Six Questions for LR Editorial Intern Karen Zheng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LR: Go-to karaoke song? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ALSO RECOMMENDED

Cover image: SEEING THE BODY by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

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

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

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

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

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

FEATURED PICKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MORE NEW AND NOTEWORTHY TITLES

Sumita Chakraborty, Arrow (Alice James, Sep 2020)

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

Sachiko Murakami, Render (Arsenal Pulp, Sep 2020)

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

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

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

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

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

LR News: LR on Sundress’s Publishing Roundtable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALSO RECOMMENDED

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

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

Issue 8.1: Celebrating Ten Years of LR

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

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

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

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

Enter Lantern Review 8.1: “Remnants”

With peace, light, and unending gratitude,

Iris & Mia
LR Editors

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Cover Image: CATALOG OF UNABASHED GRATITUDE by Ross Gay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rajiv Mohabir

Daughter of the Sea, Child of Mountain

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

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

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Cover image of THE JANUARY CHILDREN by Safia Elhillo

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

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

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)

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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.

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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

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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).

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“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.

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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.

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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)

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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).