Staff Picks: Favorite Reads from 2012 (and Other Recommendations for the New Year)

Every year around the holidays, we post a roundup of books recommended by our staff writers to the LR Blog. The end of the current year is now fast approaching, and so in continuation of our tradition, here is a list of titles we enjoyed reading in 2012 and wanted to share with you:

* * *

Rules of the House

Rules of the House
by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa
Apogee Press, 2002
Recommended by Mia: “I recently started teaching full-time, so I haven’t had much time to read poetry… but I’m slowly working through Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s Rules of the House. I’ve been savoring every poem because Dhompa has this way of leveling the reader with the slightest detail, all the while developing complex arcs that echo and extend throughout the book.”

* * *

The Pillow Book

The Pillow Book
by Jee Leong Koh
Math Paper Press, 2012
Recommended by Wendy: “Inspired by the example of eleventh-century Japanese author and court lady Sei Shōnagon, Jee Leong Koh collects his miscellaneous jottings in his own pillow book. Written in the genre called zuihitsu, which compromises both prose and poetry, these observations, lists and anecdotes on life in Singapore and New York are, in turn, humorous, reflective, satirical, nostalgic and outrageous.”

* * *


Gardening Secrets of the Dead
by Lee Herrick
Word Tech Editions, 2012
Recommended by Wendy: “[In Brian Turner’s words]: ‘Lee Herrick’s Gardening Secrets of the Dead is a lyric exploration of the fractured and fragmented landscape of the self, where the body is a song composed of many selves. Whitman revised, the poems ‘celebrate and assemble/ from around the world’ with a voice that is politically engaged and rooted in compassion.'”

* * *


by giovanni singleton
Counterpath Press 2012
Winner of the 81st Annual California Book Award for Poetry
Recommended by Jai: “Comprised mostly of a daybook written during musician and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane’s 49-day transition between death and rebirth, giovanni singleton’s Ascension rings with unexpected cadences. As a soul ascends, what settles and rattles at our feet? From day to day, where are the stillnesses? These are the questions this book leads me to ask, as singleton takes us ‘way back to // where every sound / was a story and // every silence / epic.'”

* * *

"Almost Heaven"
“Almost Heaven” (MANOA 23.2)

Almost Heaven: On the Human and Divine
[Volume 23.2 of Manoa]
Recommended by Henry: “This is volume 23.2 of Manoa, the volume that came out in 2011 just prior to ‘Sky Lanterns,’ with beautiful glass-plate negatives of Hawaii, and featuring writers on a variety of illusory paradises not limited to the Pacific. The essays especially are worth checking out!”

* * *


by Kristen Eliason
Dancing Girl Press, 2012
Recommended by Iris
: “I’ve been reading a lot of chaps this year (they’re perfect for short amounts of time, so I can read one on my lunch break), and this one is an absolute gift. Living overseas in the wake of a momentous tragedy, Eliason’s speaker grapples with her alienation and grief in a series of heartbreakingly spare missives—quiet snapshots in whose white spaces the rawness of loss seeps through. Eliason has a talent for lyric invocation, but the real power of this chap, for me, really lies in the spaces of absence that pit and fragment her text—the things she allows her speaker to leave unsaid.”

* * *

Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood

Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood
by Rachelle Cruz
Dancing Girl Press, 2012
Recommended by Iris:
 “Another fabulous Dancing Girl title. Notable for the courageous viscerality of its voice, Cruz’s chap is tonally very different from Eliason’s, but also intensely powerful. Cruz’s speaker is a shape-shifter, slipping easily in and out of voices and narratives from across time and space in order to weave together a portrait that glistens as much with sinew as it does with the force of its story.”

* * *

Staff Publications: The LR Blog staff has also had a particularly busy year in terms of our own individual writing lives, and since this post is the one time a year that we get to feature the staff, we thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to share some of their recent and forthcoming publications with you. If you follow the blog regularly and are curious about our bloggers’ own poetic work, we hope you’ll consider adding a few of these titles to your future reading lists, as well!

  • Jai Arun Ravine’s collection, แล้ว and then entwinewas published by Tinfish in 2011.
  • Henry W. Leung’s Paradise Hunger won the 2012 Swan Scythe Press Poetry Chapbook Contest, and was published this fall.
  • Mia A. Malhotra has a sheaf of poems in the Fall/Winter issue of AALR.
  • Iris A. Law’s chapbook, Periodicityis forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in February.
  • Wendy Chin-Tanner’s first collection, Turn, is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in March 2014.

Continue reading “Staff Picks: Favorite Reads from 2012 (and Other Recommendations for the New Year)”

A Conversation with Lee Herrick

Lee Herrick

Lee Herrick is the author of This Many Miles from Desire (WordTech Editions). His poems have appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies, including The Bloomsbury Review, ZYZZYVA, Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, 2nd edition, and One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form, among others. Born in Daejeon, South Korea and adopted at ten months, he lives in Fresno, California and teaches at Fresno City College and in the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.


LR: One of the themes in This Many Miles from Desire that stood out most to me is the notion of the liminal space. There is, for example, the dream space of such poems as “Three Dreams of Korea: Notes on Adoption,” the physical space of travel—of being in between here and there, linguistic space, and also spiritual space. Could you talk a bit about how you envisage this relationship between space and liminality in your work?

LH: When I wrote This Many Miles from Desire, I had only been back to Korea once since being adopted. My return was very brief–two days–and that return formed “Korean Adoptee Returns to Seoul.” Since then I have been back for longer periods of time, but the vast majority of This Many Miles from Desire was written in a time where Korea was one large, complex question in my mind. I did not know most of the major details of my early life: the day I was born, who my birth family was (I still don’t), or even what cities like Seoul or Daejeon looked like. In one sense, I felt fully alive, but in another sense, there were so many uncertainties. For example, I do not know my family’s medical history, so that contributed to the sense of liminality to which you refer. My adoptive family is my family, and we are very close. But national origins are vital, so much of the book explored that territory. You can see it in some of the poems. I was on a journey, literally traveling through Latin America and Asia and piecing together remnants of the world to reduce the gaps between my early years and who I had become.

“Three Dreams of Korea: Notes on Adoption” was a breakthrough for me both as a person and as a poet because it was one of the first poems I ever wrote about my adoption. The important part of the process was when I discovered Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town, essential reading for any poet, in which he problematizes the often used teaching phrase, “write what you know.” I was rather paralyzed, then, because I did not know (about my birth country, my birth family). I couldn’t reference the streets, the food, the people, the sounds of my country. So it was a major turning point for me when Hugo says we should invent. You do not necessarily have to “know” (literally) to write the poem. We can imagine. And so I did. In “Three Dreams of Korea,” I even imagined the dreams. I never had those three dreams. I created them for the poem’s sake. It was incredibly liberating. We write in the direction of discovery. Maybe we float in and out of various states of knowing, and our poems represent that floating. Continue reading “A Conversation with Lee Herrick”

Becoming Realer: Visible

Becoming Realer: Identity, Craft and the MFA is a column that explores issues of poetry, theory and writing craft in relation to the personal experiences of Saint Mary’s College of California Creative Writing MFA candidate and LR staff writer, Kelsay Myers.


Elaine Gin Louie's "Visible" and "The Red Frame" installations, photo taken by Nicole C. Roldan


One of the things that my advisor likes about living in San Francisco is that there’s something for everyone. She says that no matter how weird or specific the interest seems to be, people are able to find each other. Since moving to the East Bay, I’ve joined two organizations. One is the Association of Korean Adoptees | San Francisco (AKASF) that hosted a literary reading with Lee Herrick, Jo Rankin and some authors from the new More Voices anthology in May. It’s a large group of Korean adoptees celebrating and educating others on what it means to be a KAD. The other is the Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA) that sponsored the A Place of Her Own art exhibition at SOMArts, also in May, with the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC) for the 14th Annual United States of Asian America Festival. Twenty-three Asian American women artists responded to the question, “If you had a place of your own, what would it be?”

Continue reading “Becoming Realer: Visible”

Poems for Monday Mornings: Lee Herrick’s “Salvation” at From the Fishhouse

This morning, we’re continuing the Monday Morning series that we began last month in celebration of National Poetry and API Heritage Months.  Each week, we will be sharing an audio recording of a different poem that has moved, challenged, or stuck with us.

In this week’s selection, from Lee Herrick’s book This Many Miles from Desire (via From the Fishhouse, once again), the poet wrestles with memory, grief, and absence as he imagines his birth mother.  “The blues,” says the speaker, “is what mothers do not tell their sons.”

Indeed, the speaker’s blues is a blues of not-knowing, of what is hidden, and of what may never be revealed:  it is the question of who his birth mother was, of whether she remembers him, of why he was left at five months; it is the tears he sheds upon remembering that his Korean (presumably birth) name means “bright light”; it is the shreds of things known which he holds onto in the night, the trying on of layers of shimmering imagination like screens across the holes of memory:   “Who can really say?” He says, “Sometimes all we have is the blues.”

For those we have lost, for the shreds of lyric and verse that we weave against the poverty of memory, across and through the still ravines of grief:

Yes. Salvation can lie in “the spirit’s wreckage, / examined and damaged but whole again.”

Today, all we have is the blues.

Lee Herrick reads “Salvation” (via the From the Fishouse archives).

To listen to the recording, click through and then hit “play” on the grey bar next to the ear icon at the top of the page.

Happy Monday,

Iris & Mia.