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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LR: How have audiences responded to 100 Chinese Silences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Chapbook and the “Possibilities of Risk”: A Conversation with Chen Chen and Margaret Rhee

Chen Chen, Margaret Rhee, and Their Chapbooks
Chen, Rhee, and their chapbooks’ covers (Photo of Chen Chen by Jeff Gilbert)

Over the course of this National Poetry Month, we’ve been curating a conversation about Asian American poetry and the book as object. If you’ve been following along with our collaboration with the American Bookbinders Museum these past couple of weeks, you’ll also have noticed our thematic emphasis on the chapbook and its unique relationship to the print traditions of poetry as a genre. Today, in continuation of that discussion, we’re pleased to be able to present a conversation with poet-scholars and two-time chapbook authors Chen Chen and Margaret Rhee. Chen, the author of Kissing the Sphinx (Two of Cups Press, 2016) and Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press, 2015), and Rhee, the author of Radio Heart; or How Robots Fall Out of Love (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and Yellow (Tinfish Press, 2011), spoke to us about the delights and challenges of the chapbook as a form and shared some of their experiences from the process of shaping and finding publishing homes for their chaps.

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LR: What appeals to you about the chapbook as a form, as distinct from the more traditional format of the full-length poetry collection?

CC: I love that you can read a chapbook in one sitting. I mean, I do that with full-length collections I love, but a chapbook feels like such a good, healthy portion of poetry. You have just enough energy to devour it properly.

I love working with small presses. And I’ve been so lucky. Porkbelly Press did my first chapbook, and I remember giving the editor, Nicci Mechler, all these different ideas for cover art (maybe a train? a moon? a single flower? multiple flowers but not too many?)—and she just knocked it out of the park. I think that’s the first time I’ve said “knocked it out of the park.” Well, written it. I don’t know if I’ve ever said it out loud. I would say it out loud for Nicci Mechler and Porkbelly Press. Those cleavers. That perfect purple. Two of Cups Press did my second chapbook, and we were able to use Lizzy DuQuette’s fabulous image for the cover. I’ve felt so listened to, cared for, by these presses. At AWP this year, Leigh Anne Hornfeldt, the editor at Two of Cups, organized chapbook signings for her authors and a last-minute-but-really-fun joint reading in her hotel room. With both chapbooks, we ran into formatting issues (my lines just got too long!)—both times, the editors knocked it out of the park.

MR: I love the ephemeral nature of chapbooks, how artistic the chapbooks can be, and the possibilities of risk (as poet, as publisher) within the chapbook form.

Moreover I like how chapbooks are not tied to the capitalistic market (as limited as it is for po-biz); there’s something pure about them. This kind of poetry isn’t really about money.

I loved both presses I’ve worked with, Tinfish Press for Yellow (2011), and Finishing Line Press for Radio Heart; or How Robots Fall Out of Love (2015). Both editors, Susan Schultz (Tinfish Press) and Christen Kincaid (Finishing Line Press), paid such close attention to the chapbook as form, and I am so greatly appreciative for the opportunity to work with both of them.

In addition to editing my first chapbook, Susan graciously wrote a blurb for my second chapbook, which also speaks to the generative relationships when working with an editor on a chapbook of poetry. I learned tremendously from Susan and count her as a formative mentor. A precious gift.

LR: Each of your chapbooks has a unique project or conceit that shapes and informs it. Can you describe for us how these projects came about?

CC: For Set the Garden on Fire, I was interested in the child’s voice, the queer child’s voice, the voice of a child of immigrants. So a lot of the poems in this first chapbook wrestle with childhood, early adolescence, and engage coming of age in this very intersectional way. Companion poems like “Write a Letter to the Class About Your Summer Vacation” and “Write a Letter to Your Mother About Your Longest Winter” helped structure the collection—echo and break, circularity as well as surprise, I hope. Flowers and fires, yes, but donuts also play an important role. The chapbook is full of questions about what tenderness means and what kinship or community could look like.

Kissing the Sphinx is much less autobiographical. Or less directly so. I think of it as my chapbook of wacky love poems. There’s a hot air balloon and fuchsia snow pants. There’s Eros and Mariah Carey. One of the speakers makes a trip from Helsinki to Shanghai that I’ve never made. I had to Google how many hours that flight is. The loose arc of the collection goes from early (attempts at) dating to this (attempt at a) more serious relationship. The chapbook wonders, what is “serious” and what is a “relationship”? There is also Tom Daley and a Russian driving instructor.

MR: I’ve spoken before about the project that became Yellow in an interview at Writing Like an Asian:

Yellow was a poetic investigation of . . . [questions] around meaning and difference. But it was also an experiment on poetic form and how formal qualities shape “the racial” and color. The title poem, “Yellow,” was my first conscious attempt to fuse the two (formal + racial) and signaled a turn for my relationship with poetry. . . . [At the time of writing Yellow,] I was inspired by French avant-garde poets of the 1960s such as the Oulipo and Stephane Mallarme, but I was also responding to avant-garde poetry and the privilege of racial omission when utilizing color in poetry, for example. With the exception of “Body Maps,” the poems in the collection were all written within a span of six months and with experimentation as a key focus of writing during that time.

The chapbook is a section of a poetry manuscript I am completing, tentatively entitled “I Love Juana” and Other Poemas, a collection on sex, sexuality, art, activism, race, and protest.

Radio Heart; or How Robots Fall Out of Love came about via various research I was doing on robots and culture for my PhD work at UC Berkeley. At the time, I found that poetry-writing about robots was an interesting way to engage and question demarcations of difference through the science fictional. It was also a reprieve from the scholarly research. In every sense, the robot love relations in Radio Heart are queer relations, but not explicitly so. It was refreshing to take a different turn from my previous writing, which deals pretty centrally with issues of difference (race, class, sexuality) and to explore how science fiction poetry can ask questions on difference, but through worldbuilding. However, I still write explicitly political poetry (Yellow is a section of a poetry manuscript [as mentioned above] I am completing on sex, sexuality, art, activism, race, protest); it’s simply part of my orientation and practice, I realize—activism that seeps through into the poetic. But I also turn to science fiction as a way to worldbuild other possibilities. My next book is about space exploration and Mars.

LR: While writing each of your chaps, how did you go about deciding which poems belonged in the manuscript? Were there any poems that didn’t make the cut?

CC: The page limit that each press provides in their submission guidelines was very helpful. It seems the typical chapbook is between twenty and thirty pages. I like this. It makes the cuts easier for me, because I can just blame the press’s page limit. Sorry, poem about two male astronauts having a homoerotic moment right before getting blasted into space—it’s not you, it’s not me, it’s the page limit. A bit more seriously, though: I consider which emotional notes have been hit and whether I’ve been banging one gong a bit too frequently. I think: the gong of sadness over a breakup has been hit. Or: the gong of being silly about homoeroticism has been hit. I want to keep the psychological or narrative arc of the collection clear and tight.

MR: All the poems in the original manuscript made the cut, but I would add, I have a section entitled “Radio Heart” that contains four-line poems. The section was inspired by the work of Descartes on the body (Discourse on Method). I decided to leave the poems on separate pages in the chapbook, but in the larger book manuscript, they are all placed on one page, as one poem.

LR: Of the poems that appear in your chaps, is there one of which you’re most proud? We’d love to hear its story if you’d care to share it.

CC: I’m pretty fond of “Race to the Tree” from Set the Garden on Fire. This fondness came after deep frustration. This poem took forever. I started it in college. Then I couldn’t look at it for a couple years. In the second year of my MFA, I looked at it again. Bruce Smith, one of my brilliant teachers at Syracuse, was teaching us about the ballad form. Something clicked. Or not really “clicked,” because the poem isn’t in ballad form. But something about quatrains and a dark night and a song that is also a narrative and then the three sections . . . it took me a long time to think of the poem in such formal terms. The emotions in the poem were/are so volatile. The night I sort of accidentally came out to my parents. The night of the argument that would push me back into the closet. The night I thought I would run away and never return. The night I saw my parents as strangers (and I’m sure they saw me that way, too). So. Then. Writing, rewriting. I revised it again when it went into my MFA thesis. When it went into the chapbook. Now the poem’s in my full-length book. I’m pretty sure it’s done, now. But when I say, at the end of the poem, “I was 13, I am 13, it is/night”—every time I read that aloud, it’s true.

MR: This is a great question! I’m pretty proud of “Beam, Robot.” It was originally published in Hyphen magazine’s literary section that is edited by Karissa Chen. Karissa is a fantastic editor, and she had some really wonderful words of advice on how to enliven and tighten the poem’s language and world. When I was interviewed on the poem for the magazine, it helped me reflect on the project as a whole. It is a rare opportunity to work so closely on a poem with an amazing editor like Karissa, and I’m really glad about how it came out.

LR: Figuring out how to navigate the publishing world can be a notoriously difficult process for emerging poets of color. Can you tell us about the decision process that went into choosing the publisher for each of your chapbooks? Do you have any advice for Asian American poets who are hoping to find the right home for a first chapbook manuscript?

CC: I’ve answered this one a bit with the first question. But yes. The right homes. The editors who will listen and care and listen. My advice to Asian American poets wanting to publish a chapbook: check to see if the press has published any Asian American poets before. More than one? Look at the submission guidelines. Are the editors explicit about seeking and supporting work by writers of color, queer writers, queer writers of color? Do they use this language? Are they explicit about being feminist, antiracist? What is the exact language of the guidelines page or the call for submissions or the “about” page? For example, Porkbelly Press describes itself as such: “We’re a queer-friendly, feminist press open to all, and encourage works from authors all along the identity spectrum.” And: ask folks who have worked with that press before. Their experiences.

Also, the design and production quality matter. The cover art matters. Not while you’re writing, of course. But while you’re deciding where to send the writing out. If you can, obtain a chapbook from a press you’re considering (and sometimes, the submission fee is a chapbook purchase because the press wants you to be familiar with what they do). Hold the physical object in your hands. Turn the pages. Is it a beautiful thing? Is it an artifact you want in your hands, your home? Is it a home for poems? Could you see yourself with a chapbook like that, reading from it, to an audience, one lovely day?

MR: With Yellow, I was lucky because my friend (and my formative mentor) Craig Santos Perez recommended me to Susan Schultz as a potential poet for her new series. It turned out to be the best home for Yellow, given Susan’s commitment to experimental poetics, Korean American poetics, and poetics of the Pacific. With Finishing Line Press, I submitted in part because I loved their chapbooks and the attention they give to women’s poetry. I am thinking especially of [LR editor] Iris A. Law’s chapbook Periodicity (which I taught and reviewed) and Karen McPherson’s Sketching Elise. Both are wondrous chapbooks.

For emerging poets of color and Asian American poets, I would recommend seeking out a publisher with a sensibility you feel kin to. This may mean seeking out chapbooks you love and checking out who published those collections, and submitting accordingly. Ultimately, you want an apt home that can take care of your poems.

I just received the second printing of Radio Heart, and it’s been interesting to think about the myriad of approaches to chapbook publishing. My publisher made some changes to the second version, and it feels more like a book. But in many ways, I miss the first version of Radio Heart, the staples (the second printing is perfect bound), the colored vellum (the second printing has a new image of the publisher’s logo), and the paper (the second printing is glossy). The second printing feels more like a book, while the first printing really feels like a chapbook (more porous in its paper materials and ephemeral in its staples).

I am getting used to this second version, but the first edition will always be dear to me, most certainly for the same reasons I love poetry chapbooks (as opposed to full-length books).

My friend the amazing poet Neil Aitken consoled me in saying that the second version just makes the first version more special. I will heed his expertise, as it makes me realize the experience of chapbooks: how limited they are, but also how special.

LR: You’re both academics as well as poets [Rhee is currently a visiting assistant professor at the University of Oregon; Chen is an English and creative writing PhD candidate at Texas Tech University]. In what ways has your critical scholarship informed your creative work? How do you balance your scholarly pursuits with the labor that it takes to promote, sell, and market your chaps and other published creative work?

CC: I’ll start with the second question . . . when I first joined Twitter, I almost broke down and sobbed, I was so overwhelmed. Information overload. And although it was the reason I made a Twitter account, I just hated being self-promotional. Which, now, I understand is a necessary part of being an author, especially now, especially as a poet. I don’t have an agent or a publicist. Editors and presses help. But folks seem most interested in reading and/or buying my work if I’m the one telling them about it. I mean. I want to share the work. I want the work to do things in the world. I want the work to be useful, in some way, to someone. Still, the publishing author is different from the writing poet. I don’t know that I’ve balanced it, yet. Or maybe each day is a different attempt at balancing, some more successful than others. The poet Scott Woods made a beautiful and important post on Facebook the other week, basically insisting that you should “put your book on the table” at readings and other events. Take some healthy pride in this work you’ve made. Join the literary conversation, which is certainly happening on Twitter, as well.

My scholarly work focuses on contemporary US poets of color. Recently, I’ve written essays about Tarfia Faizullah, Bhanu Kapil, Robert Hayden, Nikky Finney, and Aracelis Girmay. These essays need more work before I can seriously consider sending any of them out. I’m interested in notions of the transnational and the planetary, transgressive conceptions (and enactments!) of space, and large scales of time that challenge me to see strange connections between poets and poetries (poetics and ethics, as well . . . ). When Finney excavates a prehistoric space in one of her poems, I follow and try to read the prehistory within the history, within the now. When Girmay suggests that the donkey is closer to “us” than we might first believe, I try to believe and read the donkey in how poets speak and sing and what this donkey song has to do with justice and grief. The poems I’m writing now are grappling with grief, are grieving—my partner’s mother passed away from cancer last fall—and asking questions about education or learning. What does the university provide? What does the university police? What other “schools” do I need to explore? Is there a “school” in prehistoric aliveness, a “school” in donkey song that I need to enroll in?

MR: Throughout graduate school, it wasn’t really hard to balance poetry and scholarship, because it all seemed to be part of the same practice: questioning, investigating, writing . . . looking back, I think it wasn’t challenging to balance both because I didn’t actively seek publication for my poetry. It really remained a practice, and I simply published when I was invited to submit and very occasionally sent out work (perhaps once every three months or so). I did very limited publicizing for Yellow, and ironically, because of my scholarship, I was at a critical theory seminar at the University of Hawai’i  that summer the chapbook was published (which is where Tinfish is based), and so it was poetic kismet in a way. I was able to have a “launch reading” in Hawai’i, with Craig, Susan, and others, because of the scholarly training I was engaging in at the time.

I guess though, now that I am out of graduate school, and teaching a full load—time, my time, feels much more limited. Two years ago, I was also given some formative advice from a cherished mentor to send out my work more often. I waited a few years between Yellow (2011) and Radio Heart (2015) and upon my mentor’s advice took more time to send out work, which is how Radio Heart came about.

I would say helping promote Radio Heart has taken more time in terms of interviews and other kinds of publicity and readings. I am grateful, because like this interview, it is a generative process. But the work of promoting and submitting is such a different animal than writing. I really prefer the latter rather than the former.

LR: One of the things that we love to do at Lantern Review is to continually highlight new work for our readers. What are a few of your own favorite chapbooks by APIA writers that you would recommend?

CC: Just out from BOA Editions: Li-Young Lee’s chapbook The Word from His Song (2016). From Organic Weapon Arts: Joseph O. Legaspi’s Aviary, Bestiary (2014). From Manor House: Ngoc Doan’s For Not So Much the Love of Weather (2014).

MR: I second Organic Weapon Arts: Joseph O. Legaspi’s Aviary, Bestiary. Neil Aitken’s Leviathan (Hyacinth Girl, 2016). [Also,] not APIA, but pretty fabulous and we have a Salvi-Kore connection, and I love her chapbooks: Raquel Gutiérrez, Breaking up with Los Angeles (Econo Textual Objects, 2014).

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Chen Chen is the author of two chapbooks, Kissing the Sphinx (Two of Cups Press, 2016) and Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press, 2015). His full-length collection, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, was selected by Jericho Brown for the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and will be published by BOA Editions, Ltd. in spring 2017. Visit him at chenchenwrites.com.

Margaret Rhee is the author of chapbooks Yellow (Tinfish Press, 2011) and Radio Heart; or How Robots Fall out of Love (Finishing Line Press, 2015). Her literary fellowships include Kundiman, Squaw Valley, and the Kathy Acker Fellowship. She holds a PhD in ethnic and new media studies from UC Berkeley and teaches in women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon.

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[Editors’ Note: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Susan Schultz’s name and, at Margaret Rhee’s request, to clarify Craig Santos Perez’s role as her mentor as well as a friend.]

Guest Post at the American Bookbinders Museum Blog

ABM Guest Post Screenshot

We’re excited to announce that we have a guest post up on the American Bookbinders Museum’s blog this afternoon. LR editor Iris writes about the history of the chapbook and its importance to the modern poetry scene and describes four chapbooks by some of the poets who are featured in our ongoing collaboration with the museum for National Poetry Month:

“Four Beautiful Chapbooks by Asian American Poets to Read for National Poetry Month”

Click on over to read about Monica Mody’s Travel and Risk, Barbara Jane Reyes’s For the City that Nearly Broke Me, Candy Shue’s You Know Where You’ve Been By Where You End Up, and Debbie Yee’s Handmade Rabbit Society, and please don’t forget to stop by the museum tomorrow night (Thursday, April 21st), where we’ll be taking over their Third Thursday event series with more work by Monica, Barbara, Candy, Debbie, Jason Bayani, and Brynn Saito.  You’ll get the chance to view pieces that each poet read last Saturday, to respond in writing, and to construct and bind a mini chapbook of your own to take home.

For more information, please see the Facebook page for the event as well as our previous blog post that describes our collaboration with the museum in more detail. And if you’re enjoying our focus on the chapbook, stay tuned for a dual interview about the chapbook with poets Margaret Rhee and Chen Chen next week. There’s plenty of goodness still to come before National Poetry Month is up!

LR at the American Bookbinders Museum: A Celebration of National Poetry Month

LR at ABM

Happy National Poetry Month! We’re back from AWP Los Angeles and are ready to take on April full-steam ahead.

This month, we are pleased to announce that Lantern Review is collaborating with the American Bookbinders Museum, a new and incredibly unique space in San Francisco that’s dedicated to the history of bookbinding, to celebrate National Poetry Month. Together with the museum, we’ll be producing two special events that showcase Asian American poetry in conversation with bookmaking and the printed page:

On April 16th at 7 pm, we will be hosting a reading at the museum featuring six award-winning Asian American poets (Barbara Jane Reyes, Brynn Saito, Debbie Yee, Candy Shue, Jason Bayani, and Monica Mody) who will be presenting work that explores the thematic connections between bookbinding, paper, Asian American history, and the San Francisco Bay Area itself. Books will be for sale after the reading, and poets will be available to sign copies for audience members. Admission is $5.00 ($2.50 for students, children under 10 free; no one will be turned away for lack of funds), with all proceeds going toward supporting the museum’s operations. (Please see our Facebook event for this reading here.)

We also invite you to join us on April 21st from 5:30 to 8:00 pm, when we’ll take over the museum’s regular Third Thursday event with more Asian American poetry. For this free, public, drop-in event, mounted broadsides of some of the poems read on the 16th will be on display in the museum’s gallery, and visitors will be able to interact with and respond to the work in the context of the binding and printing machines and archival materials in the gallery by creating hand-crafted mini poetry chapbooks of their own. (Please see our Facebook event for this evening here.)

Both events will take place in the American Bookbinders Museum’s building at 355 Clementina Street, San Francisco, CA 94103. If you’re based in the Bay Area, we hope you’ll be able to come out and join us on one or both evenings! We are so excited to get to partner with the museum and (now that we are officially based in the Bay) are thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate Poetry Month by highlighting some of the amazing Asian American poetry that is being produced right in our backyard.

What will you be doing to celebrate National Poetry Month this year? Will you be attending any local events celebrating Asian American poetry in your community? Please let us know about them in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook—we’d love to help you spread the word!

The LR Guide to AWP 2016

The LR Guide to AWP 2016

It’s that time of year again! AWP 2016 starts this week, and as has been our tradition in the past, we’ve put together a guide to APIA poetry-related happenings at the conference, featuring panels, readings, and offsite events that might be of interest to our readers, below. As a bonus, we’ve also created a free companion to the bookfair that you can download at the end of this post. So get out your planners and calendar apps! We hope you’ll find this information useful—but even more so, we hope you’ll enjoy getting to engage with the extraordinary wealth of events celebrating the creation, dissemination, and teaching of APIA poetry at AWP this year.

Please note: this list is by no means comprehensive. We have tried our best to curate a sampling of APIA poetry- and publishing-related items below, but we encourage our readers to check out any of the vast number of other panels, readings, and offsite events featuring individual APIA writers (including many past LR contributors) at the conference this year.

Where to Find Us

The Lantern Review team will be attending the conference this year, but unlike in previous years, we won’t be stationed at a table in the bookfair. Instead, you can find us floating around at some of the panels and readings listed below. We’ll also be selling books for Kundiman at the Literaoke offsite event on Friday night, and you can catch us at the Asian American literary caucus on Thursday evening. We’d love it if you stopped by to say “hello”!

Can’t make it out to Los Angeles for the conference but still want to be in the know? Follow us on Twitter or Instagram (@LanternReview) for live updates throughout the weekend.

Panels and Readings

Thursday, March 31st

9:00 am to 10:15 am

R115. The Active Politics of Queer/Feminist of Color and Indigenous Feminist Publishing Movements. (Lisa Moore, Felicia Montes, Audrey Castillo, Kim Tran, Casandra Lopez) | Room 408 A, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

R117. Welcome to the Party: Asian American Open Mics in Southern California as Sites of Resistance. (Janice Sapigao, Eddy M. Gana, Jr., Myca Tran, Stephanie Sajor, Sean Miura) | Room 409 AB, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

Continue reading “The LR Guide to AWP 2016”

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”

LR News: We’re Back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

LR News: A Season for Sabbath

We're on the road to new things.
We’re on the road to new things.

To our beloved readers and members of the LR community:

In the four and a half years since Lantern Review first came into existence, we’ve been incredibly blessed. Over the course of six issues and hundreds of blog posts, tweets, and Facebook interactions, we’ve seen this community grow from a tiny little magazine that was making a little noise in the APIA literary community to a tiny little magazine with a steady community of contributors and readers that spans continents, that gets to make bigger noise at events like AWP (through projects like this map and other collaborations with our APIA publishing colleagues), and that continues to blossom year by year. It’s been a busy last four and a half years. A fruitful last four and a half years. A season in which we’ve been continually humbled by the breadth and strength of the APIA lit community, and for which we are unspeakably grateful.

But, as it’s sometimes said, there is a season for everything. And now, it so happens, is a season in which we (the editors) need to rest for a little while. This is a decision that’s been some time in coming. We love this project deeply, love working on it together, and have loved seeing the magazine, blog, and surrounding community grow in the past four and a half years. But running a two-woman editorial operation of LR’s scale requires an enormous amount of time and attention, and as new developments in our personal and family lives have come to light over the course of the last year, we’ve simply found ourselves in need of a break. And so, as of today, we are putting Lantern Review (both blog and magazine) on extended hiatus.

We should emphasize, first and foremost, that this does not mean the ultimate end of LR. Think of this as a “sabbath” (or even as a sabbatical)—a season in which we take some time away to recharge—rather than as the closing of the door for good. At the moment, our plan is to take a year off and to meet again after that time has passed in order to reassess where we stand and whether we are ready to relaunch. We are hoping that by taking a step back to engage in some much-needed time for family, personal projects, and general self-care, we’ll be able to return, eventually, with fresh eyes and new energy.

Practically, this will mean that LR, and all of its avenues of output, will go dark for a time. All of our content to date will, of course, continue to be accessible through the blog and web site. But we will not be posting new blog updates or taking submissions for the next issue of the magazine for a while. Nor will we be tracking contributor news on social media (Facebook or Twitter) or (most likely) promoting the magazine at the AWP 2015 bookfair (though it is possible that we may attend as individual writers). We still have one upcoming event that we’re participating in during the month of May (a very exciting collaborative reading that we’ll be doing with several other APIA lit mags!), and we will be continuing to provide social media updates about that as more details become available. We will also continue to be accessible via email, which we will check intermittently (perhaps once a month) throughout the hiatus. And of course, we want to be available to respond to any immediate concerns you might have about how the hiatus might look, or how it will affect upcoming plans for the spring, so please don’t hesitate to email us if there’s a lingering question that is weighing on your mind (we will still be checking our account daily for the next couple of weeks).

We wouldn’t be here without our community, and it’s thanks to you and your constant support that the last four and a half years have been such an incredible joy. And so, it’s with nothing but bone-deep gratitude that we sign off for now. Thank you for demonstrating to us, over the years, the brilliance and diversity and freshness of the work being created within the context of the wonderfully messy, slippery, complex thing that is APIA poetry. We have learned so much about community, about compassion, about the beauty of collaboration, the importance of continued debate and discussion, and the necessity of poetry itself. Getting to edit Lantern Review and converse with you has challenged and matured us as much as individuals and artists as it has taught us how to be good editors. We encourage you not to let the momentum go—to keep writing and reading and talking about APIA poetry; to continue the discussions that have already begun here. We wish you all the best in the weeks and months to come and hope to see you again, eventually, on the other side. In the meantime, please keep on carrying the torch!

To APIA poetry and to community, always!

In peace and light, as ever,
Iris & Mia

Editors’ Corner: On Our Radar (March 2014)

Happy Thursday! A lot of relevant literary news has been making the rounds as of late, so we thought we’d do a quick roundup to keep you up to speed.

2014 Kundiman Prize Deadline Nears

The 2014 Kundiman Book Prize, co-sponsored by Alice James Books, is still accepting manuscripts for consideration until Saturday (3/15). If you’re an Asian American poet who’s been shopping around a full-length poetry manuscript, we encourage you to submit. Past winners have included Janine Oshiro (2010; interviewed on our blog here), Matthew Olzmann (2011; interviewed here), Cathy Linh Che (2012; featured in this Q&A), and Lo Kwa Mei-en (2013). More information, including guidelines, can be found here.

Updates: New and Forthcoming Book Releases by Contributors & Staff

Earlier this year, we previewed a few books that are forthcoming in 2014, and we were recently excited to learn that Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam has now officially been released and that Kristen Eliason’s Picture Dictionary is now available for pre-order on her publisher’s website.

In other contributor publication news, Craig Santos Perez’s third book, from unincorporated territory [guma’]is forthcoming from Omnidawn later this year, and Don Mee Choi’s translation of Kim Hyesoon’s Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (of which we published an excerpt in Issue 6) was launched at AWP last month. Additionally, Luisa A. Igloria, whose latest collection Henry reviewed here, recently announced that she has two more books forthcoming: Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser, for which she won the May Swenson Poetry Award, and Night Willow, due out from Phoenicia Publishing (in Montreal) this spring.

New Book of Interest: April Naoko Heck’s A Nuclear Family

Every now and then, we come across a new book that we wonder why we didn’t know about earlier, and this is one of them: April Naoko Heck’s debut collection, A Nuclear Family, which was just released. I [Iris] have been a fan of Heck’s work for some years now, ever since I encountered some of her poems in the first issue of AALR.  She writes with clarity and surety, an ear for music, and an eye for lush visual textures, artfully interleaving and building up layers of image to form beautifully collaged, almost dreamlike, poetic landscapes. I was thrilled to learn that she now has a book. (I only wish I had known about it in January when I started putting together our 2014 preview/round-up!)

“The Honey Badgers Don’t Give a Book Tour” Launching This Summer

We were delighted to learn that four of our past contributors (Eugenia Leigh, Sally Wen Mao, Cathy Linh Che, and Michelle Chan Brown) have banded together to do a book tour this summer. Their first stop will be a launch party in NYC (at LouderARTS Bar 13), on July 14th; the remaining tour dates have not yet been announced, but you can follow their website to stay abreast of future developments.

APIA Lit Mag News

A news round-up here wouldn’t be complete without a few updates about recent developments from our colleagues at other APIA literary magazines. One thing is for sure: they’ve been busy.

Last month, Kartika Review released its 2012–2013 anthology (now available for sale on Lulu). Its pages contain work by our very own Mia Ayumi Malhotra and Henry W. Leung,  as well as pieces by a number of LR contributors, including Karen An-hwei Lee, Khaty Xiong, Lee Herrick, Michelle Chan Brown, Neil Aitken, Purvi Shah, R. A. Villanueva, Rachelle Cruz, and W. Todd Kaneko.

The AALR also just released its newest issue, themed around the topic of “Local/Express: Asian American Arts and Community in 90s NYC” and guest edited by Curtis Chin, Terry Hong, and Parag Rajendra Khandhar. LR contributors’ work abounds in its pages, as well: R. A. Villanueva, Ocean Vuong, Purvi Shah, Eugenia Leigh, and Cathy Linh Che all have work that appears in the issue.

Last, but not least, TAYO recently launched their fifth issue (which takes “Community” as its theme). They also posted this very thoughtful response to some of the reactions to their revised open submissions policy (in which they will now consider work that is not specifically themed around Filipina/o issues) on their blog. The issues that they address in their post highlight what I think is a very real dilemma for many publications serving specific communities of color: how does one navigate the balance between focusing on being a resource for those within the community while simultaneously remaining relevant within the greater literary conversation—enabling participation from and dialogue with voices from outside the community, as well? It’s a fuzzy line that’s not always easy to walk.

Virtual Reading for APIA Month: Coming Soon

Lantern Review is excited to be participating in a first-of-its-kind virtual reading that will take place this May, in celebration of APIA Heritage Month. Curated by Kenji C. Liu (a past LR contributor and former poetry editor of Kartika Review), the reading will feature contributors from each of several APIA literary magazines, and will take place online in real time—through Google Hangouts. The details of the event are still being worked out, but we will be sure to Tweet and Facebook updates as we know more.

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That’s all we have for you today, but please continue to keep us updated on relevant literary news via Facebook and Twitter so that we can share it—we love hearing what you (and the poets you admire) have been up to!