Here’s an excerpt that showcases the poem’s masterful imagery—which is razor-sharp, tender, and resonant, yet just a touch fleeting and strange:
“Extinction begins as absence, ends gaping
like a surgery, a hole in my chest
marking that mythology we call home.
Mount Rainier does not drift phantomlike
in this poem, but here is that old woman,
crooked under the weight of a century.
She waves off that flock of dark birds
thronging overhead, threatening to pluck
eyes from sockets, tongues from mouths,
until all we can discern is the tide washing
over bare feet, the sound of wings.”
We love this poem (clearly) and are elated to see that others are enjoying it as much as we do. The “As It Ought to Be” editor writes of this poem, “Here’s to W. Todd Kaneko’s muse . . . She is a creature to be awed and honored.” We heartily agree.
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 Reviewand 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.
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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.
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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
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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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.
We usually don’t post on the weekend, but I’m posting today because we wanted to let you know about an awesome series that LR Contributor and Kartika Review poetry editor Kenji C. Liu is curating this week at The Best American Poetry Blog, in honor of APIA Heritage Month. Kenji has invited me (Iris), along with 3 other editors and self-identified writers of Asian American poetry—Patricia Ikeda, Gerald Maa of AALR, and Barbara Jane Reyes—to contribute posts to the series, and it’s been both an honor and a pleasure to be able to work with him.
Kenji kicked off the series today with this awesome introductory post, in which he discusses both the difficulty and the utility of curating poetry through the lens of the “Asian American” label, and describes his thoughts about the importance of the conversation that will take place throughout the week. (He plans to spotlight the work of several Asian American poets who have come to their vocations through alternative/non-standard/non-MFA routes).
He is clear to note that the purpose of these posts is not to engage in a debate about the worth of the MFA (indeed, he acknowledges that the MFA is a valuable resource), but to “bring . . . greater attention” to APIA poets who have not gone that route, in “recogniz[ing] that a formal graduate education in creative writing often provides resources and networking opportunities that may not be as easily accessible for others.”
I’ll post to the LR blog again when my contribution, which will focus on dual-discipline LR contributors Aryanil Mukherjee (who’s an engineering mathematician) and Kimberly Alidio (whose graduate training is in History) goes live, but in the meantime, we invite you to continue checking back with the Best American Poetry Blog throughout the week to watch our discussion unfold.
Congratulations to Kenji, and many thanks to him for allowing us to be a part of this important conversation.
We are delighted to announce that LR Contributor Asterio Enrico N. Gutierrez’s poem, “Death poem exercise 64,” which originally appeared in Issue 1, has been selected for the 2010 Best of the Net Anthology. Asterio’s poem was one of only twelve selected by guest judge Erin Belieu for this year’s Anthology (it appears alongside contributions from such luminaries as B.H. Fairchild and Claudia Emerson), and we are absolutely ecstatic to see his work honored in this way.
(To read Asterio’s poem in Best of the Net 2010, click here).
(To read Asterio’s poem as it originally appeared in Issue 1 of Lantern Review, click here).
All four poems were first published in Issue One of Lantern Review.
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About the Nominated Poets
Hsiao-Shih (Raechel) Lee is from Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She received her MFA from the University of Notre Dame and is currently a PhD candidate in Iberian and Latin American Cultures at Stanford University.
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Subhashini Kaligotla’s poems have appeared in such journals as Crab Orchard Review, The Literary Review, New England Review, and Western Humanities Review, and in poetry collections in India, the United Kingdom, and the United States. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program in poetry and the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship to India for literary translation. Kaligotla lives in New York City, where she is a Ph.D. candidate in the history of art.
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Asterio Enrico N. Gutierrez‘s fiction and poetry have appeared in Lantern Review, Asia Writes, TAYO, Philippines Free Press, Philippines Graphic, and the Sunday Times Magazine, among others. He lives in Manila, Philippines.
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Originally from Baguio City, Luisa A. Igloria is the author ofJuan Luna’s Revolver(University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), which received the Ernest Sandeen Prize; Trill & Mordent(WordTech Editions, 2005), and eight other books. She currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, hand-binds books, and keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings. www.luisaigloria.com.
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Congratulations to all four nominees. We are proud to be represented by such a fine selection of work and wish each of you the best of luck during the judging process!