Editor’s Corner: July Summer Reads and the Poetics of Reckoning

Debut collections from two LR contributors: Rajiv Mohabir’s THE TAXIDERMIST’S CUT and Kenji C. Liu’s MAP OF AN ONION.

This month, our Summer Reads include Rajiv Mohabir’s The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books, 2016) and Kenji C. Liu’s Map of an Onion (Inlandia Books, 2016), two remarkable debut collections that feel so fully conceived, so urgently and articulately expressed, that one hesitates to call them “debuts,” as these are clearly two poets who have been at this for longer than the term “first book” implies. Deeply theorized, expertly crafted, and placed squarely in conversation with the poets’ respective family histories, cultures, and discourses of science and post-colonialism, these works draw the reader into a thoroughgoing investigation of what it means to be human, delivered into a specific time, body, and cultural milieu. These poems are the maps they have fashioned for themselves, forging a poetics of reckoning in pursuit of generational and lived truth.

 In The Taxidermist’s Cut, Rajiv Mohabir’s lines, both sinister and lovely, function as cuts that reveal and divide, shimmering with the erotics of violence. Transfixed, one finds oneself unable to look away, arrested by the elegance of the language and the way, when held to the skin, it causes the body to shiver with pleasure. The line, the body, the text, the means by which bodies make and destroy themselves; “Pick up the razor. // It sounds like erasure.” Formally, the couplet features prominently throughout, raising the question of what’s joined, what’s split, what adheres together and what pulls apart. Stitched through with found text from Practical Taxidermy, The Complete Tracker, and other taxidermy-related manuals, the poems confront the body with a mixture of scientific detachment and intimacy, as the life of the body—its homoerotic desire, its violation—is rendered in acute detail. Members of Mohabir’s family, past and present, drift in and out of The Taxidermist’s Cut, as, marked by a pilgrim poetics of wandering, the book moves through the West Indies, the South, boroughs of New York City, reckoning with memory, desire, and histories of conquest and slavery. These poems are breath caught from the throat, blood cut from a wound—the cry that follows, in pleasure, in pain, indistinguishable from song.

Kenji C. Liu’s Map of an Onion, a work deeply textured by memory and place, maps its own set of explorations beyond and within cartographies of language, national borders, and the body. Like Mohabir’s, Liu’s subjectivity is shaped by multiple histories and homelands, all impressed upon a poet who writes with deep sensitivity to the pre-colonial realities of place, drawing us into greater awareness of what it means to be American, immigrants, humans. “Ghost maps are hungry maps,” he writes, tracing lineages and interlocking histories through time. It’s a mapmaking of the self, a “search translated between my family’s four languages.” Marked in places by profound longing (“Home is on no map, and explorers / will never find it. That time has passed”) the poems, in their searching, take us from Mars to Moscow, suburban New Jersey to the World War II Philippine jungle. The book itself, neatly sized and beautifully produced, fits compactly in the reader’s hand and brings to the body an awareness of itself as a artifact translated across cultures, yet possessing a language all its own. Map of an Onion, too, concerns itself with the act of incision, especially of paper, “the surgery of documents” cutting ruthlessly across land, sea, and families. What binds and what breaks—folded, torn. “Taste your own / luscious // fissures,” the poet says, the places where selves meet; the sinew, cartilage, and tendon of bodies that are bound and, simultaneously, transcendent.

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What books are on your summer reading list? We’d love to hear about them! Leave us a comment below or share your best recommendations with us on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).


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:

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Review: KARTIKA REVIEW, Issue 8

Kartika Review | Issue 8 | Winter 2010

In this emotive issue of Kartika, the primacy of the first person is immediately apparent, and the “I” spotlights the issue’s family theme. Except for one second-person narrated story (which perhaps entreats the reader’s I), all the pieces here are borne from their speakers’ personal narratives. Fiction editor Christina Lee Zilka says her goodbye to the journal by telling a memory of goodbye. Matthew Salesses in “Slowed Time, Normal Time” develops a first-person fiction so deft and sincere it reads like memoir. David Mura’s memoir piece, “My Daughter At 18: Leaving Home,” uses first-person texts as a set of resonances: Mura narrates, and quotes from his daughter’s personal statement for college, in which she quotes not just her past self from a journal but also Mura’s description of her from thirteen years ago—all the I’s of which give an illusory choral effect. Like when you strike a guitar’s middle E and the other E strings hum sympathetically. The issue ends on an email interview with Sumeir Hammad (Woan was right in her editorial to guess, “Like me, you will probably turn to read her interview first”), and Hammad’s insights are given us by a characteristically uncapitalized i.

The two poems of this issue are also told from the first-person, and both pieces are occasions of identity. Rajiv Mohabir’s “holi lovesport stains (krishna-lila)” takes its stylistic theme from the Holi festival tradition of throwing colored powder at one another. From the first, syntactically blurred stanza, disparate bodies are conjoined and selves are multiplied:

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