Arhm Choi Wild’s “At What Cost” (Featured Poem)

Photo of Arhm Choi Wild by Katharine Reece. Author with long, black hair, smiling broadly at the camera and wearing a baby blue-and-white baseball cap, a pale blue, short-sleeved,  buttoned shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, a watch with a white band, and a cream tie that has blue and taupe diagonal stripes. The subject's left arm is raised and her hand placed behind her head in a jaunty, carefree fashion.
Arhm Choi Wild (Photo by Katharine Reece | IG: @kereecespeeces)

In honor of Pride Month, we’re sharing spoken word artist Arhm Choi Wild‘s poem “At What Cost,” an intimate exploration of the price of claiming queer identity in many Asian and Asian American communities, here on the blog. This powerful piece requires little explanation—but in keeping with our goal to be a space that seeks to highlight not just Asian American poetic production but also craft, process, and performance, we’ve also asked the poet to reflect upon about the writing of this poem and what it meant to her. Here is Wild—in her own words.

* * *

I wrote this poem when I was living in Seoul in an attempt to relearn the language that I had lost for the sake of assimilating into my American privilege. I lived there for six months, a foreigner in my homeland, to gather any Korean that would allow me to talk freely with my mother. If I were more fluent in Korean, could she understand my queerness and therefore accept it? If I had the words to express how, despite her fears, I was loved by a chosen family, would she be able to open her heart? If I gained this depth, would that make up for the closet I had agreed to live in while living in Korea?

I started to wonder if the hyphen in my Asian-American identity meant that I was constantly working an equation: my homeland at the cost of my full self, physical affection at the cost of queerness. Though this poem doesn’t imagine the ideal world where we all are allowed to be ourselves without apology, I wanted to show how complicated the deals are that we broker in order to love not only the motherland but also the self that simultaneously belongs and remains a stranger. Pride is such an important month to celebrate because of these equations that often point to lossand that we continue to strive to claim what is ours despite the potential of a closed door or a door that only allows part of us inside.

* * *

Arhm Choi Wild

At What Cost

Arhm Wild, “At What Cost”

Gay people don’t exist in Seoul, South Korea

don’t get dragged behind cars or dream of lynching ropes
don’t scream underneath burning houses or the fire hose
don’t orgasm, don’t lose their teeth and then their dentures
don’t forget their tampons, don’t make love in the bathtub
and again on the floor because they have fallen in love twice
that day, don’t run a finger over a cheek, wake up for a second
to pull themselves closer, don’t pick up a hammer to bust in
an idea, don’t dream, don’t fuck, don’t say I love you, don’t
dream of fucking to say I love you, don’t skip brushing their teeth
don’t try to stay friends with their exes, because in Korea
gay people don’t exist.

But let me tell you what does.
Let me tell you what has come
from this homophobia
turned homo-blind on these streets
where glamorous ginkgo trees
stand guard.

A group of boys moves off the sidewalk
to give me space.
Boy on left with his hand in back pocket
of boy in the middle who reaches over
to brush the hair out of other boy’s eyes,
all three laughing,
all free to show love in this homo-blind world.

I walk past the boys, duck into a food stall.
It’s cold so I ask for the hot fish soup,
look up from styrofoam cup
to see a woman with her hand on the thigh of a friend,
a finger going up to wipe off a cheek and kiss it
all as part of the conversation
easy like punctuation marks, regular like periods.

My family is no different.
My aunt walks down the street holding my hand
as cars rush by kicking up the dirty ginkgo leaves.
Later that day, another relative talks to me
with the help of her hand on my knee
because I can’t speak deep in Korean.

They touch me with no idea
of what a woman’s hands have meant to me,
how the ways they curl around a coffee cup
or flip through a book have turned me on.
In my motherland,
I don’t dare ask how to say gay
because I’m afraid the word
doesn’t exist.

At what cost
can men get the affection
they need from other men?
At what cost
do I turn all past lovers into men,
Sarah into Samuel, Megan into Mark?
At what cost
will I come out to my family
and have them still see me?

It is for the cost of loving this country,
of finally feeling like I fit in,
like I have found the people
to whom I belong.

Gay people don’t exist in Korea,
and I am holding back a tongue
that could break this mirage
because seeing men not afraid to hold hands
and fix each other’s ties is too beautiful—
beautiful like a kiss
in the naked soft of morning,
beautiful like a mother
welcoming her daughter home.

* * *

Arhm Choi Wild is a Kundiman fellow from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who holds an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She was a finalist for the Jake Adam York Prize in 2019 and has been published in the anthology Daring to Repair by Wising Up Press and in the magazines Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, Split this Rock, Foglifter, Two Hawks Quarterly, TRACK//FOUR, Peal, Otoliths, and Scholars & Rogues. She has worked as an
educator in New York City for the last six years and has competed in poetry slams and performed across the country, including at Brave New Voices, the New York City Poetry Festival, the Bowery Poetry Club, the Michigan Theater, and Asheville WordFest.

On Poetry Potlucks, Part III – Guest’s Perspective (Elaine Wang)

Poetry Potlucks - Elaine Wang's Perspective
“I think part of the acceptance . . . comes from the potluck part, from the cakes and the dumplings. If you’re a decent human being, it’s almost impossible to not be kind with people with whom you’ve just broken bread.”—Elaine Wang

Guest Curated By Neil Aitken

For this installment of “On Poetry Potlucks,” our guest curator Neil has invited Elaine Wang, one of the guests at his very first poetry potluck (and an LR Issue 1 contributor), to reflect upon her experience. In today’s post, Elaine regales us with a tale of cake; rocks and mysterious masseuses; and the solace that she found through the group of sympathetic strangers gathered there.

* * *

There is so much cake.

I am at Neil’s first ever poetry potluck, and I’m mostly wondering how three people are going to eat two full-sized cakes.  And these are optimal condition cakes—one is a green tea roll with icing inside and the other gently sandwiches layers of jellied fruit.

I think I ate four pieces of cake that night, and that was just dessert.  Neil had made his famous sweet potato dumplings for dinner.

But more on the poetry part and less on the potluck part—after spending some time catching up and getting to know one another, Neil led Ngoc and I through a generative writing exercise designed to find the “heart of the poem” through bringing together seemingly disparate pieces of our lives and finding their points of contact.

I learned that I am obsessed with doors and a rock.  Not rocks, a single small, smooth rock.  Namely, the scented, wet rock a massage therapist had laid in the hole where my clavicles meet after an almost two and a half hour massage.  The massage was only supposed to be an hour and a half, but the massage therapist later commented that he had lost track of time because he had been so immersed in working on my body because it was in one of the best conditions of his clients (at this point of my life, I had been dancing more regularly in jazz and ballet).  I had felt it, too.  The whole session felt like a weird, non-sexual but completely physical communion.  For the next two weeks I was wracked with the following questions: Did he just leave rocks in everyone’s necks?  Was this a secret come-on, since it’s so taboo in professional massage therapist/client relations?  If I went back to try and find him (I didn’t know his name, and I got the massage through a Groupon), would they throw me out and would I be tagged on some sort of creeper list?

Continue reading “On Poetry Potlucks, Part III – Guest’s Perspective (Elaine Wang)”

On Poetry Potlucks: Part II – Guest’s Perspective (Jeremy Ra)

Poetry Potlucks - Jeremy Ra's Perspective
“We picture poets in the fragile grasp of a nocturne at dawn . . . not munching on pasta and fish fillet. Yet here it was, unintimidating . . . basic.”—Jeremy Ra

Guest Curated By Neil Aitken

In this installment of “On Poetry Potlucks,” our guest curator Neil cedes the floor to one of his past potluck guests, Jeremy Ra, who reflects upon the significance that his first experience at a poetry potluck held for him as a writer.

* * *

To Eat Enough Was
made three seasons, summer
and winter and autumn third
and fourth spring when
there is blooming but to eat enough
is not.
—Alkman fragment 20, quoted in Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson

“Dying” seems to precede almost any mention of poetry in the media nowadays, as if poets do not deal with death enough that we need to prepare for the imminent bereavement of the medium as a whole. We perceive this almost as an assault—cast as vanguards of the old, the out-of-touch that failed to catch up to the modern times. That it is begrudgingly, yet unquestioningly, recognized as “art” only makes matters worse. (“It’s an acquired taste,” I’ve heard. “I just don’t get it,” I’ve been told.) Its implications are great as it refines the most basic of tools we use to form a community, yet its efforts mostly fail to captivate a large audience. (“Doesn’t it need to rhyme?” I’ve been asked.) At times, it feels we shoulder this burden alone; chained Prometheus whose heart is poked out daily for his gift that furthered the human civilization.

I think that’s why I find most poetry workshops to have a feel of a support group veiling over them at all times. We are there to pay tribute to what most people in the outside world had forgotten. We hold the corpses of our poetic veterans in our hands as we read their works. We bid them well by trying to create something of our own that says some of us remember—let’s be honest here, you’re not at the happiest place on earth. Despite the invaluable kinship I felt with fellow poets (not to mention the impeccable feedbacks that transformed my poems from malformed placentas into near-swans), I fell into a workshop limbo and retreated my poems into the solitary confines.

Continue reading “On Poetry Potlucks: Part II – Guest’s Perspective (Jeremy Ra)”

On Poetry Potlucks: Part I – How to Start a Poetry Potluck

The table at a past poetry potluck (Photo by An Xiao)
The table at a past poetry potluck (Photo by An Xiao)

A Guest Post by Neil Aitken

Neil Aitken
Neil Aitken

Editors’ Note: We welcome Boxcar Poetry Review editor and Issue 4 contributor Neil Aitken to the blog this summer as he guest-curates a short series for us about his poetry potlucks, a unique tradition combining food and literary community that he began several months ago in his L.A. apartment. Over the course of the next few weeks, Neil will be sharing about his experiences hosting and developing the concept of the poetry potluck, and may even invite a few of his past guests to share theirexperiences, as well.

In this week’s post, Neil discusses some of the background behind his poetry potlucks and provides some practical pointers about what it takes to host such a gathering. We hope that this post, as well as the rest of the series, will inspire you to carve out time to break bread with other members of the literary community where you live–and to maybe even begin a poetry potluck tradition of your own.

* * *

Whether you live in the big city or in a small town, writing tends to be a lonely labor and we often find ourselves craving opportunities to discuss our work and our interests with others who share a passion for literature and the arts.  Writing retreats like Kundiman and VONA are certainly helpful in providing us with safe spaces for sharing our work and inspiring us to innovate—they also provide us with the chance to meet fellow writers and artists who are exploring and challenging the contemporary literary landscape.  Once the retreat is over though, often, unless we live someplace with a significant population of our fellow participants, we’ll return home to our original communities and find ourselves back where we started (at least in terms of face-to-face contact).  While we may stay in touch with our new friends and peers through email and Facebook, these forms of contact still pale in comparison to time spent together.

One possible solution is to create our own spaces of sharing and interaction.   For the past several months, I’ve been doing this by hosting poetry potlucks in my little apartment in Los Angeles.

Potlucks are a powerful way of building community—they encourage sharing and interaction.  For my poetry potlucks, I ask each participant to bring a dish and a poem to share.  People often bring food that they’ve prepared at home, but it’s also perfectly fine to bring something store-bought.  My neighborhood is full of great restaurants, bakeries, and grocery stores, so even a late arrival can pick something up on the way in.

Likewise, there are no fixed rules about what type of poetry needs to be shared.  I let my guests know that the potluck isn’t a formal workshop—they are welcome to bring something finished that they want to share as a way of introducing others to their current projects, or they can bring copies of something they want feedback on.  The emphasis should always be on dialogue and exchange—a poetry potluck promotes active and engaging discussion, book and movie recommendations, brainstorming, and hopefully a fair bit of cross-pollination and creative inspiration.

These poetry potlucks have been a big hit here in Los Angeles—largely because they fill a vital role, providing a space where community is born and fostered.   Here are some suggestions and tips I’ve learned over the past year’s worth of poetry potlucks.  Hopefully these ideas will be helpful to you if you’re interested in creating a poetry potluck or something similar in your own community.

Continue reading “On Poetry Potlucks: Part I – How to Start a Poetry Potluck”

Review: Karen An-Hwei Lee’s PHYLA OF JOY

PHYLA OF JOY
Karen An-Hwei Lee’s PHYLA OF JOY

A Guest Post by Eugenia Leigh

Phyla of Joy by Karen An-Hwei Lee | Tupelo Press 2012 | $16.95

Eugenia Leigh
Eugenia Leigh

When entering Karen An-hwei Lee’s mysterious world of silver eucalyptus groves and Holy Spirits, the temptation is to dissociate. To keep that ethereal realm separate from the mud-and-waste Earth most of us know. But Lee’s power lies in her ability to unite both worlds. Instead of distancing the Divine from cigarettes and kitchen fires, Lee welcomes the one into the other. But the startling result isn’t a third world tangled with dichotomies. The result is Phyla of Joy, a portrait of the world we live in, but reclaimed through gracious eyes that somehow inject light into everything from famine to girls born with cleft palates.

Lee prepares her reader for this new world with her epigraphs, the first of which comes from a Davidic psalm: “For with You is the fountain of life; / in Your light we see light.” Immediately, the following formula is established: to find light on Earth, Lee’s poems—and we readers—will need to rely on the light of the divine “You.”

This “formula” seems simple enough, but how much effort does it really take for our generally afflicted human selves to seek out that otherworldly light? Lee addresses that tension between being human and craving something beyond-human in the book’s first poem, “Yingri.” In the Tupelo Press reader’s companion to Phyla of Joy, she notes that yingri is a Chinese word composed of two characters. While Lee tells us that the second character translates to “sun,” she allows the meaning of the first character to remain ambiguous in its multiple possible translations: “shadow,” “eagle,” “to reflect.”

The poem’s two stanzas add to our understanding of yingri’s duality. The first stanza, representative of earth and ying with its many meanings, reads:

Inside me is a bridge, or the beams of a house,
and an old ground swell beneath a garden boat.

The speaker’s observations in this stanza reflect the multiple meanings of ying with the word “or,” which reveals both the speaker’s uncertain sense of her human self and also the possibility of additional manmade constructions buried within her.

The second stanza constitutes ri—the sun and its associations with divinity:

Outside, on an acre of snow,
a winter sun, blinding.

What appears to be a small, four-line opening poem speaks volumes when pitted against the rest of the collection. We asked earlier how people can invite supernatural light into a worldly existence. And here is the answer: by blinding.

Continue reading “Review: Karen An-Hwei Lee’s PHYLA OF JOY”

Review | Tribalism’s Return: Bao Phi’s SÔNG I SING

Bao Phi's SONG I SING
Bao Phi's SONG I SING

A Guest Post by Greg Choy

Sông I Sing by Bao Phi | Coffee House Press 2011 | $16

Greg Choy
Greg Choy

After reading Bao Phi’s remarkable collection of poems, Sông I Sing, I was reminded of an incident that occurred about ten years ago when I was an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. I was attending a panel discussion at UMinn entitled, simply, “Asian American Poetry,” sponsored in large part by Minnesota Poets Society, and was greatly looking forward to listening to two acclaimed Asian American poets speak on the topic. Disappointingly, the only thing the Society members, through their persistent questions about it, seemed interested in was the “poetic process”—and more particularly a process devoid of those nattering issues about race, identity, or politics. Toward the end of the discussion, an elderly white woman, clearly a senior member of the eminent Society, raised her hand and said, “Well, after listening to you both talk about your poetry, I’m wondering why we need to apply the name ‘Asian American’ to your poetry at all.” To my astonishment, at the time, both poets—both award-winning Asian American poets—agreed that the term “Asian American” as it’s applied to their poetry or to them as poets, felt limiting if not downright debilitating.

Such a response has its precedent. It’s reflective of the conundrum of the ethnic writer: how to keep from falling into the binary of either writing to a prescribed aesthetic steeped in a history of political ideology or writing as a fully realized individual shaped by an accumulation of discrete, personal experiences. It ‘s a false binary, of course, as a number of Asian American poetry anthologies have already shown, from The Open Boat: Poems From Asian America, edited by Garrett Hongo, to Premonition:The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry, edited by Walter Lew, and Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation edited by Victoria Chang. All three anthologies rally around the diversity of themes and poets as opposed to a unifying call to some singular identity and community. Though anchored from a historical perspective to linear coordinates such as identity construction and political ideology, Asian American poetry is not bound to those coordinates. It is a fluid, changing body of work in time and space.

Continue reading “Review | Tribalism’s Return: Bao Phi’s SÔNG I SING”

Review: Two Works by Ronaldo V. Wilson

Ronaldo V. Wilson
Two Works by Ronaldo V. Wilson

A Guest Post by Stephen Hong Sohn, Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University

Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Manby Ronaldo V. Wilson | U of Pittsburgh Press 2008 | $14

Poems of the Black Objectby Ronaldo V. Wilson | FuturePoem Books 2009 | $15

Stephen Hong Sohn
Stephen Hong Sohn

In this review, I discuss Ronaldo V. Wilson’s Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man (University of Pittsburgh Press 2008) and Poems of the Black Object (FuturePoem Books 2009). Wilson’s first full-length poetry collection might be more specifically described as prose poetry, as implied by its title. There are really no formal line breaks throughout the collection, so one is forced to consider what makes such a work poetry as opposed to prose. This genre-defying work’s title also clearly derives inspiration from two canonical African American literary texts: Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. In Wilson’s title, there isn’t any mention of the word “slave,” but the impulse to explore the conditions of subjection and domination are still very much there. Wilson’s work thus seems to enact a neo-slave “poetic” as derived through the queer racial minority’s subjectivity. The reference to the “brown boy” and the “white man” in the title also helps situate what actually occurs in the prose poetry blocks throughout the collection. “Brown boy” suggests that the lyric “I” is a mixed-race subject and likely an adult, but clearly one who does not have much access to economic resources. He is engaged in a homosexual relationship with “White Man,” someone likely older and with clearly far more money than the “Brown Boy.” Racial difference, class difference, and age difference, among other such distinctions, generate the rubrics of power and domination that mark the tension between “white man” and the “brown boy.”   Wilson’s work is raw, dense, and does not shy away from difficult topics, as demonstrated by the following excerpt, which is fairly indicative of the stylistic impulses of the collection:

“Go Shower. This command reveals [the brown boy’s] relationship to the white man. He follows his lover’s orders like a slave without anything but the promise of being fed and shown a movie” (64).

Continue reading “Review: Two Works by Ronaldo V. Wilson”

Curated Prompt: Stephen Hong Sohn – “Food Pornography Poems”

Stephen Hong Sohn

This May, as part of our celebration of APIA Heritage Month, we have been asking teachers and writers of Asian American poetry to share favorite writing exercises with us.  This week, in acknowledgement of the fact that the work of reading and theorizing Asian American poetry is as important as the work of writing it, we’re changing things up a bit by adding a perspective from the world of literary criticism to the mix.  For today’s Curated Prompt, we have the privilege of collaborating with one of our regular guest contributors—Asian American Literature scholar and Stanford professor Stephen Hong Sohn—as he writes about one of his aesthetic interests and shares, for the very first time, a sample of his own (hitherto secret!) creative work.

Alexis Kienlen’s She Dreams in Red begins with my favorite kind of poem: the “food pornography” poem, which immediately problematizes issues of authenticity and Asian American identity. The lyric speaker often contemplates ethnic heritage as routed through her mixed-race background. What does it mean to so unabashedly crave ethnic foods, the lyric speaker seems to ask?  What can one claim ownership over, and what can one not?

Here is an excerpt from the opening poem, entitled “Chinese Café”:

“i want to savour pork dumplings,
dribble hoisin, garlic and black bean sauce over rice,
want to twist and drip noodles into my mouth,
lick my lips” (11).

The ending of the poem leaves us with this line: “this Chinese café stays open all night,” and we, as voracious readers, couldn’t really be happier.

Marking ethnicity is always a challenge within poems, but many Asian American poets such as Li-Young Lee and Aimee Nezhukumatathil have been able to explore gastronomic tropes with much complexity, and often with much humor.  At once, we understand that food can mark ethnicity, but that it can also be deconstructed or employed to complicate superficial consumptive habits. Food also provides a particularly rich terrain of vocabulary. As someone who can’t cook myself, I find cookbooks endlessly fascinating and endlessly ethnic. Frank Chin once made a scathing critique of writers who employ food pornography as a way to mark themselves as native informants, but it’s difficult to know when excess is intended or not. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll intend to push this excess, as Kienlen does when craving those “wontons” and “custard tarts” (11). Here is a food pornography poem I’d like to share:

Vietnamese food pornography poem #2: the sacred and profane

on this misted early morning
the haze ever so beta-particulate
japan’s nuclear crisis compared to Chernobyl
but culinary erotics distract me
the sensuous curve of the baked egg tart from Kang Lac
hand pressed pork puffs and steaming pork buns
so coy under the dim lights of Asian Garden Mall
Yum Cha Café boasts the understated elegance
of coconut crusted mochi balls with taro curd filling
flirtatious with such pliant, feathered skins
next door, Bánh Mi Saigon delivers me
into succulent hybridities: liver pâté, cold cut meats,
pickled carrots and turnips, all on French baguettes
postcolonial oriental cosmic

can i be so apolitically gastronomic
in these electromagnetic times
what intersections do i allow at Bolsa and Magnolia?
vendors at food stalls gesture in Vietnamese
frown, furrowed brows, shrugged shoulders
i profess that i am purely Korean
retreat into a bustling noodle shop
where my psychic sukiyaki emits a spectral glow,
brains scrambled in sinewy ramen, measured in sieverts
tripe floats on radioactive, soupy currents
bulgogi strips infesting this curry-flavored broth
as i later salt my phở with iodine and wasabi

Now, let’s see your version of a “food pornography” poem.

Prompt: write a poem that engages greedily, lasciviously—even pornographically—with the sensual pleasures of consuming “home” or “ethnic” foods in order to challenge, reimagine, or push familiar culinary markers of ethnicity into the realm of playful excess.

* * *

Stephen Hong Sohn is an Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University.

Review: Shin Yu Pai’s ADAMANTINE

Shin Yu Pai's ADAMANTINE

A Guest Post by Stephen Hong Sohn, Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University

Adamantine by Shin Yu Pai | White Pine Press 2010 | $16

Adamantine, as the title reflects, is a collection filled with luster, gleaming with deep insight, and further characterized by an ethereal landscape, focused on emotional connections, on spirituality, on death, and on the afterlife.  Pai’s work travels both within and outside of ethnic and racial frames, thus complicating any transparent categorization of the collection as “Asian American” literature.

Stephen H. Sohn

Nevertheless, the political character of many of her poems does make Adamantine speak to many of the field’s traditional concerns.    I begin this review further into the collection, with what I believe is the larger project of the work.   In “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Vulture,”  Pai’s lyric speaker considers the responsibilities of one who chronicles the lives of others:

eye
of the witness
the I of the commentator

grubby children at the rim
of a Guatemala dump
stunned orphans in Russia (76)

The homonyms of “eye” and “I” function in different contexts, both on the level of ‘one who watches’ and ‘one who speaks.’ The following lines accordingly consider the issue of witnessing, with respect to the plight of global poverty. What is the responsibility of the lyric speaker, Adamantine continually asks, with respect to voice and sight?  In that vein, I’d like to concentrate on one of the overall lyric approaches that Pai takes, which is to place current events and historical figures in comparative perspective.  As part of Pai’s relational approach, the collection opens fittingly with an epigraph from Michael Ondaatje’s novel Anil’s Ghost.  The passage from which Pai excerpts refers to prayers and mantras and explores how such spiritual inscriptions speak to individual loss and to aesthetic beauty.  At the same time, by invoking Anil’s Ghost, Pai sets Adamantine firmly within a tradition that queries human rights and global conflict.  Perhaps we are not surprised, then, when we find that the first poem’s title is “This is not My Story,” as if to immediately query the autobiographical impulse of the confessional lyric.   The lyric stories of “Adamantine” are often those of Asian or Asian American figures who move beyond the speaker, including Thich Quang Duc in “Burning Monk,” where the lyric speaker repeats, as a kind of mantra, “his heart refusing to burn / his heart refusing to burn / his heart refusing to burn” (19).  Of course, Thich Quang Duc is most famously known for his self-immolation in protest of the Vietnam War.  The use of the word “heart” arcs out across this collection.  We are reminded in the very first poem, “This is not my Story,” that the “human heart is / a wholly different animal, / we must sense when to give in / before the other gives up” (11).  The importance of emotion and affect imbues the lyric speaker with a kind of power, leading her toward a pathway that involves spiritual reawakening.  Another figure invoked is James Kim, the Korean American who died tragically when he and his family were caught in a winter snowstorm in Oregon. The lyric speaker gestures again to loss, but contextualizes his death within the frame of sacrifice, as James had attempted to situate help for his family despite the possibility that he could have succumbed to the austere weather conditions.

Continue reading “Review: Shin Yu Pai’s ADAMANTINE”

On the Small Press and Asian American Poetry: Tupelo Press

A selection of offerings from Tupelo Press's list

A Guest Post by Stephen Hong Sohn, Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University

Stephen H. Sohn

In an earlier post, I had the chance to discuss the exciting growth in Asian American cultural production via the small press, especially as it has impacted poetic projects and publications.  In this post, I’d like to concentrate on Tupelo Press, another small press that has developed an outstanding catalog which includes both Asian and Asian American poets.  Among the offerings in Tupelo’s current catalog are:

Night, Fish, and Charlie Parker by Phan Nhien Hao (translated by Linh Dinh)

Abiding Places by Ko Un

Ardor by Karen An-hwei Lee

Why is the Edge Always Windy? by Mong-Lan

At the Drive-In Volcano by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Miracle Fruit by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

In the Mynah Bird’s Own Words (chapbook) by Barbara Tran

In this post, I will concentrate most specifically on Barbara Tran’s In the Mynah Bird’s Own Words, Karen An-hwei Lee’s Ardor and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s At the Drive-In Volcano and Miracle Fruit.

Tran’s chapbook is one that I have chosen to teach for my Introduction to Asian American Literature course.  What I find so breathtaking about Tran’s work is her clarity of image, which always imparts a precise sense of a given moment or time through its use of lyric.  The chapbook also has a clear sense of lyrical trajectory.  The earlier poems seem to be invested in rooting out heritage and ethnic origin, especially as rendered through a growing romantic relationship.  The latter poems dig more deeply into the diasporic trajectory.  It is here where the chapbook becomes more autobiographically inflected.

Continue reading “On the Small Press and Asian American Poetry: Tupelo Press”