Mouth by Lisa Chen | Kaya Press 2007 | $13.95
The cover image of this square-shaped book previews the poems well. It’s a photo of a brick tenement bombed with graffiti wildstyles in suburban browns and blues. One letter’s tail stretches generously through a sill in the wall to become a finger flipping us off. Someone has abandoned a road bike in front of the wall and a plain plank laid out like a welcome mat. Reading these poems is an experience of urban ekstasis, an out-of-body splash of sight that stops the pedestrian reader. Lisa Chen sprays up the walls of poetry to show where our grammar and vision have gone dry.
What a wonder it is to see the world through Chen’s language! We see a “face filling the night like a bare back / Turned away from you in sleep.” The look on another’s “as I leave is a porch light left burning at dawn.” And a woman whose “English isn’t so good. Slang, her mouth the color of turned salmon.” Chen writes in “Translators’ Apologia,” “I have tried to approximate a sea with a stream of piss” and that approximation itself opens an astonishingly vivid world. Her phrases seize with naked incisions.
The collection’s tone is set in the opening title poem, “Mouth.” The speaker is in a situation, literally and figuratively, “where [she doesn’t] speak the language.” The spoken word is stifled yet emergent, gritty and gnarled, as we see variously in lines like: “cocktail boozer slurring the voila delirious,” “the shill slag of bad guitar and motel ashtrays,” and “the sloe-eyed, two-fisted mouth” among others. The speaker resorts to body language, “hands thrust in the air / in grim universal gestures” which translates here to bartering at the market, a game of demonstrating desire and the ability to walk away.
Continue reading “Review: Lisa Chen’s MOUTH”
In anticipation of National Poetry Month this April, the LR Blog is once again going to be holding a prompt contest. This year, we are pleased to partner with the generous folks at Kaya Press, a unique small press that focuses on cutting-edge work by Asian diasporic writers. Just as with last year’s contest, the top four prompts that we select (three runners-up and one first-place winner) will be featured on the LR Blog on the Fridays of each full week in April, beginning on the 8th. The winners will be announced in reverse order, beginning with the third runner-up and ending with the first-place winner. This year’s grand prize (courtesy of Kaya’s sponsorship) is a copy of Lisa Chen‘s Mouth, which our staff blogger Henry will be reviewing later this spring.
Here’s how it will work:
1) Leave a comment on this post that includes the text of your prompt. Entries must be posted by 11:59PM EST on Thursday, March 31st. Comments on this post will close after that time. Please leave some form of basic contact information in your comment (preferably an email address), so that we can get in touch with you if you win.
2) During the first full week of April, we’ll be choosing the four prompts that we like best. The winner and all three runners up will have their entries featured as Weekly Prompts on the LR Blog during the four Fridays from April 8th – 29th. In addition, the winner will also receive a special grand prize that has been graciously offered by Kaya Press: a copy of Lisa Chen’s Mouth. We will announce the runners up and winner week by week, starting with the third runner-up and culminating with the winner, so keep on checking back in April to see if your entry has been featured.
3) A few ground rules: You may only enter once. Please submit only poetry prompts. Keep all prompts appropriate: anything of a bigoted, demeaning, or nasty nature will not be considered; we’d also appreciate it if you could please try to keep your prompts somewhat PG in nature, as when choosing prompts we always try to look for flexible exercises that can be adapted for use with either adults or kids.
That’s it! We look forward to reading your entries. And while you’re at it, please do take a moment to check out Mouth or of the other titles on Kaya’s web site. Many thanks to Publisher Sunyoung Lee, Lisa Chen, and Kaya Press for their generosity.