Process Profile: Christopher Santiago Discusses “Tam”

Christopher Santiago
Christopher Santiago

Chris Santiago is a poet, fiction writer, critic, and teacher. His writing has appeared in FIELD, Pleiades, The Asian American Literary Review, Canteen, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and elsewhere. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and has been a finalist for both the Stony Brook Short Fiction Contest and the Kundiman Poetry Prize (for his manuscript Tula). Chris is completing his Ph.D. in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, where he is a Provost’s Ph.D. Fellow and ACE-Nikaido Fellow, and teaches literature & writing in the Thematic Option Program.

This April, we are returning to our Process Profiles series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their writing process for an individual poem or poetic sequence of theirs. As in the past, we’ve asked Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a piece of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Christopher Santiago writes about his poem “Tam,” which appeared in Issue 5.

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I wrote the first draft of “Tam,” I think, out of anger. It’s an older poem, and I was in my early twenties and mad about a lot of things, but one of the things that really got under my skin was pop culture, and portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans in particular. Miss Saigon, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil’s Vietnam War redux of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, was the kind of cultural object that really drove me up the wall. The tale of Kim, a Vietnamese bargirl who commits suicide so that her son, Tam, can grow up in the States with his American ex-GI father, didn’t bother me when I first saw it as a teenager. But over the years, the memory festered—I won’t waste time explaining why—and only after I began to try to write seriously did it occur to me that this anger might be something I could use.

I was just starting out, and writing a lot of persona poems, partly because I felt that trying to get in someone else’s head allowed me to get outside of myself, and partly because I was (and still am) deeply interested in voice. My anger toward Miss Saigon—and texts that were like it—gave me energy, but it also made me inarticulate. As the poem unfolded, then, I felt the impulse to deflect, to approach the subject obliquely—from the point of view of Tam, who I imagined growing up haunted by the memory of his mother’s voice. That way, I reasoned, I could really poke holes in the musical’s phony premise, its false catharsis. I could build further into its world in a way that would, I hoped, reveal its glib and hollow heart.

After I wrote a few drafts, the poem sat on the back burner for years, until I started working a couple of years ago on a manuscript I’m tentatively calling Tula. I was happy to find “Tam” on an old hard drive, and happier still to find that one of my current obsessions had begun to take shape in “Tam” years before: my obsession with the way that unlearned languages haunt us. I never learned to speak Tagalog, or Ilonggo, or Bicolano—my mother tongues, or heritage languages—and I’m fascinated by the bits and pieces that I do know, the bodily traces of certain rhythms and intonations in the ears of 1.5 and 2nd generation folks like me. I’ve been reading these fascinating fMRI studies on the subject: the science, as far as I can tell, supports the intuition that Kim—her singular way of speaking—remains a part of Tam even after he can no longer recall (at least consciously) a single phrase of Vietnamese.

As for the poem, I still liked its bones, but thought perhaps it over-explained itself. I decided to strip it back, to let the silences bleed more, and to break the suite of episodes into shorter and more irregular fragments. I also hoped that reordering them might quiet some of the melodrama. I’d given Tam my anger, and think he deserved to feel it; some of it, I think, still bubbles up under the lid. But instead of belting his anger out under the spotlights, Tam mutters it under his breath. I hope that gives the poem at least a bit more bite and plaintiveness.

Process Profile: Esther Lee Discusses DAUGHTERS OF CELLULOID

Esther Lee
Esther Lee

Esther Lee has written Spit, a poetry collection selected for the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011) and her chapbook, The Blank Missives (Trafficker Press, 2007). Her poems and articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Lantern Review, Ploughshares, Verse Daily, Salt Hill, Good Foot, Swink, Hyphen, Born Magazine, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow, she received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Indiana University where she served as Editor-in-Chief for Indiana Review. She has been awarded the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize and Utah Writer’s Contest Award for Poetry selected by Brenda Shaughnessy, as well as having been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and AWP Intro Journals Project. Currently, she pursues a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Utah and lives with her fiancé, Michael, and their dog and three cats in Salt Lake. Starting this fall, she will begin teaching as an assistant professor at Agnes Scott College.

This April, we are returning to our Process Profiles series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their writing process for an individual poem or poetic sequence of theirs. As in the past, we’ve asked Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a piece of theirs that we’ve published. In this installment, Esther Lee reflects upon the excerpt of her project Daughters of Celluloid that appeared in Issue 5.

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(if his plate would not record the clouds, he could point his camera down and eliminate the sky)

—John Szarkowski

If there is a hegemonic familial gaze, imposing rigid familial ideologies, then mothers are most cruelly subjected to its scrutiny.

—Marianne Hirsch

HandsExcerpts of this Process Profile are pulled from a craft talk titled, “Double Exposures: Photographic Fictions and Traumatic Memories” given at Virginia Tech. All photographic images are ones I’ve taken or borrowed from family albums.

My hope is to invite you into a constellation of influences—and mostly questions—I’m working with and exploring in this work-in-progress, tentatively titled Daughters of Celluloid. This constellation includes the works of writers and artists who meditate on, thematize, and/or employ photography, as well as those whose works investigate the complexities of trauma and representations, in particular, of trauma not directly experienced first-hand. So a kind of assemblage, if you will, one that is part wax, part string, part etched glass.

In Daughters of Celluloid, the narrator finds that her mother’s enigmatic past is pocked with speech, presented as fragmented anecdotes, suggesting recessed narratives of trauma and dislocation. To borrow a phrase from the French novelist and Holocaust writer, Henri Raczymow, memory is “shot through with holes” and underscored by potential absences of family photographs wherein large swaths of time and space have seemingly vanished, losing any semblance of continuity. As a result, the narrator finds herself attempting to photograph the mother, grappling with how the camera can both fix and unfix them. In doing so, they disrupt their unspoken ways of looking, complicating the myths of familial memory and, ultimately, searching for what Alison Bechdel describes in her graphic novel, Are You My Mother?, as a “mutual cathexis” between mother and daughter, wherein they can recognize each other’s invisible wounds.

Continue reading “Process Profile: Esther Lee Discusses DAUGHTERS OF CELLULOID”

LR News: Issue 5 (The Hybridity Issue) is Here!

LR Issue 5
LR 5: The Hybridity Issue

At long last, the fifth issue of Lantern Review is now live! (And our site has been given a long-overdue face lift to match). Themed around the topic of “hybridity,” Issue 5 features 100 pages of content, including poetry by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, Amy Uyematsu, Sally Wen Mao, Esther Lee, Christopher Santiago, Khaty Xiong, Kristen Eliason, Jane Wong, Carrie Green, and Ching-In Chen; visual art by Karen An-Hwei Lee and Michael Marcinek; and a special feature on the work of Takeo Rivera, in which we interview the poet/playwright/scholar and present an excerpt of his choreopoem Prometheus Nguyen. Our very first themed issue, and perhaps our most challenging to put together to date, Issue 5 has been a long time in coming, but we think it’s been more than worth the wait, and we’re confident that you’ll feel the same.

To enter the issue, click here or on the cover image at the top of this post. We’d love to hear what you think about this new, thematic format, as well as our transition to a more streamlined, Google-Fonts-based design for both the site and the magazine. And of course, if you experience any technical issues while browsing, please don’t hesitate to let us know that, either. Drop us a line at editors [at] at any time; we’re always grateful for your feedback.

A very happy Monday (of AWP week!) to you, and many thanks again for your continued support of Lantern Review.

Peace and Light,

Iris & Mia
LR Editors

LR News: Last Chance to Submit for Issue 5 (The Hybridity Issue)!

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

Happy Friday, everyone!

A reminder that our reading period for Issue 5 will be closing this Sunday, July 15th, at 11:59 PM EST. This will be the last chance to submit for The Hybridity Issue, so please don’t forget!

Click here to access the special submissions guidelines for this issue (the link to our online submissions form can be found at the bottom of the page).

Many thanks and good luck; we look forward to reading your work.


Iris & Mia

Friday Prompt: Hybrid & Heterogeneous

LR Issue 5: "The Hybridity Issue" - Call for Submissions
Click to Submit to LR Issue 5 | Deadline: July 15, 2012

Since we’re approaching the end of our Issue 5 reading period, today’s prompt will be our final discussion on the critical notion of hybridity.  Click here for previous posts, which discuss a number of ways we’ve seen contemporary practitioners experiment with hybrid forms, media and language.  Today’s prompt focuses on subject matter derived from hybrid sources, which I’d like to approach through a consideration of Quan Barry‘s poetry.

In an interview for Perihelion, Barry says:

I listen to a lot of NPR, mostly FRESH AIR, and quite a few of the poems [in Asylum] are from segments I’d heard either there or on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Because I’m the kind of person who’s really interested in making connections, in getting really into topics, for ASYLUM, I researched a lot of the poems (for example, the poems about syphilis).

One of these “poems about syphilis,” which appears in the sequence “Plague,” begins:

After three weeks a chancre forms–an ulceration
with a hard edge, springy center–the way a button
feels through a layer of cloth.  Also, the lymph nodes

in the groin begin distorting, swell like vulcanized rubber,
painless though immunologically ineffectual.

Continue reading “Friday Prompt: Hybrid & Heterogeneous”

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”

Friday Prompt: Mixing Media, Mixing Sources

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

Today’s prompt is more of a loose, outline sketch than a focused discussion. We’re still continuing our exploration of different modes of “hybridity,” but in thinking of examples of pieces that mix media and “collage” voices from outside sources together, I found that it was difficult to choose just one or two poems that felt truly representative. There is so much being done in terms of mixed media today, and so many, many different ways that people have found to do it.

Hence, the following list of resources loosely illustrates a few examples of the two particular modes of hybridity I’m focusing on today: 1) hybrid means of presenting poetry to the viewer (in which the artist employs media outside the realm of the traditional printed page, or combines two or more different media as the means by which to enact their finished piece), and 2) the use of multiple sources (texts, images, video clips, sounds, etc.) to create a hybrid, “collaged” effect (in which the artist may “borrow” text from multiple different sources and mix it with his/her own speaker’s voice).  In many cases, the examples I’ve listed do both.

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1. Monica Ong’s visual poem from LR issue 3,  “Corona Mestiza,” which overlays text upon the found images of a map and a brain scan in order to convey a family narrative of physical and geographical loss. (See Monica’s web site for more examples of her work, which often combines archival and original images with text, physical objects, sound, and reader/audience interaction).

2. Visual Poems by Gregory and Trisha Orr (from Rattle #29): the poet and his wife, a painter, collaborated on these pieces, combining text with color and visually-textured hand-lettering to form striking works of visual art. The rest of the issue is also full of interesting visual poems that can be used for inspiration.

3. Margaret Rhee’s “Materials” from LR Issue 4, which makes use of scrolling, vertical columns and strategic typography, and combines text and voices from multiple sources.

4. Charles Hobson’s beautifully composed and choreographed video accounting of the making of his artist’s book for Eavan Boland’s poem “Quarantine” (from Drunken Boat 15). The video is as much part of the mode of his art as the book and the borrowed text itself.  As with the Rattle issue mentioned above, the rest of the “Handmade/Homemade” folio that features Hobson’s film is worth exploring, too.  A tip for submitting to LR: if you are planning on sending in work that uses the full text of another person’s poem, please be sure to obtain their explicit permission before doing so (otherwise, we cannot publish your piece, even if it is accepted).

5. Mouseover translations on Action Yes: admittedly, this is more of a brilliant editorial intervention than anything else, but it so perfectly illustrates the possibilities for mixed media made available by the web that I couldn’t not include it. Here’s one great example: “from strips, attempts, games,” by Rémi Froger, translated by François Luong (mouse over the English to reveal the original French).

6. The work of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, best known for her book Dictee, whose written and performed art sought to problematized the acts of speaking and writing in English (the loss of a heart language, the simultaneous stifling of a history by mainstream narratives) through explorations that made use of anatomical diagrams, archival photographs, poem-text (both self-generated and “borrowed” from sources like French dictation exercises), textiles, musical instruments, video footage, the performances of physical acts of creation and erasure, and more.  Extensive digital documentation of her work is no longer readily available online, but this New York Times tribute describes several of her important pieces quite well.

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Why mixed media? Why collage? Because the results of both can be absolutely startling. The dimensions of unfamiliarity and innovation that can emerge from the overlaying of the poem with non-print media, digital platforms, unique performative experiences, or text that comes from outside the characteristic syntax or lived experiences of the poet him or herself, can cause the reader to look again, to examine the text from a different perspective, and to encounter the poem in new and refreshingly counter intuitive ways.

Prompt: Create a poem or poetic work that presents itself to the reader through a mixture of two or more different types of media, and/or which collages together materials gathered from multiple different sources (texts, images, poems, sound clips, found objects, etc.).

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The submissions period for Issue 5, “The Hybridity Issue,” will close on July 15th. Has this prompt inspired you to experiment with mixed media poetics, or do you have other previously unpublished work that explores the concept of “hybridity”?  Click here to submit.

Friday Prompt: Hybrid Forms

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

Now that the reading period for our first themed issue is open, we thought that our return to regular Friday Prompts would be a great opportunity to provide you with some  inspiration.  To that end, we’ll be setting aside this month’s prompts to illustrate just a few of the many approaches with which we believe the theme of “hybridity” could be interpreted.

This week, our focus is on form. Although there are many ways in which the formal structure of a poem could cause it to be classified as “hybrid,”  for today’s prompt, we’ve chosen to highlight two poems that make use of hybrid forms very differently: Kimiko Hahn’s villanelle “The Fever” (from The New Yorker), which mixes elements of free-verse with the constraints of a traditional formal structure, and Ching-In Chen’s poem “Fob” (from Tea Party), which blurs distinctions between “forms” from different genres by shaping itself around the structure and syntax of a dictionary definition.

In re-envisioning the villanelle, Hahn holds rhyme and meter loosely. Her use of slant rhymes (e.g. “color” / “fever”) and strategically varied refrains, and her light adherence to iambic meter allow her to engage the “rules” loosely enough that her language flits conversationally from line to line (clusters of Latinate words—themselves borrowed from the science section of the New York Times—as in, “damages the membrane of symbiotic algae,” help to make the stresses sufficiently “bumpy” so as to feel uncontrived), but she still holds onto enough of the form that as the poem rolls along, it stays—like a marble rattling through a chute—recognizably within the scaffold of a villanelle. The lyrical lilt that the form lends to the poem allows it to take on a twinge of ironic whimsy (given the gravitas of its overarching metaphor), while still retaining the appealingly confessional tone that is more frequently associated with free verse. As a result, the voice of the speaker comes across as sympathetically quirky, bemused, worldly—and we wholly buy the “leap” the poem takes when, by its end, we find that the speaker’s musings on coral reefs are merely a conceit by which to critique her own practices of self-ornamentation (“the ocean’s escalating fever” becomes “my ocean’s escalating fever”).

Ching-In Chen’s “Fob,” meanwhile, engages in a different kind of formal experimentation: it “borrows” the structure of a type of writing that falls entirely outside the genre of poetry. In appropriating the definition as a poetic form, Chen makes strategic use of the didactic—even alienating—editorial qualities that we associate with the dictionary’s language in order to frame and enact her ensuing critique of the relationship between structural and linguistic hegemonies.  Her “example sentences,” which extend the reader’s gaze beyond the bars of the “definition” text to offer startlingly intimate glimpses into an alternate, more evocatively “definitional” narrative, subvert the bland, instructional tone of the dictionary’s text, thus “fobbing” our expectations of the poem’s own conceit. Through her lyric interventions, Chen allows us to witnesses the complicity of teacher and dictionary—by their silence on the pejorative meaning of “fob”—in the racial bullying that the speaker experiences, and gives us access to her subsequent, delicious revenge, in which she tricks one of the bullies into thinking that, among other things, the Chinese word for “ugly” is actually the word for “pretty,” and that the term “ku-li” (coolie) is a flattering and desirable nickname.  In re-appropriating the dictionary’s syntactical patterns as a “form,” then, Chen successfully manages to turn the cultural and linguistic authority it represents against itself.

To read both poems in their entirety, click below:

“The Fever” by Kimiko Hahn
“Fob” by Ching-In Chen 

Prompt: write a poem that makes use of hybrid form, either by blending a traditional form with new and unusual elements from other verse traditions, or by appropriating the “formal” conventions of another style of writing or genre.

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The submissions period for Issue 5, “The Hybridity Issue,” will close on July 15th. Has this prompt inspired you to experiment with hybrid forms in your writing, or do you have previously unpublished work that explores the concept of “hybridity”?  Click here to submit.

LR News: The Reading Period for Issue 5 (“The Hybridity Issue”) Is Now Open!

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

We’re happy to announce that the next issue of LR is going to be a particularly special one. For the first time, we’ve decided to put together a themed issue!  The theme that we’ve settled on for Issue 5 is “Hybridity” (to be interpreted critically, aesthetically, or otherwise), and in order to help provide you with some context around which to shape your submissions, we’ve come up with the following call for submissions:

For its fifth issue, Lantern Review seeks poems, visual art, multimedia, and mixed genre poetic works that engage with the critical notion of “hybridity,” whether in language, form, aesthetic or subject matter. How can the act of poetic “collage” mimic, transform, and otherwise help us to negotiate the boundaries of ethnic and cultural distinctions? In what ways can experimenting with the mixing (and re-mixing) of narratives, forms, source material, and genres be used to enact the condition of hybridity (geographically, generationally, biologically, and otherwise)?

Some potentially generative terms might include: collage; assemblage; montage; inter-; trans-; multi-; blending; mixology; mash-up; mixtape; recombination; border-crossing; crossing; heteroglossia; hypertext; blending; hyphenation; interlingual; intertext; collecting; curation; multivocality; meiosis; overlay; juxtaposition; patchwork; cut-and-paste

On the heels of the guest posts we’ve seen this May—particularly Luisa Igloria’s collage-inspired prompt (in which she encourages us to try using textual and historical fragments as a critical “speculum” by which to re-imagine narratives from the legacies of diaspora), Tarfia Faizullah’s process profile  (which, in its own terminology, “braids” together the memories of two narratives that happened years apart) —we feel that the topic of “hybridity” is particularly prescient. Other potentially helpful sources of online inspiration might include Craig Santos Perez’s AWP paper  in which he observes the dearth of poets of color in Norton’s American Hybrid anthology, Kenji C. Liu’s recent post on geography, diaspora, and being of “mixed” poetic lineage  on The Best American Poetry Blog (which serves as his introduction to the APIA Month guest series that he is curating there this week), and also Margaret Rhee’s Artist’s Statement from her mixed-media, multi-vocal poem “Materials,” which we published in Issue 4.

The reading period for LR 5: The Hybridity Issue will close on July 15, 2012. To submit your work, please visit the revised guidelines that we’ve posted on our Submissions Page.

We look forward to seeing how you will respond!

Many thanks as always,

Iris & Mia
LR Editorial Board