Panax Ginseng is a monthly column by Henry W. Leung exploring the transgressions of linguistic and geographic borders in Asian American literature, especially those which result in hybrid genres, forms, vernaculars, and visions. The column title suggests the congenital borrowings of the English language, deriving from the Greek panax, meaning “all-heal,” and the Cantonese jansam, meaning “man-root.” The troubling image of one’s roots as a panacea will inform the column’s readings of new texts.
“The China Issue” of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal presents itself with an ambiguous title. It is the journal’s literary issue on China, but it might just as well be ‘the issue of China,’ i.e. the problem of it, a claim to authority and singularity; or simply ‘the issue of representing China,’ the question of it, the difficulty. ‘China’ as a thematic boundary is naturally complex for a journal based in Hong Kong—but virtually, over the internet—and presented in English. Most of this issue’s poems are translations from the Chinese, with the originals preserved; of these, few refer explicitly to or narrow themselves by locality—except where those locations become outside points of reference (i.e. Zang Di’s “History of Daffodils” referencing Fukushima, or Zhai Yongming’s “Climbing the Heights on the Double Ninth,” which is self-conscious about the literary tradition of hiking on a traditional occasion). Some of the poems written in English, however, announce their ‘Chineseness’ with archetypal localities, such as romanticized pastorals of farmland China, or romance recalled as manufacture in Sumana Roy’s “Love: Made in China,” or the two poems with Beijing in their titles.
Place is fascinating and troubling to define. Is place a city by name, by reference, or by index? Or a collocation of buildings and objects seen as an outsider might see them, or as an insider might? Within the spaces shaped by buildings are cultures and languages—both mainstream and marginal—and the subjectivity of people and their relationships to history and memory.
Our friends and contributors have been busy this summer! Here are a few bits of exciting news that have floated our way these past few months:
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Kuwento for Lost Things [ed. Rachelle Cruz and Melissa Sipin]
is accepting submissions
LR Contributors Melissa Sipin (whose work is forthcoming in Issue 3) and Rachelle Cruz (whose work appeared in Issue 1 and who has a postcard poem forthcoming in Issue 3), are co-editing an anthology of phillipine mythology called Kuwento for Lost Things, and are accepting submissions of poetry, prose, and visual art through January 15, 2012. Submissions guidelines are available here. Please help their project get off the ground by liking or following them on Facebook or Twitter, respectively, and by sending some work their way! Visit their web site here: http://kuwentoforlostthings.wordpress.com/
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Angela Veronica Wong wins a Poetry Society of America NY Chapbook Fellowship
Many congratulations to Issue 1 contributor Angela Veronica Wong, whose chapbook Dear Johnny, In Your Last Letter, was selected by Bob Hicok for a 2011 PSA New York Chapbook Fellowship! A short writeup about Veronica and the other Kundiman fellow who won this year (Alison Roh Park) that appeared on Poets & Writers ‘ contest blog last week featured a short video clip of Veronica reading at LR‘s joint AWP reading with Boxcar Poetry Review this past February. (Read the article here).
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Craig Santos Perez’s poetry CD, Undercurrent, now available on iTunes
Perhaps it sounds obvious, but engagement with APIA art and writing shouldn’t be limited to the Month of May: APIA writers and artists are, of course, producing and performing and publishing new and challenging works all year round. Here are a few recommendations to get you started for the summer (in no particular order):
1. Takeo Rivera’s GOLIATH (dir. Alex Mallory). This powerful one-act choreopoem about the implications of the Iraq War, which began life as an original student play at Stanford, is making its New York City debut tomorrow, thanks to the brilliant creative talents of its playwright (Takeo Rivera) and its director (Alex Mallory). Takeo is one of those rising-star-types whose work is impossible to miss once it’s entered your periphery: his aesthetic roots lie in the brave activism and the rhythmically-compelling sonic and dramatic gestures of spoken word, and his critical approach to his subject matter is thoughtful, complex, and blade-sharp (he has a Masters Degree in Modern Thought & Literature and is about to enter a PhD in performance studies this fall). Alex (GOLIATH’s director), is also a forced to be reckoned with: she’s been directing productions and workshops in New York for a couple of years now, and before that, in college, she honed her chops by directing a number of major student productions and by founding The Stanford Theatre Activist Mobilization Project. Alex was also the major force behind bringing GOLIATH to the Big Apple. GOLIATH has been newly revised for the New York stage and will be playing at the Robert Moss Theater for the next two weeks. If you’re living in New York City or will be in its vicinity during the next few weeks, I urge you to see this play. It’s not something you want to miss! [See the teaser trailer above].
2. “We Axe You to Speak”: Kartika Review’s first poetry reading. Yes, folks. Kartika Review’s inaugural reading event is tonight (6 to 8 pm at the SF Public Library, 100 Larkin St), and I highly recommend it (though I’m sad that I’ll have to miss it because I’m not on the West Coast). Barbara Jane Reyes, Eddy Zheng, Margaret Rhee, Shelley Wong, and Kenji C. Liu. Great lineup. Landmark event. To those of you in the Bay Area: GO. You do not want to miss this if you can help it.
3. “I Got My” Music Video ft. Jin [Magnetic North and Taiyo Na]. Bao Phi posted on Facebook that this “is not a music video – more like an Asian American family reunion, or maybe a map. Whatever it is, it’s a gift.” One can’t help but agree: so many landmark APIA faces! The video was created for APIA month, but its awesomeness, of course, extends far beyond the month of May alone. Here’s the video:
Let’s dive straight in, examining three of the issue’s first poems and their wrestle with words and meanings.
Phill Provance’s interlace poem “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches,” is perhaps the most abstruse, though its diction remains commonplace. The poem’s charm lies not in its form but in its unself-conscious vernacular. Its colloquial voice, inconsistent in a way typical to modern speech, uses contractions here but not there, and lumbers along monosyllabic platforms (many its, thats, and ises). The loftiest word is “ellipticizing,” but this neologism, rather than conjugating the Latinate directly (“ellipsing”), invokes the urban by conjugating gym ellipticals as root. All this results in the naturalization of the poem’s anfractuous form, such that it flows with incidental ease. This is hard to achieve. Provance himself comments that the poem is designed to be accessible despite its layered meanings, which makes it an appropriate gateway poem to the journal. Yet: why is a poem about St. Petersburg, or his second poem remembering lost love, placed as the opening of an “Asian Literary Journal”? The third stanza of “St. Petersburg” describes a vaguely Zen mode of seeing, but the other poem has nothing culturally comparable. We’ll return to this.
Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s “A Talk With Mao Tze-tung,” though also colloquial, achieves a much steadier voice. This poem addresses the quondam Chairman’s mortal absence, because “you are nowhere / until a Swedish journalist recites your poetry / and wonders . . .” Living, and dead, and revived, Mao’s core vitality resides in his words and ideas, which become corporeal by revolutions. Thoughts march, words poison, books are buried. And along the way, vituperation must question itself: “why am I talking to you, dead man?” It seems language persists even when we don’t desire it, and since “history has no last word,” this poem ends in questions, and the talk with Mao must pause until an answer comes alive again.
Kim-An Lieberman’s two poems are among my favorites for their adroitness. “After Ten Years,” a loose-octameter poem, turns list into narrative. The “Because” reiteration chants and expiates, swelling to crescendo; the final line hits the kind of poetic denouement that evokes quiet “hm”s from audiences at readings. In “Harvest,” we begin in miniatures (“single beads, stray buttons, broken twigs”) and end in nature’s enormity. The sound of children’s jubilance masks the tone and the suffocating fish onshore, until the ending when the ominous “sudden true hand” comes forth unveiled. Lieberman distinguishes herself in poetic brevity with truncated phrases like “This is not to sing / a strange-eyed child, some oracular pure . . .” and doesn’t sacrifice clarity for linguistic decoration, or vice versa.
As we prepare to head into our late summer blog hiatus, we’re aware of the fact that several of our friends have recently put out new calls for submission. We thought we would put together a little list of interesting opportunities for submission that have recently come to our attention:
Cha: An Asian Literary Journalis calling both for regular submissions to be included in its 13th Issue, and for submissions to its special themed 14th issue, which will focus on China. Submissions are accepted electronically only. Deadline is December 15th for Issue 13, April 14th for the China Issue. Complete guidelines for Issue 13 here; details about the China Issue here.
Kweli Journal, a publication that focuses on promoting the work of writers of color, is calling for submissions to its Fall/Winter 2010 issue. Submissions are to be sent by postal mail. Deadline is September 16th. Guidelines here.
Kartika Reviewis calling for submissions in anticipation of future issues. Kartika, which has a rolling policy for screening work,is now accepting submissions both via email and through its online submissions manager. See their guidelines here.
BOXCAR Poetry Review and Cerise Press, which are edited by Asian American poets Neil Aitken and Fiona Sze-Lorrain, respectively, also have rolling submissions policies: look for BOXCAR‘s guidelines here, and Cerise‘s here.
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Finally, be on the lookout for the reopening of our own submissions period (in anticipation of our second issue), when we return in September.
Good luck, and see you on the other side of August!
Here’s some news from the literary sphere: congratulations to our friends at Kartika Review, who put up their 7th issue earlier this month, and to the editors at Cha, whose work was recently featured in this beautifully laid-out article in the South China Morning Post (that’s the prominent English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, for those who aren’t familiar with it).
I know it’s a little late in coming, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a brief rundown of the poetry goodness inside both Kartika Issue 7 (which features a special section devoted to Asian American writers’ reflections on the theme of “home,” and the work of a new poetry editor, Kenji Liu), and Cha‘s February 2010 Issue (which features not just great poetry, but some of the most beautiful cover art I’ve seen from them yet). I’d encourage you to read both of these issues in their entirety, of course, but here are a few thoughts about what I particularly enjoyed in each:
Kartika Review #7 is, in my opinion, the magazine’s best issue yet. I’ve really enjoyed the past two issues – but this issue really impressed with me by how quickly the publication has been getting bigger and better. The work contained in this issue’s poetry section is, in my opinion, of a more even quality than in some of the earlier issues, and new poetry editor Kenji Liu’s four choices work well as a set: each successive poem speaks to the previous one, taking up its thread in some manner or contrasting it in a thought-provoking way. The first three poems have to do with fathers and mothers and questions of inheritance, and the last – Aimee Suzara’s “We, too, made America” – expands this question to a broader “we,” claiming not just individual family histories, but a space in the broader American narrative (harkening back to Langston Hughes’ “I, Too, Sing America”). I enjoyed the compelling portrait of a man presented in Vuong Quoc Vu’s “My Father Sleeps” and the tension created between the interrogator and the respondent in Barbara Jane Reyes’ “One Question, Several Answers,” but Eugenia Leigh’s “Between Heaven and the Bedroom” was really a standout with its use of some truly knockout imagery to juxtapose the airily mythological with the small and domestic. Its opening strikes me speechless: “Somewhere in the city with her slip-proof / shoes and apron, our mom locates an angel /tall as miles.”
I also really enjoyed the special “Meditations on Home” section at the end of this issue, and appreciate that the editors thought to package it as a .PDF packet for use by educators. Oral histories like the ones contained in this issue are extremely valuable and important to preserve, and I like the idea of a classroom text that has been freshly generated and is available online at no cost to students. Several of the respondents chose to tell their stories in poems rather than in prose, and it’s definitely worth checking these responses out — especially the striking contributions by David Mura and Kelly Zen Yie Tsai.
As I mentioned earlier, the cover art on the current issue of Cha is absolutely gorgeous – I love the deep purple blooms around the woman’s face and how they seem to melt into the text of the issue itself. As usual, though, I made a beeline straight for the poetry section. One of the things I appreciate about Cha is that despite being a multi-genre journal it publishes an extensive amount of poetry in each issue. This, I’m sure, has a lot to do with co-editor Tammy Ho Lai-Ming’s being a poet herself, and it shows: the work they showcase is usually of a very consistent quality, and because there’s a relatively decent amount of room for poetry in the journal, they’re able to create a broader sense of continuity between work by both very established poets and people who are just emerging. Some of my favorites moments from this issue included the frank, unflinching language of Papa Osmubal’s “A Bum’s Demise,” and the satisfyingly mouth-thick, incantational sonics of the two poems that were contributed by Angela Eun Ji Koh: “Our Malady” and “The Harvest Shaman.” I also thought it interesting that both the current issues of Kartika and Cha featured poems involving angels (Rocco di Giacomo’s “Angels” appears in Cha, Eugenia Leigh’s “Between Heaven and Earth” appears in Kartika). Having gone back to reread Cha just before I read this issue of Kartika, it was fascinating to think of these two poems in conversation.
Many congratulations to the editors at both Kartika Reviewand Chafor their successful spring issues – and for the well-deserved amount of attention they’ve received for them. Please do click over to check out their respective sites. And while you’re at it – don’t forget that we at LR are building towards our own first issue; our submissions deadline is this Thursday, April 29th, and we’d love to see your work!
LR: First question to ask any writer—how did you start, or what are your memories of first starting to write creatively?
TH: Until university, I wrote almost exclusively in Chinese, mostly just scribbling and half-thought out ideas. I think it took English to really get me started. When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Hong Kong, I spent a great deal of time in the library. One day, I picked up a copy of Ambit off a shelf I was sitting near and started reading. I was especially drawn to the poetry and shortly afterwards I began trying to write creatively in English. I showed my first poems to one of my professors and received positive feedback, which encouraged me to continue writing. I have been writing ever since.
LR: As a Hong Kong native and member of the HK Writer’s Circle, you’ve remarked that the size of the HK writing community has been underestimated, even by yourself. As a young writer, who did (or do) you look to as models and as peers?
TH: This question is interesting as recently I was thinking about the smallness of the Hong Kong poetry writing scene. I think that my opinion of the scene probably waxes and wanes, sometimes it seems full of great writers, other times it feels a little bit constrained. The truth is that there are some strong writers in the city but as English is not the first language of most residents, the number of English writers is always going to be limited.
My models, I think, vary through time. I often find inspiration in the works I am reading at the moment and in recent personal experience. I don’t think that there is someone I return to over and over again as a source of inspiration or as a guide for my creative writing. That said, the following Asian writers have inspired me at different points of my writing career: Shirley Lim, Louise Ho and Leung Ping Kwan. As for peers, I would have to say first and foremost Reid Mitchell, my writing partner and sometime friendly editor. Also, I would like to mention the Singaporean poet Eddie Tay and Hong Kong poet Arthur Leung.
LR: What would you say is special about being a writer in HK?
TH: I guess the mixture of Chinese and English influences is probably the most obvious characteristic of writing in Hong Kong.
LR: Interesting–could you elaborate? What is it like to be composing in a language that may not be your native one? How does actually writing in a different language feel different from, say, translation (if it even does)?
TH: Personally, when I write in English, I think first in that language. But I do wish to have more Chinese/Asian elements in my creative works. I don’t want to ever lose touch with my linguistic and cultural roots.