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.

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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.

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