Six Questions for 2021 Guest Editor Eugenia Leigh

Photograph of Eugenia Leigh, poet with long, dark hair and thick-rimmed glasses. She is wearing a white, puffy jacket with a bright red vest layered on top and is standing in front of a moody seascape with rocky crags and crashing waves visible in the far distance.
2021 Guest Editor Eugenia Leigh

This season, we’re privileged to welcome Eugenia Leigh to our team as guest editor. Eugenia is the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014) and the recipient of fellowships and awards from Poets & Writers magazine, Kundiman, Rattle, and elsewhere. She’s previously served as poetry editor at Kartika Review and Hyphen magazine, and she’s also a past contributor to the magazine and the blog here at Lantern Review. As Eugenia will be working closely with us to curate and produce the magazine this season, we thought we’d take a minute to help you get to know her. Read on to learn about some of her favorite reads of 2020, the Word document she keeps on her desktop for inspiration, what “Asian American futures” means to her, and more.

LANTERN REVIEW: How did you come to poetry?

EUGENIA LEIGH: Like many children from dysfunctional, abusive homes, I was taught to lie about my life as a child. Given that my parents were also pursuing ministry work in Korean Christian churches, the lying was even more imperative to maintain the illusion of our nice family. This made for a pretty lonely childhood. In junior high, an English teacher gave us the assignment to adopt a poet of our choosing, create a report, and recite one of their poems from memory for the class. I chose Anne Sexton randomly with no knowledge of who she was, and I recited a posthumously published poem, “Red Roses”—a poem about child abuse, thinly veiled. I still remember reciting this poem to the class and feeling the electricity of being able to tell at least one small truth in this artful way. After discovering Anne Sexton and the confessional poets, I often turned toward poetry to process and work through a lot of my ongoing childhood trauma during my teenage years. I’ve grown comfortable admitting that before poetry became an “artistic pursuit,” poetry was first an important coping mechanism and survival tool for me.

LR: What’s something you wish you had known when you were just starting out as a writer?

EL: When I was a senior at UCLA, a dear older white male poet announced to our poetry workshop—after critiquing one of my poems—that “if you’re forty and you’re a poet, then you’re a poet. But if you’re twenty and you’re a poet, you’re just twenty.” I’m nearly forty now, and I can still recall the humiliation of that statement, which stayed with me longer than it should have. When I was starting out as a writer, I wish I’d known to block out the many toxic voices I allowed into my ever-anxious, ever-insecure mind. I wish I’d believed in myself and in my writing, and I wish I’d applied for every chance to learn, grow, and showcase my work. I wish I’d had Michelle Obama’s voice to quiet my imposter syndrome by saying, “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the UN; they are not that smart.”

LR: What interests or obsessions are driving your work right now? 

EL: A few years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and complex PTSD, and this has fueled a new interest in the ways mental illness intersects with intergenerational trauma, especially within Asian American (and more specifically, Korean American) families. As a new parent, I’m also interested in narratives that upend the curated, Instagrammable stories of parenthood and have been a little hellbent on putting the uglier bits of this life into my newer poems.

LR: What are some of your favorite poetry collections of the moment?

EL: A few favorite poetry collections from 2020 that I can’t stop thinking about or recommending to people: John Murillo’s Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, Leila Chatti’s Deluge, Yona Harvey’s You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love, and Choi Seungja’s Phone Bells Keep Ringing for Me (translated by Won-Chung Kim and Cathy Park Hong). I’m also pretty obsessed with these 2020 nonfiction books by Korean American poets: Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings and E. J. Koh’s The Magical Language of Others—both of which made me cry multiple times. I feel actual gratitude that all these books are out in the world.

LR: What’s one writing ritual or self-care practice that helps sustain you?

EL: I keep a Word document on my desktop called “Anthology of Quotes”—an ongoing collection of inspirational quotes to keep me going when I want to quit. I read through it when I feel unable to continue writing. A lot of Audre Lorde in there, some philosophers, even some from contemporary actors or anonymous quotes floating around Instagram. And one Bible verse (though I’ve completely forgotten its context now): “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands’” (from the book of Nehemiah, chapter 6, verse 9).

LR: In keeping with this season’s theme, what does “Asian American futures” mean to you? 

EL: When I think of “Asian American futures,” I imagine new generations of Asian American poets putting to paper what our parents, grandparents, and ancestors could never bring themselves to say. I envision poetry that refuses to wait around for permission. Poetry with an urgency that matches the times. Poetry that cost the poet something to write.

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We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Eugenia to our editorial team for the season! For more from her, check out her website—or head on over to read our previous interview with her, right here on the LR blog. (And don’t forget to send us your own takes on “Asian American futures”! Our regular open submissions period closes on February 11th.)

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ALSO RECOMMENDED

Cover of YOU DON'T HAVE TO GO TO MARS FOR LOVE by Yona Harvey

 Yona Harvey, You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love (Four Way Books, 2020)

Please consider supporting an indie bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–focused publication, Lantern Review stands for diversity within the literary world. In solidarity with other communities of color and in an effort to connect our readers with a wider range of voices, we recommend a different collection by a non-Asian-American-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

Introducing Our 2021 Season: “Asian American Futures”

Call for submissions information graphic. LANTERN REVIEW. Call for Submissions: Asian American Futures. Regular Submissions (Asian American poets & visual artists): Jan 11–Feb 11. Youth Folio Submissions (Asian American poets & visual artists 14–24): Mar 11–Apr 11. lanternreview.submittable.com. (Black-and-white background photo of a wooden dock extending out over water into a foggy horizon; photo by Simone Mattielli on Unsplash.)
Save the date! Our first 2021 reading period opens soon.

It’s hard to believe that 2020 is nearing its end. (And what a year it’s been!) As we look ahead to 2021, we’re excited to announce that some changes are coming to LR’s magazine in the new year.

To begin with, we’re beyond delighted to announce that guest editor Eugenia Leigh will be joining our team for the duration of the 2021 season. Eugenia is an award-winning poet, the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows, a seasoned teaching artist, and former poetry editor at both Kartika Review and Hyphen. She’s also a past LR contributor and has written in the past for our blog. Eugenia will be helping to co-curate the magazine, and you also might hear from her via our social media from time to time. We’re so excited to get to collaborate with her next year, and hope you’ll join us in giving her a warm welcome!

Additionally, in 2021, our magazine will center around the theme of “Asian American Futures.” For the first time, we’ll also be having two separate reading periods: from Jan 11–Feb 11, we’ll accept regular submissions, and from Mar 11–Apr 11, we’ll be inviting young Asian American writers aged 14–24 to submit their work to a special youth folio.

We’ll post again to remind you when the first submissions period goes live on the blog starting next month. But in the meantime, here is the official call. We hope you’ll read it through, save the date, and consider sending something our way!

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2021 Open Submissions (Jan 11–Feb 11): “Asian American Futures” 

As we enter 2021, many of us face uncertainty or grief, but the new year gives us a chance to dare to hope. And there is so much to hope for in the Asian American community, from the leadership of young Asian American activists on the protest lines to the rising profiles of Asian American artists, writers, and scholars on the national and global stages. This season, we’re hoping to publish poetry and visual art that embodies the spirit of a “love letter” to the future of Asian America. Maybe you have something to say to the young people in your life. Maybe you look at Kamala Harris and see a glimpse of your own childhood dreams or even the dreams you haven’t yet dreamed. Or maybe you’re thinking about the work we still need to do: about climate change, police brutality, anti-Asian racism, incarceration at the border, rising food insecurity, the model minority myth. Maybe you’ll channel the prophetic, the visionary; maybe you’ll see glimmers of hope in the ordinary. However you interpret this call, we look forward to hearing what you have to say. Please read our guidelines and tips carefully and send us your work by February 11th.

This call is open to all poets who identify as Asian American. We especially welcome submissions from poets who identify with marginalized groups within the Asian American community. If you are a young poet aged 14–24, we encourage you to send us your work during our Youth Folio submissions period (from March 11th–April 11th) instead.

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Youth Folio Open Submissions (Mar 11–Apr 11): “Asian American Futures” 

Young Asian American writers are the embodiment of our present and future. For the first time ever, we are actively seeking open submissions from you: Asian American poets and visual artists aged 14–24. We have grown increasingly in awe of the passion, conviction, and creativity of young people in our community, and we feel inspired to offer this space as our love letter to you. We hope to create a folio filled with your own “love letters” to the futures you will claim, embody, become. Send us your best work on any topic—past, present, or future. It can be about things political, or it can be an expression of where you are now, what makes you tick, your personal hopes and dreams. We can’t wait to hear from you. Please read our guidelines and tips carefully and send us your poems or visual art by April 11th

This call is for Asian American poets aged 14–24 only; if you are 25 or older, please submit during our open submissions period (from January 11th–February 11th) instead. We especially welcome submissions from poets who identify with marginalized groups within the Asian American community.

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We’re excited for the new things to come in 2021: for Eugenia’s partnership, for our new youth folio, and to read what you have to say about the future of Asian America! Please stay tuned for more updates in early January. In the meantime, we’re sending our warmest wishes to you and yours for a happy, healthy new year.

Peace and Light,
The Editors

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WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier

Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf, 2017)

Please consider supporting an indie bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–focused publication, Lantern Review stands for diversity within the literary world. In solidarity with other communities of color and in an effort to connect our readers with a wider range of voices, we recommend a different collection by a non-Asian-American-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

2 Poets, 4 Questions: Q&A with Eugenia Leigh and Hossannah Asuncion

Eugenia Leigh and Hossannah Asuncion
Eugenia Leigh (L; Photo by An Rong Xu) and Hossannah Asuncion (R; Photo by Naomi Miller)

Today, we bring you the second installment in our mini series “2 Poets, 4 Questions.” Each week in this series, we’re pairing up two different emerging APIA poets and asking them to answer a set of four identical questions. Today’s installment features two New York—based poets who are both alumnae of Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program and Los Angeles transplants: Eugenia Leigh (author of the forthcoming Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows) and Hossannah Asuncion (author of the chapbook Fragments of Loss).

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1.

LR: February, when we’re entrenched in the miserablest depths of winter, always seems to be a month of cravings: for indulgent foods, for human connection, for warmth, for light, for the coming of spring. (Margaret Atwood called it “a month of despair, / with a skewered heart in the centre” when one thinks “dire thoughts, and lust[s] for French fries with a splash of vinegar.”) As a poet, what are your literary cravings? What whets your creative appetite, haunts you, and keeps you coming back for more?

EL: My obsessions and “literary cravings” vary in accordance with my life seasons. They’re usually songs. Sometimes quotes. When I feel restless with those “dire thoughts” Atwood warns us about, I will expend myself tracking down the one song that resonates in both meaning and mood, then sit still and loop that song through my earphones for hours. Or I will stare at a quote for any length of time to absorb its meaning. This Franz Kafka quote, for example, carried me through bitter homesickness when I first moved to New York: “It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.” At the risk of sounding insane, I’ll admit I would stare at these words for entire evenings because I believed I could will them to come true.

During the season that produced my first book, I spent hours alone with Brand New’s 2006 album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. Especially “The Archers’ Bows Have Broken.” I was far from having any semblance of faith in anything at the time, but I couldn’t get enough of the idea of “a God that we found lying under the backseat” or a God in other mundane or sacrilegious positions and scenarios. In 2008, when I moved to New York, The Fray’s “You Found Me” gave me a similar haven. The God in this song is “smoking his last cigarette,” so I trusted this God enough to indulge the idea of him. Maybe it’s correct to say I’m always lusting after the other worlds beyond this one. The Unseen. Unless a piece of art has an element of the mystical or the supernatural or the impossible, it’s difficult for me to crave it. Love it and be moved by it, sure. But likely not lust after it.

HA: I experienced an almost hubris recently that I,  a poet—an occupant in the field of emotional cryptology,  am actually very not-knowing of my feelings.  And so I like words that investigate and excavate—I like vulnerability and searching. I very much like the answer, I don’t know, but here is the doing and undoing of my world of questioning. The poets who are doing that for me right now are Ocean Vuong and Eduardo Corral.

Continue reading “2 Poets, 4 Questions: Q&A with Eugenia Leigh and Hossannah Asuncion”

Editors’ Corner: Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2014 (Part 2)

Books We're Looking Forward to in 2014, Part 2

Today, just in time for the start of the year of the lunar new year, we’re finishing off our two-part roundup of books that we’re looking forward to in 2014.  Last week’s post (part 1) focused on recently published titles, while today’s (part 2) focuses on forthcoming books that are due out later this year.

Note: the books discussed below are divided by category according to whether they are currently available for pre-order, or whether specific details of their release have, as of this posting, yet to be announced. For each category, books are listed alphabetically by author.

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Available for Pre-order

Split by Cathy Linh Che (forthcoming from Alice James Books in April 2014)

Split is the latest winner of the Kundiman Prize (the previous years’ awards having gone to Mezzanines by Matthew Olzmann and Pier by Janine Oshiro). Cathy Linh Che is a poet who writes with clarity and shattering vulnerability. I heard her read from portions of Split, which intertwines histories of personal trauma with the inherited trauma of war and displacement, at last year’s AWP, and watched the crowd be visibly moved as she began to cry on the podium. Che said recently, in a feature on the Blood-Jet Radio Hour’s blog: “at a reading, a young woman called me ‘the crying poet.’ She’d witnessed me bawling my eyes out at not one, but two of my own readings. I was a bit embarrassed by the nickname, but now it is a moniker I am proud of! If a book or reading is moving, I tear up. It is how I determine whether or not a work is good. Does it move me? And after I put down the work, does it endure?” I very much respect this: here is a poet who is willing to own the porousness between her work and herself, who is willing to allow herself to be moved by both the process and the “read” experience of her own writing. I can’t wait to read Split. 

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Turn by Wendy Chin-Tanner (forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in March 2014)

This is a special one for us here at LR. Wendy has been our staff interviewer for the past three seasons (she’s the one who’s been responsible for bringing you the insights of everyone from Garrett Hongo to Don Mee Choi), and we are so very ecstatic that she has a book forthcoming! We first got to know Wendy through her sonically rich, smart, politically-attuned poetry—we published a piece of hers in Issue 3 and enjoyed it so much that we made it the “closer” for the main body of the issue. Since joining the blog staff, she’s been a huge asset to the team, contributing colorful and extremely thoughtful interviews each month.  We were thrilled when we learned that Sibling Rivalry had picked up her book, and are very much looking forward to reading it in a couple of months’ time.

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Continue reading “Editors’ Corner: Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2014 (Part 2)”

Editors’ Corner: On Our Radar (January 2013)

Good morning, and Happy New Year! We’re back from our holiday hiatus!

We thought we’d start off 2013 with a quick editorial roundup of a few exciting  news items that have been on our radar as of late, but which we didn’t have an opportunity to bring to your attention over the break:

Kundiman Poetry Retreat Applications Open

New fellow applications for the 2013 Kundiman retreat are now open, until February 1st. This year’s retreat will take place from June 19–23 at Fordham University, and its star-studded faculty lineup will feature Li-Young Lee, Srikanth Reddy, and Lee Ann Roripaugh. Why should you apply? Well, because the retreat is an experience like no other for anyone who considers themselves an Asian American poet. (And who wouldn’t want to chance to work with Li-Young Lee or Srikanth Reddy?) To learn more about the application process, visit the Kundiman web site. (And if you’d like to read some firsthand accounts of what the retreat’s like, you can read about Henry’s and my first experiences there in this 2011 post).

Contributor Eugenia Leigh to helm poetry section of Kartika Review

We recently learned that Issue 3 contributor (and guest reviewer) Eugenia Leigh will succeed Issue 2 contributor Kenji C. Liu as poetry editor of Kartika Review after the latter’s having stepped down from the position late last fall. To Eugenia: our congratulations on the new position—we are excited to see where you will be taking KR next; and to Kenji: cheers on a job well done, and best of luck with all of your future endeavors.

Madding Mission Journals and ECRITUREartefacts by Desmond Kon

Issue 1 contributor Desmond Kon recently launched two lines of literary art “objects”: Madding Mission Journals and ECRITUREartefacts. I’ve long been a fan of Desmond’s hand-lettered art as well as of his poetry, and both of these collections of goods, which feature stylish typography, quirky poem-snippets,  and the occasional cheeky illustration (like a mug featuring a bar of soap, a lemon, and a high-heeled shoe), feature both of his talents to full effect. Congrats to Desmond on this new and exciting venture. Check out his line of blank journals here, and his shop of other literary goods here.

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That’s all the news we have for you this morning. Regular content on the blog will resume later this week; check back on Wednesday for our first contributor post of the New Year, in which Wendy Chin-Tanner interviews Lao American poet (and Issue 4 contributor) Bryan Thao Worra.

Review: Karen An-Hwei Lee’s PHYLA OF JOY

PHYLA OF JOY
Karen An-Hwei Lee’s PHYLA OF JOY

A Guest Post by Eugenia Leigh

Phyla of Joy by Karen An-Hwei Lee | Tupelo Press 2012 | $16.95

Eugenia Leigh
Eugenia Leigh

When entering Karen An-hwei Lee’s mysterious world of silver eucalyptus groves and Holy Spirits, the temptation is to dissociate. To keep that ethereal realm separate from the mud-and-waste Earth most of us know. But Lee’s power lies in her ability to unite both worlds. Instead of distancing the Divine from cigarettes and kitchen fires, Lee welcomes the one into the other. But the startling result isn’t a third world tangled with dichotomies. The result is Phyla of Joy, a portrait of the world we live in, but reclaimed through gracious eyes that somehow inject light into everything from famine to girls born with cleft palates.

Lee prepares her reader for this new world with her epigraphs, the first of which comes from a Davidic psalm: “For with You is the fountain of life; / in Your light we see light.” Immediately, the following formula is established: to find light on Earth, Lee’s poems—and we readers—will need to rely on the light of the divine “You.”

This “formula” seems simple enough, but how much effort does it really take for our generally afflicted human selves to seek out that otherworldly light? Lee addresses that tension between being human and craving something beyond-human in the book’s first poem, “Yingri.” In the Tupelo Press reader’s companion to Phyla of Joy, she notes that yingri is a Chinese word composed of two characters. While Lee tells us that the second character translates to “sun,” she allows the meaning of the first character to remain ambiguous in its multiple possible translations: “shadow,” “eagle,” “to reflect.”

The poem’s two stanzas add to our understanding of yingri’s duality. The first stanza, representative of earth and ying with its many meanings, reads:

Inside me is a bridge, or the beams of a house,
and an old ground swell beneath a garden boat.

The speaker’s observations in this stanza reflect the multiple meanings of ying with the word “or,” which reveals both the speaker’s uncertain sense of her human self and also the possibility of additional manmade constructions buried within her.

The second stanza constitutes ri—the sun and its associations with divinity:

Outside, on an acre of snow,
a winter sun, blinding.

What appears to be a small, four-line opening poem speaks volumes when pitted against the rest of the collection. We asked earlier how people can invite supernatural light into a worldly existence. And here is the answer: by blinding.

Continue reading “Review: Karen An-Hwei Lee’s PHYLA OF JOY”