Process Profile: Kenji C. Liu Discusses “A Son Writes Back”

Kenji C. Liu

Kenji is a 1.5-generation immigrant from New Jersey. His poetry chapbook You Left Without Your Shoes (Finishing Line Press, 2009) was nominated for a 2009 California Book Award. His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Tea Party Magazine (not related to the conservative movement), Kartika Review, Flick of My Tongue (KSW, 2009), and Kweli Journal. He has received a Pushcart nomination and is working on a multi-genre full-length collection of poetry, prose and visual art. Kenji is currently the poetry editor at Kartika Review.

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.

* * *

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.

From “A Son Writes Back” | Kenji C. Liu | Issue 2, Lantern Review | pp 3-4.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Process Profile: Michelle Peñaloza Discusses “Vestige”

Michelle Peñaloza (Photo: Janna Ireland)

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.

* * *

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.

From “Vestige” | Michelle Peñaloza | Issue 2, Lantern Review | pp 25-26.
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Poems for Monday Mornings: Aryanil Mukherjee’s “honeycomb scriptures :: world granulated” at PennSound

In celebration of National Poetry Month and APIA Heritage Month this year, we have started a two-month Monday Morning series in which we will be sharing an audio recording of a different poem that has moved, challenged, or stuck with us each week.

Today’s Monday Morning Poem features a version of a piece that actually appeared in Issue 2 of Lantern ReviewAryanil Mukherjee reads from his series “honeycomb scriptures,” beginning with the poem “honeycomb scriptures :: world granulated,” which later appeared in LR. (Via PennSound‘s archives).

Mia and I both love the ‘rubbly’ translucence and impermanence of the images in “world granulated,” so we were excited to run across this recording, in which we get to hear the poem contextualized within the series to which it belongs.  We hope you enjoy it, too:

Aryanil Mukherjee reads from “honeycomb scriptures” at the Cincinnati Public Library

To listen via streaming audio, click the link above, which will take you to Mukherjee’s page on PennSound, and then scroll down to the recording (the second one listed under “Poetry in the Garden at the Cincinnati Public Library”).

Or, to retrieve and open the file directly on your computer’s media player software, click here.

If you’d like to follow along as you listen, the version of “world granulated” that appeared in LR can be found here.

Happy Monday!

– Iris & Mia


Event Coverage: AWP 2011 Off-Site Reading

JoAnn Balingit
JoAnn Balingit

It’s been a little over a month now since AWP 2011 in Washington DC — and this post is more than a little overdue!  Nonetheless, here it is: our reflection on the very first gathering of Lantern Review contributors, readers, and editors.  Our off-site reading, co-hosted by Boxcar Poetry Reviewin celebration of the little online magazine,” took place on Friday, February 4th at Go Mama Go!, a lovely, eclectic art supply & gift shop (ceramics, antique soda bottles, shot glasses, bright paper umbrellas) whose owner greeted us with a warm, “Are you here for the Chinese poetry?” when we first walked into the door.  “Well… yes?” we said, though really we were there for so much more.

Rapt Audience
Friends and contributors of LANTERN REVIEW and BOXCAR POETRY REVIEW.

Realizing that a gathering of people interested in Asian American poetry could perhaps be mistaken for enthusiasts of Chinese verse, we decided that this was an appropriate place for our reading to begin: with an assumption that would, as the night progressed, be stretched and proliferated across a variety of subjects, styles, personalities, and identities.  We heard from lovers, from daughters and sons, from fighters and artists, ethnic selves, queer selves, and — at times — just plain selves confronted with the complex reality of living in the twenty-first century.

We had the pleasure of hearing seven different Lantern Review contributors, all of whom read poems published in either Issue 1 or Issue 2 alongside other pieces prepared for the event.  Though most of us had never met before, there was a wonderful camaraderie in the room — after tipping the microphone down a few inches, Issue 2 contributor Kathleen Hellen joked that, being a little-ish person, she loved little-ish poems and planned to share a few with us.

Kathleen Hellen
Kathleen Hellen

Contributor Rajiv Mohabir impressed us with his unexplained passion for whales, even pulling off his fleece to show the back of his t-shirt.  Sure enough: whale.

To be perfectly honest, in preparing for this event I had no idea what — or who, rather — to expect.  Sure, we had a list of readers and printed programs, but in curating the poems for our two issues, I’d developed certain notions of “who” our contributors were: Poet X, author of Poem Y, was surely this kind of person, or at least that’s what I thought after spending so much time with their persona on the page.  But would I be proved mistaken when I met them in real life?

Kimberly Alidio
Kimberly Alidio

Seeing the men and women “behind the issues,” however, playing the wonderful game of matching poet face to poetic voice, was a fabulous experience.  At this event, a community that had previously existed only as a textual (and virtual!) reality became, for the first time, embodied in flesh: jeans and scarves, breath and lungs and vocal chords.  Hearing these contributors’ voices for the first time, particularly when each poet read their LR piece, was phenomenal.  Personas that previously existed only as textual markings on a computer screen became live presences, embodied on stage before our very eyes.

W. Todd Kaneko
W. Todd Kaneko

This could be an overreaction — the online magazine, and indeed the publishing world itself, has been around a long time, and “meeting your editor/contributors for the first time” is terribly old news.  For us, however, newly minted and only in our second year, the event was a wonderful success.  A true celebration of the little online magazine.  We’re grateful to our contributors, particularly those who were there with us at Go Mama Go! on the 4th, and to all the other readers and writers who make this virtual and literary community a living network of flesh-and-bone people around the nation.  Thank you for your support, and for joining us in exploring the open-ended question of Asian American poetry.

LR Readers & Editors
LR Readers & Editors

Also, thanks to Iris’ foresight and inner documentary filmmaker, you can hear clips of their readings below:

Continue reading “Event Coverage: AWP 2011 Off-Site Reading”

LR News: Send in your LR Postcards!

Participate in the LR Postcard Project!

A quick update and reminder to those who either picked up an LR Postcard Project card at AWP or requested one in the mail: please don’t forget to write your response poem and send it back to us!  April 15th (the postmark deadline) is fast-approaching, and the sooner you send in your responses, the earlier we’ll be able to feature them on the blog.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns regarding how the project is meant to work, please do not hesitate to send us an email: editors [at] lanternreview (dot) com.

Looking forward to reading your postcard poems!

– Iris & Mia

LR News: The LR Postcard Project 2011

Fill-In Style Postcard for the 2011 LR Postcard Project

A warm welcome to all those who are joining us for the first time after encountering us in D.C.!  We are back from AWP, and we’re getting ready to roll once again over here on the blog.  The conference and reading went wonderfully (look out for more about our experience in our upcoming post-AWP reflection posts), and we were delighted to be able to hand out 103 postcards as part of our 2011 Postcard Project.

For those of you who are just joining us, or who didn’t catch the explanation that we posted before the conference, the LR Postcard Project is a special venture that we’ve devised in order to encourage creative responses to the poems that we’ve published so far in Issue 1 & Issue 2.  We made up a series of 116 uniquely-numbered postcards, featuring either pre-selected “shimmery bits” (quotes, excerpts, lines, images, what have you) from poems that appeared in our first two issues or a blank front (where you could fill in your own favorite “shimmery bit” from an LR poem), and asked people at AWP to take one home, to write a response to their chosen excerpt in the form of a poem on the back, and to mail it back to us by April 15th.  The idea here is that we will post the cards that we receive to the blog (as they come in) and that we’ll even choose a few that we particularly like to publish in an upcoming issue.

You can expect to see more about the project—including reminders, and (hopefully!) responses, in upcoming weeks, but for those of you who were not able to make it to the conference, we wanted to offer you the opportunity to participate, as well, and so we are going to give away our 13 remaining postcards (all of which are of the fill-in-yourself variety) to the first 13 commentors on this post.  Here are the rules:

  1. Leave a comment on this post with your name, a contact email address, and the title of your favorite poem from Issue 1 or 2 of LR.
  2. We will contact the first 13 (human/non-spam/individual) commentors for their mailing addresses and will send them each a postcard via snail mail.
  3. If you receive a card, all you have to do is to inscribe a short quote or excerpt from a poem in Issue 1 or 2 on the front of  the card, write a poem on the back in response to that quote, stick on a postcard stamp, and send it back to us by April 15th.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Many thanks,

Iris & Mia
The Editors.

LR News: Issue Two Is Here!

LR Issue 2
LR Issue 2

We are delighted to announce that Issue 2 of Lantern Review is now live on our web site!

This tighter, more-streamlined volume contains 60 pages of extraordinary poetry and visual art, and features, for the first time, not only a page-bound sample of performance poetry (as part of our Community Voices feature), but also a special audio performance of that poem, which the artists recorded especially for LR.  Contributions to this issue include poetry by W. Todd Kaneko, Kenji C. Liu, Kathleen Hellen, Aryanil Mukherjee, Lek Borja, Wendi Lee, Aimee Suzara, Michelle Peñaloza, Rajiv Mohabir, JoAnn Balingit, Kimberly Alidio, and Marc Vincenz; as well as a range of beautiful photographic work, including a diptych of layered portraits by Bethany Hana Fong and the striking image of a blackbird by Anannya Dasgupta that appears on the cover.  Additionally, our Community Voices section in this issue features a profile of Sulu DC, as well as the collaborative poem mentioned above, which was created and is performed, in this issue, by three of the organization’s featured poets.

Before entering the issue, you might want to take a moment to check out our recommendations for optimum viewing, located here.  To listen to the audio in the issue, you’ll also need to have an updated version of the Adobe Flash player plugin installed, and will need to have Javascript enabled (more details and troubleshooting suggestions can be found on the issue’s masthead).  If you want to proceed to the issue right away, click here or on the cover image at the top left of this post. Issue 1 can now be accessed via the new “Archives” page on our main site.

We hope that you enjoy Issue 2!  As usual, we would love to hear any feedback that you might have regarding either its content or the [technical] navigability.  Please feel free to drop us a line any time at editors[at]

Many thanks for your continued support,

Iris & Mia
LR Editorial Board

LR News: January/February 2011

Happy 2011, everyone, and welcome back to the LR Blog!  We hope you had a joyous and healthy holiday. Here are a couple of updates to start off the New Year:

AWP 2011 – We’re Hosting a Reading!

Yes, the editors will be at the 2011 AWP conference in DC this year (Feb 3-5), and this time, we’re co-hosting a reading!

We are pleased to announce that we’ll be participating in an off-site joint reading with Boxcar Poetry Review.  The event will take place on the Friday night, and will feature the work of contributors to both magazines. Here are the details:

Lantern Review & Boxcar Poetry Review Present: A Night of Poetry
Friday, February 4, 2011 at 7:30 PM
at Go Mama Go!
1809 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
(Metro: U St/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo)
Pay As You Wish ($5 suggested donation; no one will be turned away).

If you live in the D.C. area or will be there for the conference, we hope that you’ll consider stopping by.   If you haven’t already, please take a moment to RSVP at our Facebook Event Page.  We’ll be sharing more details about the reading and about our other plans for AWP as the time of the conference approaches.

Coming Soon: Issue 2

Issue 2 of Lantern Review is currently in the production and layout stage. We are extremely excited to be able to present what we feel is a tighter, more focused body of work this time around.   A sneak peek of some things you can expect to see: a Community Voices feature on Sulu DC (with a secret, surprise element), lots more visual art than in Issue 1, and of course, plenty of wonderful poetry.  Our goal is to have the issue out in time for AWP, so keep your eyes peeled in the next couple of weeks!

LR News: Call for Submissions: Issue 2

Just a reminder that as of September 20th, we are now accepting submissions for our second issue. We have revised our guidelines slightly, so please make sure that you review the information on our guidelines page before submitting. Submissions will be accepted through November 29, 2010

If you would like to help spread the word (and we would indeed be very grateful if you did), feel free to grab the button above, or the smaller one in the sidebar for use on your own site or blog.

Thanks, and keep ’em coming!  We very much look forward to reading your work.


Iris & Mia
LR Editorial Staff

LR News: We’re Back! September 2010 Updates.

Dear LR Friends and Fans,

At long last, we are back from hiatus!  Here are some lovely new changes that we have implemented during the course of our absence:

Reading Period for Issue 2 is Now Open

That’s right; we’re now accepting submissions for our second issue, to appear sometime during the winter.  Please take some time to review our updated guidelines first, as we have changed a number of policies since our last reading period.  Here’s the link.  Our new submissions deadline is November 29th.

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New Staff Bloggers

LR welcomes five brand new staff bloggers to its team this fall:

Reviewer Henry W. Leung will be giving us the scoop on new books and issues of literary journals.

Columnist Simone Jacobson will cover the monthly Sulu DC series and will keep us up to date on the spoken word circuit in her column, Sulu Spotlight.

Graduate Student Correspondent Kelsay Myers will be chronicling her experiences in the M.F.A. program at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Staff Writers Kevin Minh Allen and Monica Mody will be treating us to a variety of different kinds of content, including reviews, interviews, posts about recent chapbooks, coverage of events in the Seattle area, and investigations of avant-garde and experimental work.

LR Blog veteran Mrigaa Sethi also returns to revive her column, Writing Home.

Please see the updated Blog Masthead for their bios.

Though we will miss the members of our team who have decided to move on to other things, we are extremely excited about to welcome Henry, Simone, Kelsay, Kevin, and Monica on board this fall.  We have an exciting lineup of posts planned for the next few months.  Look for them starting later this week.

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A New Look for the Blog

We mentioned it earlier, but we’ve given the LR Blog a bit of a facelift, in order to make it cleaner and easier to navigate.  What do you think?  Leave us a comment to let us know.

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Main Site Under Construction, Where’s the Community Calendar?, and Thanks.

You might have noticed that, among other wonky inconsistencies, some of the information on the Main Site is a little out of date and the Community Calendar is currently offline.  Not to worry; we are in the midst of updating the site, and the Calendar will return soon (as early as October, hopefully).  Our editorial team is still working under a few temporary role readjustments in the wake of some unexpected changes to our personal lives.  Though we are running a little farther behind schedule than we had originally anticipated, please rest assured that we are doing our best to get everything back in working order as soon as possible.  Thank you for the grace you showed us during the extension of our hiatus; we are commensurately grateful for your continued patience with us during this time.


Iris & Mia
LR Editorial Staff