APIA Poetry Collections to Carry with You into 2017

The covers of NIGHT SKY WITH EXIT WOUNDS, POWER MADE US SWOON, OVERPOUR, and LOOK
Clockwise from top left: NIGHT SKY WITH EXIT WOUNDS, POWER MADE US SWOON, OVERPOUR, LOOK

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe that 2017 is already here. In the past, we’ve made an annual tradition of listing some of our favorite reads of the year before the holidays begin. But this season, as we find ourselves staring down the barrel of a year that promises to hold significant changes for our nation with a mixture of apprehension and resolve, we’ve decided to do things a little differently. And so, rather than a list of holiday reading recommendations, here are a few books by some of LR’s friends and past contributors that inspired us in 2016 and that we hope will inspire you to take heart, to speak up, to fight harder, and to dream and make art with even greater passion in the coming year.

Power Made Us Swoon by Brynn Saito (Red Hen Press, 2016)

We are so proud to have published an excerpt of the manuscript that eventually became this collection in our sixth issue. In Power Made Us Swoon, Saito uses persona to probe family legacies of trauma, immersing herself in the history of Japanese American internment during WW II. Saito’s speaker is transitory, transcendent in the resolve that propels her to continually return to the artifacts of memory, and to inhabit sites and stories in search of narrative, lyric, image. In a time when more than one public figure has attempted to erase the trauma of internment in service of grotesquely racist and xenophobic rhetoric, this powerful collection seems prescient indeed.

Look by Solmaz Sharif (Graywolf Press, 2016)

A finalist for the National Book Award, Sharif’s Look captures the anxieties of our time, illuminating the frightful spectre of language mutated in the mouth of war. The collection recasts terms from the Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms to perform a kind of documentary acrobatics that shows how language and experience are imbricated in times of war. “I am attempting my own // mythmaking,” Sharif says, in an elegant, urgent argument about how the private and public, the immigrant and emigrant, and the civilian and military are realities that cast shadows, chiaroscuro-like, on each other.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)

One of the first poets whose work we published, Ocean Vuong has a distinctly masterful voice that sings and flits through this finely-tuned collection. At once delicately intimate and intensely raw, Night Sky with Exit Wounds powerfully stitches together—no, choreographs—feathered fragments of memory and the legacies of war and displacement onto a document of the speaker’s coming-of-age journey, a rich odyssey of survival and self-discovery as seen through the lens of language and text. In the context of the troubling conversations about refugees that have swirled to fever pitch of late, Vuong’s singular voice rises to bear poignant, timely witness.

Overpour by Jane Wong (Action Books, 2016)

“I’m that person who can’t stop looking,” Wong writes, and indeed, hers is the writing of an eye—or an “I”—that is attuned and attentive, a poetry startled into mystery, one into which perception floods, impressions overlaid and juxtaposed to encapsulate everything from the cosmic to the kitchen. The language in Overpour is filled with riddles and slips, steeped in undergrowth, and inhabited by mushrooms, carnations, and sweaters. The poems are songs, tasting the strangeness of language, its slippages and shifts in meaning, and embedded music.

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Of course, there are so many others that we could list—starting with the books and chapbooks that we featured on the blog in 2016. Janine Joseph’s Driving Without a License seems especially prescient right now in the context of the fraught conversations about immigration happening in our country, while Sun Yung Shin’s voice in Unbearable Splendor provides critical witness for the Asian American adoptee community in the wake of the unjust deportation of Adam Crapser. Meanwhile, Timothy Yu’s 100 Chinese Silences, Jai Arun Ravine’s The Romance of Siam: A Pocket Guide, and Pat Rosal’s Brooklyn Antediluvian model unique modes of resistance, writing back in satire and song. Nor are they alone in doing so among the titles that we have written about this year. Here is the full list:

Unbearable Splendor by Sun Yung Shin (Coffee House Press, 2016) [Read an excerpt on the LR blog here.]

The Romance of Siam: A Pocket Guide by Jai Arun Ravine (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2016) [Read our interview with Ravine about the collection here.]

Brooklyn Antediluvian by Patrick Rosal (Persea Books, 2016) [Read our most recent interview with Rosal here.]

The Taxidermist’s Cut by Rajiv Mohabir (Four Way Books, 2016) [Read our summer feature on this collection here.]

Map of an Onion by Kenji C. Liu (Inlandia Books, 2016) [Read our summer feature on this collection here.]

Driving without a License by Janine Joseph (Alice James Books, 2016) [Read our interview with Joseph here.]

The Dead in Daylight by Melody Gee (Cooper Dillon, 2016) [Read our summer feature on this collection here.]

The Ruined Elegance by Fiona Sze-Lorrain (Princeton U Press, 2016) [Read our summer feature on this collection here.]

100 Chinese Silences by Timothy Yu (Les Figures Press, 2016) [Read our interview with Yu here.]

Kissing the Sphinx (Two of Cups Press, 2016) and Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press, 2015) by Chen Chen [Read our dual interview with Chen and Margaret Rhee here.]

Radio Heart (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and Yellow (Tinfish Press, 2011) by Margaret Rhee [Read our dual interview with Rhee and Chen Chen here.]

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We hope that 2017 is a year filled with brighter things for our community, despite all apparent expectation—glimmers of illumination in the midst of struggle, moments of delight that surprise us in the thick of the ever-present work. As you labor on, may these books, and the many others like them (c.f. also Bryan Thao Worra’s extensive roundup of books by API poets published in 2016, and Hyphen magazine’s 2016 poetry favorites), be touchstones to you. Return to them when the work feels weary; keep their words and images pressed to your skin like small talismans kept in a coat pocket, warm and smooth to the touch. May language serve you well this year, and may your own words in turn be infused with strength and truth and beauty, lantern-glow against the ever-quickening dark as we stride into the months ahead.

Peace and light,

Iris & Mia

Editor’s Corner: Announcing Sun Yung Shin’s UNBEARABLE SPLENDOR

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The cover of Sun Yung Shin’s new book of poems and essays, UNBEARABLE SPLENDOR.

It’s with great excitement that we announce the publication of Sun Yung Shin’s most recent poetry collection, Unbearable Splendor (Coffee House Press, 2016). Among other books, Shin is the author of Rough, and Savage (Coffee House Press, 2012) and winner of the 2008 Asian American Literary Award Skirt Full of Black (Coffee House Press, 2007), which Craig Santos Perez reviewed in Lantern Review’s Issue 1For more on Sun Yung Shin, check out this post on her poem “Until the Twenty-Second Century,” which appeared in our 2011 Poems for Monday Mornings series. 

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In this post, we’re pleased to feature an excerpt from the opening pages of Unbearable Splendor, a collection of poems, essays, and hybrid works characterized by bold, flexible experiments in form. The work draws from a wide range of historical, mythological, and literary sources, including figures like Antigone, Asterion, and Pinocchio, demonstrating a deep concern with matters of origin: the etymology of words, the logic of replication and reproduction, and the ways these processes are interrupted by both natural and uncanny means. Shin examines technologies of artificial reproduction as well, staging them as interventions in her exploration of what it means to reproduce and to be reproduced. From this investigation of cloning, cyborgs, surrogacy, and adoption, Shin weaves a narrative of language and history that represents a striking new way of understanding identity.

An excerpt from “Valley, Uncanny”

Don’t let the name fool you: a black hole is anything but empty space.
—NASA’s website, Astrophysics page, Focus Areas, Black Holes

Where’s the hole’s end?
—김혜순 Kim Hyesoon, “A Hole”

A valley makes a kind of hole. A hole open on two sides. Korea—an island on three sides. South Korea—an island: water, water, water, DMZ. North Korea—water, water, DMZ, the People’s Republic of China.

I was a hole and I brought it, myself, to 미국 mi guk “beautiful country,” America, the United States. I carried a train of holes—holes of smoke, holes of sky. Holes of water, holes of rice milk. I was an uncanny guest. Two years old. A week after arrival from Korea, a brother, born in America, asked, “When is she going back?” Like the heavenly maiden with too many children to carry, to many holes to go back t(w)here.

There is a limit to canniness, but not to being uncanny—it is infinite, 무한, mu han.

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Excerpt from “Valley, Uncanny” is reprinted by permission from Unbearable Splendor (Coffee House Press, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Sun Yung Shin. To purchase a copy of Unbearable Splendor, visit Coffee House Press’s online catalogue here.

Editors’ Corner: Celebrating Banned Books Week 2016

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In honor of Banned Books Week 2016, the Lantern Review Blog has solicited a list of recommended reading from its friends, former staff, and past contributors. These are titles that our community has identified as works too important not to be read; that is, books that ought to be defended, rather than challenged and/or removed from bookstores, libraries, and classrooms. Join us and the rest of the book community as we celebrate the right to express and to seek ideas through literature. And don’t forget to leave a comment below, if you’d like to contribute to this list of books that you believe we deserve the freedom to read!

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Corona by Bushra Rehman (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013)
“Corona is a dark comedy featuring Razia Mirza, a young Pakistani woman from Queens, NYC. When a rebellious streak leads to her excommunication from her Muslim community, she decides to go on the road, but it doesn’t take her long to realize traveling as a Muslim woman is quite different than traveling as Jack Kerouac.”  —Bushra Rehman

culebra by Roberto Harrison (Green Lantern Press, 2016)
“Roberto Harrison’s tercets investigate, uncover, the ways in which a landscape, a history can embody the mythos of an animal. In this case, the snake: ‘The Kuna Indians of Panama make their molas in pairs. According to this tradition, things arrive in the world in pairs, so as to create a third from the union. As we are limited in our binary thinking, the snake points away toward the integral through a triad, toward a more whole understanding of the world. It knows the silence of death in the ground of the living. It heals as it sees with his tongue and symbolizes an alternative way of knowing.’ ”  —Mg Roberts

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (Bantam Books, 1984)
“Set in the aftermath of World War I, Johnny Got His Gun is a scathing commentary on the realities of war and raises troubling questions about taking extraordinary measures to prolong life when someone does not wish to live. The main character, Joe Bonham, lives as a prisoner in his own body, having lost his arms, legs, and all of his face after being caught in the blast of an artillery shell.”  —Kathleen Hellen

Lettres philosophiques (1734) by Voltaire (University of Oxford, 2017)
“This book of twenty-five letters by Voltaire has been translated as Letters on England (Penguin Classics) and Letters Concerning the English Nation (Oxford World’s Classics), among other editions.  My favorite letters are the ones about Newton and Descartes, British tragedy, and Pascal’s Pensées.”  —Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino (Cleis Press, 2008)
Opening Up is an excellent introduction to polyamory, the practice of having multiple romantic relationships at the same time with the knowledge and consent of all involved. The percentage of people who practice some form of ethical non-monogamy has been growing rapidly in recent years and polyamory has been called a lifestyle choice, a sexual orientation, and a relationship orientation.”  —Clara Changxin Fang

Pinoy Poetics: A Collection of Autobiographical and Critical Essays on Filipino and Filipino American Poetics Edited by Nick Carbo (Meritage Press, 2004)
“Pinoy Poetics was long overdue when it was released in 2004. A collection of autobiographical poetics by Filipino and Filipino American authors, it remains fresh today. Even as many of the book’s poets since has received major awards, Pinoy Poetics remains unique in representing the concerns and interests of Filipin@ poets, which are often reduced or elided in categories like ‘Asian American,’ ‘poets of color,’ et al.”  —Eileen R. Tabios

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf Press, 2015)
“I wish I’d had a wise aunt like Maggie Nelson to talk to when I was growing up, or this book. I’ve read few better meditations on love: and death, and pregnancy, friendship, motherhood, birth, family, gender, the pain of losing love, loving a parent who’s dying, love and sex, loving anal sex… The first paragraph will make people want to ban this book. And it gets better after that so we need to protect it.”  —JoAnn Balingit

The Butcher’s Wife by Li Ang (Peter Owen Publishers, 2002)
“Set in a Taiwanese village in the 1930’s, this is a harrowing morality tale of violence and patriarchy. It’s the most frightening, gory book on the oppression of women I’ve ever read.”  —Joseph O. Legaspi

When the Chant Comes by Kay Ulanday Barrett (Topside Press, 2016)
“When the Chant Comes is a love song for all the ‘queer hungry parched kids,’ for those who gather in many tongues, for those whose bodies hold memory across ocean and scar, for those who desire and deserve rest and dream.”  —Ching-In Chen

Orientalism and the Tourist Archive: A Conversation with Jai Arun Ravine

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Mixed-genre writer and artist Jai Arun Ravine. Photo by Arisa White.

This month, we had the pleasure of talking with writer, dancer, and designer Jai Arun Ravine, who recently published The Romance of Siam: A Pocket Guide (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2016). Join us as Jai shares about the wormholes and winding side streets that led to the creation of their remarkable new book, which takes the pervasive specter of Orientalism in Western tourist writing head on. Read more of Jai’s book reviews here on the Lantern Review Blog.

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LANTERN REVIEW: The Romance of Siam is so many things: travel guide, satire, cultural artifact, poetry, critical theory. In more ways than one, it says everything I’ve ever wanted to say about the ways the Western imagination constructs “Thailand” for itself—and, as you say, how Thai tourism perpetuates this fantasy for its own profit. So thank you for this vital, truth-telling work! The funny thing is, though, that in telling this truth, you tell very little actual truth—most of the pieces are fabricated, parodic, and relentlessly satirical. Tone is a notoriously difficult thing to manage in satire. How did you manage to keep it light, and yet, not pull your punches when it counted? Was it ever hard to keep playing the part, so to speak?

JAI ARUN RAVINE: In my research, I was constantly struck by the absurdity of everything in my path. I stumbled upon uncanny parallel traces, and hilarity abounded as soon as these seemingly disparate elements began to collide. Because I took myself, as a physical presence, “out” of the work for the most part, I began to choreograph these landscapes where actors and characters became my pawns. Something about having this kind of power over the board helped me stay “light,” I think. It allowed for my chess pieces to perform “the absurd” for me, and every time I moved them, they would inadvertently expose the stains of Orientalism that lay underneath it all.

LR: Beginning with the opening “Hints to Walkers” and continuing through the rest of the collection, your book is also profoundly intertextual, a ferocious, chimeric beast that begs, borrows, and steals voices from an impossibly wide range of cultural artifacts: screenplays, song lyrics, travel guides, promotional materials from the Tourism of Authority of Thailand, newspaper articles, early 20th-century novels, etc. How did you discover the sheer scope of the book? Did the subjects emerge as you proceeded through the project, or did you already know that there was a particular “canon” of relevant films, songs, and historical figures that you wanted to address?

THE ROMANCE OF SIAM: A POCKET GUIDE (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2016)
THE ROMANCE OF SIAM: A POCKET GUIDE (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2016)

JAR: When I began researching and writing for the book, I had a Fodor’s map of Bangkok marked with sticky notes for a few people, artifacts, and conceptual frameworks that I knew I wanted to explore further. But so many things emerged as I began to dig, and all the side streets began to wind and run into other side streets. I fell down a wormhole of “white elephants” and looked up everything in the library that had “Siam” or “Siamese” in the title. The song “One Night in Bangkok” led to The Oriental Hotel led to W. Somerset Maugham, in the same way that Anthony Bourdain led to Jerry Hopkins, and Jim Thompson led to Pat Noone. At a certain point, I had to make myself stop, because I realized there really was no end to the Orientalist and tourist archive; it constantly replicates itself. The final scope of the book arranges itself around theme and sequence, as well as destination and landscape.

LR: I’m fascinated by the ways in which you, as the author, exist as a felt present throughout the book, primarily via the “Information” and “Did You Know?” notes at the bottom of each page, where you comment, offer factoids and footnotes, and express interest in various critical features of the project. I was also struck by the moments when “you” enter the poems: you watch your mom talking to Tiger Woods’ mom; you play Anna in Jim Thompson’s low-budget film, The Silk King and I. What did it mean to you to introduce your own subjectivity—mediated, at times, by complex layers of form, fictionalized encounters, and performed identities—into the text? Was this always the plan?  

JAR: In contrast to my first book, แล้ว and then entwine, where the writing came from a very personal need to define my relationship to ancestral histories and inherited silences, it was incredibly freeing (and a relief!) to take my ego out of the work. I imagined landscapes in which characters and actors from movies and plays could mash up and interact with each other. I could move through these icons as a kind of ghosted, energetic, electrical presence, and perhaps even hint at that nostalgic, “authentic” Thai essence that exists now as a work of fiction or as fusion cuisine.

Of course I couldn’t take myself out of the writing entirely, though, and especially in “White Love” and “Backpackers,” I make my anger toward white supremacy clearly known. But I think it was an important challenge for me to write a work in which the balance weighed more heavily  on the other side of the scale. I did get completely caught up in directing my own theater, however, and at a certain point, it became too confusing for the reader—too many references, too crowded, too inaccessible. At that point in the draft manuscript, I circled back into the work, and with the guidance of writer and friend Marissa Perel, I realized that the moments when I inserted myself back into the text (when I stand side-by-side with Yul Brynner or Anthony Bourdain, for instance) were even more powerful than providing an anger-driven commentary on Orientalism’s devastating wake, or choreographing an intricate puppet show. I made a conscious choice in “The Silk King and I” to cut and paste “myself” into the scene, which I think made it stronger.

LR: You appear to speak most transparently in the opening “Hints to Walkers,” where you preface your project with the comment, “As a mixed race person of Thai and White descent, my attempts to connect with Thailand as ‘place’ and ‘cultural identity’ are colonized by tourism and White desire. […] This projects attempts decolonization in the face of such an erasure.” How did you make the decision to include this statement, along with the other prefatory remarks in “Hints to Walkers” at the opening of the book?

JAR: I have always found context extremely helpful. When an artist provides context for viewing their work, it gives the viewer a framework and a way into the experience. A lot of times, I read the work of a poet or see a choreographer’s dance performance, and if I’m not already familiar with the project, I’m distracted by the burning desire to know: What are the major concepts you are grappling with in this work? What is your relationship to the subject? How do you hope this object or performance will function in the world? I felt that stating these kinds of things at the beginning of my book (and during it) was crucial to its reception.I also outline some version of this before every reading I give. “Hints to Walkers” functions as a trail map, which lets people know what to expect on the journey. I see the “Information” and “Did You Know?” sections as other important trail markers that offer the reader both context and guidance.

LR: The Romance of Siam is, in so many ways, an unprecedented work of poetry, cultural resistance, and history. At the same time, I’m aware that even the most unprecedented work, no matter how wildly it reinvents genre, has its precedents. Who were the writers and thinkers who broke ground for you? What did you read, and to whom did you look for inspiration in the writing of this book?

JAR: I generated most of the initial material for The Romance of Siam during a residency at Djerassi in 2011, and one of the books I took with me was Jo Ann Wasserman’s The Escape. I read this book during Akilah Oliver’s course “Eros in Loss in Poetic Construction” at Naropa University in 2005. While I had never written much in classical forms, when writing The Romance of Siam, I remembered Wasserman’s book and the way she used the form of the sestina to work through her grief around her mother’s death. The sestina felt incredibly obsessive, but also somehow incomplete. The thing that one was grasping for could never be reached; it was a culmination without release. That feature of Wasserman’s work led me to writing a bunch of my own sestinas. Once I started, I couldn’t stop; the form just seemed to fit perfectly with my material (the Orientalist/tourist fantasy) and my relationship to it.

Even though I began reading the book after much of the material had already been generated, I am also indebted to Edward Said’s Orientalism, because he helped me identify a larger historical context for the project.

LR: There’s a fabulous moment at the end of The Romance of Siam when Jim Thompson’s character says that he wants to “purchase all the novels White man has written on Thailand and found a rare books annex” in Bangkok’s legendary Oriental Hotel—which I suspect exists, if perhaps only in spirit, as The Romance of Siam. This venture is described as a kind of “theatre within which [Thompson] has engaged much of his strange expertise and cultural knowledge,” a notion I find fascinating, given the particular prominence of theatre and performativity in your book. I was wondering if you could speak to the role of performance in your own life as an artist—or even as an individual, especially because I know you’re just as much a performance artist as you are a writer.

JAR: Performance is such a strong concept in The Romance of Siam because Orientalism itself is truly a performance that has been culled and animated from texts since the 1800s. Most of the West’s engagement with the Orient during the 1900s was via movies, film, and theater plays, and the stage is where its ideas and representations of Orientals (played by white actors in yellowface) are performed, solidified, and made legend. The way Yul Brynner performed the King of Siam, and royal Thai masculinity is forever burned on the collective psyche of contemporary culture. Theater is also a space where fact and fiction become blurred, a blurring I found again and again in Orientalist writings and tourist texts; Thailand was always more of a work of fiction, more like something from a book, than a real place, which is, in fact, where Orientalism’s true power lies.

In relation to my artistic practice, I trained in ballet from a young age and modern dance since college, and as a writer, I have always been drawn to the making of work that bridges text and body, which has led me to spoken word, video, and performance art. So creating a stage where I try to perform as Yul Brynner or Anthony Bourdain or Jim Thompson in this book sort of unmasks the constructions of race, gender, and the Orient and the Occident that I find so necessary.

LR: I have to ask, has there been much of a response to The Romance of Siam from Thai readers? Do you have any plans to work on a translation of the book? As many of us know, Thailand—like many other countries—fiercely policies foreign portrayals of its nation and subjects, and many of the films mentioned in your book (The Beach, The King and I, etc.) have been banned by its government. How do you think a Thai audience would receive The Romance of Siam, a depiction of the depictions deemed unfit for Thai consumption?

JAR: Ever since I created my short film Tom / Trans / Thai in Thailand and screened it at the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre, Payap University, and the Alliance Française in Chiang Mai, I’ve come to understand that my work arises from its own specific context, which I very much define as of and related to the American QTPOC (queer and trans people of color) experience. The reception to my film in Thailand was not as meaningful for me as it was when I screened the project for QTPOC audiences in the States. So I suppose I’m feeling hesitant as to whether the book has relevance or solvency for Thai audiences. However, I have received some responses from queer Thai American friends, who I think can understand feeling both “inside” and “outside” with regards to Thai identity, being absurdly “mashed” with regards to race and representation, and being a tourist to oneself.

LR: Finally, what are you working on now?

JAR: I’m collaborating with writer Coda Wei on an experimental drama of text, comics and .gifs called Ambient Asian Space. We’ve been writing together since September 2015 and have recently started to release selected episodes here. I’m also working with choreographer iele paloumpis on a new dance work as part of the Oceanic End project, which we’ll be performing at a Draftwork showing at Danspace in New York City on December 10.

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Jai Arun Ravine is writer, dancer, and graphic designer. As a mixed race, mixed gender and mixed genre artist, their work arises from the simultaneity of text and body and takes the form of video, performance, comics, and handmade books. The Romance of Siam is their second book. For more information, visit their website: jaiarunravine.com

Editor’s Corner: July Summer Reads and the Poetics of Reckoning

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Debut collections from two LR contributors: Rajiv Mohabir’s THE TAXIDERMIST’S CUT and Kenji C. Liu’s MAP OF AN ONION.

This month, our Summer Reads include Rajiv Mohabir’s The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books, 2016) and Kenji C. Liu’s Map of an Onion (Inlandia Books, 2016), two remarkable debut collections that feel so fully conceived, so urgently and articulately expressed, that one hesitates to call them “debuts,” as these are clearly two poets who have been at this for longer than the term “first book” implies. Deeply theorized, expertly crafted, and placed squarely in conversation with the poets’ respective family histories, cultures, and discourses of science and post-colonialism, these works draw the reader into a thoroughgoing investigation of what it means to be human, delivered into a specific time, body, and cultural milieu. These poems are the maps they have fashioned for themselves, forging a poetics of reckoning in pursuit of generational and lived truth.

 In The Taxidermist’s Cut, Rajiv Mohabir’s lines, both sinister and lovely, function as cuts that reveal and divide, shimmering with the erotics of violence. Transfixed, one finds oneself unable to look away, arrested by the elegance of the language and the way, when held to the skin, it causes the body to shiver with pleasure. The line, the body, the text, the means by which bodies make and destroy themselves; “Pick up the razor. // It sounds like erasure.” Formally, the couplet features prominently throughout, raising the question of what’s joined, what’s split, what adheres together and what pulls apart. Stitched through with found text from Practical Taxidermy, The Complete Tracker, and other taxidermy-related manuals, the poems confront the body with a mixture of scientific detachment and intimacy, as the life of the body—its homoerotic desire, its violation—is rendered in acute detail. Members of Mohabir’s family, past and present, drift in and out of The Taxidermist’s Cut, as, marked by a pilgrim poetics of wandering, the book moves through the West Indies, the South, boroughs of New York City, reckoning with memory, desire, and histories of conquest and slavery. These poems are breath caught from the throat, blood cut from a wound—the cry that follows, in pleasure, in pain, indistinguishable from song.

Kenji C. Liu’s Map of an Onion, a work deeply textured by memory and place, maps its own set of explorations beyond and within cartographies of language, national borders, and the body. Like Mohabir’s, Liu’s subjectivity is shaped by multiple histories and homelands, all impressed upon a poet who writes with deep sensitivity to the pre-colonial realities of place, drawing us into greater awareness of what it means to be American, immigrants, humans. “Ghost maps are hungry maps,” he writes, tracing lineages and interlocking histories through time. It’s a mapmaking of the self, a “search translated between my family’s four languages.” Marked in places by profound longing (“Home is on no map, and explorers / will never find it. That time has passed”) the poems, in their searching, take us from Mars to Moscow, suburban New Jersey to the World War II Philippine jungle. The book itself, neatly sized and beautifully produced, fits compactly in the reader’s hand and brings to the body an awareness of itself as a artifact translated across cultures, yet possessing a language all its own. Map of an Onion, too, concerns itself with the act of incision, especially of paper, “the surgery of documents” cutting ruthlessly across land, sea, and families. What binds and what breaks—folded, torn. “Taste your own / luscious // fissures,” the poet says, the places where selves meet; the sinew, cartilage, and tendon of bodies that are bound and, simultaneously, transcendent.

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What books are on your summer reading list? We’d love to hear about them! Leave us a comment below or share your best recommendations with us on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).

 

On Sottonarrativa and the “Skittery Poem”: A Conversation with Janine Joseph

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Janine Joseph and the cover of her new book, DRIVING WITHOUT A LICENSE.

With this month’s interview, we’re delighted to feature poet, librettist, and creative writing professor Janine Joseph. She currently teaches at Oklahoma State University and is the author of Driving without a License (Alice James Books), winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize. In this interview, Joseph reflects on the book-length poetic projects that influenced her first collection, Charles Wright’s notion of sottonarrativa, and the separate (yet related) “neighborhoods” of her brain where she composes libretti and poetry.

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LANTERN REVIEW: First off, congratulations on your debut poetry collection! It’s such an accomplished work—so deeply engaged in the current political moment and your sense of personal and cultural history. Can you tell us a bit about your literary influences? Who have your models and mentors been, and what shadows do they cast across your work in Driving without a License?

JANINE JOSEPH: Thank you for the congratulations! The book is two months old now and it still feels so strange to know that it is out, living its own life in the world.

I’ve written before about how long it took me to write Driving without a License—how it began, fifteen years ago as a novel, and how the first poems that made it into the final version of the manuscript were written ten years ago. I start by saying this because I amassed a number of influences in those years.

Here is one model/mentor thread: At a summer poetry retreat in Idyllwild, CA, just before my junior year of college, I attended a panel with Natasha Trethewey and Cecilia Woloch, among others, and first learned about the poetic sequence and the long poem. Trethewey discussed her recently published (at the time) poetic sequence, Bellocq’s Ophelia. Sitting beside her on the panel was Woloch, who talked about her book-length poem, Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem. This may have been the year that I stopped thinking that the only way to tell my story was via the novel. That I could, as Stanley Plumly writes, wholly surrender myself “to the material, its memory and the time it takes to reiterate how impossible it is to approximate, let alone articulate, pain” through poetry (which I was already writing) was, if you’ll forgive the pun, a novel idea. I knew even then that what I was writing about refused completion. I was not, in other words, done with what I had to say about identity and undocumented immigration in one, two, or three poems. Each poem begged another’s precision, and before I knew it, I was revising everything I’d so far written, hoping one poem would “get it right.” It was much later that I learned that one poem may get one aspect right, but I needed a cohort of them, together, to get a much larger idea “right.”

What Trethewey and Woloch taught me is that there exists a form that, perhaps with more deliberate intention, allows poets to revisit a specific theme, image, idea, or event. Poems suddenly, to my younger self, had stamina and could endure an identity that, as Whitman would put it, contained multitudes. I grew ravenous for these sustained meditations. I built a list of “project books” that, many years later, shaped my third comprehensive exam when I was working on my Ph.D.

In addition to reading Natasha Trethewey and Cecilia Woloch, I studied Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, Martha Collins’ Blue Front, Nicole Cooley’s Breach, Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah, Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination, Louise Glück’s Wild Iris, Brenda Hillman’s Death Tractates, Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution, Tyehimba Jess’ Leadbelly, A. Van Jordan’s M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, Laura Kasischke’s Space in Chains, Galway Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares, Yusef Komunyakaa’s Dien Cai Dau, Maurice Manning’s Bucolics, Thylias Moss’ Slave Moth, Gregory Orr’s Concerning the Book That is the Body of the Beloved, Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, Ellen Bryant Voigt’s Kyrie, and Derek Walcott’s Another Life, among many others. All of these books, without a doubt, have varying preoccupations—from the Vietnam War to Hurricane Katrina to the home sphere, etc.. However, much like their musical and prose counterparts—concept albums and composite novels, respectively—these books organize an experience or idea with the goal of enhancing our understanding of that experience or idea by asking us to consider the poems in the collection as a group, as a unified whole.

LR: We’re impressed by the way your poems evoke deep anxieties in the personal realm, but also take on large political issues, as in the lines “The spouse / battered by a U.S. citizen spouse Find the widow(er) / The one you will petition to marry The headless / bodies in the Arizona desert” from “Between Chou and the Butterfly.” How do you manage these shifts between the private and the political realm?

JJ: In an interview by the Paris Review, Charles Wright discusses how when he was writing China Trace, he experimented with something he calls a subnarrative, or undernarrative. The sottonarrativa, he explains, is, “The smaller current in a larger river. The story line that runs just under the surface. It’s broken, interrupted, circuitous, even invisible at times, but always there.” A sentence later, he explains, “It’s a continuous story line by someone who can’t tell a story.” When I move from the private to the political, and vice versa, it’s because both occupy the same space, exist at the same time, in me. My position in the world has been, and continues to be, one wherein the personal is political, and the political personal. I cried the first time I was able to vote, at the age of thirty. I am both the person in the newspaper and the person reading the newspaper. Sometimes, the personal is the smaller current; sometimes it is the larger river—and the other way around.

LR: One of the many interesting features of your book is the use of initials to refer to various friends and family members. Can you tell us more about the significance of this naming device?

JJ: To explain how/why I arrived at the decision to use initials requires some backtracking. Here goes:

Because I was thinking always about the bigger picture, or what my individual poems would coalesce into, I allowed each poem the space to deal with whatever needed dealing with without having to clear my throat at the beginning each time to announce that I was writing about an undocumented American experience. I do not, for example, explain why the speaker has no license in the poem “Driving without a License.” As expected, relying on my project’s backbone sometimes proved difficult when bringing a poem into a new workshop with peers. I remember clearly the day I brought in “Always Hiding,” a poem that begins in medias res, as if overheard, and how the conversation of the group was immediately derailed. One person argued that the speaker of my poem, “clearly an immigrant,” was therefore “a nonnative English speaker” and that what we were overhearing was not the voice of someone struggling to explain why she was constantly lying to protect herself, but, rather, the voice of someone who couldn’t string together a coherent sentence in English. The thesis posited, of course, became complicated by the fact that the poem begins, “which kept me in school and was, of course, / a lie.” This was “inconsistent,” she explained, being “too grammatically correct,” and needed to be revised. Luckily, being far enough along in my project, I knew when to shake off such suggestions.

Still, when reading Tony Hoagland’s essay, “Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment,” the following passage about the dissociative self stuck out to me:

…the aspect of self such poems most forcefully represent is its uncatchability, its flittering, quicksilver transience… It is a self that does not stand still, that implies a kind of spectral, anxious insubstantiality. The voice is plenty sharp in tone and sometimes observant in its detail, but it is skittery. Elusiveness is the speaker’s central characteristic. Speed, wit, and absurdity are its attractive qualities. The last thing such poems are going to do is risk their detachment, their distance, their freedom from accountability. The one thing they are not going to do is commit themselves to the sweaty enclosures of subject matter and the potential embarrassment of sincerity.

For a time, especially in the earliest stages of Driving without a License, I was a poet in hiding and, as a result, wrote poems with a voice always in hiding. While I wouldn’t say I was “skittery”—my poems ached and strove for a “center of gravity… body… [and] emotional value”—I was guilty of sometimes being purposefully evasive, relying on a charming voice that could lie its way out of any sticky situation. I was also guilty of writing poems that refused to reveal what on earth they were actually talking about.

Many of the failed, early attempts at the poems that would eventually make their way into the book read like I had blindfolded the reader and spun them around—as if playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey—and let them go. What this impulse was ultimately an indication of, of course, was a young project and an experience that was still too close to me. I had not yet learned how to be an effective storyteller who could remake new stories with fragments of others. I also had not yet developed a voice or a speaker that could carry the weight of the story. I was still the “I.” As a result, I was afraid of disclosure and of my imagined readership. When Hoagland says, “Much talent and skill are evident in its making, in its pacing and management of gaps, the hints and sound bites which keep the reader reaching forward for the lynchpin of coherence,” I thought about the dangers of withholding the very information I worried would give me, or others, away. I identified areas in my poems where I filled omissions with tangential storylines—I was free-associating, so to speak, as a method of diversion—and revised. To omit names, leaving behind only a single letter, was liberating. It allowed me, complete with my story, to “come out.” I invented a character of myself. Then, out came S., D., B. (who arrived, unexpectedly, in a poem I thought was about S.), and the house of J’s.

LR: We found ourselves swept up by the dreamlike, incantatory quality of poems like “Landscape with American Dream” and “Wreck,” and noted that in addition to being an accomplished poet, you’ve written a number of libretti for the Houston Grand Opera/HGOco. What’s the relationship between song and verse in your work?

JJ: All three libretti written for HGO/HGOco were commissioned pieces, so song and verse have so far occupied separate neighborhoods in my brain. My poetry education came first, though, and I know that being a noisy writer, one always attuned to (and muttering aloud) the music of my words and lines, helped me transition into the world of opera. Still, when working on commissioned pieces, I do have to be mindful of the constraints and scope of each project. For my third libretto, for example, I had to be sure that what I wrote would be accessible to junior high and high school students (we even had study guides), as well as the general public and Houston-area lawyers (the piece was designed to tour the city of Houston). I do not think of audience in the same way when writing a poem, and I certainly can compress much more into a line composed for the page—relying, for example, on what happens at the moment of enjambment—than I can in a line meant to be sung.

When writing a poem, too, I think about diction in terms of choosing the exact word; when writing a libretto, I think about diction in terms of how a word might be enunciated. Sometimes, I land on the same word, sometimes not—and then I make a revision.

It’s almost as if my brain is a child moving between two amicably divorced parents living on opposite ends of town. I’m doing similar poetic work in both genres, of course, and in fact, with my second chamber opera, I worked with a composer who asked me to scan my lines so that he could see the stressed and unstressed positions/syllables of the words. Here, my worlds very much overlapped, and all of the rooms in both houses, as well as the streetlights in both parts of town, lit up—under a Supermoon, no less!

(I suspect I will have to write an essay about this one day.)

LR: While your book ranges across a variety of geographic spaces and times in the narrator’s life, there’s still a clear structure and chronology to the poems. Can you tell us about how you sequenced the collection? What advice would you give to emerging poets working on a first book?

JJ: It’s amazing to me that you are complimenting me on the sequencing of the collection, as I got it so very, very wrong for so many, many drafts. Once, the collection was in three sections. Once, it was in five sections. The four-section version—the version that is the book—was born when I was asked, “Why is this written in five sections?” and all I could muster was, “Symmetry.” Imagine, now, that I answered with an uptalk.

When assembling the collection, I thought quite a bit about the beginnings of Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution and Martha Collins’ Blue Front. Long before I knew how the individual sections would be structured, I knew how I wanted the book to begin, what kind of precedent I wanted to set. I remembered the advice that one of my teachers, Eamon Grennan, had given me—about how before I could invent a new landscape for my readers, I had to first pave the streets and erect the signposts I wanted them to follow. I thought a lot about world building. I thought about Charles Wright and how I might establish the sottonarrativa.

In earlier versions, figuring out the political situation of the speaker felt much like the way Rubén Martínez describes crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Crossing Over: “You have to hike in total darkness, through mountains that block out the beacon of city light…. You take a long walk in the dark.”

Some, perhaps, helpful-but-not-helpful advice: Read, a lot. Specifically, read books similar to the one you want to write or are writing. Study the choices made by those poets—learn both the how and why. Be open to shuffling and reshuffling, to knowing what doesn’t feel right as an opportunity to move toward what does. Listen to the advice of your most adept reader-friends. Stand clear of the closing doors.

LR: So much of the language in Driving without a License is breathtaking. We were particularly struck by these lines from “Soup Kitchen”: “the leaves on our trees / were a hundred jazz hands, the sun a cow, or a moon, / depending on the day, the time, the tendered / sashay of this earth.” Where did these images come from? In writing these lines, how did you access such luminous, lyrical language?

JJ: I am so in love with this question, and feel my years and worlds colliding! When Lantern Review asked me to contribute a “Process Profile” in 2010, I wrote about this very poem (though in 2010 it was called “Postcard”). More, the poem first appeared in Nimrod International Journal—a journal that comes out of Oklahoma.

[See Janine’s “Process Profile” here.]

LR: What are you reading right now? Any recommended summer reading?

JJ: Because I am in the throes of moving from one landlocked state to another, my summer reading list, this year, is short. I just finished Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Right now, I am in the middle of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, which has stimulated my brain into a bioluminescent creature. I am also a quarter of a way through Patrick Rosal’s Brooklyn Antediluvian. Soon, I will have a copy of Solmaz Sharif’s LOOK in my hands. Soon, I will be reading folders of information about my new health insurance, what new retirement planning options I will have with my new job, etc.. All very important, necessary (and recommended) reading.

LR: So, what’s next for you? Any exciting projects?

This summer, my partner, beagle, and I are headed to Stillwater, OK, where I will be joining the creative writing faculty at Oklahoma State University. I am hoping, too, to have more time to do more serious work on poems about traumatic brain injuries, and what it was like to become a naturalized citizen.

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Janine Joseph is the author of Driving without a License (Alice James Books), winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize. Her poems and essays about growing up undocumented in America have appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Best New Poets, Best American Experimental Writing, Zócalo Public Square, Waxwing, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a- Day series, and elsewhere. Her commissioned libretti for the Houston Grand Opera/HGOco include What Wings They Were: The Case of Emeline, “On This Muddy Water”: Voices from the Houston Ship Channel, and From My Mother’s Mother. Janine is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University.

Turning “Chinese Silence” on Its Head: A Conversation with Timothy Yu

TImothy Yu and 100 CHINESE SILENCES
Timothy Yu and the cover of his book 100 CHINESE SILENCES. (Photo of Yu by Margarita Corporan)

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we interviewed leading scholar and poet Timothy Yu, author of 100 Chinese Silences (Les Figues Press, 2015), Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry Since 1965 (Stanford, 2009), and the three chapbooks 15 Chinese Silences (Tinfish Press, 2012), Journey to the West (Barrow Street, 2006), and Kiss the Stranger (Corollary Press, 2012). Yu is professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he spoke with us, among other things, about the need for greater historical contextualization of Asian American poetry, the process of writing 100 Chinese Silences, and the vibrant relationship between his creative and scholarly work.

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LANTERN REVIEW: Within the literary and academic world, you function in a variety of roles. What’s it like to wear so many different hats? We’re especially curious about the ways in which these roles (poet, cultural critic, scholar, teacher, editor, etc.) overlap, or if there are times when you find them in tension with one another.

TIMOTHY YU: I’ve always written poetry, but for a long time my identity as a poet was peripheral to my professional identity as a scholar. I did a PhD in literature, not an MFA, and until pretty recently I never really published much of my poetry. There’s a lot I could say about this, but I think that it was my scholarly training, and in particular my study of Asian American poetry, that gave me a greater sense of confidence in my work, and ultimately a clearer sense of what I wanted my poetry to do.

But it was definitely a struggle along the way sometimes. In grad school, although quite a few of my classmates were also creative writers, there was an old-school sense among faculty that being a creative writer was not compatible with the “serious” identity of scholar. I kept my poetry going largely by finding a community outside of the university—I went to readings, joined a writing group, sometimes took creative writing workshops elsewhere during the summers.  

It’s really only in the past few years that my roles as poet and scholar/critic have begun to converge. A lot of that has to do with my finding a community of other Asian American poets through Kundiman. Although I had studied Asian American poetry for some years, I don’t think I began to see myself as an Asian American poet until I became a Kundiman fellow and saw what being part of an Asian American literary community could mean. I think this understanding has allowed my scholarly work increasingly to feed my creative work, which is basically what led to 100 Chinese Silences.  

Now I think I’m experiencing this wonderful feedback loop where my creative work is also pushing my criticism to new places. Probably the best example of this was in the controversy around Calvin Trillin’s poem in the New Yorker, Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” My response was both creative and critical: I wrote a parody of Trillin’s poem that was published on Angry Asian Man, which led to me getting interviewed on NPR, which was followed by my being asked to write an essay for the New Republic. And in that piece, I tried to combine my scholarly knowledge with the emotion I was feeling as a member of the Asian American poetry community—which I think made all the difference to its success.  

LR: You’re the author of the chapbook 15 Chinese Silences, which was published in 2012. Four years and eighty-five Chinese silences later, the book-length 100 Chinese Silences is in print. Can you tell us a bit about how this project evolved? How did it find its trajectory?

TY: The Chinese Silences began when Billy Collins came to Madison to do a reading. There were something like 1,200 people there! Anyway, Collins read a poem called “Grave,” in which he is standing at the graves of his parents, and he says that his father’s silence was like “the one hundred different kinds of silence according to the Chinese belief.” Now, I’m not an expert on all things Chinese, but that didn’t sound familiar to me. And then at the end of the poem, Collins admits that the idea of 100 Chinese silences was something he had “just made up.” In my annoyance, I immediately vowed that I would write these 100 Chinese silences, although at the time I didn’t know what I meant by that.

I started off by simply writing a parody of “Grave,” one that tried to turn the idea of “Chinese silence” on its head. I quickly discovered that Collins had, in fact, written a lot of poems about China (or Asia), and so I continued by parodying those poems. Collins provided me with more than enough material for the first fifteen poems in the series, which became the Tinfish chapbook 15 Chinese Silences.

I soon realized that the project, which had started off as a bit of a lark, was leading me into deeper waters, and that to explore them, I was going to need to move beyond Collins toward a broader investigation of how China and Asia are portrayed in contemporary American poetry and culture.  It turned out that there were many more poems than I expected, by a wide range of poets; some I just found by doing things like searching the Poetry magazine archives for “China.” The poems I found ranged from elegant invocations of Chinese poetry to cringingly offensive uses of stereotype and pidgin. After a certain point, people actually started sending me examples—“here’s a good one for you!”—and so I pretty much had an inexhaustible supply of material.

Of course, the tradition of poetic orientalism I’m exploring isn’t just a contemporary phenomenon; it goes at least back to the dawn of the 20th century and modernism, so at a certain point, I had to begin delving back into that earlier tradition. I did this a bit tentatively at first, starting with a parody of Gary Snyder’s “Axe Handles” (No. 38) and eventually reaching back to modernism: Marianne Moore, W.B. Yeats, and, of course, Ezra Pound, whose poetry is the subject of the final dozen or so poems.  

So, the sequence unfolds pretty much in the order it was written, but that order does represent a fairly conscious movement from contemporary poems about Chinese stuff back to the modernist roots of American poetic orientalism.

LR: Given the book’s wide variety of source material, how did your creative process differ with poems responding to, say, Collins and Tony Hoagland (living, contemporary poets), as opposed to Marianne Moore and Pound (deceased, “canonical” voices)? Or did it? What about your responses to more journalistic sources, such as the speech by Newt Gingrich or David Sedaris’s piece on China?

TY: Rewriting Moore and Pound was certainly more intimidating than rewriting Collins or Hoagland! For the more contemporary writers, my tone sometimes bordered on the snarky. But of course, there was some element of reverence in my approach to figures like Moore and Pound, even as I was trying to mount a critique of their work. It’s probably why I put off grappling with them until much later in the series, when I felt I had more confidence in what I was doing.

Responding to some of the journalistic sources was actually fun, because those were the places in the series where I had a bit more freedom. Much of the series was written under fairly strong constraint; I strove to mirror the style and even the line structure of the originals. But with something like the response to Sedaris, I was able to play around more freely with the grotesque imagery of disgust Sedaris uses in his description of China. The most fun piece in this regard was No. 26, which collaged reporting on Wendi Deng (the then-wife of Rupert Murdoch, who made headlines by slapping down a protester who tried to hit Murdoch with a pie) to the tune of Blake’s “The Tyger.”

LR: How have audiences responded to 100 Chinese Silences?

TY: People seem to like and respond to these poems more than anything I’ve ever written—which of course I have mixed feelings about, since nearly all of them are rewritings of other poets’ work! But I think that is part of the project—trying to use the pleasure and humor of these parodies as a Trojan horse for a certain kind of critique.

I’ve been very gratified by the way that Asian American readers, in particular, have responded to the work—they’ve really embraced it warmly as a way of talking back to a certain tradition, which has been so important to my being able to complete it. I’ve heard a little skepticism from some readers about the way I take on certain poets, Pound in particular, who are not as easy targets as, say, Collins. I certainly think that the poems where I’m rewriting canonical writers are the riskiest and the most open to ambivalent interpretation.

LR: As a literary journal dedicated to the promotion and publication of Asian American poetry, Lantern Review has thought quite a bit about what it means to be an advocate for change in today’s literary climate. In your opinion, what is the most pressing cultural work that needs to be done right now?

TY: I think there is a growing awareness that the voices of people of color need to be heard, and indeed, need to be front and center, in contemporary culture, but there is also awareness of how far we are from having the kind of cultural discourse where that is the case. I think it’s absolutely vital for Asian American writers and other writers of color to continue to build their own spaces—whether that’s publications like Lantern Review or organizations like Kundiman—while also demanding more mainstream representation; the two are not mutually exclusive but go hand in hand. I also think it’s crucial for us to provide a greater sense of the history of racial discourse; the conversations and conflicts we’re having today are not new, but emerge from long histories and deep contexts. This is where I think scholars/critics and poets absolutely must be talking to and learning from each other. Simply having a sense that there is an Asian American literary tradition is an incredible boon to a young Asian American writer.

LR: What are some of the most exciting things happening in Asian American poetry today? What are you currently reading?

TY: The breadth and depth of what’s happening in Asian American poetry is just astonishing. To me, Asian American poetry is a space where the lyrical, the experimental, the performative, the political—things too often separated in the larger poetry world—can engage and infuse each other. Just looking at my nightstand, I see amazing new and recent books by Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Brandon Shimoda, Khaty Xiong, Nicholas Wong; books by international Asian writers like Sarah Howe and Fred Wah. And the wider world is taking notice.

LR: After 100 Chinese Silences, what’s next? Can you tell us about any new projects currently underway?

TY: I’m working on a new sequence called Chinese Dreams, and yes, it’s another rewriting—this time of John Berryman’s Dream Songs. I’m fascinated and deeply troubled by Berryman’s framing of his anguished personal lyrics through racially stereotyped language, and I’ve been trying to see what I can do with that from an Asian American perspective.

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Timothy Yu is the author of 100 Chinese Silences, the editor’s selection in the Les Figues Press NOS Book Contest, and of Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry Since 1965 (Stanford), winner of the Book Award in Literary Studies from the Association for Asian American Studies. He is also the author of three chapbooks: 15 Chinese Silences (Tinfish), Journey to the West (Barrow Street; winner of the Vincent Chin Chapbook Prize from Kundiman), and, with Kristy Odelius, Kiss the Stranger (Corollary), and the editor of Nests and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets (Kelsey Street). He is professor of English and Asian American studies and director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Six Things We’ve Learned from Our Hiatus about the Writing Life

As we announced last week, we’re back and more excited than ever to embark on a new journey with Lantern Review. It’s been a fruitful, restorative two years since we published our last issue, and as we’ve begun to ask ourselves what’s next, we’ve found ourselves reflecting on the lessons we’ve learned by going on hiatus.

Here are a few things we’ve discovered from taking our much-needed rest.

  1. Self-care is important. Nobody can do everything. There are seasons when it is necessary to attend to the non-art-related things in our lives—to family, to one’s health, to relationships, to the keeping of a roof over one’s head. These are the things that enable us to create making art. And it’s imperative not to neglect them if we are to live healthy, fulfilled, and sustainable lives both on and off the page.
  1. Keeping a notebook is a poet’s lifeline. It’s a record of the vital, ongoing dialogue with oneself, one’s art, one’s reading. Observations, notes, drafts of book reviews, quotations—when kept in a notebook, they become a record of the poetic sensibility in motion.
  1. Poetry can create family, but sustaining that family requires work. When we started LR in 2009, we were still MFA students, not too long out of college, and, like most young poets of color, hungering after a community to call our own. Over the years, our work on LR has provided us with a rare gift, in that it has made our chosen literary family uniquely accessible to us. So when we made a conscious choice to step back from the magazine, we had to find other ways to engage. What we learned in the months that followed is that often, community is one what makes of it. Sometimes it finds you on its own, but for the most part, one must seek it out, carving it out of the rock if necessary, to survive. How does one do this? By reading more books by poets of color. By writing to those poets. By bringing them into your spaces. By teaching their work in your classroom. Poetry knits artists together, but like any family, it takes effort to foster growth and belonging.

Continue reading “Six Things We’ve Learned from Our Hiatus about the Writing Life”

LR News: We’re Back!

Iris and Mia say, "Hooray! We're back!"
LR cofounders Iris and Mia announcing the good news.

That’s right—we’re back! We’ve officially ended our hiatus and are thrilled to announce that we’re rested and ready for this new season of Lantern Review.

For the very first time, our cofounders are living on the same coast, not to mention in the same geographic region: the San Francisco Bay Area! We look forward to discovering what it means to rebuild our editorial endeavor in the context of the Bay Area’s thriving literary arts scene, in the wonderful company of so many other editors, poets, publishers, and artists of color. We also foresee many more exciting opportunities to cultivate regionally based community, though we’ll continue to function with our national and international readership in mind.

Along with an eventual relaunch of the magazine, you can expect new, exciting content on our blog, which we’ll continue to update regularly, and a fresh look—which, hopefully, you’re already enjoying. We’re starting small, but, as before, our goal is to provide a clear, up-to-date sense of what’s happening in the Asian American poetry scene and areas of related interest.

Later this month, you can also expect to see us at AWP. We’ll be there, cruising the book fair, attending panels, and looking to connect with Lantern Review readers and contributors—both past and future. We’ll be posting more soon about where we’ll be during the conference, so if you plan to attend, be sure to look out for that information, and please come find us in LA!

For now, stay tuned for more updates on our blog, and if we don’t see you at AWP 2016, we hope we’ll get to hang out with you sometime in the Bay!

LR News: LANTERN REVIEW at AWP 2013

ConferenceOverviewScreen shot 2013-03-02 at 4.24.57 PM

Here’s a preview of what Lantern Review will be up to at this year’s AWP conference… which is coming up in just a few days! You’ll find us listed in the bookfair catalogue as Lantern Review Kartika Review, located at Table Y2 in Exhibit Hall D, Level 2. For the second year in a row, we’ll be tabling with Kartika Review this time, with the wonderful support of our friends at TAYO Literary Magazine and Hyphen.

We’ll have chapbooks, magazines, and lots of other information about what’s happening in the Asian American literary world… not to mention an interactive display that will allow you to “put yourself on the map,” so to speak, of Asian American literature. See you next week!


Some Panels of Interest
:

R131. Baring/Bearing Race in the Creative Writing Classroom. (Aimee Suzara, Kwame Dawes, Debra Busman, Diana Garcia, Lee Herrick)

F150. Intersecting Lineages: Poets of Color on Cross-Community Collaboration. (Ching-In Chen, Sherwin Bitsui, Celeste Guzman Mendoza, Hayan Charara, Kevin Simmonds)

F162. The New Workshop: Literary Community through Pedagogical Innovation, Sponsored by Kundiman. (Sarah Gambito, Regie Cabico, Paisley Rekdal, Myung Mi Kim)

F251. The Divided Heart: Writing Far From Home. (Sandra Yee, Eduardo C. Corral, Ishion Hutchinson, Valzhyna Mort, Jane Wong)

F279. Visible Shores: Writers of Color Listening Across Waters. (Patrick Rosal, Tiphanie Yanique, Roger Bonair-Agard, Christian Campbell, Rachelle Cruz)

S122. Biracial Women Poets. (Brenda Shaughnessy, Monica Ferrell, Paisley Rekdal, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Monica McClure)

S203. Inside Asian American Editing: How Aesthetics and Advocacy Affect Five Editors’ Publishing Decisions. (Allen Gee, Phong Nguyen, Sunyoung Lee, Jennifer Derilo, Tarfia Faizullah)

BF39. Kundiman:10-Year Celebration of Lovesongs, Verses, and Books. (Joseph O. Legaspi, Cathy Linh Che, Mathew Olzmann, Brynn Saito, Sharon Suzuki-Martinez)

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For a complete listing of panels and readings, browse the official conference schedule on the AWP website.