Every year around the holidays, we post a roundup of books recommended by our staff writers to the LR Blog. The end of the current year is now fast approaching, and so in continuation of our tradition, here is a list of titles we enjoyed reading in 2012 and wanted to share with you:
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Rules of the House
by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa
Apogee Press, 2002
Recommended by Mia: “I recently started teaching full-time, so I haven’t had much time to read poetry… but I’m slowly working through Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s Rules of the House. I’ve been savoring every poem because Dhompa has this way of leveling the reader with the slightest detail, all the while developing complex arcs that echo and extend throughout the book.”
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The Pillow Book
by Jee Leong Koh
Math Paper Press, 2012
Recommended by Wendy: “Inspired by the example of eleventh-century Japanese author and court lady Sei Shōnagon, Jee Leong Koh collects his miscellaneous jottings in his own pillow book. Written in the genre called zuihitsu, which compromises both prose and poetry, these observations, lists and anecdotes on life in Singapore and New York are, in turn, humorous, reflective, satirical, nostalgic and outrageous.”
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Gardening Secrets of the Dead
by Lee Herrick
Word Tech Editions, 2012
Recommended by Wendy: “[In Brian Turner's words]: ‘Lee Herrick’s Gardening Secrets of the Dead is a lyric exploration of the fractured and fragmented landscape of the self, where the body is a song composed of many selves. Whitman revised, the poems ‘celebrate and assemble/ from around the world’ with a voice that is politically engaged and rooted in compassion.’”
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by giovanni singleton
Counterpath Press 2012
Winner of the 81st Annual California Book Award for Poetry
Recommended by Jai: “Comprised mostly of a daybook written during musician and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane’s 49-day transition between death and rebirth, giovanni singleton’s Ascension rings with unexpected cadences. As a soul ascends, what settles and rattles at our feet? From day to day, where are the stillnesses? These are the questions this book leads me to ask, as singleton takes us ‘way back to // where every sound / was a story and // every silence / epic.’”
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“Almost Heaven: On the Human and Divine“
[Volume 23.2 of Manoa]
Recommended by Henry: “This is volume 23.2 of Manoa, the volume that came out in 2011 just prior to ‘Sky Lanterns,’ with beautiful glass-plate negatives of Hawaii, and featuring writers on a variety of illusory paradises not limited to the Pacific. The essays especially are worth checking out!”
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by Kristen Eliason
Dancing Girl Press, 2012
Recommended by Iris: “I’ve been reading a lot of chaps this year (they’re perfect for short amounts of time, so I can read one on my lunch break), and this one is an absolute gift. Living overseas in the wake of a momentous tragedy, Eliason’s speaker grapples with her alienation and grief in a series of heartbreakingly spare missives—quiet snapshots in whose white spaces the rawness of loss seeps through. Eliason has a talent for lyric invocation, but the real power of this chap, for me, really lies in the spaces of absence that pit and fragment her text—the things she allows her speaker to leave unsaid.”
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Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood
by Rachelle Cruz
Dancing Girl Press, 2012
Recommended by Iris: ”Another fabulous Dancing Girl title. Notable for the courageous viscerality of its voice, Cruz’s chap is tonally very different from Eliason’s, but also intensely powerful. Cruz’s speaker is a shape-shifter, slipping easily in and out of voices and narratives from across time and space in order to weave together a portrait that glistens as much with sinew as it does with the force of its story.”
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Staff Publications: The LR Blog staff has also had a particularly busy year in terms of our own individual writing lives, and since this post is the one time a year that we get to feature the staff, we thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to share some of their recent and forthcoming publications with you. If you follow the blog regularly and are curious about our bloggers’ own poetic work, we hope you’ll consider adding a few of these titles to your future reading lists, as well!
- Jai Arun Ravine’s collection, แล้ว and then entwine, was published by Tinfish in 2011.
- Henry W. Leung’s Paradise Hunger won the 2012 Swan Scythe Press Poetry Chapbook Contest, and was published this fall.
- Mia A. Malhotra has a sheaf of poems in the Fall/Winter issue of AALR.
- Iris A. Law’s chapbook, Periodicity, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in February.
- Wendy Chin-Tanner’s first collection, Turn, is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in March 2014.
Magnetic Refrain by Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut | Kaya Press 2013 | $14.95
. . . Conjoined at the hip, we could
only pretend to be aligned but really
were so frantic to separate. You tried
to saw us in half, after I’d fallen asleep,
then I’d woken to what you’d done,
brilliantly. You’d bandaged the sopping
blood at the split bone and medicated me,
but still, I was pleased by our most recent
attempt at sovereignty. I could not
complain for lack of dishonesty.
It has never been that easy, keeping you
secret, when you keep dividing me.
(from “Dear Other,” series)
In Magnetic Refrain, transnational Korean American adoptee Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut speaks through folktales and fox-demons, inflatable dolls and war brides, defectors seeking asylum and mothers separated from their children by adoption and military partition, to explore the magnetism of twinning, the conjunction of self and other, and the continued return to the loss of never knowing.
Like the poems “The Unfilial Daughter” and “The Filial Son,” or “Venus and the Martian,” many pieces and personas in this collection mirror each other in their adjacency, like twins. The tension becomes a metaphor for the diasporic longing to come together, cross the water, and belong within a family history that straddles endless divisions.
As an adoptee with two birth dates and two different names, Schildkraut writes of the phantom parallel trajectory of a life that could have been lived, a loss that begins to haunt. Two sets of parents. Mother and other, “multiplying instead of living” (“The Lucky Bastard”). Schildkraut gestures toward a fantasy of joining these two trajectories, a fantasy in which one becomes two becomes one, becomes same.
Twins, siblings and lovers recur, wanting the m/other, “[taking] turns becoming invisible” and then “long[ing] to become visible, again” (“Family History”), “pulling her in half” (“The Twin She Never Knew”). The “magnetic refrain” of the book contemplates what holds two people together—a child to its family—and whether or not these magnetisms could be classified as “love.”
Schildkraut’s collection features many poems in the second person, but the point of view shifts in the final piece, “Vaguely Asian,” where the weight of her explorations via folklore and human/doll hybrids settles into a more personal narrative. Here, Schildkraut’s sharp voice struggles with the diasporic plight of not knowing, and what it means to be given up “out of love, for strangers in a foreign country” (“Oedipal”). Looking at an old scrapbook, she writes, “The pages for early memories from birth to early childhood, date and time of birth, are all left blank.” Visiting a Korean shaman, she asks herself, “What can she tell me about my other, early life in Korea that hasn’t already been made up out of thin air?”
“It’s a different kind of loss, to never know,” realizes Schildkraut. Her poems and personas literally and figuratively become inflated by longing. She ends “Vaguely Asian” with the following revelation regarding origin and place: “And even if those origins are obscured, the drive to search still remains like a lantern sending a fractured pattern of shapes against the wall at dusk, half-shadows, half-light.” These poems breathe into the shell of diasporic desire, and allow us to witness the speaker’s first flickering attempts toward animation and fullness.
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Magnetic Refrain will be published by Kaya Press on February 4, 2013.
Don Mee Choi is the author of The Morning News Is Exciting (Action Books, 2010) and the recipient of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award. She has received the 2012 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize for All the Garbage of the World, Unite! by Kim Hyesoon. More of her translations can be found at Action Books, Tinfish Press, and Zephyr Press.
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LR: Before you published The Morning News Is Exciting, you were known as a translator of Korean poetry, having translated the work of three Korean female poets and published those translations in The Anxiety of Words: Contemporary Poetry by Korean Women. Do the techniques you employ in your translation work play a role in how you write your own poetry, and if so, how?
DMC: There are a few overlaps. I think the primary one is that there is the process of translating my own voice, which is in Korean as well as English and sometimes all mixed up, depending on what memories I am tapping into. My English was strange for a long time. I’m sure it still is. When my younger brother was growing up in Hong Kong, he spoke Korean, English, Cantonese, and Japanese all mixed up together. He and his Japanese friends communicated perfectly in this mixed-up language. They were too young to censor themselves. The same thing was going on in my head except that I was older and knew how to censor myself. I only freely talked funny with my sister and a Chinese friend who also knew how to talk funny. At school, I wore my uniform and memorized and recited things perfectly that I didn’t understand at all. I always failed because that funny voice inside me always butchered my English. So translating and writing is like this for me. I wear my school uniform and try to memorize and recite poems perfectly, but I always end up butchering them. My primary technique for translation and my own poetry is failure.
LR: Of the poetry you have translated, which particular writers or works remain the most resonant and influential for you?
DMC: All three poets in Anxiety of Words—Ch’oe Sûng-ja, Kim Hyesoon, and Yi Yôn-ju—had impact on me deeply. It was very emotional for me to learn about their work, interview them, and translate them. It didn’t involve just knowing the language or culture. It was a difficult and painful process of sorting out my own dislocation, understanding how my own displacement has been translated by others and represented in the official narratives of power. So I understood and still understand my translation and writing work as a decolonizing act. Kim Hyesoon’s work never fails to excite me as I continue to translate her latest work as well as her older work. She is categorized and referred to as one of the “1980’s poets,” yet she remains prolific and brilliant, continuing to break down, subvert, or invert literary expectations and boundaries that contain and regulate women in South Korea.
These days, my life is very full. Of work, of editing, of coding, of teaching, of conversing and community-building, and—for the first time—of writing and thinking and speaking about not just about my work as an editor, but also about my own poetry, its context in the world, how I see it in conversation with broader discourses.
My first chapbook, Periodicity, is being published in February. I’ve been living in a bit of a fugue state since July, when my publisher first relayed the good news to me. Everything has been heady and surreal; suddenly, a wealth opportunities have been given to me to talk about my work, my writing, my personal literary interests. My evenings have been filled with logistics and correspondence: I’ve been gathering addresses for mailing lists, maintaining a Facebook page, conversing with friends and family about what a chapbook is, negotiating shipping refunds, designing promotional materials, scheduling interviews and reviews, and writing reams and reams of heartfelt thank-you notes. But in the midst of it all, I’ve found, somewhat disconcertingly, that I have had very little time, opportunity (or even physical energy) to write new poems.
I’m going to be honest here: I haven’t completed a full first draft of a poem in more than three months. I’ve written a few sketches here and there, most of which I’ve later thrown away. I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to make inroads on revising drafts from this summer. But since finishing the final revision of my chapbook manuscript in early August, I haven’t been able to write so much as a stanza. Every time someone congratulates me on the chap, I brace myself for the usual follow-up question: so what are you working on now?
Two Reviews: Barbara Jane Reyes’s FOR THE CITY THAT NEARLY BROKE ME and Timothy Yu’s 15 CHINESE SILENCES
For The City That Nearly Broke Me by Barbara Jane Reyes | Aztlan Libre Press 2012 | $13
In my California, we know how to party. We Black Panther Party. We 2PAC and Dre. We Dime a Day, we Dollar a Dance. We Fillmore jazz. We Summer of Love. We Barbary Coast. We I-Hotel. We Chinatown. We North Beach howl.
In my California, we no Baywatch babe. We East Los, we South Central LA. We Rodney King video. We campesino. We mighty Sacramento River. Rooted deep sequoia giants, we lovin’ the wind, we kissin’ the sky.
(from “My California” 34)
I met up with Barbara Jane Reyes at Shooting Star Cafe in Oakland Chinatown to chat about her new chapbook For The City That Nearly Broke Me. The project started with a writing prompt: write about a city that saved you, then write about a city that broke you. As Barbara began to think about what it would mean “to be broken by a city,” she decided to approach it by writing about places that “were the most emotionally complicated for me.” The chapbook hovers over and between Manila (“my birthplace but not necessarily my home”) and Oakland, where she has been living for the past decade but is not sure she can claim as her own.
I resonated with what Barbara had to say regarding the internal conflict inherent in claiming place and claiming home. Many immigrants and children of immigrants struggle with a similar tension; our birthplaces (or our parents’ birthplaces), with their histories of colonization, are now tourist destinations, and both the industry of tourism and the good intentions of our families make it difficult for us to “forge a connection” with these places. In Barbara’s case, her “attempts to go deeper are thwarted” by the gaze of the tourist as well as by her own family, who implies that there are things about Manila she might not be able to handle, that “there is only so much we want you to see.”
The title poem of the chapbook has 17 parts, #3 of which, “Junto al Pasig,” references a José Rizal poem and talks about the Pasig River. Barbara spoke about the Pasig as a river that gives its name to the Filipino people, but a river that is also environmentally dead. Many squatter communities now make their homes around this dead river. Barbara’s “Junto al Pasig” illustrates the sacred decay of the river with a juxtaposition of two “streams,” in a sense; one of “giardia,” “DDT” and “blooming cholera” and another of divine incantation and “divina aurora” (5).
Lee Herrick is the author of This Many Miles from Desire (WordTech Editions). His poems have appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies, including The Bloomsbury Review, ZYZZYVA, Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, 2nd edition, and One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form, among others. Born in Daejeon, South Korea and adopted at ten months, he lives in Fresno, California and teaches at Fresno City College and in the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.
LR: One of the themes in This Many Miles from Desire that stood out most to me is the notion of the liminal space. There is, for example, the dream space of such poems as “Three Dreams of Korea: Notes on Adoption,” the physical space of travel—of being in between here and there, linguistic space, and also spiritual space. Could you talk a bit about how you envisage this relationship between space and liminality in your work?
LH: When I wrote This Many Miles from Desire, I had only been back to Korea once since being adopted. My return was very brief–two days–and that return formed “Korean Adoptee Returns to Seoul.” Since then I have been back for longer periods of time, but the vast majority of This Many Miles from Desire was written in a time where Korea was one large, complex question in my mind. I did not know most of the major details of my early life: the day I was born, who my birth family was (I still don’t), or even what cities like Seoul or Daejeon looked like. In one sense, I felt fully alive, but in another sense, there were so many uncertainties. For example, I do not know my family’s medical history, so that contributed to the sense of liminality to which you refer. My adoptive family is my family, and we are very close. But national origins are vital, so much of the book explored that territory. You can see it in some of the poems. I was on a journey, literally traveling through Latin America and Asia and piecing together remnants of the world to reduce the gaps between my early years and who I had become.
“Three Dreams of Korea: Notes on Adoption” was a breakthrough for me both as a person and as a poet because it was one of the first poems I ever wrote about my adoption. The important part of the process was when I discovered Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town, essential reading for any poet, in which he problematizes the often used teaching phrase, “write what you know.” I was rather paralyzed, then, because I did not know (about my birth country, my birth family). I couldn’t reference the streets, the food, the people, the sounds of my country. So it was a major turning point for me when Hugo says we should invent. You do not necessarily have to “know” (literally) to write the poem. We can imagine. And so I did. In “Three Dreams of Korea,” I even imagined the dreams. I never had those three dreams. I created them for the poem’s sake. It was incredibly liberating. We write in the direction of discovery. Maybe we float in and out of various states of knowing, and our poems represent that floating. read more…
Welcome back to the Lantern Review Blog’s 2012–2013 season! We’re happy to announce that we are returning with the same team of talented staff writers who were with us last year, so you can expect the same, high quality of interviews, reviews, and column posts as usual. We’ve also decided to make a few changes to our look and format for this season.
Change in Format of Editorial Posts
Last year, with the volume of regular staff contributor posts that we were putting up every month, we found ourselves with less ability to focus on our editorial columns than in the past. As a result, our readers were treated to a regular array of Friday Prompts, but not much in the way of other editorial content, such as coverage of events and news about contributors. In the interest of reintroducing some variety, we’ve decided to consolidate most of our editorial posts into a single column, “Editors’ Corner,” which will appear (approximately) every other Friday, and will cover a broader range of content than we have been able to feature in the past. We’ll still be posting prompts on some Fridays, but they will appear less frequently than before, and will be interspersed with other prescient topics of interest—such as thoughts on publishing; meditations on balancing work and writing; observations about teaching; books we’ve been reading lately; readings we’ve attended, etc.
Contributor News Moved to Facebook and Twitter
In addition to introducing our “Editors’ Corner” column, we’ll also be moving most of our updates about contributors and friends (which we previously featured in “Friends & Neighbors” posts) to our social media outlets: Facebook and Twitter. The LR community has grown by leaps and bounds in the past three years (for which we are infinitely grateful), and as it has grown, we’ve begun to discover that the format of posting contributor news to the blog has made it difficult for us (of which there are only two, both with full-time day jobs!) to feature everyone’s recent news in a timely manner. In order to ensure that we are able to get the word out more efficiently about as many of our contributors’ activities as possible, we’ve decided that it would be more effective to announce news on Facebook and Twitter as we become aware of it, rather than waiting until we have enough tidbits to make up a blog post. If you have recent news of a publication, reading, award, or other event that you would like us to feature, please do share it with us, either by tagging us on Facebook, Tweeting us, or sending us an email. We’ll do our best to share and retweet any contributor news that comes across our radar organically during the work week, and will also be sure to pass on news about calls for submission, new releases of APIA Lit mags, and readings or events of interest as we become aware of them.
The Blog Gets New Clothes; More Coming Soon
We’ve given the blog a bit of a design update in anticipation of an overall site redesign that we plan to release with Issue 5 (which we hope to complete soon). What do you think of the new color scheme and header font? Let us know in a comment or email!
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That’s all of our recent news for now. Our regular schedule of contributor blog posts will begin on Wednesday, when we’ll post Wendy Chin-Tanner’s interview with Lee Herrick. Please keep your eyes peeled for news about Issue 5, and in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to let us know any thoughts/questions you might have about the changes discussed above.
Happy November! (And if you are a U.S. voter, don’t forget to cast your vote tomorrow!)
Light and Peace Always,
Iris & Mia
Dear LR Readers,
Due to changes in our personal schedules and some logistical delays that we’re experiencing with the production of our next issue, we’ve decided to officially put the LR Blog on its annual late-summer hiatus as of today, and to push back the release of Issue 5 until after our return. Although we had initially hoped to have the issue out by now and to take hiatus after its release (as we’ve done in the past), we’ve found ourselves running a lot farther behind than we had anticipated, so we thought it would be best to go on hiatus now, so that we can keep the blog schedule as close to normal as possible. We plan to end the hiatus sometime in October, at which time we’ll return with Issue 5 in hand and a new academic year’s worth of fresh content from our team of staff writers. In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns regarding either Issue 5 or the 2012–13 blog schedule, please don’t hesitate to send us an email: [editors (at) lanternreview (dot) com].
Many thanks for your patience, and we hope you enjoy these last few days of warmth as the season transitions into fall.
See you in October,
Iris & Mia
The LR Editors