An Asian American Poetry Companion: Books to Light Your Way into Winter (Late Fall 2021)

An Asian American Poetry Companion: November 2021. Collage of the following book covers (clockwise from top left): BOOK OF THE OTHER by Truong Tran, PILGRIM BELL by Kaveh Akbar, HOW TO NOT BE AFRAID OF EVERYTHING by Jane Wong, FOCAL POINT by Jenny Qi, COME CLEAN by Joshua Nguyen, LATITUDE by Natasha Rao, FIRE IS NOT A COUNTRY by Cynthia Dewi Oka, GENGHIS CHAN ON DRUMS by John Yau
New and Notable Books by Asian American Poets for Late Fall 2021

As the season deepens into late fall, it’s hard to believe that 2021 is already nearly over. And while the year has brought its fair share of struggle and heartache to the Asian American community, there have been so many things to celebrate (especially in the field of arts and letters), as well. Cathy Park Hong’s selection as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year, Don Mee Choi receiving the MacArthur, Hoa Nguyen’s and Jackie Wang’s being announced as finalists for the National Book Award—Asian American poets are making waves and doing big, impactful things. This year on the blog alone, we’ve featured 34 new books by Asian American poets—and our coverage hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface. Today, we’re sharing our final set of book recommendations for 2021. We hope these eight titles will be a source of solidarity, hope, and light for you in the season to come.

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FEATURED PICKS:

Truong Tran, book of the other (Kaya Press, November 2021)

A timely meditation on the stakes of anti-Asian racism, Truong Tran’s latest book follows the story of the 2016 racial discrimination lawsuit the celebrated poet and artist filed against San Francisco State University. Mixing poetry with other genres, book of the other traces Tran’s experience of being silenced as an immigrant, refugee, and queer man, and argues back against the notion that anti-Asian racism is a victimless crime. Writes Douglas Kearney of the collection: “This book is necessary—terribly so. Yesterday, today, and for the foreseeable future.” This is one book that anyone invested in Asian American arts and letters—especially those who have spent time in academia—will want to read.

Jane Wong, How to Not Be Afraid of Everything (Alice James, October 2021)

Two-time LR contributor Jane Wong has just released her second collection, How to Not Be Afraid of Everything, and we couldn’t be more excited. Wong’s haunting poetry is wise, resonant, and brave, and it’s impossible to turn away from its gaze; as a writer, she possesses the gift of being able to milk startling light from rock. How Not to Be Afraid of Everything taps into the poet’s family history, touching on both the suffering inflicted by the Great Leap Forward and the struggle of immigration to America. Aimee Nezhukumatathil calls the collection “a spellbinding knockout,” and it’s been getting lots of attention of late, including Wong’s recent appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition. How to Not Be Afraid of Everything is at the very top of our to-read list for the season, and we hope you’ll consider checking it out, as well.

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MORE NEW & NOTEWORTHY TITLES:

Kaveh Akbar, Pilgrim Bell (Graywolf, August 2021)

Joshua Nguyen, Come Clean (U of Wisconsin Press, October 2021)

Cynthia Dewi Oka, Fire Is Not a Country (TriQuarterly, November 2021)

Jenny Qi, Focal Point (Steel Toe, October 2021)

Natasha Rao, Latitude (Copper Canyon, September 2021)

John Yau, Genghis Chan on Drums (Omnidawn, October 2021)

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What new Asian American poetry titles have you been enjoying as you look ahead toward the end of the year? We’d love to hear from you! Share your recommendations with us in the comments or on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).


ALSO RECOMMENDED:

Cover image of A HISTORY OF KINDNESS by Linda Hogan

A History of Kindness by Linda Hogan (Torrey House, 2020)

Please consider supporting a small press or independent 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.

Editors’ Corner: Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2014 (Part 1)

Books We're Looking Forward to in 2014, Part 1It’s the first month of the new year, and so much news about exciting new books has come across our desk of late that we thought we’d put together a couple of roundup posts in order to put some of the titles that we’re most looking forward to reading in the coming year on your radar.  In today’s post (part 1), I’ll be discussing six recently published titles (five full-length books and one chapbook) that have made top priority on my to-read list for 2014. Part 2 (which will follow next week) will focus on forthcoming books that are due out in 2014.

Note: the books discussed below appear alphabetically by author; the order in which they’re listed does not reflect any sort of ranking or order of preference. (We’re equally excited about all of them!)

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The Arbitrary Sign by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé (Red Wheelbarrow, 2013)

Desmond Kon is a two-time contributor to LR (his work appears in both issue 1 and issue 5), and both times that we’ve published him, Mia and I had a really hard time choosing just two of the poems he’d sent in each batch. Desmond’s work interests itself in philosophy, visual art, pop culture, and the sounds and textures of language: he is interested in dadaism and in other forms of the avant-garde, and has a unique gift for finding the music in both “high” language (such as academic jargon) and “low” forms of speech—slang, text speak, gossip column patter. The genius of his poems lies in their polyglot nature—the way that he mixes contrasting modes of speech and weaves easily in and out of a variety of languages. His pieces work because there is a delightfully haphazard quality to their approach, a lightness that plays against both the weight of the poems’ scale and subject matter and the deliberate care with which the poet has gathered, built up, and sculpted their many intricate layers of texture and pattern. Desmond, a highly prolific writer, has published multiple chapbooks (both in the US and in his home city-state of Singapore) and has a long list of journal and anthology credits to his name—and for good reason. I’ve no doubt The Arbitrary Sign—a philosophical twist on the form of the classic alphabet book—will be as delightful as the rest of his body of work.

For a sneak peek at The Arbitrary Sign, head on over to Kitaab to read six of the poems that appear in the collection.

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Kala Pani by Monica Mody (1913 Press, 2013)

This is a book I’ve been looking forward to for a long while now. Monica wrote for us as a staff reviewer from 2010 through 2011, and we later had the privilege of getting to publish a poem of hers in issue 4. Her work is deeply invested in myth and parable, and the textures of her writing are rich and sinuously complex—by turns liquid and transparent, and by others, knotty and grotesque. She has an exceptionally keen ear for music and magic, both of which suffuse her work.  I had the pleasure of getting to read and workshop portions of Kala Pani back in 2009. It is a hybrid piece (partway between poetry and prose) that takes up the narrative of a group of world travellers who converge around an ancient tree.  In it, the poet deftly plies together the fibers of what at first appears to be an allegory-like story, only to tease and unspun these threads mid-strand and remake them again (differently) in the next breath. What I admired most about the manuscript when I saw it in workshop was the way in which the tapestry of the piece’s language shatters and shifts at a moment’s notice—like quicksilver. Monica is a brilliant critical thinker, in addition to being a talented poet, and it shows in the deeply intelligent nature of her writing: though she is keen to investigate notions of trauma,  geography, time, race, gender, spirituality, etc., her writing neither preaches endlessly nor holds to an overly simplistic view of the political: rather, she holds questions up to a mirror, testing them on a knife’s edge. She recognizes that the notions of place and identity are inherently fraught with instability, and she both celebrates and problematizes this complexity: the characters of which she writes transform and bleed into one another, metamorphose and cycle back to avatars of themselves, over and over again, in many different ways. It’s been a couple of years since 1913 first announced that it had acquired Kala Pani, and now that the book is finally out, I can’t wait to read the finished product.

Excerpts of Kala Pani can be found at The Volta, the Boston Review, and Lies/Isle.

Continue reading “Editors’ Corner: Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2014 (Part 1)”

Panax Ginseng: Two From Dancing Girl Press

Panax Ginseng is a bi-monthly column by Henry W. Leung exploring linguistic and geographic borders in Asian American literature, especially those with hybrid genres, forms, vernaculars, and visions. The column title suggests the English language’s congenital borrowings and derives from the Greek panax, meaning “all-heal,” together with the Cantonese jansam, meaning “man-root.” This perhaps troubling image of one’s roots as panacea informs the column’s readings.

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Rachelle Cruz’s Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood and Jane Wong’s Dendrochronology

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The cover of Rachelle Cruz’s Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood (2012) features a skeletal exhibit of animal skulls and fangs, together with a spread-winged bat cleaved in half at the book’s spine. The back cover is a folded double of the front, which means we never see the bat’s torso or head (is it a bat at all?), only its bony limbs and the webbing between them. Jane Wong’s Dendrochronology (2011) features a floral-wreathed frame; within it, standing against a bright background suggesting a mirror or window, is a wolf turning to regard the viewer. Since these covers already work with mirror images, I’d like to hold these two chapbooks from Dancing Girl Press up to one another like mirrors, to see whether a rabbit hole might be found in the reflections’ depths. Consider the titles as well: a “self-portrait” fixes the artist’s gaze on herself, though the resulting image is of course only another depiction or illusion distorted by the medium, a rumor of sorts; and “dendrochronology” refers to those hypnotic concentric rings coded within the trunk of a tree, those layers expanding outward with time which we trace back to examine in cross sections.

In both chapbooks, the poems work within landscapes of violence and preservation. The central figure of Cruz’s Self-Portrait is the mythical Aswang of Filipino folklore, a placeholder for many ghoul/monster archetypes; here, she uses it as an object of savage exoticization, and as a mirror. These lines of verse prefigure the chapbook,

 There was a girl who wanted to become an aswang

She didn’t know why aswang

While living in one country

another split her chest open

Continue reading “Panax Ginseng: Two From Dancing Girl Press”