LR News: Happy APIA Heritage Month!

It’s Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage month, which means that it’s once again time to celebrate on the Lantern Review Blog. This May, we’ll be picking up with two special series that we’ve run in previous years, in addition to posting our regular fare of interviews, columns, and reviews. Here’s a glance at what you can expect to see:

Process Profiles Series

Just as we’ve done in past Mays, we’ve asked several of our contributors to write short guest posts for us in which they reflect upon their processes for writing a poem of theirs that we’ve published.  This has always been one of our favorite series to run, and we hope that you’ll enjoy this year’s installments equally as much as those from years past.  A new Process Profile will be posted each week (usually on a Wednesday), every week, for the duration of May.

Curated Prompts

We had a lot of fun getting to work with our guest prompt-writers last May, so we’re thrilled to be able to continue our Curated Prompts series—in which we post writing exercises contributed by respected writers and teachers of Asian American poetry in lieu of our regular Friday Prompts—during this year’s APIA Heritage Month.  This year’s lineup begins with Karen An-hwei Lee, whose exuberant, weather-inspired exercise will appear on the blog this Friday, the 4th.

Issue 5 Reading Period to Open Mid-Month

We’ve been waiting to re-open our reading period, because we have a very special announcement to make about our next issue. All will be revealed in mid-May, when we will officially open our doors to submissions for Issue 5.

The Poetry Celebration Continues

We’re particularly lucky, in a sense, that Poetry Month and APIA Heritage Month are back to back, because it means that we have the opportunity to celebrate Asian American poetry for two months straight!  In addition to our May series, we will also be keeping April’s Digital Broadsides up on the blog, and will continue to post Pocket Broadsides on Tumblr. We hope that you’ll continue to share these projects far and wide as our celebration of Asian American poetry continues.

Many thanks, and a very happy May to you.

Iris & Mia

Process Profile: Aimee Suzara Discusses “My Mother’s Watch”

Aimee Suzara
Aimee Suzara

Aimee Suzara is a Filipino-American writer, cultural worker and educator who has been writing and performing in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1999. Her first play, Pagbabalik (Return) was produced in 2006-7 and featured at several Bay Area festivals, and she is developing her second, A History of the Body, both supported by the Zellerbach Arts Fund. Her poems can be found in several journals and anthologies, including Walang Hiya (No Shame): literature taking risks towards liberatory practice, Kartika Review , Konch Magazine, Lantern Review and her chapbook, the space between. She has been a featured poet and educator at schools, universities and arts venues nationally.  Suzara has a Mills College M.F.A. and teaches English at Bay Area colleges. She has been a Hedgebrook Resident Artist and will be an Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in 2011.

For APIA Heritage Month 2011, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve been asking several Lantern Review contributors whose work gestures back toward history or legacy to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Aimee Suzara discusses her poem “My Mother’s Watch,” which appeared in Issue 2 of Lantern Review.

* * *

Though I began writing it in 2008, three years after my parents’ return to the Philippines, this poem began on my first visit “home” in 1991. In the opening moment at the bustling palengke (market), my mother insisted that she keep on her beloved Rolex, despite the attention I felt it drew. Through the poem, I sought to gain empathy for her attachment to the watch and what it symbolized. At this crossroads where goods are sold and money exchanged, the watch became the entry point to my family’s journey as immigrants.

And so I traced back the genesis of this watch—more accurately, the events leading to the desire for the watch. I had been piecing together my parents’ story and was fascinated with their uprooting from the slow-paced life of their childhood, to the full-color Technicolor dream of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Elvis songs and surround-sound systems.  I was interested in this proverbial upward mobility, how it swept these newlyweds, not more than a few dollars in tow, into a life of shiny hyper-Americana.  We were an unusual Filipino family living up the nuclear-family dream, moving frequently, cut off from anything Pinoy. Racism was thick in the small desert town where I spent much of my childhood, and we were taught not to trust anyone.  In the age of credit cards and microwaves, we were right up in it, and at times it seemed we lived on an island stocked, as if our ammunition against the world, with Betamax videos, Jiffy pop and Lean Cuisines.

In peer feedback, it was suggested that this was a poem about privilege and its contradictions. What had been lost, and what could possibly be gained in its place, when a sense of genuine status or acceptance would always be denied? In the attempt to return to our beginnings, what do we cling to? Now came the questions befit for memoir. Was I treating our story with enough compassion? I felt I had to ask permission; my mother read it, and she did not mind my candidness. In the writing of the poem, the roots of my parents’ desire for the “flashy” began to unravel.  Images that pushed through marked my parents’ coming of age in America, and then mine.

The first draft of the poem was in three parts, but it was suggested that I separate it into more, that it was too rushed and condensed.  This made sense for what I wished to convey about time. The watch, like a heartbeat, like our lives, ticked on its own time. In its final version, in five parts, the poem spans at least twenty-five years. In the remembering, and in the writing, time stands still.

* * *

Excerpt from “My Mother’s Watch”


They do not yet miss their left-behind lives:
Lolo’s rule in the house with the green metal gate where
nine kids left for the West,one by one by one
movie house in the little town by the sea
popcorn sold out of recycled coffee cans

Sine del Sol burns to the ground:
fatherless tensibling grudges

tsinellas shuf shuf shuffle across aged wooden floors
timemeasured in sunrise and sunset

The ones left behind keep time in slow
tick tock the clocks not turning digital

send us some Tang, cigarettes, M&Ms
medicine, a change of the curtains

From “My Mother’s Watch” | Aimee Suzara | Issue 2, Lantern Review | pp 17-24.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Process Profile: Barbara Jane Reyes Discusses “13. Black Jesus” [from “The City That Nearly Broke Me”]

Barbara Jane Reyes

Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010), recently noted as a finalist for the California Book Award. She was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books, 2003) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. She is co-editor with her husband, poet Oscar Bermeo, of Doveglion Press, and an adjunct professor in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco.

For APIA Heritage Month 2011, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve been asking several Lantern Review contributors whose work gestures back toward history or legacy to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Barbara Jane Reyes discusses her piece “13. Black Jesus” [an excerpt of her longer project “The City That Nearly Broke Me”], which appeared in Issue 1 of Lantern Review.

* * *

I love my Black Jesus persona.

He emerged in my “For the City That Nearly Broke Me” series, which I started writing after this prompt: “Write about the city that saved you. Write about one that nearly broke you.” Rachelle Cruz posted this prompt on her blog while she was a PEN Emerging Voices fellow.

I’ve never excavated Manila, my birthplace; it eludes my understanding, it’s always spitting me out. That’s how I see it, and so I wanted to find a thwart-proof way in.

I’ve spoken on Black Jesus and the galleon trade at Jacket2, in an interview conducted by Craig Santos Perez.

There is a general disdain Filipinos have for dark skin; we claim those precious few drops of Spanish blood. In this desire for whiteness, it’s ignored that much Spanish blood entered the Filipino via colonial rape.

The term “Buffalo Solider” has been around since the 1860’s, and refers to US cavalry and infantry regiments of African American soldiers. There are legends about the term’s origin, but I can’t get over the historical significance of African American men as animals. Moreover, these Buffalo Soldiers fought against Native Americans in the “Indian Wars,” and against the Filipinos in the Philippine American War. People of color pitted against one another in America’s formative wars of conquest.  Some defected from the US military, became Katipunan/Philippine freedom fighters, as “posters and leaflets addressed to ‘The Colored American Soldier’ described the lynching and discrimination against Blacks in the US and discouraged them from being the instrument of their white masters’ ambitions to oppress another ‘people of color’.”

And of course, “Buffalo Soldier” is a Bob Marley song, whose form the poem borrows. It’s a narrative of transnational displacement, an anthem of survival and resistance:

And he was taken from Africa,
brought to America.
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.
Say it was a buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta.
Buffalo soldier, in the heart of America.

It’s all of these displacements and reorientations that have allowed me to start the excavation.

* * *

Excerpt from “13. Black Jesus”

After Bob Marley

The indio who carved me   knew the drum and the heart are one.
He knew the song for hunting,   the waiting song, the calling song.
He knew the song for planting,   the song of earth’s open hand.
He knew the song for walking,   the river water song.

Buffalo Soldier,   Carabao Brother,
Stolen from the Americas,   brought to the islands,
Sharpening machete,   crouching in the jungle,
Born into slavery,   son of revolution.

From “13. Black Jesus” | Barbara Jane Reyes | Issue 1, Lantern Review | p 65.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Curated Prompt: Jon Pineda – “Caesura”

Jon Pineda

This May, in celebration of APIA Heritage Month, we have asked several respected teachers and writers of Asian American poetry to share favorite writing exercises with us.  This week’s installment was contributed by Jon Pineda.

Once, for training purposes at my job, I had to practice setting up an extension ladder mid-span, into that near empty space between telephone poles.  This space is usually connected by a cable lashed to a thin, metal strand.  At the top of the extension ladder are swiveled hooks for resting on the strand itself, so that there will at least be some resistance when it comes time to ascend the rungs, and then—once at the top, roughly twenty feet up—to attach the leather harness belt.  Then you simply lean back.  Ahead, there is nothing but the sky in front of you.

Though in that particular moment, suspended high above the ground, I was, of course, thinking about my physical safety, I couldn’t help thinking about other things as well.  That sky in front of me, for one.  It felt as though I could have fallen easily into that space.  Later, as I was working on a poem, I found myself thinking a lot about the caesura: the pause that usually occurs within a line of a poem.  I have always been interested in how this visual and aural delay aids in securing and distancing sections of imagery, so that the presence of a caesura is immediately felt by the absence it evokes.

Consider the first section from Ellen Bryant Voigt’s poem “Practice”:  “To weep unbidden, to wake / at night in order to weep, to wait / for the whisker on the face of the clock / to twitch again, moving / the dumb day forward— // is this merely practice?”  Voigt begins with a list of infinitives, each separated by a comma.  The reader is carried along by the undulant churning of each subsequent infinitive pushing into the next.  Then, the arrival of the dash halts the momentum just prior to the speaker’s question, “is this merely practice?”  The caesuras become a place that simultaneously allow the reader to rest within the pause and yet momentarily resist the unfolding tension of the poem.

I am grateful to Eileen Tabios for her contribution in resurrecting the work of the Filipino poet José Garcia Villa.  In The Anchored Angel, a book thoughtfully edited by Tabios, I first encountered Villa’s elaborate use of the comma, and I remember feeling confused and yet oddly at ease by this rush of punctuation.  In my mind, I kept hitting against the commas, until the words that preceded them became buffers for the next.  At that point, I settled into each word, pausing before and after:  “The, red-thighed, distancer, swift, saint, / Who, made, the, flower, principle, / The, sun, the, hermit’s, seizures, / And, all, the, saults, zigzags . . .” (from Villa’s poem “The Anchored Angel”).

In both examples I feel a presence at work.  Each point of pause tests the strength of the line.  It lets me, the reader, live in the suspension for just a little while longer.

Prompt: Write a poem that prominently features a caesura (or a number of caesuras).  Make the absence essential.

Jon Pineda is the author of the memoir Sleep in Me, a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection and a Library Journal “Best Books of 2010” selection.  His poetry collections include The Translator’s Diary, winner of the Green Rose Prize, and Birthmark, selected by Ralph Burns as winner of the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry Open Competition.  He teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte, and this summer, he will join the faculty for the Kundiman Asian American Poets Retreat held at Fordham University.  His poem “[we left the camera]” appeared in Issue 1 of Lantern Review.

Process Profile: Marc Vincenz discusses “Taishan Mountain”

Marc Vincenz

Marc Vincenz was born in Hong Kong to Swiss-British parents during the height of the Cultural Revolution. Later, he lived and worked in Shanghai for many years running an industrial design company. More recently, he moved to Iceland where he now works as a freelance journalist, poet, translator and literary critic. He is Poetry and Non-Fiction Editor for the international webzine Mad Hatters’ Review, Managing Editor of MadHat Press, and a member of the editorial board of the Boston-based Open Letters Monthly.

Marc’s recent poems have appeared in, or are forthcoming in Spillway, Poetry Salzburg Review, Poets/Artists, Nth Position, Möbius The Poetry Magazine, MiPOesias, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, FRiGG, the nervous breakdown, elimae and Inertia. A chapbook, Upholding Half the Sky, was published as part of the MiPOesias Chapbook Series by GOSS183: Casa Menendez (2010). A new chapbook, The Propaganda Factory, is forthcoming from Argotist ebooks later this year.

His poems are featured weekly on October Babies.

In this year’s May Process Profile series, we’ve been asking several Lantern Review contributors whose work gestures back toward history or legacy to discuss their process for composing a poem of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment,  Marc Vincenz discusses his poem “Taishan Mountain,” which appeared in Issue 2.

* * *

It happens sometimes, particularly if I am sitting up late at night attacking a blank sheaf of paper, I’ll suddenly hit upon a line, probably something totally unrelated to the piece I’m attempting, but a line that seems to ring true of its own volition. In “Taishan Mountain,” the particular line that arrived was: “It’s here, hovering on China’s precipice, / the Chairman proclaims the East is Red, / deems himself ruler of all he beholds.” When I’ve captured what I think may be at the heart of a poem, or narrative, I leave it for a day or two. I let it sit there, all alone on the page, occasionally going back to it, staring at it, meditating upon it. Quite often what I consider my better lines “arrive” when I’m dozing—not quite in sleep—but falling towards it; to quote my own poem, “hovering on the precipice.”

In this fashion, while considering the event on Taishan Mountain, this shadow appeared. At first I thought it might be a woman—perhaps Jiang Qing (Mao’s last wife and leader of the so-called Gang of Four)—standing beside the little-big man as he conquered the world atop China’s fabled Taishan Mountain. I soon realized that this persona, and consequently the narrator, was actually an unknown man. I’m not sure how; perhaps it had something to do with his posture. And this man was not even Chinese. (Actually, during the course of the Communist accession to power, numerous foreigners advised Mao). I wondered, of course: what if Mao’s most trusted advisor had been an unknown da bizi, and what if this person had been his secret lover? Now, it’s a fact that Mao liked the ladies, and had innumerable affairs during the course of his reign; but much of his cult of personality is still steeped in mystery—as it is, of course, with many fated or fateful leaders. There is this incessant need to expose something as yet undiscovered, that one might better grasp his actions. On Taishan Mountain, a foreign man with a moustache changes our perception of everything we’ve held true until now.

Finally, “Taishan Mountain” is a poem within a collection based on my own real and imagined experiences in China: an attempt at a deeper conversation with a country where I spent much of my life. At some stage I realized that you can only start to “understand” the Middle Kingdom by breaking down Western notions of its foreignness. In reality, love in China is as any love affair might be: passionate probably, heartbreaking maybe, but surely as potentially hard—or fertile—as any red earth anywhere in the known universe. And, of course, it too has the potential to change our perceptions of the world.

* * *

Excerpt from “Taishan Mountain”

On Revolution: You must not move with excessive haste, nor use excessive
ruthlessness against the people.
– the I-Ching, The Book of Changes

On Taishan Mountain behind the fog
we wait for first glimpses of dawn.

It’s here, hovering on China’s precipice,
the Chairman proclaims the East is Red,

deems himself ruler of all he beholds.
I’m standing right beside him.

We’ve just fought a war, he’s so thin,
and he has this steely glint

as if he’s stumbled across some great illumination.
It’s a moment of connection with the universe,

a revelation beyond normal human comprehension,
something to make history, like Einstein

unravelling the universal laws
of energy and mass and motion.

From “Taishan Mountain” | Marc Vincenz | Issue 2, Lantern Review | pp 45-46.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Process Profile: Kenji C. Liu Discusses “A Son Writes Back”

Kenji C. Liu

Kenji is a 1.5-generation immigrant from New Jersey. His poetry chapbook You Left Without Your Shoes (Finishing Line Press, 2009) was nominated for a 2009 California Book Award. His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Tea Party Magazine (not related to the conservative movement), Kartika Review, Flick of My Tongue (KSW, 2009), and Kweli Journal. He has received a Pushcart nomination and is working on a multi-genre full-length collection of poetry, prose and visual art. Kenji is currently the poetry editor at Kartika Review.

For APIA Heritage Month 2011, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors whose work gestures back toward history or legacy to discuss pieces of theirs that we have published.  In this installment,  Kenji C. Liu discusses his poem “A Son Writes Back,” which appeared in Lantern Review Issue 2.

* * *

Somebody’s calligraphy hung on the wall in the house I grew up in. I saw it every day. In my late twenties, on a visit back home, I asked my father about it. It was a poem written by my ancestor Guang-Chuon Gong almost eight centuries ago—advice to the Liu family.

The qilu is a classic Chinese form consisting of eight lines of seven characters each. I took my father’s translation and adjusted it to eight lines of seven syllables each. My responses to Gong follow this adjusted form.

A Son Writes Back” is one of several poems that has developed out of a challenge I put to myself years ago—to write about gender, specifically male privilege and patriarchy. This grew out of my community activism and graduate studies.

In this poem I am attempting to dig into some of what I have learned and internalized about gender. The original qilu speaks to, among other things, the importance of filial piety, and encourages the males in our family to prosper together. (I also find it fascinating that the original qilu implicitly acknowledges that our family would make foreign lands home.) In my responses, I am attempting to juxtapose eight hundred years of differences in perspective about gender roles.

For example, Gong tells us “foreign lands will become home”, and later, “young men, prosper together.” In my response, I bring up the story of our family’s migration from China to Taiwan, engraved in stone at our ancestor temple. It reveals who is apparently important in this crossing. The generational count on the altar starts with the sons, not the mother who carried them over. This is why I use the pinyin for both mother and horse.

As an Asian American man, I can not assume that Confucian patriarchy is something left behind in Asia, because I see it at work in my own family and communities. I wonder how it influences my life, and so I write.

* * *

Excerpt from “A Son Writes Back”

Stay on course crossing borders.
Uphold ethics where you dwell;
foreign lands will become home.
Recall your parents’ teachings;
every day burn fragrance to
venerate your ancestors.
Heaven bless the Liu household.
Young men, prosper together.

After you, we crossed many
borders. Eight hundred sun turns.
At one point, a pegasus
landed two boys in Taiwan.
Mā/mǎ carried babies but
boys carried our name, the first
compass. This bypass is our
family, is our paddle.

From “A Son Writes Back” | Kenji C. Liu | Issue 2, Lantern Review | pp 3-4.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

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

Stephen Hong Sohn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vietnamese food pornography poem #2: the sacred and profane

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Process Profile: Michelle Peñaloza Discusses “Vestige”

Michelle Peñaloza (Photo: Janna Ireland)

Michelle Peñaloza grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Currently, she is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Kartika Review, Mythium, Nashville Review and Birmingham Poetry Review. She was awarded the Women Writers Oregon Literary Fellowship for 2011.

For APIA Heritage Month 2011, we are revisiting our Process Profiles series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors whose work gestures back toward history or legacy to discuss pieces of theirs that we have published.  In this installment,  Michelle Peñaloza discusses her poem “Vestige,” which appeared in Lantern Review Issue 2.

* * *

I wrote “Vestige” in response to one of Geri Doran’s prompts in my first M.F.A. workshop at the University of Oregon. I enjoy prompts, particularly Geri’s: they stretch my imagination and lead me, sometimes nudge me, to subjects and structures I would otherwise never have considered. “Vestige” began from a wonderful prompt: “Write a poem of slow praise or meditation. Find a space free from all distraction. Turn off your cell phone, don’t check your email. Be spare, intense, quiet, alone.”

When I began the first draft of the poem, it was a very hectic time—the end of my first term of grad school. For nine weeks, had been writing two new poems a week—one for workshop and one for a forms seminar. I was utterly exhausted by the time I got this prompt and initially had a hard time sitting with myself in the quiet, letting the poem happen. At the prompt’s suggestion I read John Donne’s “Holy Sonnets” and was, as I always am with Donne, struck by his conviction and devotion. As I began writing this poem, I reflected on how my ideas of holiness and faith have changed since I was a child.

I was raised Catholic, but no longer claim that faith. Yet, I still find value in recalling the sensory experiences of my religious upbringing—the candles, the incense, the quiet interspersed with canticles and scripture, the rituals of mass. Meditating upon these experiences in tension with doubt and within the context of loss, inform the first thirty or so lines of “Vestige.”

I think there can be holiness in poetry. I find awe and a spirit of praise in the mundane aspects of daily living. The rest of the poem is a catalog, an accretion of those things in my life at the moment of writing the poem. One exception is the anecdote about the old man doing the dishes, which came to me third hand—when I heard Lawson Inada re-tell this anecdote of Thich Nat Hanh’s.

I wanted to close the poem by returning to the materiality of Catholic mass, but I wanted to place that materiality outside the context of church and juxtapose it with mundane yet vital things—buttered toast, the breath of a lover, the washing of dishes. My aim with the poem’s syntax, catalog and anaphora at the close was to convey the music of discovery and the conviction of what is holy for me.

* * *

Excerpt from “Vestige”

The creak of pews makes my knees ache,
my palms and fingertips kiss.
Phosphorus, censers, old mahogany,
old penitents close to death and God,
boxed wine, and candle wax work upon me
like the itches of an old collared jumper.
The poetry of worship seeps from memory to body.
I confess to the air.
Forgive me, Air, I cannot believe.
It has been three years since my last quiet.
I hold a rosary, count its beads
like the redolent string of rose petals
my Lola held close when she died.
After prayer, the attar of her rosary melded
with the garlic bouquet of her hands, bulbous
scents cradling, caressing my face.
I roll each pressed round between
my forefinger and thumb, keep count:
my guilt, lack of conviction, rage—
in this confession, my hands tell me
I am not free. I cup my tangled strand,
pass it between my hands. The attar
now lives in the leaf creases of my palms.
The quiet whispers, scent is memory’s companion.

From “Vestige” | Michelle Peñaloza | Issue 2, Lantern Review | pp 25-26.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Curated Prompt: Eileen R. Tabios – “A Writing Prompt That Goes With the Flow . . .”

This May, as part of our celebration of APIA Heritage Month, we have asked several respected teachers and writers of Asian American poetry to share favorite writing exercises with us.  This Friday’s installment was contributed by Eileen R. Tabios.

My favorite writing prompt is based on Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day Feature. I once signed up to receive daily emails of their chosen “word-of-the-day” (you can also subscribe here). I used their daily word as a poem title. With that title—and subject or theme or however I responded to it—I’d then write a prose poem. As a secondary strategy to this prompt, I suggest writing a complete poem (or at least its first draft) in one sitting. Relatedly, I suggest the prose poem form, as I don’t wish the issue of line-breaks to interrupt the flow of the poem.

Trying not to interrupt the flow—and energy—of the poem is important, so feel free to add any strategies that would facilitate this. Chinese-American poet Arthur Sze, for example, has shared how he often doesn’t bother capitalizing “I” when writing his first drafts so as not to intrude on the flow of the poem (I don’t recall if he called it “flow” but that’s the net effect).(1)

I like several things about this prompt’s conceptual underpinnings. First, it helps to take you out of self-focus as the site for poetic inspiration. More poets need to realize their personal lives really aren’t that interesting to others (which is why, when I address biography and autobiography in several of my recent books, it’s not because I’m talking about myself, so much as because I’m disrupting conventional ways in which biography unfolds across genres—from the poem to the memoir to the third-party biography). Not that I’m dissing confessional or such types of poems; I’m suggesting this prompt as another way to generate poems where having a title or idea given to you necessarily forces you to address something that may or may not have been of personal concern. In this way, the prompt metaphorically writes the world into the poem rather than the poet writing something at the world.

Continue reading “Curated Prompt: Eileen R. Tabios – “A Writing Prompt That Goes With the Flow . . .””

LR News: LR Guest Post featuring Aryanil Mukherjee and Kimberly Alidio on The Best American Poetry Blog

Our guest post for Kenji Liu’s APIA Heritage Month Series  is now live on the Best American Poetry Blog!

Iris's guest post at the Best American Poets Blog

Click below to read Iris’s thoughts on the interdisciplinary inflections in LR contributors Aryanil Mukherjee’s and Kimberly Alidio’s work:

“across and thru”+”this mean time”: Aryanil Mukherjee, Kimberly Alidio, and the Interdisciplinary Lens [Iris A. Law for Lantern Review at the Best American Poetry Blog]

Thank you so much once again to Kenji for this opportunity.  Please continue to check back at The Best American Poetry Blog throughout the week for more posts by Gerald Maa, Barbara Jane Reyes, and by Kenji himself. We also highly recommend Patricia Ikeda’s installment in the series, which went live yesterday.