The photograph, then, was a portal to past and future. 

Saito’s mother circa 1959 in Dinuba, CA (Photo courtesy of the author)

I’ve returned, after nearly twenty years away, to my hometown of Fresno, CA, to live. Fresno is the primary city in the middle of the sprawling Central Valley—the valley where my immigrant elders labored; to where my grandparents returned after the Japanese American incarceration of World War II; where my mother’s grandparents settled after fleeing Korea, which, at the turn of the twentieth century, was suffering and surviving under the brutal Japanese occupation. My “terrible need to know,” first articulated in this poem, has, in the short time I’ve been back, unearthed new stories from the memory trove. Closer now to the land that made us and living about a mile from my parents’ house, I’ve become a listener and recorder. (Visit Dear— to see one community-based poetry project that has bloomed into a living archive of letters and portraits.) I’ve also nudged my mother (and father) into writing and telling their own stories, which they’ve performed before large audiences—something I never expected to see. 

“I know who she becomes and why,” goes the poem. “But the how will escape me / continues to escape me.” Will, perhaps, always escape me, as our knowledge of the past is forever incomplete. But a desire fills that gap—an imaginative power that drew me to the photograph and draws me still: to the wellspring of memory and feeling, to a place beyond language where I commune with the energies that came before me, where I remember and make whole the body of my future self. 

“Dinuba, CA, 1959” was published six years ago in Lantern Review, scrawled (most likely) in a workshop setting, and chiseled down to its three sentences for its inclusion in my second book. Today, it continues to undisguise itself, reveal itself—as the most lasting poems (and people and places) do.

* * *

Brynn Saito is the author of two books of poetry from Red Hen Press: Power Made Us Swoon (2016) and The Palace of Contemplating Departure (2013), winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award and a finalist for the Northern California Book Award. She recently authored the chapbook Dear—, commissioned by Densho, an organization dedicated to sharing the story of the World War II–era incarceration of Japanese Americans. Brynn is assistant professor of creative writing in the English Department at Fresno State and codirector of Yonsei Memory Project. More at brynnsaito.com and yonseimemoryproject.com.


WHITE BLOOD: A LYRIC OF VIRGINIA by Kiki Petrosino

ALSO RECOMMENDED

White Blood by Kiki Petrosino (Sarabande Books, 2017)
Please consider supporting a Black-owned bookstore with your purchase.

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

Black Lives Matter. APAs Must Stand in Solidarity.

Black square with white text reading, in all caps, "BLACK LIVES MATTER."
#BlackLivesMatter.

We at Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry believe that Black lives matter. We stand in solidarity with the fight against police brutality and systemic racial injustice. We also acknowledge our own APA communities’ complicity in anti-Black racism and commit to working against it.

APAs not only should stand for Black lives—we must. Here are some resources and places that our community can start.

Some History

“‘Model Minority’ Used as a Racial Wedge Between Asians and Blacks” (Via NPR Code Switch)

“Asian Americans and the Legacy of Antiblackness” (from Brown’s In Defense of Affirmative Action: A Guide for Asian American Students)

“Solidarity Matters: Black History Month Through An Asian American Lens” (via AAPIP.org)

“Dismantling the Barrier Between Asians and African Americans” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Tools & Educational Resources

Letters for Black Lives | Developed in response to the shooting of Akai Gurley by Peter Liang, this tool for explaining to our APA elders and loved ones why Black lives should matter to us provides helpful scripts in multiple languages than can help to broach the difficult subject of endemic anti-Black racism within our communities.

“Tips for Talking to People In Your Lives About Anti-Blackness” (Opens in Instagram) | This post from @southasians4blacklives discusses some strategies for addressing anti-Black racism with loved ones, especially in the AsAm community.

“20+ Allyship Actions for Asians to Show Up for the Black Community Right Now” | Michelle Kim offers a list of ways for Asian Americans to stand with the Black community, along with a brief summary of some helpful historical and sociopolitical context.

26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets | This pamphlet provides some sound advice about how to support protests and protestors even if you are not able to be on the ground in person. It also contains a helpful reminder to the API community to not allow our race or the model minority myth to be used as a wedge.

Talking About Race (Online Portal) | This educational site from the National Museum of African American History & Culture provides tools and information for helping educators, parents, and individuals committed to equity to engage in important and meaningful discussions about race.

Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit | This toolkit from the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO, covers an enormous range of helpful topics but also includes a specific “For Black Lives” section that covers useful information and provides exercises and prompts to aid in discussion, engagement, and understanding.

Reading Lists

Black and Asian American Feminist Solidarities: A Reading List (via Black Women Radicals)

Black History Month Reading List for Asian Americans (via 18 Million Rising)

Black Lives Matter Syllabus (via Black Lives Matter, Williamsburg, VA)

Abolition Study List by Dr. Ashanté M. Reese

Anti-Racist Reading List by Ibram M. Kendi

31 Children’s Books to Support Conversations on Race, Racism, and Resistance (via embracerace.org)

1000 Black Girl Books Resource Guide (from Marley Dias’s #1000blackgirlbooks campaign)

Some Recommended Books by Black Poets

Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys Into Race, Motherhood, and History by Camille T. Dungy

Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady

Hum by Jamaal May

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith

Places to Donate

List of Bail Funds by City

Black Lives Matter

The Movement for Black Lives

Reclaim the Block (Minneapolis)

National Police Accountability Project

Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100)

NAACP

Petitions and Letters

Justice for George Floyd

Justice for Breonna Taylor

Justice for Ahmaud Arbery

Open Letter of Solidarity from the Asian Minnesotans Against Racism & Xenophobia Collaborative (via Coalition of Asian American Leaders)

What else can I do?

If you are able, consider attending a protest. If you are a non-Black Asian American, use your body (and your privilege) to protect others when you can. Call elected officials and write letters, sign petitions, wield your vote at the ballot box (and speak up against voter suppression). It’s also important to amplify Black voices. Buy books by Black writers, share their work online, and support Black-owned bookstores. If you teach, include work by Black writers in your curriculums and syllabuses year round. If you are a parent, have conversations about racial injustice with your children and read books by Black authors and that center Black protagonists’ stories. Make a donations to organizations like Cave Canem that support Black writers and artists. Be thoughtful in your own written and spoken language, whether formal or informal (including online). Do not appropriate Black culture or African American Vernacular English (AAVE); do not engage in or support literary blackface; do not put yourself at the center of conversations about police brutality or other issues that affect the Black community. Most of all, read, learn, listen, acknowledge your privilege, combat racism within yourself, and educate others in your community. We can—and must—work for change together.

Celebrating 10 Years of LR | Process Profile: Monica Mody on “Nani’s Letter”

LR: Celebrating 10 Years (2010–2020); Process Profile; Monica Mody; photo of the author, a South Asian poet with long, wavy hair, a maroon print top, and silver necklace with a blue oval pendant. She is smiling while looking straight down into the camera.
Issue 4 contributor and former blog staff writer Monica Mody (Photo courtesy of author)

In anticipation of the ten-year anniversary of our first issue, we’re excited to return to our process profile series. Over the course of the summer, we’ll be catching up with past contributors as we ask them to reflect on their process for either a poem of theirs—whether one that appeared in LR or one that they’ve written more recently. Today, as we close out APA Heritage Month, we’re excited to kick off the series with a profile from Issue 4 contributor and former blog staff writer Monica Mody, who reflects on parsing both Motherlines and borderlands as she wrote her recent poem “Nani’s Letter” (first published in Kajal Magazine).

* * *

“Nani’s Letter” was published in Kajal Magazine earlier this year. It appears, as well, in my 2019 PhD dissertation, “Claiming Voice, Vitality, and Authority in Post-Secular South Asian Borderlands: A Critical Hermeneutics and Autohistoria/teoría for Decolonial Feminist Consciousness.” I maintain that cross-genre and multi-genre writing makes space for the insurgent epistemologies of the borderlands—in this, I am joined by Gloria Anzaldúa, whose theory of the borderlands continues to animate new decolonized pathways.

“Nani’s Letter” is an epistolary poem, written as the letter that my grandmother might have sent to me across time—across the Partition of India—across the legacies of trauma and silencing. The violence my grandmother saw is not a matter of the past for the Indian subcontinent, which is yet to heal the national trauma of colonialism and of the Partition. What follows are synergistic excerpts that precede the poem in my dissertation.

* * *

Nani

In 1947, my two-year-old mother lost her mother. Grandmother—Nani—was killed by a rioting mob during the violence that spread in the wake of the Partition of India and Pakistan. She was killed by the mob in her own village, along with her sister-in-law and nephew.

In 1947, I lost my mother’s mother. For a long time, I did not realize that this one loss imbricated multiple losses. Growing up, it was not only my grandmother who was absent from my life: entire lifeworlds she would have brought forth were absent too. Naomi Ruth Lowinsky writes, “Standing at the crossings of family history, generational change, and archetypal meanings, a grandmother locates her grandchild in the life stream of generations. She is the tie to the subterranean world of the ancestors; she plays a key role in helping a woman reclaim essential aspects of her feminine self. Standing close to death, she remembers the dead. She tells their stories, hands down their meanings and their possessions.”[1]

Without a grandmother or grandmother figure around as a child, I did not have a guide into this wider circle of relationships. And yet, it was not a loss I fully comprehended. The silence around Ma’s family and what they had gone through shrouded my ability to perceptually be aware of the contours or depth of the loss. In writing about my grandmother, then, I am reclaiming not only her, but also myself from silence.

Crossing the Border

Before the Partition, Ma’s family lived in Dera Ghazi Khan, a district in the Punjab Province. The violence that erupted before the Partition took both Nani and the wife of Nana’s younger brother. The exodus also tore the family from the land they had lived on—their embedded histories.

These losses are also mine. The shared border between “me” and “them” is where silence has collected around these losses.

One way to recover the stories in this silence is for me to cross the border, return to Dera Ghazi Khan. I must recreate the borderlands to return to Nani—to mourn these losses and find healing. “Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”[2] Heeding this guidance from Anzaldúa, I will perform the return first in memory and in imagination. As I articulate this journey in writing, I want it to light up the hauntings, relationships, narratives in my motherline. I want it to intervene in the improbability of an actual return to Dera Ghazi Khan.

Colonial Distance

For a while, I become a proto-colonial armchair traveller, travelling to Dera Ghazi Khan via W. W. Hunter’s The Imperial Gazetteer of India. It takes me a moment to recognize the irony in this. The Imperial Gazetteer was among the projects undertaken after the 1857 Revolt to provide relevant and reliable information to the colonial administration so as to better map, measure, and control the native populace.[3] It is a prototype of systematized knowledge production based on an ethnological focus on race, caste, and religion. The ethnographic accounts provided in the gazetteer—along with census reports—reflected the nineteenth-century colonial policy of relying on racial science to justify British domination over India. India was the “laboratory of mankind”—and in this laboratory all kinds of cultural differences between different groups of people were naturalized under racial and ethnic categories.[4]

Unhappily, projects such as the gazetteer and the census also eclipsed all other forms of knowledge production.[5] The epistemologies behind such knowledge production are precisely what I am seeking to decolonize within myself.

The Imperial Gazetteer does not recount the dreams of the people living in Dera Ghazi Khan in 1885. It does not tell us the stories that were told to its young or the songs that were sung around the fire. It does not seek to see into their hearts or the soaring of their souls. It does not give any sense of what they cherished or valued, of who they really were. Being attentive to these would have meant giving the colonized interiority—and ascribing to them a fullness of humanity.

The gazetteer was not interested in Dera Ghazi Khan as a place, which in cultural geography is a social concept. Place designates that which is “created by people: it is lived experience; it is the ways in which people use and imagine space.”[6] This is in contrast to space: the physical, three-dimensional expanse. Space is a configuration of geography that enables distance—rather than intimacy—to be an interpretive norm. Space exists within conventional awareness because distance can be identified as an interval between separating objects.[7] Distance, detachment, disinterest: these are the epistemological attitudes through which positivistic colonialist logic comes to articulate what it claims are universal organizing principles—and comes to disarticulate dignity, embeddedness, intimacy. 

The gazetteer, with its claim of presenting empirical and statistical data, created sufficient distance between the people being studied and the “neutral” administrators undertaking the study to legitimize colonization. Colonial expropriation and subjugation depends upon articulating sufficient separateness between the colonizer and the colonized; the “data” in the gazetteer made this separateness possible.

This goes against my intended goals for performing a return—to come to a deeper, more soulful knowing of my grandmother and her affective life, to locate myself in the life stream of generations. There must, then, be a different way than a colonial tool to find my way back to my grandmother.

To Know: To Reconstruct

I was made by my grandmother, even if I never knew her. To know her, I turn to the relational hermeneutics of creative reconstruction, to imagination. It is not graspability I seek, but evocation. Without lived or inherited memories—amidst so many fragmentary narratives and silences—how may I rediscover my connection to this ancestress, to my motherline? How may I center my grandmother’s voice and agency? How may I restore to myself a voice that knows its own falterings, silences, and cries as part of a stream of generations?


[1] Lowinsky, The Motherline, 115.

[2] Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 87.

[3] Marriott, The Other Empire, 208–13; Arondekar, For the Record, 12–13. In her monograph engaging with the colonial archive, feminist and queer/sexuality studies scholar Arondekar suggests that the massive archive of texts from this period relied on for imperial governance “literalized the distance between colonizer and colonized.” Ibid., 13.

[4] Pinney, “Colonial Anthropology in the ‘Laboratory of Mankind,’” 252–63. As I read historian John Marriott’s research on the construction of caste and racial typologies in nineteenth-century India, I was nauseated to realize that these typologies continue to pervade the mindsets of contemporary Indians: that I, too, have unconsciously internalized the taxonomy of what Marriott phrases “physiognomy, colour, and physique.” Marriott, The Other Empire, 211.

[5] Marriott, The Other Empire, 214.

[6] Van Schendel, “Spatial Moments,” 99.

[7] Lawlor, Voices of the First Day, 41.


WORKS CITED

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands: La Frontera = The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987.

Arondekar, Anjali R. For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

Lawlor, Robert. Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1991.

Lowinsky, Naomi Ruth. The Motherline: Every Woman’s Journey to Find Her Female Roots. Carmel, CA: Fisher King Press, 2009.

Marriott, John. The Other Empire: Metropolis, India and Progress in the Colonial Imagination. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Mody, Monica. “Nani’s Letter.” Kajal Magazine, February 2020. https://www.kajalmag.com/poem-nanis-letter.

Pinney, Christopher. “Colonial Anthropology in the ‘Laboratory of Mankind.’” In The Raj: India and the British, 1600–1947, edited by C. A. Bayly, 252–63. London: National Portrait Gallery Publications, 1990.

van Schendel, Willem. “Spatial Moments: Chittagong in Four Scenes.” In Asia Inside Out: Connected Places, edited by Peter C Perdue, Helen F Siu, and Eric Tagliacozzo, 98–127. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

* * *

Monica Mody is the author of Kala Pani (1913 Press) and two cross-genre chapbooks. Her poetry also appears in Poetry International, Boston Review, Indian Quarterly, Eleven Eleven, and Immanence Journal, among other places. She holds a PhD in East West Psychology and an MFA in creative writing, along with a more rarely used degree in law. She was recently awarded the 2020 Kore Award for Best Dissertation in Women and Mythology for her multi-genre dissertation which utilized theory, memoir, and poetry. Her previous awards include the Nicholas Sparks Postgraduate Writer-in-Residence Prize from the University of Notre Dame, Naropa’s Zora Neale Hurston Award, and the Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing. Monica was born in Ranchi, India. Additional work drawn from her dissertation can be found here and here.

A May APA Poetry Companion: New Books to Celebrate APA Heritage Month

Header Image: An APA Poetry Companion, May 2020 (Su Hwang, BODEGA; Cathy Park Hong, MINOR FEELINGS; Leah Silvieus and Lee Herrick (eds.), THE WORLD I LEAVE YOU; Craig Santos Perez, HABITAT THRESHOLD; Don Mee Choi, DMZ COLONY; Bhanu Kapil, HOW TO WASH A HEART; Jenny Zhang, MY BABY FIRST BIRTHDAY; Wang Ping, MY NAME IS IMMIGRANT)
New and Notable APA Poetry Reads for May 2020

There’s a wealth of new APA literary work to celebrate this May! Here are just a few recent titles that have caught our attention.

FEATURED PICKS

Leah Silvieus and Lee Herrick, Eds., The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit (Orison Books)

This groundbreaking anthology spans a wealth of different faith traditions, heritages, and experiences. From Kazim Ali to Li-Young Lee (and our own Mia Ayumi Malhotra, as well), the start-studded lineup featured here has earned it star billing on my (Iris’s) to-read list.

Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (One World)

Although this book is prose rather than poetry, it felt like an apt pick for APA Heritage Month! I first heard Hong read an excerpt of it—an essay about Teresa Hak-Kyung Cha—at the Smithsonian’s Asian American Literature Festival in 2019. As with her poetry, Hong’s prose is unflinching, powerfully considered, and masterfully nuanced. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest.

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ALSO NEW AND NOTEWORTHY

Don Mee Choi, DMZ Colony (Wave Books)

Su Hwang, Bodega (Milkweed)

Bhanu Kapil, How To Wash a Heart (Liverpool UP)

Craig Santos Perez, Habitat Threshold (Omidawn)

Wang Ping, My Name is Immigrant (Hanging Loose)

Jenny Zhang, My Baby First Birthday (Tin House)

* * *

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

Guest Post: Yi Wei on the Art of the Interview and Finding Quarantine Comfort in APA Poetry

By Yi Wei

Yi Wei (photo by Xiang Hang). The author, an Asian American poet with long black hair, wearing a blush-colored turtleneck sweater and hoop earrings. She is standing against a blank, beige wall with vine tendrils curling down above her head.
Yi Wei (Photo by Xiang Hang)

Happy APA heritage month! This May, as our community grapples with the coronavirus crisis and the uptick in anti-Asian racism that has accompanied it, celebrating who we are and where we’re headed feels more important than ever. To start off the month, we’ve invited Yi Wei, a poet and undergraduate English and Asian studies major who has been documenting her conversations with other APA students over the course of the past year, to reflect on what she’s learned about the struggles, hopes, and dreams of her generation through her project Letters Home, as well as how being in conversation with Asian American youth and the work of her own APA literary heroes has helped her to find solace in the face of crisis and to begin, along with her peers, to carve out a place for herself in the world.

* * *

In re-reading some of Franny Choi’s poetry, I come across a poem, “Quarantine,” she wrote in 2018. It’s not about this particular context, but the poem taps at something inside of me that is raw and scared and crawling in the wake of a visibly anti-Asian country. I indulge in a few read-throughs because I’m still finding tenderness in reading again. (Sometimes I think college has rewired my brain to analyze everything I read and put it away in a little box of topics I pick through and discuss in class or write in essays.) It’s quarantine that’s finally reconnected me with the books on my shelf. And it’s quarantine that’s on my mind, always, when I write about anything else now. Choi writes, “my job / was to stay clean and thankful / and mostly imaginary,” which I’m thinking about as this pandemic complicates the parts of my identity that I’ve been grappling with for so long, watching Chinese Americans mobilize in unprecedented ways and come into their own versions of being Chinese, being American, being Asian American. Our clean, imaginary, and thankful selves are being crushed and reborn. In the crushing, I feel an immense pressure for us to reconcile with our histories of violence against other communities of color, against our own, and against ourselves.

Reading anything of Franny Choi’s always reminds me of who I was when I read my first poem of hers, “To the Man Who Shouted ‘I Like Pork Fried Rice’ at Me on the Street,” about two years ago. At the time, I was figuring out what it meant to be fetishized and how I felt about it. I come from a predominantly Asian community, a predominantly first-generation Chinese and Indian American community (as much as I can come from a place when I was born in China and moved to Ohio first). Here, we don’t talk about race. We don’t talk about being Asian American because the idea is to be more than Asian until you are not seen as what you are. In this way, we are taught that being Asian American is a sin, or at least an obstacle on our way to white success. When I read “To the Man Who Shouted ‘I Like Pork Fried Rice’ at Me on the Street,” I didn’t like it. Or, rather, I yearned to like it, but I was just “a plastic bag lady,” not “revenge / squirming alive in your mouth.” Now I like to think I am, but it took a great deal of anger (misplaced and ill articulated, broadly measured and well spoken), sitting and crying, writing and reading, thinking and rethinking, to get to loving this poem. 

In 2019, I received a summer grant from my college to live in New York City and San Francisco and begin a writing/interview project mapping a processing voice for Asian American youth. Over the course of the summer, I interviewed more than twenty Asian American college students on their conceptions of home and belonging; I also began a poetry and essay collection processing my own identities as a Chinese immigrant. This work evolved until I realized that what I was documenting was the way Asian American youth explained themselves to each other. As an undergraduate junior, I think that college is a particularly important site of tension where Asian American students are thinking about who they are and how (or even whether) being Asian/American is a part of that process. Many of my conversations, often in a place of significance to the interviewee, like a favorite restaurant or a specific rooftop, would last two or three hours at a time. We would share with each other about our families, frustrations, joys, and anxieties; about thoughts we could relate to and ways we fundamentally differed. I would ask them questions, and sometimes they would ask me back. Do you ever feel guilty? How do you fit into your community? Do you? When did you figure this out? Where is home for you? What was so discombobulating about doing this away from home (which for me, is with my parents) is that I was reframing the past, too—the things I remembered and had experienced before. In doing so, I began to reframe every version of myself that had existed before into who I am now. I don’t think this work was new to me, and it didn’t feel new to anyone I interviewed last summer. But it felt new to be talking about it and recording it and writing it. 

While in New York City and San Francisco, I wrote, talked, and ate in the two biggest Chinatowns in the country and learned about a Chinese American history and identity deeper and sometimes different than my own. For a long time, I’ve been wondering if I should even be looking for community, and if so, where it is. When I entered academia, I realized that the resources to that community and my own history were part of a gated institution. So much of myself is built in academic language in classrooms with peers who talk the way I can, read the books I have access to, and share a glorified academic vision of what Asian American identities can be. Since then I’ve asked myself, is only the most actualized and academically deconstructed Asian American self valuable? Is that the only one that deserves space? The answer I’ve come upon is that it’s not. The way that Asian American students relate and process together outside of the classroom, organically with their families, about their histories, for their own safety, is a voice that deserves our trust. When we create space in our conversations for people to be confused and demanding and frustrated and bitter about their identities, it’s that honesty that connects and heals. This project drives me to envision and build towards communities that I’m at times a part of, at times at odds with, and at others—belonging to.  

Part of belonging to histories that have been in some ways erased, but always embodied, is that I am always questioning. In hoping, imagining, building old histories and new futurities, we are constantly reshaped by what we find. API/A literature that questions and carves out a space for itself, like the poetry of Chen Chen, Fatimah Asghar, Terisa Siagatonu, and Franny Choi (among many, many others), inspires me to keep doing the same. Maybe I will always be looking for community, but for now, I find it in myself. I find it in these words. And I find it always in the people I have the privilege of talking to. Since last summer, I’ve continued hosting and transcribing these interviews, creating a living archive of topics that are personal to each individual I talk to. We’ve talked about fetishization, being “white passing,” hookup culture, familial guilt, adoption, migration, funerals abroad, PWIs—the list goes on. By loving, liking, and yearning for the world, we create the space for ourselves to exist loudly and in celebration. In this, we find home—and continue to hope for it. 

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Yi Wei is a student at Swarthmore College double majoring in English literature and Asian studies. Her writing focuses on belonging, selves, diaspora, and motherhood; in 2018, she won the Lois Morrell Poetry Award for her poem “Shaving.” She is currently working on Letters Home, an interview collection that maps the processing voice of Asian American youth and is always looking for more API/A folks to engage and interview with!

An April APA Poetry Companion: New Books for National Poetry Month

Header Image: An APA Poetry Companion, April 2020 (Victoria Chang, OBIT; Jenifer Sang Eun Park, AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A HORSE; mai c. doan, WATER/TONGUE, George Abraham, BIRTHRIGHT; Marianne Chan, ALL HEATHENS; Dorothy Chan, REVENGE OF THE ASIAN WOMAN; Lawrence Lacambra Ypil, THE EXPERIMENT OF THE TROPICS; Diruba Ahmed, BRING DOWN THE ANGELS)
More New and Notable APA Poetry Reads for April 2020

Last week, we featured an excerpt from Arhm Choi Wild’s debut collection, Cut to Bloom, here on the blog. But Wild’s book is far from the only new collection by an APA poet being released this April; this National Poetry Month has bestowed us with quite the embarrassment of riches. Below are just a few of the exciting new titles that are on our radar this month.

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FEATURED PICKS

Victoria Chang, Obit (Copper Canyon)

Written in a span of two weeks after the death of the poet’s mother, this collection (Chang’s fifth) takes obituary as poetic form. It looks to be an intensely powerful read, and it’s on the top of this editor’s list to check out next.

Lawrence Lacambra Ypil, The Experiment of the Tropics (Gaudy Boy)

Ypil’s The Experiment of the Tropics co-won the 2019 Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize and is up for both a Believer Book Award and a Lambda Award this year. This collection finds the poet digging into archival history using photographs and documentary poetics to examine the colonization of the Philippines. His experimentation with form and text looks to be especially exciting—definitely a title to check out!

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ALSO NEW AND NOTEWORTHY

George Abraham, Birthright (Button Poetry)

Dilruba Ahmed, Bring Down the Angels (U of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy Chan, Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions)

Marianne Chan, All Heathens (Sarabande)

mai c. doan, water/tongue (Omnidawn)

Jenifer Sang Eun Park, Autobiography of Horse: A Poem (Gaudy Boy)

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

“13th Anniversary,” an Excerpt from Arhm Choi Wild’s CUT TO BLOOM

CUT TO BLOOM book cover (wooden shadow box with a background of watercolor irises; pocket watches, a spoon and a feather sit on the base; the title and author name hang suspended in the box on white paper cards) and photo of the author (Korean American poet with short black hair, wearing a blue t-shirt and black ball cap with white constellations under the brim; they are smiling and looking just to their left in golden sunset light). the quote "Every year she comes to thank the machines"—Arhm Choi Wild, "13th Anniversary" sits in a box beneath.
CUT TO BLOOM and Arhm Choi Wild (Author Photo by Sy Klipsch-Abudu)

We first published Arhm Choi Wild’s work on our blog last June. Today, it’s our privilege to spotlight their debut collection, Cut to Bloom, which just launched last week. Cut to Bloom is a remarkable chronicle of love and loss, trauma and survival in which Wild’s singular voice and clarity of vision shine. In celebration of the book’s release this month, Wild and their publisher, Write Bloody, were kind enough to allow us to run an excerpt. The poem that follows, “13th Anniversary,” is a poignant meditation on labor, a tribute to the speaker’s mother and her years in the dry cleaning business. In the spareness of the prose form and the musical lilt of Wild’s language, we see a portrait of a parent for whom work, struggle, and sacrifice are a daily, lived expression of devotion and love. We hope that you’ll enjoy this sneak peek of Cut to Bloom—and that it will inspire you to check out the rest of the collection. It’s not one to miss!

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13th Anniversary 

She walks in alone after hours, all the machines quiet though she can’t hate them today. The dry-cleaning tank is square and tall so she must stand on tip-toes to run her parched hands along the top, muttering old Korean in neat strands of sound. A piece of skin flakes off when she rubs the metal of the shirt press. The spot with burn stains, she circles twice. Every year she comes to thank the machines that break on her—thank them for the days they clean hundreds of sweaters and baskets of shirts, thank them for feeding her daughters though not her heart. She bows to the sheet metal too bent to reflect, creaks to her knees and rests her forehead on top of her hands in the ritual she has been handed down from her own mother, who will never know that her opera singer has come to worship the machines. 

From Cut to Bloom by Arhm Choi Wild (Write Bloody Publishing, April 2020). Excerpt published with permission. | Purchase ($16) at Write Bloody Publishing
Please consider supporting small presses and your local bookshops by buying online from them directly.

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Arhm Choi Wild is a queer, Korean-American poet who grew up in the slam community of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and went on to perform across the country, including at Brave New Voices, the New York City Poetry Festival, and Asheville Wordfest. Arhm is a Kundiman fellow with an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and was a finalist for the Jake Adam York Prize in 2019. Their work appears in the Daring to Repair Anthology, The Queer Movement Anthology of Literatures, Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, Split this Rock, Foglifter, Hyphen, Lantern Review, F(r)iction, and other publications. They work as the director of the Progressive Teaching Institute and as a diversity coordinator at a school in New York City.

30 Days of Poetry Play for National Poetry Month (Or Anytime)

30 Days of Playful Poetry Prompts for National Poetry Month 2020

Happy National Poetry Month! In honor of the occasion, we’re sharing thirty of our favorite, most imaginative, playful prompts with you on the blog this morning. Whether you’re participating in NaPoWriMo and writing a poem every day this month or you’re just looking for some occasional inspiration, we hope these prompts will bring out your inner, childlike creativity and help you refresh and renew your writing practice—during April or any time of year. (Pro tip from this former classroom teacher: these tried-and-tested prompts work great for young writers, too!)

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30 DAYS OF POETRY PLAY

  1. Write an opposite poem (inversion). Take any famous poem and write the exact opposite of it, line by line. If the poem describes a “warm and fluffy towel,” turn it into something like “icy, hard concrete.” If the poem says that the speaker “sprinted,” have them “crawl.”
  2. Write a poem about a color as if it were a person. Describe what it sounds and smells like, what it dreams about at night.
  3. Write an abecedarian poem. Start with a line that begins with A, then add a line that begins with B, and so on, all the way down to Z. For an extra challenge, try continuing your sentences over multiple lines.
  4. Stack up some books with their spines facing out and use their titles to make a poem.
  5. Make up a superstition and write about what might happen if people don’t follow it.
  6. Translate a classic poem into all emojis, word by word.
  7. Write a poem that consists entirely of questions nobody can answer (like: “Where does the snow hide its mittens?”).
  8. Find a picture or photo that intrigues you and write about what you see.
  9. Write a poem that consists entirely of lies; the sillier the better.
  10. Write a poem that takes a figure of speech literally. (What would happen if it really did rain cats and dogs from the sky?)
  11. Write a postcard about the weirdest place you could imagine (like inside your sock drawer or on top of spaghetti covered with cheese), but describe it as if it’s an amazing vacation spot. Then mail it to a friend.
  12. Make an erasure poem by taking another piece of writing (anything—like junk mail or the newspaper) and crossing out words with a thick, dark marker. The words that you keep are the poem.
  13. Write a serious ode (a poem of praise) to an extremely ordinary, boring, or ugly object.
  14. Write a poem in the form of an alternative definition for a word—using a meaning that you might not find in the dictionary. Get creative; tell a story about it or give examples.
  15. Write a portrait of someone you know by describing an object that reminds you of them.
  16. Write a poem in blank verse. That’s a poem that doesn’t rhyme and where every line follows this beat: ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM.
  17. Write about a journey. Then make an upside-down poem by reversing what you just wrote so that the last line becomes the first line, the second-to-last line becomes the second line, and so on.
  18. Write a poem where you intentionally break one grammar rule over and over again.
  19. Write a recipe for something that isn’t food.
  20. Make up a descriptive name for an imaginary body of water (like “The Bay of Cats” or “The Popcorn Sea”) and write a poem about that place.
  21. Write a poem in the voice of a historical person or fictional character.
  22. Borrow a line from a science or math book or article and use it as the title of a poem.
  23. Write about a meal shared with someone you miss.
  24. Write a poem about an activity where the sounds of the words imitate the sound of what you’re doing. If you’re jumping in leaves, crunch and crackle your way through each crisp line. If you’re drinking boba, let your words slurp and slosh and quietly squish against your teeth.
  25. Write a choose-your-own-adventure poem where the reader gets to choose which line to read next.
  26. Write a poem in the form of directions to a place (real or imaginary) that is important to you.
  27. Write a poem in the voice of an inanimate object.
  28. Write a list of things that you’ve forgotten. Then turn that list into a poem.
  29. Cut up a newspaper or magazine article, then rearrange the words and make as many of them as you want into a collage poem.
  30. Write a poem with a hole (literal, typographical, or figurative) in the middle of it.

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We’d love to see what you create with these prompts! Share a snippet with us on the comments below or on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview) using the hashtag #LR30DaysofPoetryPlay. Happy writing!

A March APA Poetry Companion: Books to Keep You Company at Home

Header Image: An APA Poetry Companion, March 2020 (Monica Sok, A NAIL THE EVENING HANGS ON; Michelle Penaloza, FORMER POSSESSIONS OF THE SPANISH EMPIRE; Elieen R. Tabios, PAGPAG; Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, A TREATISE ON STARS; Eric Tran, THE GUTTER SPREAD GUIDE TO PRAYER; Rick Barot, THE GALLEONS, Kimiko Hahn, FOREIGN BODIES, Kimberly Quiogue Andrews, A BRIEF HISTORY OF FRUIT)
New and Notable APA Poetry Reads in March 2020

These are strange and heavy times we’re living in. As many of us find the physical confines of our daily worlds suddenly reduced to the square footage of our homes, books—more than ever—can help us to feel connected to the outside world. Whether you’re restless, in need of solace, or simply lonely for another voice, here are some new and recent books by APA poets to keep you company.

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OUR TOP PICKS THIS MONTH:

Michelle Peñaloza, Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire (Inlandia, 2019)

Though LR contributor Michelle Peñaloza’s Hillary Gravendyk Prize–winning debut collection came out last August, it’s been on this editor’s reading list for what seems like forever. I was a big fan of Peñaloza’s 2015 chapbook landscape/heartbreak (Two Sylvias 2015), with its powerful, geographically grounded vignettes and close attention to imagistic texture, and Former Possessions seems to promise a similar deep engagement with the complex layers of trauma and history with respect to narratives of place and migration.

Monica Sok, A Nail the Evening Hangs On (Copper Canyon, 2020)

Sok masterfully weaves together the skeins of narratives left fragmented by the legacy of war, trauma, and diaspora with a skillful hand, moving fluidly between past and present; Cambodia and Pennsylvania. Together, the poems in this debut collection comprise a whole cloth that is by turns tender and unflinching—not unlike the beautiful length of strong yellow silk (handwoven by the author’s grandmother) whose image wraps the cover of the book itself.

Eileen R. Tabios, PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora (Paloma, 2020)

Yes, PAGPAG is fiction, not poetry, but it’s by LR contributor and APA literary great Eileen R. Tabios—we’d be amiss not to feature it! Hot off the presses (it was released barely a fortnight ago), this collection of short stories is not one to miss.

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ALSO NOTEWORTHY AND NEW:

Kimberly Quiogue Andrews, A Brief History of Fruit (U of Akron, 2020)

Rick Barot, The Galleons (Milkweed, 2020)

Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, A Treatise on Stars (New Directions, 2020)

Kimiko Hahn, Foreign Bodies (W. W. Norton, 2020)

Eric Tran, The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer (Autumn House, 2020)

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What new and notable books have been keeping you company this month? Share your recommendations with us in the comments or on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).