“What is the Landscape of APIA Literature?” reads the poster board map of the United States that I’ve stuck up on my bedroom wall. Red, green, and blue dots cluster over the black sharpie outlines of its borders, clotting layer upon layer in some locations (e.g. NYC, LA, SF, New England), and scattering more sparsely across others (there’s two lonely blue dots huddled together in the southeastern-most corner of South Dakota; while several states—such as Alaska, Idaho, Oklahoma, and New Mexico—remain blank). A key in the right hand corner provides some interpretation: green dots stand for people who identify as writers and readers (and/or publishers) of Asian/Pacific Islander American (APIA) literature, red for those who identify as readers (but not writers) of APIA lit, and blue for those who identify as neither a reader nor a writer of APIA lit, but are curious to learn more.
The information on this map was “crowd-sourced” a few months ago at our the AWP bookfair table, where we and three other APIA lit mags (Kartika Review, TAYO Magazine, and Hyphen) invited passers-by to add dots representing themselves to the map according to the place of origin with which they most identified and their relationship to APIA literature. One of the things that struck us immediately was how very open people were to our invitation to “map” themselves. The act of adding oneself to a map carries its own particular appeal. To place yourself on a map is to make a statement about one’s identity; to declare one’s origins; to make one’s mark on a place; to speak for and represent oneself amidst a larger community. In the context of a conference as bewilderingly large and far-flung as AWP, especially, that seemed particularly important.
Thank you so much to all of you who entered our 2013 National Poetry Month giveaway! This weekend, we put the total number of entries (comments) received through a random number generator, and let it choose the number of the winning comment for us:
Also as promised, each of the first ten commentors to have entered the contest will receive a bundle of five of our poetry starter packs. These lucky ten people are, in the order in which their comments were received:
Rumit Pancholi, who’s reading Li-Young Lee and Garrett Hongo.
We were thrilled to see everyone’s responses. There was a wide range of names mentioned in the thirty-four comments that were left on the original post; Ching-In Chen, Kimiko Hahn, and Li-Young Lee topped the list at 4, 3, and 3 mentions each, while a number of other poets (Jason Bayani, Tarfia Faizullah, Bhanu Kapil, Myung Mi Kim, Karen Llagas, Barbara Jane Reyes, Ocean Vuong, Lynn Xu, and Andre Yang) were mentioned twice. Other writers who showed up on people’s lists included: Arthur Sze, Karen An-Hwei Lee, Dilruba Ahmed, Angie Chuang, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Kenji Liu, David Maduli, Pos L. Moua, Soul Choj Vang, Ka Vang, Sesshu Foster, Angela Torres, Matthew Olzmann, Koon Woon, Allen Qing Yuan, Beau Sia, Amy Uyematsu, Russell Leong, Mitsuye Yamada, Joel Tan, Tsering Wangmo, Lee Herrick, Hiroshi Kashiwagi, David S. Cho, Bao Phi, Ed Bok Lee, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Sasha Pimental Chacon, Burlee Vang, Ishle Yi Park, Sally Wen Mao, Lo Kwa Mei-En, and Hoa Nguyen. (To read about these recommendations in more detail, click here to see the original post). Many commentors also took the time to leave detailed remarks about the work of the poets they’d mentioned. Their recommendations have definitely nudged us to add several names and titles to our reading lists, and we hope they’ve inspired you, too!
Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you so much again to everyone who entered, as well as to our generous sponsors, AALR, Kaya, and Henry Leung. A very happy tail end of National Poetry Month to you all! We’ll see you on the flip side, in May, when we’ll continue our celebration of Asian American poetry with more special content for APIA Heritage Month.
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.
In Koon Woon’s Water Chasing Water, a river appears in one poem and flows into the next, appearing there as rain, turning up in one place as an ocean and in yet another as a damp and soggy sadness. I was immediately reminded of lê thi diem thúy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For, and there on thúy’s first page: “Ba and I were connected to the four uncles, not by blood but by water” (3).
Woon’s text gestures toward the meanings of water—as life-giving force, as connective tissue, as that which carries us. lê thi diem thúy explains that “In Vietnamese, the word for water and the word for anation, a country, and a homeland are one and the same: nu’ó’c.” In Thai, the word for river (แม่น้ำ) is made up of the word for mother (แม่) and the word for water (น้ำ). For the diasporic fish/ghost/dish-washer in Woon’s poems, water connects places to other places, traveling from person to person and washing up memories and other debris.
As if glazed in the afternoon heat,
the blackberry brambles are still and
quiet, the steel rail expanding,
and once the roar of a rumbling freight
passes and dies, the slough,
quiet again with its currents,
becomes water moving on
in my unregulated childhood.
[. . .]
In the waters between us are
the gurgling sounds of childhood empires
and paper boats, and in the parcels of land
that sustain us, the memories of stickers
and hand-staining berries;
in nights of sleep,
a child’s reworking of paradise. (“As If,” 5)
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.
He is an associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College.
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LR: As a writer, you have the unusual ability to move seamlessly between genres—poetry, fiction, and essays. Can you describe what it’s like to make those transitions? Does your creative process change between genres and if so, how?
KA: I always liked a musical, lyrical, rhythmic kind of prose. Anais Nin’s book The House of Incest was one of my favorite books growing up. I found myself attracted to brief prose forms, ones that could be taken in at a single setting, that acted nearly as music. I like transporting the shape of a lyric poem into prose, whether an essay or fiction.
The form of the “prose poem” per se has never been very interesting to me. First of all because I love the sentence more than the paragraph. And secondly because what prose—the novel or the essay—really offered was time. So I am not interested in brief prose forms, flash fiction or whatever.
There are times when the question of genre doesn’t matter. My book Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities, for example—does it matter if it is prose-poetry or lyric memoir or whatever? I’ve often thought it should be taught in Urban Studies classes. It is about “cities” after all!
Does the category matter? Only if you are trying to sell the book, not for the reader or for the writer. It was written as a “book;” that’s pretty much what I have to say about it. Of course it’s prefigured by texts like “Event,” “Train Ride,” “The Journey,” and “Travel,” all published as poems in my first collection The Far Mosque.
I am not sure I think about genre as I am writing, but many times as I work on poems (I have been working on one about Varanasi for a long time) I will think: this needs to be in prose because I need more time.
Poems happen in a moment, like music, while prose creates an architecture of experience, like dance? Is that it?
LR: Your prose is often infused with poetry, and you sometimes work with prose poetry. What inspires you about crossing genres?
KA: Well, language is itself, queer, revelatory and unsettling. So it’s the “poetry” or the non-normative, the performative and oral, that I privilege always. Bringing the resources of poetry in the novel or the essay is my path. I barely write traditional narrative poetry, though some comes in here and there (for example, in my recent book Sky Ward there are many narrative poems, including “Fairy Tale,” but this is a new development! Who knows how long it will last).
LR: How has your background in music and dance informed your poetry?
KA: Sound and silence have always been critical to me in constructing a poem, often times coming before sense or leading me to some kind of sense. (Though I am still suspicious of nonsense, I confess). Dance (and yoga) helped me to learned the physical capabilities of the body and the length of a breath. Choreographing on a stage gives you lots to think about in terms of the shape of a poem and the shape of the page.
Do you know that reading series “Page Meets Stage”? I have never (yet) been invited to participate but I think I am both Page and Stage. In fact the page is a stage, isn’t it? I feel a lot of kinship with writers who work in both senses.
Happy April! It’s national poetry month, and as usual, we’re celebrating both this month and next (APIA heritage month) on the LR blog with lots of Asian American poetry goodness. This year, for April, we’ll be running an installment of our annual Process Profiles series, and we’ve also teamed up with our friends at the Asian American Literary Reviewand Kaya Press to offer a giveaway that includes some truly awesome prizes.
First, though, we want to hear from you: what Asian American poets are on your reading list for this April, or what’s one poet whom you’d recommend to people who want to read more Asian American poetry this month? Leave a comment on this post by April 22nd with the name of at least one Asian American poet whose work you love, and you’ll be entered in a random drawing to win a 1-year subscription to AALR, a copy of Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut’s Magnetic Refrain(reviewed on our blog here), and a copy of our very own Henry W. Leung’s chapbook, Paradise Hunger.
But the APIA poetry love doesn’t stop there! Those of you who follow us on Facebook might remember seeing pictures of the “Poetry Starter Packs” from our AWP display this year—little envelopes containing prompts and ekphrastic/found inspiration that we handed out to passers-by in the bookfair. Well, if you weren’t able to make AWP (or even if you picked up a starter pack there, but want more to share), here is your chance: we’ll be giving away bundles of 5 poetry starter packs—some to keep, and some to share—to each of the first ten (10) people to enter!
To help get you thinking, we thought we’d ask some of our Issue 5 contributors what Asian American poets they’ve been reading or whose work they’d recommend to others this month. Here’s what a couple of them said.
From Ching-In Chen:
I adore Larissa Lai’sEggs in the Basement because she generated/mutated the whole body of language/the story from the actual language that she is playing with: “I generated a body of source text in a ten-minute automatic exercise, separated it as neatly as possible into subjects and predicates and wrote the poem by repeating first all the subjects and and cycling through the predicates in the first half, and then reversing the procedure for the second. Strangely, the result is loosely the story of Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, in which two murders are committed by a collective: an initial one, which traumatizes the collective, and a second, which covers over the first and consolidates an violent and violated melancholy from which the group cannot escape.” Next on my reading list is Paolo Javier’s The Feeling is Actual. I witnessed Paolo’s live film narration of “Monty and Turtle,” on the Feminism Meets Neo-Benshi: Movietelling Talks Back panel at AWP recently, which explores the story of an Asian American artist couple, and loved what I saw! After some discussion about the question about appropriation within neo/benshi practice, Paolo said that he dealt with this question by creating his own film clips to narrate to. Though the film clips aren’t part of the book, his script is published in this book.
From Desmond Kon:
For a lecture I’m giving, I’m rereading Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, edited by Timothy Liu and published by Talisman House in 2000. In my research, I discovered Liu’s lovely essay titled, “Making the Case for Asian-American Poetry”, on Poets.org. I also just received Iris A. Law’s chapbook of wildly intelligent poems: Periodicity. These are lyric gems, some persona poems, that thread the imagined voices of great women scientists like Marie Curie, Rachel Carson and Anna Atkins. Finally, to throw in some fiction, I’m reading Tash Aw’s newest novel, Five Star Billionaire. The book intertwines the lives of migrant Malaysian workers, trying to eke out a living in Shanghai – this “Paris of the East” is at once bright lights and dog-eat-dog. In fact, Tash Aw is doing a reading at this awesome and intimate bookstore BooksActually, and I’m really looking forward to hearing him talk about the writing of his novel.
Our National Poetry Month giveaway will end at 11:59 PM EST on Monday, April 22nd. Winners will be announced the following week. Many thanks to our partners, Kaya Press and AALR, for their generous sponsorship, as well as to LR staff writer Henry Leung for donating a copy of his chapbook. We look forward to hearing from you, and hope that the comments that others leave in this thread will inspire you to read more Asian American poetry this April!
Panax Ginseng is a bi-monthly column by Henry W. Leung exploring linguistic and geographic borders in Asian American literature, especially those with hybrid genres, forms, vernaculars, and visions. The column title suggests the English language’s congenital borrowings and derives from the Greek panax, meaning “all-heal,” together with the Cantonese jansam, meaning “man-root.” This perhaps troubling image of one’s roots as panacea informs the column’s readings.
Bruce Lee wrote a considerable number of poems, most of which were compiled for the first time in Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (Tuttle, 1999), and I’ve only seen two critical writings on them, both published in The Rumpus a year apart from each other. The first is Dave Landsberger’s “Poetry Kung Fu” from October 2011, and the second is David Biespiel’s “Bruce Lee’s Advice to Poets” from his “Poetry Wire” column in November 2012. Landsberger provides a generous reading of several of Lee’s poems with the intention of expanding the public image of the martial arts superstar, of using Lee as a model of artistic sincerity over artificial self-image, and of expressing his own enthusiasm for his layered portrait of Lee. Landsberger’s readings of the poems’ influences are astute, though his presentation is perhaps overly sentimental, and his exclamatory rhetoric (ironic though it may be) belies the sensationalism he cannot separate from Bruce Lee’s public image even in a treatment of his quieter poetry, as when he concludes an analysis by saying: “Poetry Kung-fu!” Indeed, the essay as a whole—with its demotic reiterations of Bruce Lee not just as a film star, but as a studious “dude who sat on a hood of a car with Steve McQueen eating cylindrical meats,” and sensitive husband to Linda Lee Caldwell—is more of a re-portraiture than a close analysis of poetry, a marveling at more than a study.
What concerns me about Landsberger’s reading, however, is its binary representation of cultural difference. He tells us early on that the above portrait of Lee eating hot dogs with Steve McQueen is “quite possibly the most American image this article will see.” Later, he must preface an explanation of Lee’s themes of longing with, “In Eastern thought . . .” and I’m not entirely sure whether to read this as the same application of aesthetic imperialism common to Lee’s time (merely replacing the word Oriental with Eastern), or as a more modern Orientalism in which the distancing of Lee’s work comes out of praise rather than discredit. In any case, Landsberger feels the need to justify Lee’s longing by noting, inaccurately: “to Western audiences this often reads as insecurity . . .” And he concludes the same section with a line beginning: “Perhaps the only thing Lee traditionally shares with some famous Western poets . . .” The imprecision of his readings aside, these statements are curious to me because even after all this time, even in a modern re-portraiture which addresses the literary sophistication of Bruce Lee’s character, Lee is still a shopworn image representing vast cultural differences and misunderstandings.
Landsberger doesn’t consider the fact that Lee’s poems are written in English, or that born in San Francisco but with a life split between America and Hong Kong, Lee had his choice of languages. That he translated Chinese dynastic poems into English and that his own poems played with Daoist sensibilities doesn’t necessarily place Lee in a position of representing “Eastern thought,” especially in an America which had already seen the popularization of Buddhist Modernism. It may be more apposite to read Lee’s linguistic proclivities as hybrid, not merely on an East/West scale but in the friction of the natural and the urban, a common theme in his early films. Landsberger fixates on the pastoral beauty of Lee’s poems, but neglects to notice the urbanity from which they arise, as in his Seattle poems set on Lake Washington, and especially in “The Surroundings Utter No Sound,” a goodbye poem in which the speaker says, “Anxiously I stopped the car by the roadside,” winding toward a beautiful ending situated somewhere between nature and city:
Like mountain streams, we part and meet again,
Everything is still,
Except the occasional lonely bark of a dog.
At long last, the fifth issue of Lantern Review is now live! (And our site has been given a long-overdue face lift to match). Themed around the topic of “hybridity,” Issue 5 features 100 pages of content, including poetry by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, Amy Uyematsu, Sally Wen Mao, Esther Lee, Christopher Santiago, Khaty Xiong, Kristen Eliason, Jane Wong, Carrie Green, and Ching-In Chen; visual art by Karen An-Hwei Lee and Michael Marcinek; and a special feature on the work of Takeo Rivera, in which we interview the poet/playwright/scholar and present an excerpt of his choreopoem Prometheus Nguyen. Our very first themed issue, and perhaps our most challenging to put together to date, Issue 5 has been a long time in coming, but we think it’s been more than worth the wait, and we’re confident that you’ll feel the same.
To enter the issue, click here or on the cover image at the top of this post. We’d love to hear what you think about this new, thematic format, as well as our transition to a more streamlined, Google-Fonts-based design for both the site and the magazine. And of course, if you experience any technical issues while browsing, please don’t hesitate to let us know that, either. Drop us a line at editors [at] lanternreview.com at any time; we’re always grateful for your feedback.
A very happy Monday (of AWP week!) to you, and many thanks again for your continued support of Lantern Review.
Here’s a preview of what Lantern Review will be up to at this year’s AWP conference… which is coming up in just a few days! You’ll find us listed in the bookfair catalogue as Lantern Review / Kartika Review, locatedat Table Y2 in Exhibit Hall D, Level 2. For the second year in a row, we’ll be tabling with Kartika Review — this time, with the wonderful support of our friends at TAYO Literary Magazineand Hyphen.
We’ll have chapbooks, magazines, and lots of other information about what’s happening in the Asian American literary world… not to mention an interactive display that will allow you to “put yourself on the map,” so to speak, of Asian American literature. See you next week!
Some Panels of Interest:
R131. Baring/Bearing Race in the Creative Writing Classroom. (Aimee Suzara, Kwame Dawes, Debra Busman, Diana Garcia, Lee Herrick)
F150. Intersecting Lineages: Poets of Color on Cross-Community Collaboration. (Ching-In Chen, Sherwin Bitsui, Celeste Guzman Mendoza, Hayan Charara, Kevin Simmonds)
F162. The New Workshop: Literary Community through Pedagogical Innovation, Sponsored by Kundiman. (Sarah Gambito, Regie Cabico, Paisley Rekdal, Myung Mi Kim)
F251. The Divided Heart: Writing Far From Home. (Sandra Yee, Eduardo C. Corral, Ishion Hutchinson, Valzhyna Mort, Jane Wong)
F279. Visible Shores: Writers of Color Listening Across Waters. (Patrick Rosal, Tiphanie Yanique, Roger Bonair-Agard, Christian Campbell, Rachelle Cruz)