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.
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.
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.
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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!
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.
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.
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!
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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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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
Stack up some books with their spines facing out and use their titles to make a poem.
Make up a superstition and write about what might happen if people don’t follow it.
Translate a classic poem into all emojis, word by word.
Write a poem that consists entirely of questions nobody can answer (like: “Where does the snow hide its mittens?”).
Find a picture or photo that intrigues you and write about what you see.
Write a poem that consists entirely of lies; the sillier the better.
Write a poem that takes a figure of speech literally. (What would happen if it really did rain cats and dogs from the sky?)
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.
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.
Write a serious ode (a poem of praise) to an extremely ordinary, boring, or ugly object.
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.
Write a portrait of someone you know by describing an object that reminds you of them.
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.
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.
Write a poem where you intentionally break one grammar rule over and over again.
Write a recipe for something that isn’t food.
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.
Write a poem in the voice of a historical person or fictional character.
Borrow a line from a science or math book or article and use it as the title of a poem.
Write about a meal shared with someone you miss.
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.
Write a choose-your-own-adventure poem where the reader gets to choose which line to read next.
Write a poem in the form of directions to a place (real or imaginary) that is important to you.
Write a poem in the voice of an inanimate object.
Write a list of things that you’ve forgotten. Then turn that list into a poem.
Cut up a newspaper or magazine article, then rearrange the words and make as many of them as you want into a collage poem.
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 Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview) using the hashtag #LR30DaysofPoetryPlay.Happy writing!
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.
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.
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.
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.
In “Behind the Book,” we chat with authors of new or recent collections about craft, process, and the stories behind how their books came into being. For this installment, we spoke with poet Soham Patel about punctuation, music, the rituals of preparation that surround her writing practice, and the James Baldwin story that inspired her gorgeous second collection,ever really hear it (Subito, 2018).
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LANTERN REVIEW: Where and how do you like to work when you write? What rituals help you to persist when you come to the page?
SOHAM PATEL: In my writing practice, I attempt to balance a fair amount of discipline and play. I like to write poetry in my home. My poetics believes that we embody language when we come to the page, so in terms of rituals I have several that persist: like these days, it’s making sure I do, even for just a few minutes, some kind of meditative exercise—like walk the dog or some yoga, even if it is just one concentrating breath to declutter my mind and detox my body. I also like to tidy up my home and then read as a way of honoring the work that’s been done before mine and has brought me to this privilege of being able to write. So today, for example, I skimmed these interview questions, folded some laundry and swept the floor, then reread James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues” before sitting down to write this.
LR: ever really hear it takes its title from a James Baldwin quote: “All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it.” And, in fact, music, sonics, and performance are a central motif of the book. Why music? Can you tell us a bit about how you came to choose music as a connecting thread?
SP: The protagonist in “Sonny’s Blues” utters this sentence in the final scene while he’s watching Sonny play jazz music onstage at a nightclub in Harlem. Baldwin writes so beautifully about music’s power, its ability to be both a cure and a force that could break you into a bunch of pieces. Sometimes we burst into song like we burst into tears or laughter. When I was growing up, music was ever present because my family spent a lot of time in cars, where my parents would play their tapes from India between songs my sister and I asked to listen to on the local radio stations. Music is a mystery to me in terms of just how its power works—to change a mood, for example, and how it works on a disciplinary level because I don’t know how to read it. ever really hear it was born from my thesis at the University of Pittsburgh MFA, where I was using my time to explore these questions I had about music through poetry. Ben Lerner taught us about how Jack Spicer believed the poet was transmitting messages from radio static. Poetry was a chance to interrogate lyric’s limits and the possibilities of the speaker in many contexts.
LR: Many of the poems in the book are headed by a series of four colons in lieu of titles. And, in fact, the colon becomes much more than a punctuation mark throughout the book—it’s a linkage for analogous terms, a break, a permeable membrane, a connecting track, a beat or rest in the line of the lyric, a musical notation in and of itself. Can you tell us more about the thought that went into this choice? Why the colon, and how did you settle upon the internal grammar of its usage throughout the book as you were putting the project together?
SP: The project—as a book—for me is, most importantly, a made thing. Most of the poems are meant to sit on one page so that the physical act of the turning of the page becomes a part of the pause that occurs while moving through the book. There are five poems towards the beginning of the opening section that perform as a sequence across more than one page and are connected by the “::::” colons. In early compositions I repeatedly listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song “Gold Lion” four times and wrote while trying to focus my listening to just the drums, then again for each guitar, then just focusing on Karen O’s words and vocables. At MFA school, Dawn Lundy Martin had us study Myung Mi Kim’s Dura, and that’s where I first saw the “:” on the page, hanging out at the top where a title should be, in a place where a colon traditionally would not be found. The subversion was so vanguard to me, and I began to think about how breaking punctuation rules might be necessary when building a poem’s structure in order to keep the language of it live. I am drawn to the stacked order and open space the colon holds, the way it is a parallel, mirrorlike. Four in a row is like a stutter to me and also an ellipsis turned to a stop. I wanted the colon to do all the things you list—and pay homage to Dura’s sequences.
LR: The work, as assembled, feels so beautifully seamless—like a continuous whole rather than a group of poems collected together. How did you go about approaching the shape of the project as you were composing?
SP: Thank you. In a manuscript workshop at MFA school, Lynn Emanuel suggested we make sure the last line of one page carried on somehow to the first words on the next page. After about four years of drafting the poems, the titles felt like a distraction, so I removed most of them, then titled each page “song:”—but that approach felt incorrect (like a placeholder), too, so I then removed titles and spent a couple more years moving each page into different movements. While I was doing this, I was also assembling the poems for my first book, to afar from afar, which was initially arranged based on the three Ayurvedic body constitutions, and so I decided to also try this structure out with ever really hear it. In the end I flipped the order and put the last movement first.
LR: A personal craft question for you: What are the road signs, the internal notes that tell you you’ve arrived, when you’re writing—whether you’re working on an individual poem or a larger project? How do you know when a poem is finished? How did you know when this manuscript was ready to go out into the world?
SP: In practical terms, I needed to send the manuscript into the world in hopes that it would get picked up so I could be considered for the kind of employment I was seeking after I earned my PhD. Otherwise, I practice poetry through large projects that require intense study, durational scope, and can take on various forms. I revise obsessively—and slowly. For this book, I approached the poem as I would a song. I used to play the guitar and sing, so memorizing lyrics and chord progressions has been embedded into me. A poem on a page is finished when I have it memorized—not always by heart but sometimes by sight or by ear; I can encounter the first line and anticipate what’s coming next, where and why the next en- or em-dash appears, and even where there’s space for spontaneity when performed. A good road sign for me is that when I can fully embody the poem (or it me), I have no doubts about each part of it and can account for every strategy made in building a thing that is solid but still porous.
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Soham Patel is the author of the poetry collections to afar from afar (The Accomplices, 2018) and ever really hear it (Subito Press, 2018). A Kundiman fellow, Soham is also an assistant editor at Fence and The Georgia Review.
In “Behind the Book,” we chat with authors of new or recent volumes of poetry about craft, process, and the stories behind how their books came into being. For this installation, we spoke with poet, translator, and zheng harpist Fiona Sze-Lorrain about the importance of listening, her belief in “time and erring from time to time,” and the pleasure of engaging Ye Lijun’s poems in her newest work of translation, My Mountain Country (World Poetry Books, 2019).
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LANTERN REVIEW: What first led you to the work of Ye Lijun? How did you come to translate her poems?
FIONA SZE-LORRAIN: This question is similar to “What first led you to writing a poem?” etc. Ye Lijun’s work appeals to me in part because we share similar preferences: music, visual arts, stargazing, a life outside the mainstream, and more.
LR: Your English translations of Ye’s poems carry a beautiful musicality to them. Can you describe your strategy for considering differences in sonics when translating across languages? What factors do you consider when translating Chinese sonics for the Anglophone ear?
FSL: The main thing I do is to practice listening, which might not be what one typically associates with translation when one translates. Some translators could be more concerned with the mot juste, the authenticity of texts, for instance, and these are legitimate concerns. I think beyond the technical, textual, or theoretical issues, there can be a more spiritual path. Once one starts focusing on differences—or similarities, for that matter—in sonics, and thinks about obtaining the “perfect pitch,” one is on a different path. To illustrate metaphorically, I cite two verses from Ye Lijun’s “Whereabouts”:
A mountain. Down the mountain a tunnel, sometimes echoes of singing late at night
LR: Did you have a favorite poem to translate from among those that appear in My Mountain Country? If so, what made the experience of working on it so pleasurable?
FSL: Yes, in fact, I do have several favorite poems: “Portrait at Forty,” “In Pingyuan Village,” “Grass-things,” “Back to Lotus Summit,” “Personal Life,” “Delirium,” and others. It isn’t difficult to share why the experience of working on these poems was, to borrow your words, “so pleasurable”: I like the poems, their narratives and simplicity. Beyond the “pleasure experience,” the poems themselves believe in contentment. They aren’t competitive and do not care about dominating others or being right. I am still learning much from the poems in My Mountain Country.
LR: You have also authored several original collections of poetry. How does your process for revising, ordering, and putting together a translated work differ from your process for putting together a collection of your own poems (if at all)? Are there any constant stars to which you find yourself returning time and again?
FSL: I have written three original collections of poetry. I don’t know if three is defined as several. I have written poems that can’t find a place in those three books. And I have written poems that are just terrible, even though they need to be written. The curiosity about one’s process of putting work together in aim of publication—in “book form”—is a results-oriented question and outlook. It produces a certain voyeurism. If one begins to figure a formula out for all these mysteries, in hope of applying it as frequently as possible to as many projects possible so as to achieve “success,” one is seeking a product and writing for a commodity culture or industry. It is hard for me to champion that sort of mentality. I believe in time and erring from time to time:
I have returned . . . Again and again in the backyard I plant seeds, mistakes, love —from Ye Lijun’s “A Mountain Hut”
LR: You say in your note at the end of the book that you first began translating Ye’s poems in 2011, nine years ago. When working on a project over such a long period of time, what helps you reorient yourself and gain a sense of overall trajectory each time you return to the work?
FSL: Why think of nine years as “long” or “short”? Three seconds can be short or transient, but three seconds in bed with a lover is another thing, another permanence. If you believe in time the way I do, this question will take care of itself. This goes for the anxieties of translation. The “kick” one gets out of poetry—and its translation—has to do with one’s willingness to take the path of and in an unknown spacetime.
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Fiona Sze-Lorrain is a poet, translator, and zheng harpist who writes and translates in English, Chinese, French, and occasionally Spanish. The author of three books of poetry, most recently The Ruined Elegance (Princeton, 2016), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, she has translated multiple volumes of contemporary Chinese, French, and American poets. Her work was shortlisted for the 2016 Best Translated Book Award and longlisted for the 2014 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Her latest translation is Ye Lijun’s My Mountain Country (World Poetry Books, 2019). A Blue Dark, a joint exhibition of Fritz Horstman’s ink drawings alongside Sze-Lorrain’s poems and translations handwritten in ink on treated washi, was held at the Institute Library in New Haven last summer. Sze-Lorrain is a 2019–2020 Abigail R. Cohen Fellow at the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination. As a zheng harpist, she has performed worldwide. She lives in Paris.
— Note: This post was updated on 1/27 to reflect a corrected version of MY MOUNTAIN COUNTRY’s cover image and an update to our introduction: Fiona Sze-Lorrain is a poet, translator, and zheng harpist; not merely a poet and translator. Our sincere apologies for the previous errors.
UPDATE (2/7/20):We’re just floored by the outpouring of support you’ve shown during our February extended reading period.In just one week, we’ve managed to hit our monthly submissions limit again! Unfortunately, this means we’ll have to wrap up 2020 submissions a couple of days earlier than anticipated. We are so sorry if you had been intending to send in something in the last push before this Sunday, but please know that we are incredibly grateful for your support and hope we will get to hear from you next time! A million thanks once again, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions.
UPDATE (1/19/20):Thank you, everyone, for your tremendous response! Much to our surprise, we’ve hit our submissions limit for the month of January much earlier than expected and will have to shut down for a bit until our counter resets in February. To make up for the missed time, we’ll reopen submissions again for a short time from February 1st–9th. (If you tried to submit, and the form was closed, we are sorry; please do try again in February!) We apologize for the inconvenience—but thank you a million times over again for your support and interest. Please check back again on February 1st!
Happy New Year! We hope today finds you refreshed and ready to take on whatever new creative challenges the year brings. This morning, we’re excited to announce some fresh news of our own: open submissions for our 2020 season is finally here!
For our 2020 season, we’re taking submissions of original poetry and visual art (including photography) through January 31, 2020. This June will also mark the tenth anniversary of our first issue’s release, and we’re excited to be celebrating a decade of publishing Asian American poetry on the web. We’ve got some exciting new plans in the works for our anniversary year—so stay tuned for more updates in the weeks and months to come.
We hope you’ll consider sending us something of yours this submissions period. As in years past, it’s free to submit via Submittable (we don’t charge any reading fees), and we’re actively looking for new voices to feature in the year to come. A very happy 2020 to you and yours—and we look forward to reading your work!
In “Behind the Book,” we chat with authors of new or recent collections about craft, process, and the stories behind how their books came into being. This month, we spoke with poet Eugene Gloria about writing into the political, the lyric impulse, and how the notion of “the book [as] a unified song” guided him while putting together his unflinching new collection, Sightseer in This Killing City(Penguin-Random House, 2019).
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LANTERN REVIEW: Sightseer in This Killing City responds to recent reactionary politics around the world, including in the Philippines, the US, and Europe. Did the project that became this book evolve into its political perspective over time? Or were its politics there from its genesis, and if so—was there a particular political moment that served as the igniting spark?
EUGENE GLORIA: Some of the themes that have emerged from my work over the years have explored masculinity and gun violence, displacement and grief, as well as beauty. I think I still find myself writing about these things. When I first imagined working on this collection of poems, I was interested in interrogating the person I have become after living in Indiana for many years. The initial title of my manuscript was “Karate, Guns, and Tanning,” named after a strip mall near where I live. But then the results of the US presidential election of 2016 happened around the same time the Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte as their president. I wrote a significant portion of Sightseer in This Killing City while living and teaching in the Philippines while on a Fulbright grant in Manila. I guess it’s safe to say that the book’s political perspective (when it was being shaped as a book) became a response to the collective grief many of us share in the era of Trump and Duterte and the mass killings we now experience with alarming regularity. So I ended up adding newer poems and taking out some older ones that no longer fit.
LR: Many of the poems in Sightseer are written in persona. How did Nacirema (the primary persona in the book) first find her way to you? Did composing in her voice shape your own process and craft at all as you worked on the book?
EG: The name Nacirema comes from Horace Miner’s essay “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema,” from American Anthropologist, published in 1956. It was a satire of sorts addressed to other social scientists. I loved the idea of a name meaning “American” except spelled backwards. I was working on a poem about a Filipino nurse I knew from my old neighborhood in San Francisco when I first encountered the name via the visual artist Michael Arcega, whom I met at the Montalvo Artists Residency. He told me that he stole the name from Miner, and so I didn’t need his permission to use it as the name of a character in my poem. From “Nurse Nacirema” came “Ave Nacirema,” then gang-banger Nacirema in one of “The War on Drugs” poems, then Camino Nacirema in “My Sad Economist on the Nature of Things”—and so on. Having a character to work with allowed me to extend my examination of identity as a performed thing and not rely so much on the “I” persona who is also a stand-in for myself. And so, yes, developing a voice through Nacirema allowed me to take various directions with my collection that I hadn’t originally imagined.
LR: Music heavily informs the syntax and sonics of the poems in the book. How does music factor into your writing process? How did it factor into your process for writing Sightseer?
EG: I often find myself revisiting my student days in writing workshop whenever I’m in the classroom with my students at the university where I teach. I find myself sometimes saying the same thing my teachers used to say to me about my poems: “So where’s the music in this?” I’ve always imagined music as feeling and sentences having their own level of sound in order to create “big” feelings. Sometimes you need to suspend sense in order to privilege music. As I’ve grown as a teacher who writes poems, I’ve allowed myself to experiment with formal structures in order to create new sonic possibilities for my narrative poems. “The Suitcase” is one example from the collection that comes to mind. Of course the lyric impulse takes over whenever I resist telling a story in my poems.
LR: The book is broken into four parts that function almost like dramatic acts or musical movements. Can you tell us more about the process by which the overall form of the book came together? For example, did you first decide upon the overall structure and then write into each section? Or did you begin with a looser assortment of poems that began to group themselves as you wrote?
EG: I once met a poet who told me that she was working on her latest collection, and she was starting with the table of contents, listing the titles of poems she still had to write. Knowing her work, I didn’t think she was kidding. I’ve often toyed with the idea of putting together a book in the same way. I write in this old-fashioned way of crafting one poem at a time until I think I have enough for a book. Conceptualizing the collection is an entirely separate process. At one point, I had imagined the book in the form of a two-album set and calling it “The Essential Nacirema”—each section of the book as one side of a vinyl disc. Arranging my poems in sections allows for significant pauses, breathing room, and allows for the ending poems to resonate until the reader moves to the next section. I go back and forth on creating sections or not having them. Somehow it made more sense to do it for this collection.
LR: This is your fourth book. Have you found that your approach and perspective to shaping a manuscript has changed over time? If so, how has it evolved? If not, what are the constant stars that have always seen you through your projects?
EG: I think it was Robert Frost who said that when you’re putting together a collection of poems and you have twenty-four poems written, the twenty-fifth poem will be the book. The idea of the book being a unified song is also a guiding principle for me.
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Eugene Gloria is the author of four books of poems—Sightseer in This Killing City (Penguin-Random House, 2019); My Favorite Warlord (Penguin, 2012), winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; Hoodlum Birds (Penguin, 2006); and Drivers at the Short-Time Motel (Penguin, 2000), a National Poetry Series selection and recipient of the Asian American Literary Award. He is the John Rabb Professor of Creative and Performing Arts and English professor at DePauw University.