Editor’s Corner: Announcing Sun Yung Shin’s UNBEARABLE SPLENDOR

The cover of Sun Yung Shin’s new book of poems and essays, UNBEARABLE SPLENDOR.

It’s with great excitement that we announce the publication of Sun Yung Shin’s most recent poetry collection, Unbearable Splendor (Coffee House Press, 2016). Among other books, Shin is the author of Rough, and Savage (Coffee House Press, 2012) and winner of the 2008 Asian American Literary Award Skirt Full of Black (Coffee House Press, 2007), which Craig Santos Perez reviewed in Lantern Review’s Issue 1For more on Sun Yung Shin, check out this post on her poem “Until the Twenty-Second Century,” which appeared in our 2011 Poems for Monday Mornings series. 

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In this post, we’re pleased to feature an excerpt from the opening pages of Unbearable Splendor, a collection of poems, essays, and hybrid works characterized by bold, flexible experiments in form. The work draws from a wide range of historical, mythological, and literary sources, including figures like Antigone, Asterion, and Pinocchio, demonstrating a deep concern with matters of origin: the etymology of words, the logic of replication and reproduction, and the ways these processes are interrupted by both natural and uncanny means. Shin examines technologies of artificial reproduction as well, staging them as interventions in her exploration of what it means to reproduce and to be reproduced. From this investigation of cloning, cyborgs, surrogacy, and adoption, Shin weaves a narrative of language and history that represents a striking new way of understanding identity.

An excerpt from “Valley, Uncanny”

Don’t let the name fool you: a black hole is anything but empty space.
—NASA’s website, Astrophysics page, Focus Areas, Black Holes

Where’s the hole’s end?
—김혜순 Kim Hyesoon, “A Hole”

A valley makes a kind of hole. A hole open on two sides. Korea—an island on three sides. South Korea—an island: water, water, water, DMZ. North Korea—water, water, DMZ, the People’s Republic of China.

I was a hole and I brought it, myself, to 미국 mi guk “beautiful country,” America, the United States. I carried a train of holes—holes of smoke, holes of sky. Holes of water, holes of rice milk. I was an uncanny guest. Two years old. A week after arrival from Korea, a brother, born in America, asked, “When is she going back?” Like the heavenly maiden with too many children to carry, to many holes to go back t(w)here.

There is a limit to canniness, but not to being uncanny—it is infinite, 무한, mu han.





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Excerpt from “Valley, Uncanny” is reprinted by permission from Unbearable Splendor (Coffee House Press, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Sun Yung Shin. To purchase a copy of Unbearable Splendor, visit Coffee House Press’s online catalogue here.

Friday Prompt: Working With Hybrid Language

LR Issue 5: "The Hybridity Issue" - Call for Submissions
Click to Submit to LR Issue 5

This month, in preparation for Issue 5: “The Hybridity Issue,” we’ve dedicated our Friday Prompts to exploring how collage, mixing and hybridization can be meaningful (and generative) practices for poets interested in exploring the narratives and critical concerns of the Asian American community..  Thus far, we’ve looked at hybrid form and mixed media; today we’ll be talking about hybridized language.

In contemporary poetry, quirky mixtures of the high and low, archaic and contemporary, and the scientific and colloquial are so common that we’re no longer surprised when a writer quotes a religious text–the Bible, for instance–and then, without skipping a beat, relays the one-liner they heard while waiting for an oil change.  This kind of modulation, frequently used for ironic or comedic effect, can also be deployed for more serious purposes–and, I suspect, is a mode we’ve come to embrace because miscegenated language reflects our cultural moment in a way that elegant, seamlessly constructed prose does not.  Just Google “best place to get tacos” or “Jeremy Lin is awesome” and see what comes up.

For many Asian American poets, however, linguistic hybridity is more than just an intellectual exercise.  Many of us are multilingual, or come from families whose histories are told in multiple tongues (two, at least, and sometimes more–I’m thinking here of Korean-Brazilian writer Larissa Min, who writes in the linguistic spaces between Portuguese, English and Korean).  And even if our tongues aren’t split by language, the idea of linguistic difference–our grandparents’ English versus our own, our professors’ English versus our aunties’–is important for more than theoretical reasons.  It’s freighted with cultural, and thus, emotional weight.  Our split tongues matter–even if, as is the case for me, a fourth-generation Japanese American, our “mother tongue” is little more than a myth, a conspicuous silence that, in its marked absence, tells us something about our history. Continue reading “Friday Prompt: Working With Hybrid Language”

Friends & Neighbors: Rounding Out the Summer

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

Kuwento for Lost Things Anthology

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

UNDERCURRENT (Craig Santos Perez & Brandy Nalani McDougall)

Issue 1 contributor Craig Santos Perez and Brandy Nalani McDougall have released a poetry CD called Undercurrent that features audio recordings of both artists reading their own poems.  Craig’s contributions are taken from his two collections, from unincorporated territory [hacha] (2008) and [saina] (2010).  Undercurrent is available for download on iTunes, or for purchase through Amazon.  An electronic version of the liner notes can be found on Craig’s blog.

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Jai Arun Ravine’s first book available for order

Jai Arun Ravine's แล้ว AND THEN ENTWINE (Tinfish 2011)
Jai Arun Ravine's แล้ว AND THEN ENTWINE (Tinfish 2011)

Congratulations to Issue 1 contributor Jai Arun Ravine, whose first poetry collection, แล้ว and then entwine has been published by Tinfish! Doveglion has printed Jai’s reflections on the process of writing the book and its guest editor, Craig Santos Perez, has written about editing it on his own blog.  More information about ordering แ ล้ ว and then entwine can be found on Tinfish’s web site.

Continue reading “Friends & Neighbors: Rounding Out the Summer”

Staff Picks: Holiday Reads 2010

Last year, we asked our staff writers to recommend books that they’d read in the last year and thought were worth passing on.  This year, we’ve decided to continue with this tradition.  In light of that, here are our holiday staff picks for 2010 (poetry, prose and more—yes, we read more than poetry!)

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Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry Since 1965 | Timothy Yu | Stanford University Press (2009)

Recommended by Mia: “This is one of the key critical texts on my reading list for the holidays.  I’ve only skimmed the first few chapters, but thus far have found Yu’s argument compelling, his analysis rigorous, and his wide-ranging knowledge of Asian American and Language poetry in the United States to be informative to my own work—not to mention useful in historicizing these two movements/moments in contemporary poetry!

From the Tinfish Editors’ Blog: ‘Using a definition of the avant-garde that has less to do with aesthetics than with social groups composed of like-minded artists, Yu argues that Asian American poetry and Language writing formed parallel movements in the 1970s. […] Both presented themselves in opposition to the mainstream; both were marked by questions of form and racial identity. Both meant to create art out of social groups, and reconstitute the social through the reception of their art.'”

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Radiant Silhouette: New & Selected Work 1974-1988 | John Yau | Black Sparrow Press (1989)

Recommended by Mia: “Yau is one of the two major poets that Timothy Yu addresses in Race and the Avant-Garde (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is the other), so I’ve been reading through his New & Selected Work for an introduction to the thematic and aesthetic scope of his early career.  He’s a fascinating figure in Asian American poetry and, as Yu points out, ‘might best be read as a restoration of the links between politics, form, and race that characterize the avant-garde Asian American poetry of the 1970s [… providing] the first opportunity for most readers to recognize […] the presence of that avant-garde back into the very origins of Asian American writing.'”

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Man on Extremely Small Island | Jason Koo | C&R Press (2009)

Recommended by Iris: “Jason Koo’s style is very different from my own, but this book (his first collection) managed to completely charm me with its quirkiness.  The voice of the book’s primary speaker manifests a world-weary exhaustion that is, on the surface, darkly melancholic and painfully self-deprecating.  He obsesses over his dirty apartment while eating a tuna sandwich, dreams about floundering clumsily through an encounter with Lucy Liu, envisions himself stranded on an island in the middle of an ocean, worrying about the size of his nose.  But beneath the speaker’s (at times endearingly hyperbolic) self-consciousness lies a striking vulnerability and a luminous ability to evoke the fantastic within the mundane: BBQ chip crumbs echo the ‘fine grains / of my slovenliness,’ becoming ‘barbecue pollen,’ and later, ‘orange microbes’ (9); Lucy Liu becomes a motherly goddess figure who guides him through a secret mission, ‘pulling you after her diving into the stage,’ which becomes the arena for an undersea showdown complete with battleships, lingerie models, and harpoons (22) , the island transforms into the kneecap of a giant woman who ‘has no nose. Just a space where mine / can fit’ (77). Part Frank O’Hara, part tragic hero of his own sardonic comic-book series, the speaker’s sense of humor, whimsy, and wonder, as transmitted by Koo’s craft, paint a picture of a world that reinvisions the now-archetypal image behind John Donne’s famous ‘No man is an island’ with simultaneous irreverence and tenderness. ”

Continue reading “Staff Picks: Holiday Reads 2010”

Summer Reads: Issue 1 Contributors Craig Santos Perez & Henry W. Leung

For our Summer Reads series, we’ve asked contributors from Issue 1 to share what they’ve been reading or plan to read this summer. This week’s installment features reads from Craig Santos Perez and Henry W. Leung.

Writes Craig,

” . . . here are three books that i just read for this summer:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Bus, Gizelle Gajelonia (Tinfish Press)
Shout Ha! to the Sky, Robert Sullivan (Salt)
Zong! M. Nourbese Philip (Wesleyan)”

Henry says,

“I’m working on a Fulbright application for a research novel in China,
so my reading for the next week will be research on the little that’s
been written in English about contemporary (actual contemporary, not
heavily political post-Mao post-CR) China. They include:

Yiyun Li – A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
Shouhua Qi – Red Guard Fantasies and Other Stories
Xiaolu Guo – Lovers in the Age of Indifference
Deanna Fei – A Thread of Sky (product of a 2002 Fulbright in China)
Geling Yan – The Banquet Bug

and translations:
New Generation: Poems from China Today
Pearl Jacket and Other Stories: Flash Fiction from Contemporary China

Many thanks to Craig and Henry, for sharing their reading lists with us.  You can check out Henry’s poem “Question for a Painter” and Craig’s review of Skirt Full of Black in Issue 1 of Lantern Review.

LR News: LR on Harriet

If you’ve been following us on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve seen that we’ve had some great news recently:  Lantern Review has been featured not once, but twice, on Harriet (the Poetry Foundation’s blog) this week!

Screenshot of Craig Santos Perez's Q&A with Iris

On Sunday, Barbara Jane Reyes posted a roundup of Asian American literary magazines, which featured LR alongside our friends at Kartika Review (who just put up a stunning new issue with a poetry section edited by Kenji Liu), and The Asian American Literary Review (whose first issue we talked about in a post last week).

Then, on Monday, Craig Santos Perez posted an Editor Spotlight Q&A, in which he gave me  [Iris] the opportunity to share a little more in depth about the genesis and mission of LR.

Needless to say, we are both thrilled by, and very grateful for, this honor.  A gigantic thanks to Barbara and to Craig for helping us to get the word out about LR in such a big way, and many thanks to you – our readers – for your continued support as we build toward Issue 1.   (P.S. Don’t forget that we are still taking submissions until April 29th – last chance to get your work in before we start wrapping up our editorial decision process!)

The Page Transformed: Achiote Press’s Visual Aesthetic (Q&A with Jason Buchholz)

Last week in our series “The Page Transformed: Part II – The Page as Canvas,” we spoke to poet Craig Santos Perez about his strategic use of visual elements like typesetting and illustrations in his poetry.  In this post, we’ll be focusing on his small press, Achiote, in order to learn how decisions about developing the nuts-and-bolts aspects of a book’s visual impact — like cover art and book design — are made.

Examples of Cover Art from Achiote Press
Examples of Achiote Press Cover Art

Achiote Press, a Berkeley-based press edited by Craig Santos Perez and Jennifer Reimer, publishes poetry and art in a range of print formats, including chapbooks, perfect-bound books, anthologies, and art books.  Each season, they put out limited-run editions of two single-author chapbooks and an issue of their unique publication, Achiote Seeds, which their blog describes as a “multi-author chap-journal.” Browsing through the beautiful covers on Achiote’s web site, one gets a sense of just how thoughtfully the design of each book has been selected in order to complement the work contained within. That Achiote has a dedicated Art Director, Jason Buchholz, is even more indicative of just how important the idea of a book as a physical art object is to the press.

We  asked Jason to talk to us about Achiote’s aesthetic vision and his role as the decisionmaker behind Achiote’s “look”.  Here’s what he had to say about his process:

“I allow our overall aesthetic to emerge from the works themselves. I read each manuscript carefully, in search of two things: recurring visual imagery, and a distilled sense of the overall emotionality of the work. In other words, I try to experience a manuscript as if it were a visual work, translating movement, change, and the other temporal qualities of writing into a single impression. I then look for an image that will match that impression, as well as the title.  The role of the title here can’t be understated – it’s the interplay of image and title that not only gives the book its initial impact,
but also creates an inescapable psychological context for reading the words inside. My primary goal with each cover is to ensure that this context remains true to the writer’s intentions. If I’m working on an anthology, I’ll try to match the unifying theme, rather than specific images or feelings. In those rare cases that we publish collections without strong themes, I simply use the opportunity to showcase a great piece of work I want the world (or at least our readership) to
see. Our overall aesthetic, then, is the sum total of all these book covers, plus my personal contributions of a simple logo and a dash of orange.

In the future I hope to produce more works that place art and writing on equal footing.  Just this week we released Her Many Feathered Bones, which sees an artist and a poet on equal footing, in a slow and deliberate dialogue in which neither art form is given precedence. To me this represents the beginning of a new aesthetic that emerges almost entirely from our artists and their work. In such cases, I will have very few decisions to make. My role will be that of front-row observer, part-time quality assurer, and occasional matchmaker.”

Thanks very much to Jason for taking the time to offer his thoughts to us, and to Craig Perez for passing our questions on to him. Please do take the time to visit Achiote’s web site and browse through the covers from their current list and archives — they are truly gorgeous, and are testament to the love, taste, and meticulous attention that goes into each of Jason’s design choices.

Jason Buchholz is an artist, writer, and editor living in El Cerrito, CA. Someday his work will be available at jasonbuchholz.com.

The Page Transformed: A Conversation with Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez with his second book, and the cover of his first.

CRAIG SANTOS PEREZ, a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guahån (Guam), is the co-founder of Achiote Press (www.achiotepress.com) and author of two poetry books: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008) and from unincorporated territory [saina] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2010). He received an MFA from the University of San Francisco and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He blogs at craigsantosperez.wordpress.com.

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In keeping with our investigation of “The Page As Canvas,” we recently sought the opportunity to speak with Mr. Perez about his strategic use of typography, visual arrangement of words, and maps in his first book, from unincorporated territory [hacha]Ever gracious, he offered us the insights that follow.

LR: How did the idea for the project that is from unincorporated territory come about?

CP: My multi-book project, from unincorporated territory, formed through my study of the “long poem”: Pound’s Cantos, Williams’ Paterson, H.D.’s Trilogy, Zukofsky’s “A,” and Olson’s Maximus. I loved how these books were able to attain a breadth and depth of vision and voice. So I began to imagine each book from my own project as a book-length excerpt of a larger project. One difference between my project and other “long poems” is that my long poem will always contain the “from,” always eluding the closure of completion.

I also became intrigued by how certain poets write trans-book poems: such as Duncan’s “Passages” and Mackey’s “Songs of the Andoumboulou.” I employ this kind of trans-book threading in my own work as poems change and continue across books (for example, excerpts from the poems “from tidelands” and “from aerial roots” appear in both my first and second books). These threaded poems differ from Duncan and Mackey’s work because I resist the linearity of numbering that their work employs.

Typographic "mapping" in the poem "from Lisiensan Ga'lago" (Click to Enlarge)

LR: Your first book, from unincorporated territory [hacha], is unique in that it makes use of strategic typography, diagrams, maps, illustrations, and other aspects of its visual design to put forth both its politics and its poetics. What was your process like in developing this visual vocabulary and drafting your writing into its framework?

CP: I imagine the blank page as an excerpted ocean filled with vast currents, islands of voices, and profound depths. I imagine the poem forming as a map of this excerpted ocean, tracing the topographies of story, memory, genealogy, and culture. So creating the visual vocabulary of my work is a process of both drafting these word maps and navigating their currents.

I use diagrams, maps, and illustrations as a way to foreground the relationship between storytelling, mapping, and navigation. Just as maps have used illustrations (sometimes visual, sometimes typographical), I believe poetry can both enhance and disrupt our visual literacy.

One incessant typographical presence throughout my work is the tilde (~). Besides resembling an ocean current and containing the word “tide” in its body, the tilde has many intriguing uses. In languages, the tilde is used to indicate a change of pronunciation. As you know, I use many different kinds of discourse in my work (historical, political, personal, etc) and the tilde is meant to indicate a shift in the discursive poetic frame. In mathematics, the tilde is used to show equivalence (i.e. x~y). Throughout my work, I want to show that personal or familial narratives have an equivalent importance to official historical and political discourses.

LR: Can you talk specifically about the importance of maps and mapping (topological, geographic, typographic) within the text?  How would you describe the role of the actual maps (of flight plans, military bases, etc.) contained within the text with respect to the greater arc of the work? Do you see them as a genre of visual poem in and of themselves, or as illustrations to the text that surround them?

CP: Cartographic representations of the Pacific Ocean developed in Europe at the end of the 15th century, when the Americas were incorporated into maps: the Pacific became a wide empty space separating Asia and America. In European world maps, Europe is placed at the center and “Oceania” is divided into two opposite halves on the margins. As imperialism progressed, every new voyage incorporated new data into new maps.

As I mention in the preface to my first book, the invisibility of Guam on many maps—whether actual maps or the maps of history—has always haunted me, especially after I migrated with my family to the States in 1995. One hope for my poetry is to enact an emerging map of “Guam”—both as a place and as a signifier—into what Albert Wendt calls “new maps, new fusions and interweavings.”

The “actual maps” in my first book are, to me, both visual poems and illustrations of the rest of the work (they were created by designer Sumet (Ben) Viwatmanitsakul, based on maps that I included in my original manuscript). In my imagination, they function in two ways: first, they center “Guam,” a locating signifier often omitted from many maps. Secondly, the maps are meant to provide a counterpoint to the actual stories that are told throughout the book. While maps can locate, chart, and represent (and through this representation tell an abstracted story), they never show us the human voices of a place. I place this abstract, aerial view of “Guam” alongside the more embodied and rooted portraits of place and people (like in the poem “ta(la)ya,” which stories about my grandfather’s experience on Guam during World War II).

LR: Your second book, from unincorporated territory [saina], was recently published by Omnidawn. How was the process for the second book similar to, and different from, your process for the first?

Perez's second book
CP: My second book continues the themes of culture, language, memory, family, and history that were launched in my first book. Like the first book, the second book explores various modes of storytelling, mapping, and navigation. I wrote my first book between 2004-2006, and my second book between 2006-2009. I hope that my craft has improved, sharpened, and expanded.
[Saina] more directly explores the themes of militarization and tourism. There’s also a 10-part poem that directly addresses navigation; more specifically, the poem contours the current cultural reclamation project of traditional canoe-building and navigational practices on Guam. [Saina] also contains my most ambitious poem to date, a 50-page work titled “from organic acts,” which stories my grandmother’s experience as a child during the war, her migration to the United States, and her aging in relation to the themes of religion and citizenship.

LR: What’s next on the horizon for you?

CP: I’ll be traveling for the second book in the next two months: New York this week, Guam after that, then Denver, Seattle, Portland, and Hawaii, with a few readings in the California Bay Area. In the fall, I’ll do an East Coast tour…and possibly make my way to Great Lake states. In terms of poetry, I am in the beginnings of the third book length excerpt of from unincorporated territory.

LR: Do you have any words of advice for younger poets?

CP: Keep reading, keep writing, keep submitting. One thing that helped me tremendously as a young poet is book reviewing. I couldn’t afford to buy contemporary poetry books, so reviewing allowed me to receive free books. Additionally, engaging with texts sharpened my critical / poetic thinking, which inevitably rubbed off on my creative work. Also, it’s a good way to build up your publication credits and to contribute to the critical discourse.

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Thanks very much to Craig Perez for sharing his thoughts with us.  Look out for a post on Achiote Press’s visual aesthetic next week.