Editors’ Corner: Three Anthologies featuring #ActualAsianPoets to Consider Teaching this Fall

Nests and Strangers, Kuwento, Family Resemblance

It may still officially be summertime, but for those of us who balance our writing lives with scholarship and/or teaching, it’s already time to hang up the vacation gear and dust off the books in preparation for a new academic year. Thus far in this summer’s series of reading recommendations, we’ve brought you a couple of short critical reflections that have teased out thematic similarities between some recent collections by #ActualAsianPoets, but this month, in honor of back to school, we’re highlighting a three recent anthology titles (or to be technical, two anthologies and one edited collection of critical prose) that feature #ActualAsianPoets and that we think would be wonderful editions to the classroom this semester.

Kuwento: Lost Things: An Anthology of New Philippine Myths, edited by Rachelle Cruz and Melissa Sipin (Carayan Press, 2014)

Weaving together poetry, prose, and visual art, Kuwento, whose title means “story” in Tagalog, explores the notion of myth as told and retold by voices from the Philippine diaspora. Writes coeditor Melissa R. Sipin in a blog post on Kweli, “It is with this book we hope the invocation of the past is somehow answered, somehow quelled, somehow excavated, and thus reborn—reborn in our own terms, in our own myths, in our own kuwentos.” Containing selections by M. Evelina Galang, Oliver de la Paz, Sarah Gambito, Joseph Legaspi, Barbara Jane Reyes, Brian Ascalon Roley, Aimee Suzara, Eileen Tabios, Nick Carbó, and others, Kuwento appears to be both thoughtfully curated and expansive in its scope. We’d be eager to see it added to syllabuses for Asian American or Filipino Literature courses and workshops on the undergraduate or graduate levels. As with other groundbreaking anthologies such as How Do I Begin? (the seminal Hmong American anthology that we reviewed a few years ago) or Indivisible (the first anthology of South Asian American poetry, which we reviewed here and here), Kuwento could also likely work well in a community workshop context and perhaps even (in excerpted form) for younger students.

Nests and Strangers: On Asian American Women Poets, edited and with an introduction by Timothy Yu; afterword by Mg Roberts (Kelsey Street Press, 2015)

In this slim but mighty volume, Timothy Yu brings together four critical essays by female Asian American literary scholars, each of which focuses on a different pioneering Asian American women poet. Exploring the life and work of Myung Mi Kim, Nellie Wong, Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, and Bhanu Kapil, Nests and Strangers draws together thoughts on both the biographies and aesthetic impulses of each poet in order to better understand the import (and impact) of each of their poetry. It would be a wonderful resource for an advanced undergraduate seminar, especially for one focused on feminist poetics or Asian American literature.

Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genresedited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov (Rose Metal Press, 2015)

Though not specifically an Asian American literature-focused anthology, Family Resemblance encompasses a diverse selection of literary voices, including a number of notable Asian American and Pacific Islander ones (e.g., Kazim Ali, Jenny Boully, Craig Santos Perez). The notion of hybridity is, of course, one that we explored in some depth in our fifth issue, and especially when contextualized with the metaphor of inheritance, as in this anthology, formal hybridity has unmistakable thematic resonances for scholars and students of ethnic studies and postcolonial studies. Personally recommended by our associate editor, Mia, Family Resemblance would fit well into almost any workshop setting (especially one exploring experimental or nontraditional forms) and would also be a wonderful means by which to diversify a syllabus and open doors for deeper consideration of issues of race, class, and gender in the university classroom.

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For those of you who are teachers, what diverse books are you including on your syllabuses this term, and what are some APIA-focused anthologies or critical collections you’ve taught that you’ve found to be especially successful? And if you’re a student, what are your dream APIA lit reading assignments for an inclusive workshop or literature course experience? We’d love to hear from you! Please tell us in the comments or chat with us about it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).

Happy August to all of our readers, and to everyone who’s headed back to school soon, we wish you a smooth transition and a fulfilling academic year!

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

Mohabir_Liu_July2016Feature
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).

 

Editors’ Corner: Two Summer Reads for the Homesick Immigrant Heart

The covers of Melody Gee's THE DEAD IN DAYLIGHT and Fiona Sze-Lorrain's THE RUINED ELEGANCE
Seeking home amid the ruins: Melody Gee’s THE DEAD IN DAYLIGHT and Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s THE RUINED ELEGANCE

It’s the season of travel. Schools are out, the weather is warm, and all over the country, people are preparing for journeys to faraway locations—vacations to new and unfamiliar destinations, but also often returns to the places that they identify as home. Of course, for the immigrant and the child of diaspora, “home” is an inherently complicated construct, riddled through with ghosts—of war, of imperialism, of other kinds of trauma—and with the specters of displacement and isolation and the feeling of perpetual rootlessness. In this June installation of Editors’ Corner, we’re featuring two recent collections by Asian American poets that explore this fraught relationship to geography, migration, and the notion of home.

Melody Gee’s The Dead in Daylight (Cooper Dillon, 2016), her followup to her debut collection (which we previously reviewed here), parses the map of family geography with finely tuned musicality and a delicate and beautifully precise attention to image. In its pages, the reader drifts through an imaginative pastiche that splices together scenes from the domestic and the natural (from the garden to the living room to the hungry sea that laps at the seams of the collection and consumes the speaker’s mother in the final poem) and moves fluidly between the realms of the living, the dead, and the interstitial territory of memory and dream that lies between. At once origin story and narrative of perpetual departure and return, The Dead in Daylight digs undaunted into the wreckage of generational memory, recalling inherited histories of loss and longing and building around them delicate, earthbound constructions: beautiful, otherworldly houses of paper and bone, mud and salt, ink and flesh, that gather together the scattered geographical detritus of the immigrant lens together under their rooves—motherhood and labor, revolution and famine, rituals of birth and burial, the land and the ghosts that inhabit it. The poet intuits the fertile lyric possibility nestled within the silences and undocumented blips in a familial narrative that reaches across continents and generations, and like her speaker, who returns again and again to the garden, she tenderly plants them in earth, where they put down roots and bloom like the speaker’s asclepia (or milkweed plants, favorite flower of the migratory monarch) in “Of What Next,” planted in the faith that what she has buried will one day “call over / butterflies” (16), a crop of brilliant homecomings alighting at journey’s end.

If Gee’s book grapples with a poetics of excavation by rooting, a burrowing into the earth in search of blood and filament with which to anchor the diasporic body, then Singaporean-French-American poet Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s latest collection, The Ruined Elegance (Princeton, 2015), can be said to point its gaze skyward, engaging in a magpie-like poetics of investigation by assemblage, a searching for new meanings and identities under the vast, universal canopy that hangs above the ruins of language, of history, of justice, of place and identity. The poems in Sze-Lorrain’s collection comprise a deftly curated gallery that takes on images of trauma and war (from a survivor’s account of Ravensbruck to scenes from the Cultural Revolution and from apparently contemporary political prison camps) by overlaying and skillfully collaging them together with ideas and images borrowed from European and Asian cultural touchstones. From the classical musical form of the partita (though not one of Bach’s, the poet is careful to note) to Magritte’s iconic The Son of Man to Joseon brush paintings and translated text borrowed from Chinese poets Zhang Zao and Gu Cheng, Sze-Lorrain carefully builds up layers of meaning and beauty around the rubble of written texts and oral narratives that have been erased by the violence of totalitarianism, the fickleness of memory, and the existential complexity of diasporic identity. She allows the ruins to become a kind of aesthetic in themselves, taking the absences as a kind of new form—startling and intentionally unbeautiful among the threads of the shimmering fabric that she weaves about and beneath them, stitching them together as a practitioner of kintsugi, a Japanese technique in which a shattered vessel is repaired by inlaying gold into the veins created by the cracks and missing pieces, might construct a new type of pot out of something once broken. It is here, in the glinting interstices of these carefully rejoined pieces, that Sze-Lorrain’s migratory speaker makes her home: “I want to honor / the invisible,” she says (5), and later, to “turn this ruined thought / into a poem” (45).

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

“Who Gets to Speak for Us?”: On Representation, Gatekeeping, and Community

Iris & Mia at AWP 2016
Iris & Mia at AWP 2016. (Photograph by Elene)

APIA Heritage Month has come and gone, and in its wake, I’m reminded more than ever of the current stakes for our community. It’s been a tumultuous last few months. Beginning in April, just after AWP and as LR was planning its collaboration with the American Bookbinders Museum, a wave of painful incidents once again demonstrated the challenges of Asian American representation. It started when the New Yorker published Calvin Trillin’s racially tone-deaf poem about Chinese food, “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?,” and continued with reports of yet more yellowface casting in Hollywood, a Facebook post by Mark Doty that made sport of the English on a Chinese restaurant’s menu, and, most recently, manifested itself on television, when Ann Coulter insisted that all Asian Americans ought to be referred to as “Mandarins.” With Michael Derrick Hudson’s engagement in literary yellowface in last year’s Best American Poetry and Chris Rock’s use of Asian American children as props at the Oscars still fresh in our memories, we couldn’t be blamed for feeling that lately, the assault has been relentless. Again and again, we’ve seen the Asian American body become yet another object on which others have imposed their own narratives of fear and foreignness. Repeatedly, we’ve found ourselves fighting for the right to own our bodies and the cultural narratives that they inhabit. Throughout all of this, we’ve witnessed the beauty and strength of a community rising up to make itself heard, but we’ve also wrestled with the reality of watching those who’ve spoken out be continually dismissed and silenced.

Kristina Wong speaks out about the prison system during HYPHEN's AWP panel
Kristina Wong speaks out about the prison system during HYPHEN’s AWP panel.

After Calvin Trillin’s poem was published, Asian American writers all over the nation responded en masse, making their criticisms known on Twitter and Facebook, writing letters to the New Yorker, crafting response poems and parodies (many of which the AAWW later documented in this helpful post at the Margins), publishing critical essays (e.g. Timothy Yu’s prescient essay in the New Republic, Paula Young Lee’s incisive article for Slate, Wendy Chin-Tanner’s thoughtful piece at XO Jane, and Neil Aitken’s analysis for the podcast Racist Sandwich’s blog), and giving interviews on the radio (e.g. Hyphen editor Karissa Chen’s appearance on the Heritage Radio Network show, Eat Your Words). The public backlash to these responses was swift and unmerciful. The Huffington Post published a blog post positing that anger was an inappropriate, even unfair, response because of Trillin’s age. Joyce Carol Oates tweeted a ditty that described Trillin as “misunderstood.” Yu, Chen, and countless others who spoke up were harrassed by strangers on social media who characterized them as hysterical, berated their “oversensitivity,” and called their credentials into question. The message, it appeared, was that Asian Americans’ right to speak about our own cultures and experiences, to tell our own stories on our own terms, did not matter—at least, not as much as protecting the right of a white man with considerable privilege and status to speak for us (even if at our expense).

Barbara Jane Reyes reads at the American Bookbinders Museum
Barbara Jane Reyes reads at the American Bookbinders Museum.

The public hostility toward those who dared to question Trillin’s poem was clearly symptomatic of the more general failure to acknowledge the nuances of problematic racial discourse in our country, as well as of the ways in which the voices of people of color are constantly “talked over” by white people in positions of relative power. But Calvin Trillin was not the only party to blame. The editors of the New Yorker failed just as much in their roles as literary gatekeepers: first, when they decided to publish Trillin’s poem, and again, when they declined to address readers’ concerns about its appearance in the magazine. As I watched the bitter aftermath of the incident unfold before me on LR’s social media feeds, I was reminded of something that Barbara Jane Reyes had observed during our reading at the Bookbinders Museum in reference to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée. The question at the heart of the matter for both Cha and Asian American voices today, Reyes said, is always this: Who gets to speak for us? Who gets to tell our stories?

Publishing’s Diversity Problem

AAWW director Ken Chen opens the Asian American caucus at AWP.
AAWW director Ken Chen opens the Asian American caucus at AWP.

The Trillin incident and others of a similar bent have served to highlight one of the most pressing issues in the contemporary publishing industry: in this country, the people who make decisions about whose work gets published, the people who are responsible for selling books, and the people who review books—essentially, those who serve as the gatekeepers for what literature gets read and how works are received and consumed by the public—are an overwhelmingly homogeneous group. According to a recent survey of the publishing industry by Lee and Low, 86% of publishing executives across the industry are white, as are 82% of editorial staff and 89% of book reviewers. Is it any wonder that, even as the demographics of the US population shift toward greater and greater racial diversity, the face of published literature in our country has remained eerily static, and the mainstream publishing industry has found itself ill equipped (or even seemingly disinclined) to adequately represent diverse literary voices?

Where Do We Go from Here?

Poet, activist, and performer Wo Chan shows off a quote from Matthew Olzmann about seeking light in darkness.
Poet, activist, and performer Wo Chan shows off a quote from Matthew Olzmann about seeking light in darkness.

It’s clear to us here at LR that there is great hunger and need within our community. We heard several pressing concerns repeatedly expressed at the Asian American caucus at AWP: How do we build safe, alternative spaces for our communities and for our work? How do we get publishers to pay attention to our writing? How do we build understanding of and appreciation for the value of storytelling, literature, and art within our communities and families? How can we assist students who face lack of institutional support within their programs? How do we ensure that the people who do the work of standard-bearing and gatekeeping in our communities receive credit and compensation for their work, and how do we make sure that we do not allow them to burn out?

We have a tall order set before us. So where can we begin? Here are just a few thoughts.

Continue reading ““Who Gets to Speak for Us?”: On Representation, Gatekeeping, and Community”

How to Prepare for a Conference: Three Simple Tips for Writers

 

Iris's AWP Essentials
One LR editor’s AWP essentials: pens, tablet, notebook, lip balm, snacks, and business cards

AWP 2016 is just around the corner (it’s hard to believe that it’s already next week!), and the Lantern Review team is hard at work preparing to dive into the fray. We’ve written in the past about how important it is for writers of color to optimize community-building opportunities at AWP and conferences like it. That’s easy enough to do if you’re somewhat established and have contacts within an existing network. But for emerging writers, networking at big conferences can sometimes feel anonymous and bewildering. During my first writing conference, I had no idea how to begin connecting with people. What was the appropriate way to strike up a conversation with a poet after a reading? Was I supposed to bring copies of my CV to the bookfair with me? I ended up figuring out most of these things by trial and error. (For the record, there’s no need for CVs at the bookfair!)

Since then, I (and we, as a team here at Lantern Review) have been to many more conferences. We’ve been the editors standing behind the bookfair table talking to first-year MFA students. We’ve been the panelists nodding at shy attendees who’ve worked up the courage to ask us questions. And over the years, we’ve learned that with a little bit of strategic preparation, it’s possible for an emerging writer without many contacts to make a great impression and establish lasting connections at an event of even AWP’s scale.

Here are three simple things that we think every writer should do before a conference in order to lay the groundwork for effective networking:

1. Establish an internet presence.

You’ll meet a lot of people at any conference, but in order to facilitate follow-up, you’ll need to provide your new contacts with a place to land if they look you up online. Of course, not everyone is into social media (and we like what Molly Gaudry has to say about not trying to fake your enthusiasm for it). But even if you can’t tell a hashtag from a Twitter handle, we highly recommend that you create some way for people to search for and find you on the internet after the conference has ended. At the most basic level, we suggest using a free service to set up a simple website or blog for yourself. We know lots of writers who have made great use of sites like Wix and Tumblr, but our personal favorite is WordPress.com, which offers a wide selection of free design templates; employs an easy-to-use interface that doesn’t require coding knowledge; and comes with a powerful website stats plugin that lets you see who is visiting your site and how they’re finding it. However you choose to do it, the following two tips are key: keep the focus of an author website on yourself rather than on a specific book or project of yours (this will give the site greater longevity), and make sure that the full name under which you publish your creative work is in your URL, profile, and/or username (otherwise, readers and editors may have difficulty finding you).

If you already have your own website and/or active social media accounts, the few days before a conference are a good time to make sure that everything there is in order: make sure your most recent publications are listed on your portfolio page; update your author bio and photograph; check that your list of upcoming events is current. After a conference, when you’re no longer interacting with other writers face to face, your web presence is everything, so doing the necessary maintenance work on the front end will enable you to put your best foot forward when you step onto the convention floor.

Continue reading “How to Prepare for a Conference: Three Simple Tips for Writers”

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”

Editors’ Corner: Making the Most of AWP (Without Losing Your Sanity)

Mia and I tabling with our APIA lit mag colleagues at AWP 2013.
Mia and I in the AWP 2013 bookfair with our APIA lit mag colleagues.

AWP 2014 is just around the corner, and although neither Mia nor I can make it this year, I thought that—for those who are going—I would share a bit of what I’ve learned from past years about how to get the most out of the weekend without letting it break me. Don’t get me wrong; I love AWP. It’s an amazing resource and a great opportunity for networking, for encountering new work, for hearing literary heroes read or speak, and for participating in critical and creative exchange with other writers. But AWP is also enormous. It’s filled with thousands of people, the schedule is packed with pages upon pages of events, and the bookfair is filled with hundreds of tables offering items for sale. I can’t claim to speak for everyone, of course, but for writers like me—who happen to be introverts, travel on a budget, and/or struggle with decision paralysis when faced with choices as simple as which variety of dish detergent to purchase—this can sometimes feel incredibly overwhelming. Fortunately, over the course of the five AWP conferences that I’ve attended, I’ve discovered that a little planning and pacing can go a long way toward making my experience healthier, more manageable, and altogether more enjoyable and fulfilling. If you’re going to AWP for the first time this year, or even if you’ve been before and want to minimize the crazy-making aspects of your experience this time, read on for some tips.

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1. Pack light, but be prepared. Check the weather forecast for the host city and try to pack appropriately (the last three years, it snowed heavily during the conference, and I was extremely glad that I had brought my winter boots and thick coat with me). Be sure to pack shoes that you’ll be comfortable walking or standing in for long periods of time, and that will provide you with some measure of protection from wet or cold weather. I also suggest planning to dress in layers during the conference. Especially during colder weather, hotels and conference centers tend to keep their heat up pretty high, and the bookfair in particular can be sweltering with all of the people milling around inside, so it’s a good idea to wear a couple of layers in case you start feeling very warm indoors (overheating inside the building is just as miserable as freezing outdoors). Also, if you have business cards, bring them! And if you don’t, I suggest considering getting a few made up with your name, email address, social media handle(s), and web site if you have one: Overnight Prints offers a great bargain for a solid product; for those who want something a little prettier, I highly recommend Moo.com. Lastly, don’t forget to leave extra room in your suitcase (or to pack a second, collapsible bag that you can pop out and fill up later). You will inevitably come home with books and other treasures, and you’ll want someplace to put them.

2. Plan your schedule selectively and strategically. Before the conference, look at the schedule and decide what events are absolute must-attends for you (if possible try to limit yourself to one of these per day; you’ll inevitably add more on later, but since there are so many events, it’s helpful to begin the conference with a sense of which events you would absolutely regret missing). Once at the conference, re-evaluate every evening, and map out two to three “target” panels to attend the next day, but be flexible. If other panels happen, wonderful! If not (and even if you don’t make it to all the events you’d planned to go to), don’t kick yourself. If you find that you really need a nap instead of attending that reading, take the nap (if you fall asleep while sitting in the audience at the reading, you’ll be missing it anyway).

Continue reading “Editors’ Corner: Making the Most of AWP (Without Losing Your Sanity)”

Editors’ Corner: Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2014 (Part 1)

Books We're Looking Forward to in 2014, Part 1It’s the first month of the new year, and so much news about exciting new books has come across our desk of late that we thought we’d put together a couple of roundup posts in order to put some of the titles that we’re most looking forward to reading in the coming year on your radar.  In today’s post (part 1), I’ll be discussing six recently published titles (five full-length books and one chapbook) that have made top priority on my to-read list for 2014. Part 2 (which will follow next week) will focus on forthcoming books that are due out in 2014.

Note: the books discussed below appear alphabetically by author; the order in which they’re listed does not reflect any sort of ranking or order of preference. (We’re equally excited about all of them!)

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The Arbitrary Sign by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé (Red Wheelbarrow, 2013)

Desmond Kon is a two-time contributor to LR (his work appears in both issue 1 and issue 5), and both times that we’ve published him, Mia and I had a really hard time choosing just two of the poems he’d sent in each batch. Desmond’s work interests itself in philosophy, visual art, pop culture, and the sounds and textures of language: he is interested in dadaism and in other forms of the avant-garde, and has a unique gift for finding the music in both “high” language (such as academic jargon) and “low” forms of speech—slang, text speak, gossip column patter. The genius of his poems lies in their polyglot nature—the way that he mixes contrasting modes of speech and weaves easily in and out of a variety of languages. His pieces work because there is a delightfully haphazard quality to their approach, a lightness that plays against both the weight of the poems’ scale and subject matter and the deliberate care with which the poet has gathered, built up, and sculpted their many intricate layers of texture and pattern. Desmond, a highly prolific writer, has published multiple chapbooks (both in the US and in his home city-state of Singapore) and has a long list of journal and anthology credits to his name—and for good reason. I’ve no doubt The Arbitrary Sign—a philosophical twist on the form of the classic alphabet book—will be as delightful as the rest of his body of work.

For a sneak peek at The Arbitrary Sign, head on over to Kitaab to read six of the poems that appear in the collection.

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Kala Pani by Monica Mody (1913 Press, 2013)

This is a book I’ve been looking forward to for a long while now. Monica wrote for us as a staff reviewer from 2010 through 2011, and we later had the privilege of getting to publish a poem of hers in issue 4. Her work is deeply invested in myth and parable, and the textures of her writing are rich and sinuously complex—by turns liquid and transparent, and by others, knotty and grotesque. She has an exceptionally keen ear for music and magic, both of which suffuse her work.  I had the pleasure of getting to read and workshop portions of Kala Pani back in 2009. It is a hybrid piece (partway between poetry and prose) that takes up the narrative of a group of world travellers who converge around an ancient tree.  In it, the poet deftly plies together the fibers of what at first appears to be an allegory-like story, only to tease and unspun these threads mid-strand and remake them again (differently) in the next breath. What I admired most about the manuscript when I saw it in workshop was the way in which the tapestry of the piece’s language shatters and shifts at a moment’s notice—like quicksilver. Monica is a brilliant critical thinker, in addition to being a talented poet, and it shows in the deeply intelligent nature of her writing: though she is keen to investigate notions of trauma,  geography, time, race, gender, spirituality, etc., her writing neither preaches endlessly nor holds to an overly simplistic view of the political: rather, she holds questions up to a mirror, testing them on a knife’s edge. She recognizes that the notions of place and identity are inherently fraught with instability, and she both celebrates and problematizes this complexity: the characters of which she writes transform and bleed into one another, metamorphose and cycle back to avatars of themselves, over and over again, in many different ways. It’s been a couple of years since 1913 first announced that it had acquired Kala Pani, and now that the book is finally out, I can’t wait to read the finished product.

Excerpts of Kala Pani can be found at The Volta, the Boston Review, and Lies/Isle.

Continue reading “Editors’ Corner: Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2014 (Part 1)”

Editors’ Corner: On the Practice of Ordering Things (A Reflection)

Issue 6 poems up on the wall, ready to be "ordered."
Issue 6 poems up on the wall, ready to be “ordered” during editorial meeting.

As the days have begun to grow shorter and colder, I’ve found myself delving more and more into “housekeeping” mode. Perhaps the barrage of commercial hoopla heralding the distant holiday season is partly to blame (astoundingly, the “seasonal” marketing seems to have started in September this year), but there is also something about the circumstances inherent in this particular change of seasons that seems to have kept me in a constant state of culling and curating, collecting and planning. This month, I’ve found myself flipping my closet; ruthlessly meal-planning to accommodate busy weeknights; moving and arranging furniture (I’ve just moved into a new office space at work); plotting out a steady stream of gifts (baby gifts, wedding gifts, Christmas gifts); and in the midst of it all—editing poetry.

These past couple of weeks, Mia and I have been hard at work puzzling out the order in which the poems in Issue 6 will appear. “Ordering” the poems in an issue is often one of the toughest parts of the editorial process for us, but it’s also one of the most significant (and the most rewarding!). It’s the first time in the process when an issue begins to take on a rough shape, and it’s this shape that serves as a guide for us as we develop and implement the visual elements of the issue (decisions about layout, typesetting, etc.) during the production process. When we think about ordering an issue, we consider not just the overall “arc” (with respect to things like theme, sonics, pacing), but also how each poem will speak to the poems on either side of it. Some poems automatically suggest points of entry, or finality, while others can help to build the energy of a sequence, or to create needed moments of breath or pause.  We’re aware, of course, that as we are an online literary magazine, most people who encounter us are probably not in the habit of reading a given issue straight through (such is the nature of the internet, in which content is infinitely compartmentalize-able). But it is still important to us that there be a type of logic to how each issue is arranged—a sort of underlying lyric argument, if you will—to delight the reader who does choose to start at the front matter and read straight through.

Every time we finish ordering an issue, it feels like a red-letter occasion. I feel as if we’ve been given our first glimpse of a baby via ultrasound: the issue has begun to grown limbs; soon we will be able to see its tiny fingers and toes. Something about the outcome of the process feels life-giving, sustaining. I get a deep sense of satisfaction from experimenting with different arrangements, from asking how different configurations of the pieces in front of us might communicate differently as a whole, depending how they are arranged. Perhaps it’s partly my obsessive nature speaking (I am, after all, the kind of person who does not like the salad to touch the rice on her plate), but I think there is also something to be said for the benefit of this process of ordering, of arrangement—essentially, the act of editing—as a discipline for myself as an artist, as well.  In stepping back from the work before us and considering how it operates in a greater context, I’m forced to think outside of myself and my own experience of any particular piece. I’m forced to think about the argument of the work we are presenting as a body, to craft an experience for the reader that is not only enjoyable and surprising, but also strategic in its emphasis. Do we want to place this very short poem between these two much-longer pieces? Perhaps yes, if there is enough of a sense of space in the short poem to create a needed pause or breath—but then again, perhaps not, if the shorter poem will be unfairly dwarfed by the longer pieces on either side of it. Do we want the reader to enter the issue in medias reswith a poem that provides the feeling of being invited along on a journey that’s already in progress? Or will the overall arc of the issue be better served by an entry poem that can serve as a sort of prologue for the trajectory of the work to come? If we place these two poems next to one another, do we risk the reader misunderstanding the first line of the latter because of the way that the former ends? If we don’t keep this group of poems in the order in which they came to us, are we violating the author’s intended sense of narrative? Or do we need to arrange these poems differently in order to create a more seamless transition between the group and the mood of the pieces that come before and after it?

In some sense, this type of conversation is not so different from the ongoing one that I, as a writer, must continually have with myself about my own work—whether on the level of the line, or on a more macro scale (at the level of a manuscript, or even at the level of archetype, or genre, or the critical fields of study with which my work is concerned). How do the elements that make up my body of work speak to one another, and how do they speak to the conversation that is already being held out there in the rest of the world? This is a set of questions that I must constantly ask myself if I am to remain engaged and grounded as an artist. Editing the work of others—and in particular, working on each new issue of LR—has simultaneously sharpened me as an editor of my own work. I’m a better artist for it, and I’m grateful for the opportunities it’s given me to challenge myself and to grow.

Editors’ Corner: What is the Landscape of APIA Literature?

Our crowd-sourced map at AWP 2013.
Our crowd-sourced map at AWP 2013.

“What is the Landscape of APIA Literature?” reads the poster board map of the United States that I’ve stuck up on my bedroom wall. Red, green, and blue dots cluster over the black sharpie outlines of its borders, clotting layer upon layer in some locations (e.g. NYC, LA, SF, New England), and scattering more sparsely across others (there’s two lonely blue dots huddled together in the southeastern-most corner of South Dakota; while several states—such as Alaska, Idaho, Oklahoma, and New Mexico—remain blank). A key in the right hand corner provides some interpretation: green dots stand for people who identify as writers and readers (and/or publishers) of Asian/Pacific Islander American (APIA) literature, red for those who identify as readers (but not writers) of APIA lit, and blue for those who identify as neither a reader nor a writer of APIA lit, but are curious to learn more.

The information on this map was “crowd-sourced” a few months ago at our the AWP bookfair table, where we and three other APIA lit mags (Kartika Review, TAYO Magazine, and Hyphen) invited passers-by to add dots representing themselves to the map according to the place of origin with which they most identified and their relationship to APIA literature. One of the things that struck us immediately was how very open people were to our invitation to “map” themselves. The act of adding oneself to a map carries its own particular appeal. To place yourself on a map is to make a statement about one’s identity; to declare one’s origins; to make one’s mark on a place; to speak for and represent oneself amidst a larger community. In the context of a conference as bewilderingly large and far-flung as AWP, especially, that seemed particularly important.

Continue reading “Editors’ Corner: What is the Landscape of APIA Literature?”