In celebration of our magazine’s ten-year anniversary, we’re catching up with past contributors this summer via our process profile series. In today’s profile, Issue 6 contributor Brynn Saito reflects back on her poem “Dinuba, 1959.”
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Inspired by communion with a photograph, this short poem inquires into the life and spirit of my mother, Janelle Oh Saito. In the photograph, my mother is about five years old, appearing as the poem describes: bright-eyed before the Dinuba, CA, farmhouse in a white dress. Rereading it now, I see how much my “terrible need to know” has shaped my poetics over the course of the last decade, in the time since the poem manifested itself on the page. In my mother, I’ve forever intuited an unsheltered, untouched wonder—a powerful wonder that tips into joy and laughter so easily. Alongside this energy, I’ve felt a fiery rage, born from what she endured as a child and fueling her current community work. In trying to understand her life, her personhood, I was—I am—subconsciously seeking to know something elemental about myself and something true about the histories shaping our family and making possible the worlds awaiting us. The photograph, then, was a portal to past and future.
I’ve returned, after nearly twenty years away, to my hometown of Fresno, CA, to live. Fresno is the primary city in the middle of the sprawling Central Valley—the valley where my immigrant elders labored; to where my grandparents returned after the Japanese American incarceration of World War II; where my mother’s grandparents settled after fleeing Korea, which, at the turn of the twentieth century, was suffering and surviving under the brutal Japanese occupation. My “terrible need to know,” first articulated in this poem, has, in the short time I’ve been back, unearthed new stories from the memory trove. Closer now to the land that made us and living about a mile from my parents’ house, I’ve become a listener and recorder. (Visit Dear— to see one community-based poetry project that has bloomed into a living archive of letters and portraits.) I’ve also nudged my mother (and father) into writing and telling their own stories, which they’ve performed before large audiences—something I never expected to see.
“I know who she becomes and why,” goes the poem. “But the how will escape me / continues to escape me.” Will, perhaps, always escape me, as our knowledge of the past is forever incomplete. But a desire fills that gap—an imaginative power that drew me to the photograph and draws me still: to the wellspring of memory and feeling, to a place beyond language where I commune with the energies that came before me, where I remember and make whole the body of my future self.
“Dinuba, CA, 1959” was published six years ago in Lantern Review, scrawled (most likely) in a workshop setting, and chiseled down to its three sentences for its inclusion in my second book. Today, it continues to undisguise itself, reveal itself—as the most lasting poems (and people and places) do.
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Brynn Saito is the author of two books of poetry from Red Hen Press: Power Made Us Swoon (2016) and The Palace of Contemplating Departure (2013), winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award and a finalist for the Northern California Book Award. She recently authored the chapbook Dear—, commissioned by Densho, an organization dedicated to sharing the story of the World War II–era incarceration of Japanese Americans. Brynn is assistant professor of creative writing in the English Department at Fresno State and codirector of Yonsei Memory Project. More at brynnsaito.com and yonseimemoryproject.com.
As an Asian American-focused publication, Lantern Review is committed to promoting diverse voices within the literary world. In solidarity with the Black community and in an effort to amplify Black voices in poetry, we’ll be sharing a different book by a Black poet in each of our blog posts this summer.
In anticipation of the ten-year anniversary of our first issue, we’re excited to return to our process profile series. Over the course of the summer, we’ll be catching up with past contributors as we ask them to reflect on their process for either a poem of theirs—whether one that appeared in LR or one that they’ve written more recently. Today, as we close out APA Heritage Month, we’re excited to kick off the series with a profile from Issue 4 contributor and former blog staff writerMonica Mody, who reflects on parsing both Motherlines and borderlands as she wrote her recent poem “Nani’s Letter” (first published in Kajal Magazine).
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“Nani’s Letter” was published in Kajal Magazine earlier this year. It appears, as well, in my 2019 PhD dissertation, “Claiming Voice, Vitality, and Authority in Post-Secular South Asian Borderlands: A Critical Hermeneutics and Autohistoria/teoría for Decolonial Feminist Consciousness.” I maintain that cross-genre and multi-genre writing makes space for the insurgent epistemologies of the borderlands—in this, I am joined by Gloria Anzaldúa, whose theory of the borderlands continues to animate new decolonized pathways.
“Nani’s Letter” is an epistolary poem, written as the letter that my grandmother might have sent to me across time—across the Partition of India—across the legacies of trauma and silencing. The violence my grandmother saw is not a matter of the past for the Indian subcontinent, which is yet to heal the national trauma of colonialism and of the Partition. What follows are synergistic excerpts that precede the poem in my dissertation.
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In 1947, my two-year-old mother lost her mother. Grandmother—Nani—was killed by a rioting mob during the violence that spread in the wake of the Partition of India and Pakistan. She was killed by the mob in her own village, along with her sister-in-law and nephew.
In 1947, I lost my mother’s mother. For a long time, I did not realize that this one loss imbricated multiple losses. Growing up, it was not only my grandmother who was absent from my life: entire lifeworlds she would have brought forth were absent too. Naomi Ruth Lowinsky writes, “Standing at the crossings of family history, generational change, and archetypal meanings, a grandmother locates her grandchild in the life stream of generations. She is the tie to the subterranean world of the ancestors; she plays a key role in helping a woman reclaim essential aspects of her feminine self. Standing close to death, she remembers the dead. She tells their stories, hands down their meanings and their possessions.”
Without a grandmother or grandmother figure around as a child, I did not have a guide into this wider circle of relationships. And yet, it was not a loss I fully comprehended. The silence around Ma’s family and what they had gone through shrouded my ability to perceptually be aware of the contours or depth of the loss. In writing about my grandmother, then, I am reclaiming not only her, but also myself from silence.
Crossing the Border
Before the Partition, Ma’s family lived in Dera Ghazi Khan, a district in the Punjab Province. The violence that erupted before the Partition took both Nani and the wife of Nana’s younger brother. The exodus also tore the family from the land they had lived on—their embedded histories.
These losses are also mine. The shared border between “me” and “them” is where silence has collected around these losses.
One way to recover the stories in this silence is for me to cross the border, return to Dera Ghazi Khan. I must recreate the borderlands to return to Nani—to mourn these losses and find healing. “Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.” Heeding this guidance from Anzaldúa, I will perform the return first in memory and in imagination. As I articulate this journey in writing, I want it to light up the hauntings, relationships, narratives in my motherline. I want it to intervene in the improbability of an actual return to Dera Ghazi Khan.
For a while, I become a proto-colonial armchair traveller, travelling to Dera Ghazi Khan via W. W. Hunter’s The Imperial Gazetteer of India. It takes me a moment to recognize the irony in this. The Imperial Gazetteer was among the projects undertaken after the 1857 Revolt to provide relevant and reliable information to the colonial administration so as to better map, measure, and control the native populace. It is a prototype of systematized knowledge production based on an ethnological focus on race, caste, and religion. The ethnographic accounts provided in the gazetteer—along with census reports—reflected the nineteenth-century colonial policy of relying on racial science to justify British domination over India. India was the “laboratory of mankind”—and in this laboratory all kinds of cultural differences between different groups of people were naturalized under racial and ethnic categories.
Unhappily, projects such as the gazetteer and the census also eclipsed all other forms of knowledge production. The epistemologies behind such knowledge production are precisely what I am seeking to decolonize within myself.
The Imperial Gazetteer does not recount the dreams of the people living in Dera Ghazi Khan in 1885. It does not tell us the stories that were told to its young or the songs that were sung around the fire. It does not seek to see into their hearts or the soaring of their souls. It does not give any sense of what they cherished or valued, of who they really were. Being attentive to these would have meant giving the colonized interiority—and ascribing to them a fullness of humanity.
Thegazetteerwas not interested in Dera Ghazi Khan as a place, which in cultural geography is a social concept. Place designates that which is “created by people: it is lived experience; it is the ways in which people use and imagine space.” This is in contrast to space: the physical, three-dimensional expanse. Space is a configuration of geography that enables distance—rather than intimacy—to be an interpretive norm. Space exists within conventional awareness because distance can be identified as an interval between separating objects. Distance, detachment, disinterest: these are the epistemological attitudes through which positivistic colonialist logic comes to articulate what it claims are universal organizing principles—and comes to disarticulate dignity, embeddedness, intimacy.
The gazetteer, with its claim of presenting empirical and statistical data, created sufficient distance between the people being studied and the “neutral” administrators undertaking the study to legitimize colonization. Colonial expropriation and subjugation depends upon articulating sufficient separateness between the colonizer and the colonized; the “data” in the gazetteer made this separateness possible.
This goes against my intended goals for performing a return—to come to a deeper, more soulful knowing of my grandmother and her affective life, to locate myself in the life stream of generations. There must, then, be a different way than a colonial tool to find my way back to my grandmother.
To Know: To Reconstruct
I was made by my grandmother, even if I never knew her. To know her, I turn to the relational hermeneutics of creative reconstruction, to imagination. It is not graspability I seek, but evocation. Without lived or inherited memories—amidst so many fragmentary narratives and silences—how may I rediscover my connection to this ancestress, to my motherline? How may I center my grandmother’s voice and agency? How may I restore to myself a voice that knows its own falterings, silences, and cries as part of a stream of generations?
 Lowinsky, The Motherline, 115.
 Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 87.
 Marriott, The Other Empire, 208–13; Arondekar, For the Record, 12–13. In her monograph engaging with the colonial archive, feminist and queer/sexuality studies scholar Arondekar suggests that the massive archive of texts from this period relied on for imperial governance “literalized the distance between colonizer and colonized.” Ibid., 13.
 Pinney, “Colonial Anthropology in the ‘Laboratory of Mankind,’” 252–63. As I read historian John Marriott’s research on the construction of caste and racial typologies in nineteenth-century India, I was nauseated to realize that these typologies continue to pervade the mindsets of contemporary Indians: that I, too, have unconsciously internalized the taxonomy of what Marriott phrases “physiognomy, colour, and physique.” Marriott, The Other Empire, 211.
 Marriott, The Other Empire, 214.
 Van Schendel, “Spatial Moments,” 99.
 Lawlor, Voices of the First Day, 41.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands: La Frontera = The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987.
Arondekar, Anjali R. For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.
Lawlor, Robert. Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1991.
Lowinsky, Naomi Ruth. The Motherline: Every Woman’s Journey to Find Her Female Roots. Carmel, CA: Fisher King Press, 2009.
Marriott, John. The Other Empire: Metropolis, India and Progress in the Colonial Imagination. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.
Pinney, Christopher. “Colonial Anthropology in the ‘Laboratory of Mankind.’” In The Raj: India and the British, 1600–1947, edited by C. A. Bayly, 252–63. London: National Portrait Gallery Publications, 1990.
van Schendel, Willem. “Spatial Moments: Chittagong in Four Scenes.” In Asia Inside Out: Connected Places, edited by Peter C Perdue, Helen F Siu, and Eric Tagliacozzo, 98–127. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.
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Monica Mody is the author of Kala Pani (1913 Press) and two cross-genre chapbooks. Her poetry also appears in Poetry International, Boston Review, Indian Quarterly, Eleven Eleven, and Immanence Journal, among other places. She holds a PhD in East West Psychology and an MFA in creative writing, along with a more rarely used degree in law. She was recently awarded the 2020 Kore Award for Best Dissertation in Women and Mythology for her multi-genre dissertation which utilized theory, memoir, and poetry. Her previous awards include the Nicholas Sparks Postgraduate Writer-in-Residence Prize from the University of Notre Dame, Naropa’s Zora Neale Hurston Award, and the Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing. Monica was born in Ranchi, India.Additional work drawn from her dissertation can be found here and here.
Chris Santiago is a poet, fiction writer, critic, and teacher. His writing has appeared in FIELD, Pleiades, The Asian American Literary Review, Canteen, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and elsewhere. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and has been a finalist for both the Stony Brook Short Fiction Contest and the Kundiman Poetry Prize (for his manuscript Tula). Chris is completing his Ph.D. in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, where he is a Provost’s Ph.D. Fellow and ACE-Nikaido Fellow, and teaches literature & writing in the Thematic Option Program.
This April, we are returning to our Process Profiles series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their writing process for an individual poem or poetic sequence of theirs. As in the past, we’ve asked Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a piece of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Christopher Santiago writes about his poem “Tam,” which appeared in Issue 5.
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I wrote the first draft of “Tam,” I think, out of anger. It’s an older poem, and I was in my early twenties and mad about a lot of things, but one of the things that really got under my skin was pop culture, and portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans in particular. Miss Saigon, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil’s Vietnam War redux of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, was the kind of cultural object that really drove me up the wall. The tale of Kim, a Vietnamese bargirl who commits suicide so that her son, Tam, can grow up in the States with his American ex-GI father, didn’t bother me when I first saw it as a teenager. But over the years, the memory festered—I won’t waste time explaining why—and only after I began to try to write seriously did it occur to me that this anger might be something I could use.
I was just starting out, and writing a lot of persona poems, partly because I felt that trying to get in someone else’s head allowed me to get outside of myself, and partly because I was (and still am) deeply interested in voice. My anger toward Miss Saigon—and texts that were like it—gave me energy, but it also made me inarticulate. As the poem unfolded, then, I felt the impulse to deflect, to approach the subject obliquely—from the point of view of Tam, who I imagined growing up haunted by the memory of his mother’s voice. That way, I reasoned, I could really poke holes in the musical’s phony premise, its false catharsis. I could build further into its world in a way that would, I hoped, reveal its glib and hollow heart.
After I wrote a few drafts, the poem sat on the back burner for years, until I started working a couple of years ago on a manuscript I’m tentatively calling Tula. I was happy to find “Tam” on an old hard drive, and happier still to find that one of my current obsessions had begun to take shape in “Tam” years before: my obsession with the way that unlearned languages haunt us. I never learned to speak Tagalog, or Ilonggo, or Bicolano—my mother tongues, or heritage languages—and I’m fascinated by the bits and pieces that I do know, the bodily traces of certain rhythms and intonations in the ears of 1.5 and 2nd generation folks like me. I’ve been reading these fascinating fMRI studies on the subject: the science, as far as I can tell, supports the intuition that Kim—her singular way of speaking—remains a part of Tam even after he can no longer recall (at least consciously) a single phrase of Vietnamese.
As for the poem, I still liked its bones, but thought perhaps it over-explained itself. I decided to strip it back, to let the silences bleed more, and to break the suite of episodes into shorter and more irregular fragments. I also hoped that reordering them might quiet some of the melodrama. I’d given Tam my anger, and think he deserved to feel it; some of it, I think, still bubbles up under the lid. But instead of belting his anger out under the spotlights, Tam mutters it under his breath. I hope that gives the poem at least a bit more bite and plaintiveness.
Esther Lee has written Spit, a poetry collection selected for the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011) and her chapbook, The Blank Missives (Trafficker Press, 2007). Her poems and articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Lantern Review, Ploughshares, Verse Daily, Salt Hill, Good Foot, Swink, Hyphen, Born Magazine, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow, she received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Indiana University where she served as Editor-in-Chief for Indiana Review. She has been awarded the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize and Utah Writer’s Contest Award for Poetry selected by Brenda Shaughnessy, as well as having been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and AWP Intro Journals Project. Currently, she pursues a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Utah and lives with her fiancé, Michael, and their dog and three cats in Salt Lake. Starting this fall, she will begin teaching as an assistant professor at Agnes Scott College.
This April, we are returning to our Process Profiles series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their writing process for an individual poem or poetic sequence of theirs. As in the past, we’ve asked Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a piece of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Esther Lee reflects upon the excerpt of her project Daughters of Celluloidthat appeared in Issue 5.
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(if his plate would not record the clouds, he could point his camera down and eliminate the sky)
If there is a hegemonic familial gaze, imposing rigid familial ideologies, then mothers are most cruelly subjected to its scrutiny.
Excerpts of this Process Profile are pulled from a craft talk titled, “Double Exposures: Photographic Fictions and Traumatic Memories” given at Virginia Tech. All photographic images are ones I’ve taken or borrowed from family albums.
My hope is to invite you into a constellation of influences—and mostly questions—I’m working with and exploring in this work-in-progress, tentatively titled Daughters of Celluloid. This constellation includes the works of writers and artists who meditate on, thematize, and/or employ photography, as well as those whose works investigate the complexities of trauma and representations, in particular, of trauma not directly experienced first-hand. So a kind of assemblage, if you will, one that is part wax, part string, part etched glass.
In Daughters of Celluloid, the narrator finds that her mother’s enigmatic past is pocked with speech, presented as fragmented anecdotes, suggesting recessed narratives of trauma and dislocation. To borrow a phrase from the French novelist and Holocaust writer, Henri Raczymow, memory is “shot through with holes” and underscored by potential absences of family photographs wherein large swaths of time and space have seemingly vanished, losing any semblance of continuity. As a result, the narrator finds herself attempting to photograph the mother, grappling with how the camera can both fix and unfix them. In doing so, they disrupt their unspoken ways of looking, complicating the myths of familial memory and, ultimately, searching for what Alison Bechdel describes in her graphic novel, Are You My Mother?, as a “mutual cathexis” between mother and daughter, wherein they can recognize each other’s invisible wounds.
Purvi Shah’s Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), which explores migration as potential and loss, won the Many Voices Project prize and was nominated for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award. Her work fighting violence against women earned her the inaugural SONY South Asian Social Services Award in 2008. In 2011, she served as Artistic Director for Together We Are New York, a community-based poetry project to highlight the voices of Asian Americans during the 10th anniversary of 9/11. She believes in the miracle of poetry and the beauty of change. Check out more of her work at http://purvipoets.net or @PurviPoets on Twitter.
For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a poem (or group of poems) from inception to publication. As in the past, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Purvi Shah discusses her poems, “’Some didn’t make it. Some did.’” and “’This is MY NY.’”, which appeared in Issue 4.
Some say this is woman’s territory: to know what is unspoken in the midst of what is spoken.
It is also territory of the poet, who in lyric enacts what is said, what we fear to say, and yet what we must make known without it ever being said.
Conversation 6: Split This Rock
We were asked, when dialoguing after sharing excerpts of Together We Are New York—a community-based project with Kundiman poets honoring the voices of Asian Americans as part of the 10th anniversary of 9/11—whether it was difficult to write poems in response to conversations with community members. After all, to capture an individual’s story or fullness of experience is a mighty task. Even many biographers fail. So how does a poet approach someone’s horizon?
Zohra Saed, who had interviewed her charming father for the project, astutely responded how she realized in the process of this writing that her poems had always been in conversation—previously, she had just been talking to herself. As the audience chuckled, I marveled at the truth of Zohra’s humor-filled revelation and thought about the layers of conversation embedded in my poems, including these I had written for Together We Are New York.
We often think about the buzz poems create but not the buzz that creates poems. Then again, flight—or fall—is rarely one way.
Margaret Rhee is the author of the chapbooks Yellow (Tinfish Press, 2011) and University Dreams (Forthcoming 2012). She is the managing editor of Mixed Blood, a literary journal centered on race and innovative poetics edited by C.S. Giscombe. In April, she curated the literary reading, “Body Maps: A Digital/Real Asian American Feminist Poetics” for the Asian American Women Artists Association. As a new media artist, she works on feminist participatory digital storytellingsupporting issues of HIV/AIDS awareness for women incarcerated in the San Francisco Jail. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in Ethnic Studies and New Media Studies at UC Berkeley. She is a Kundiman fellow.
For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. As in the past, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Margaret Rhee reflects upon her new media piece “Materials,” which appeared in Issue 4.
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It begins with a drive. The road up to Santa Cruz from Berkeley is a winding one. Largely known as one of the most dangerous highways in the state, Highway 17 wraps around the Santa Cruz Mountains with sharp pretzel turns and dense traffic on weekday afternoons. It’s my first trip to Santa Cruz. And I am driving a big, used silver Volvo station wagon, one bought just a few weeks before. My dear friend and colleague Kate Darling is in the passenger seat helping with Mapquest directions. We finally arrive safely at our destination, the first ever Science Studies creative writing workshop, organized by Martha Kenney and held at the University of Santa Cruz.
Soon after arriving at the workshop space, we found ourselves having lunch with much admired feminist scholar Donna Harraway. It was beyond lovely. Kate and I shared about our drive up. Donna joked that people in Santa Cruz often say that the road keeps those they don’t want out of Santa Cruz! In between bites of salad I laughed, not only because this was funny, but because it was probably true. I laughed out of relief as well, not believing we actually made it up that long winding road.
Our assignment prior to the workshop was to write a creative piece inspired by our scholarship. I was thrilled by the possibility of combining, intersecting, and interweaving theoretical questions I had with poetry/poetic form. At lunch I wondered what the feedback process would be like for the cross-genre works written for the prompt.
I’m a doctoral candidate in Ethnic Studies and New Media Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and my interests includes the intersections of science, technology, and race. But I’m also a poet and new media artist with similar concerns. I like intersections, interventions, and mutations.
Tarfia Faizullah’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, New Ohio Review, Passages North, Poetry Daily, Crab Orchard Review, Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow, she received her MFA in poetry from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she served as the associate editor of Blackbird. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, a Bread Loaf Writers Conference Margaret Bridgman Scholarship, a Kenyon Review Writers Workshop Peter Taylor Fellowship, a Ploughshares Cohen Award, a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, and other honors. She lives in Washington, DC, where she helps edit the Asian American Literary Review and Trans-Portal.
For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. As in the past, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Tarfia Faizullah reflects upon her poem “At Zahra’s Salon for Ladies,” which appeared in Issue 4.
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It actually did begin at Zahra’s Salon, with my head tilted back.
Auntie Neelam and I never spoke, though she has always been gentle with me and I have never gone to another stylist.
That day at the salon, Ghulam Ali’s song Chupke, Chupke began to play.
It had been many, many summers since I had last heard that song.
My younger self rose up.
I went home and began to try to affix the atmosphere of the salon, the deft, elegant movements of Auntie Neelam’s fingers.
I listened to Chupke, Chupke over and over again.
I called my mother, cradled the phone against my shoulder to take notes while she translated Chupke, Chupke for me.
I began to remember that other, younger summer.
The summer I had started growing out of my swimsuit.
How bewildered I was, how frightened by all that dark hair shadowing across me.
“I can feel that other day running underneath this one,” Anne Carson wrote, and similarly, I strongly felt the summer of my youth below that present one.
As adults, we take for granted the agency we have to strip our bodies of their darkness.
The poem has always been in second person. It had to be so that I could clearly see both my younger and adult selves as I was addressing them.
“At Zahra’s Salon” took me two years to write.
I am interested in the possibilities of collage, of braiding together multiple elements.
I love David Shields’s assertion of collage as “a demonstration of the many becoming the one, with the one never fully resolved because of the many that continue to impinge on it.”
It took two years to try to weave together the salon, the song, and those other summers while ensuring each element remained singular and intact.
One day, I asked Auntie Neelam about her life.
She was born and raised in India, and is married and has a child.
I think she was as startled as I was.
She started telling me about her wedding day.
I remembered my own wedding, the way my body was purified, decorated, posed.
She gave me a mishti.
I left the salon, my face smarting.
One of the red brick walls was covered in clematis vine.
The sky was so blue.
I wanted to write a poem that could dwell in nostalgia, that could dwell in those first feelings of hunger without fully leaving the present.
I wanted to write a poem that acknowledged the beauty and terror of solitude.
Andre Yang is a Hmong American poet from Fresno, California. He is a founding member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle (HAWC), where he actively conducts and participates in public writing workshops. He completed the Creative Writing (Poetry) MFA program at California State University, Fresno, where he was a Philip Levine Scholar, recipient of the Academy of American Poets-sponsored Ernesto Trejo Prize, and the Graduate Dean’s Medalist of the College of Arts and Humanities. Andre is a Kundiman Asian American Poetry Fellow, and has attended the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and recently completed an artist residency at the Ucross Foundation. He co-edited How Do I Begin – A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday, 2011), and his poetry has appeared in Paj Ntaub Voice, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and the chapbook anthology ‘Here is a Pen’ (Achiote Press).
For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem that we’ve published. In this installment, Andre Yang discusses his poem “Why I Feel the Way I Do About SB 1070,” which appeared in Issue 3 of Lantern Review.
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In a way, I have been writing this poem all my life, and considering all the things I discuss in the poem, it really does span my life. The poem was written to express my feelings about the inception and implementation Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, though I also wanted it to capture my thoughts on the interconnectedness of humanity.
I might not have written “Why I Feel The Way I Do About SB 1070” had I not met Francisco Xavier Alarcón at his Ce Uno One book launch in Sacramento, California. I overheard Francisco saying he was attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference later that year in Washington D.C. (2011), and since I too was planning to attend the conference, I used that as a conversation starter and approached him. He mentioned that while in D.C., he would be organizing two off-site Floricanto readings based on his Facebook page, “Poets Responding to SB 1070,” and that well-established poets like Martín Espada would be taking part in the reading. Five minutes into the conversation, he asked, to my complete surprise, if I wanted to participate in the readings. I said I’d be honored, and told him I’d contact him when I felt I had a poem worthy of the purpose.
Vikas K. Menon is a poet and playwright whose poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as burntdistrict, diode, and The Literary Review, among others. His poetry manuscript godflesh was a finalist for the 2010 Kinereth Gensler Award and a semifinalist for the Beatrice Hawley award, both from Alice James Books. His poetry has been featured in Indivisible: An Anthology of South Asian American Poetry and is forthcoming in The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry by Indians. He is a board member of Kundiman, the first organization of its kind dedicated to supporting Asian-American poetry and is the Resident Playwright of Ruffled Feathers Theater company.
For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem that we’ve published. In this installment, Vikas K. Menon discusses his poem “Othertongue,” which appeared in Issue 3 of Lantern Review.
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My writing process is both fitful and fickle: at the beginning of a writing session, I tend to move quickly among drafts to see which pieces pull me into further play. This method has allowed me to elude the blocks that used to plague my writing life. “Other Tongue” started in quick sketches; in this case, with a freewrite about my struggles with my parents’ ancestral tongue, Malayalam. Malayalam is a Dravidian language that is outside of the Indo-European family of languages, and it is primarily spoken in the South Indian state of Kerala. While I can comprehend Malayalam when it is spoken colloquially, I am otherwise illiterate in the language. Since it was the language of intimacy used by my elders during my childhood, I am ashamed by my inability to speak it fluently. But I can still revel in its aural pleasures and rolling cadences, its stark contrasts with English. So I began writing into the texture of it, exploring the strangeness of its syllables in my mouth. At the same time, I was working on a separate poem that explored my mother’s English, which is heavily inflected by Malayalam. Finally, I realized that the two poems were linked by their exploration of the difficulties of articulation. Despite that theme, paradoxically, the poem works quite well at readings: there is initial laughter at my mother’s malapropism that quickly turns to silent discomfort. I like that sudden turn, something the poet and performer Regie Cabico does beautifully.
Aimee Suzara is a Filipino-American writer, cultural worker and educator who has been writing and performing in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1999. Her first play, Pagbabalik (Return) was produced in 2006-7 and featured at several Bay Area festivals, and she is developing her second, A History of the Body, both supported by the Zellerbach Arts Fund. Her poems can be found in several journals and anthologies, including Walang Hiya (No Shame): literature taking risks towards liberatory practice, Kartika Review, Konch Magazine, Lantern Reviewand her chapbook, the space between. She has been a featured poet and educator at schools, universities and arts venues nationally. Suzara has a Mills College M.F.A. and teaches English at Bay Area colleges. She has been a Hedgebrook Resident Artist and will be an Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in 2011.
For APIA Heritage Month 2011, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve been asking several Lantern Review contributors whose work gestures back toward history or legacy to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Aimee Suzara discusses her poem “My Mother’s Watch,” which appeared in Issue 2 of Lantern Review.
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Though I began writing it in 2008, three years after my parents’ return to the Philippines, this poem began on my first visit “home” in 1991. In the opening moment at the bustling palengke (market), my mother insisted that she keep on her beloved Rolex, despite the attention I felt it drew. Through the poem, I sought to gain empathy for her attachment to the watch and what it symbolized. At this crossroads where goods are sold and money exchanged, the watch became the entry point to my family’s journey as immigrants.
And so I traced back the genesis of this watch—more accurately, the events leading to the desire for the watch. I had been piecing together my parents’ story and was fascinated with their uprooting from the slow-paced life of their childhood, to the full-color Technicolor dream of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Elvis songs and surround-sound systems. I was interested in this proverbial upward mobility, how it swept these newlyweds, not more than a few dollars in tow, into a life of shiny hyper-Americana. We were an unusual Filipino family living up the nuclear-family dream, moving frequently, cut off from anything Pinoy. Racism was thick in the small desert town where I spent much of my childhood, and we were taught not to trust anyone. In the age of credit cards and microwaves, we were right up in it, and at times it seemed we lived on an island stocked, as if our ammunition against the world, with Betamax videos, Jiffy pop and Lean Cuisines.
In peer feedback, it was suggested that this was a poem about privilege and its contradictions. What had been lost, and what could possibly be gained in its place, when a sense of genuine status or acceptance would always be denied? In the attempt to return to our beginnings, what do we cling to? Now came the questions befit for memoir. Was I treating our story with enough compassion? I felt I had to ask permission; my mother read it, and she did not mind my candidness. In the writing of the poem, the roots of my parents’ desire for the “flashy” began to unravel. Images that pushed through marked my parents’ coming of age in America, and then mine.
The first draft of the poem was in three parts, but it was suggested that I separate it into more, that it was too rushed and condensed. This made sense for what I wished to convey about time. The watch, like a heartbeat, like our lives, ticked on its own time. In its final version, in five parts, the poem spans at least twenty-five years. In the remembering, and in the writing, time stands still.
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Excerpt from “My Mother’s Watch”
They do not yet miss their left-behind lives: Lolo’s rule in the house with the green metal gate where nine kids left for the West,one by one by one movie house in the little town by the sea popcorn sold out of recycled coffee cans
Sine del Sol burns to the ground: fatherless tensibling grudges
tsinellas shuf shuf shuffle across aged wooden floors timemeasured in sunrise and sunset
The ones left behind keep time in slow tick tock the clocks not turning digital
send us some Tang, cigarettes, M&Ms medicine, a change of the curtains