These are strange and heavy times we’re living in. As many of us find the physical confines of our daily worlds suddenly reduced to the square footage of our homes, books—more than ever—can help us to feel connected to the outside world. Whether you’re restless, in need of solace, or simply lonely for another voice, here are some new and recent books by APA poets to keep you company.
Though LR contributor Michelle Peñaloza’s Hillary Gravendyk Prize–winning debut collection came out last August, it’s been on this editor’s reading list for what seems like forever. I was a big fan of Peñaloza’s 2015 chapbook landscape/heartbreak (Two Sylvias 2015), with its powerful, geographically grounded vignettes and close attention to imagistic texture, and Former Possessions seems to promise a similar deep engagement with the complex layers of trauma and history with respect to narratives of place and migration.
Sok masterfully weaves together the skeins of narratives left fragmented by the legacy of war, trauma, and diaspora with a skillful hand, moving fluidly between past and present; Cambodia and Pennsylvania. Together, the poems in this debut collection comprise a whole cloth that is by turns tender and unflinching—not unlike the beautiful length of strong yellow silk (handwoven by the author’s grandmother) whose image wraps the cover of the book itself.
Yes, PAGPAG is fiction, not poetry, but it’s by LR contributor and APA literary great Eileen R. Tabios—we’d be amiss not to feature it! Hot off the presses (it was released barely a fortnight ago), this collection of short stories is not one to miss.
A new school year is upon us, and if you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that we’re passionate about diverse books in the classroom. Anthologies are wonderful resources for teachers hoping to integrate a range of poetic voices into a curriculum, and luckily, 2019 has been especially bountiful in terms of new poetry anthologies and edited collections that feature diverse voices. Read on for three such titles that have caught our eye this year—and that we think would make fantastic additions to any classroom in the 2019–2020 academic year.
In assembling Halal If You Hear Me, editors Safia Elhillo and Fatimah Asghar set out to create a space that celebrates the diversity of the Muslim community. In her introduction, Elhillo writes of growing up afraid of “performing my identity incorrectly.” Asghar, too, writes of her own longing for acceptance. In contrast to shame and alienation, the editors have envisioned Halal If You Hear Me as a space of solidarity and freedom—a testament to the notion that, in Elhillo’s words, “there are as many ways to be Muslim as there are Muslims.” It’s safe to say that the editors have roundly succeeded: from Kazim Ali to Warsan Shire, the broad variety of poetic styles and backgrounds represented in Halal If You Year Me span a truly impressive range, singing and grooving across genres and generations. Halal If You Hear Me would make a fantastic choice for a high-school or community teaching setting, where its broad accessibility would make it an inviting point of entry into poetry. College-level and graduate courses, too, would benefit from the inclusion of this vibrant volume in their syllabuses.
In a time where the notions of borders, migration, and citizenship are under constant scrutiny, Ink Knows No Borders seeks to highlight and celebrate the diversity that immigrant and refugee voices bring to the table. Write editors Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond in their introduction, “These lived stories, fire-bright and coal-hot acts of truth telling, are the poet’s birthright—and a human right. [ . . . ] Not only does ink know no borders; neither does the heart.” Indeed, this anthology sings with colorful narratives that bear witness. Featuring more than sixty poems that engage an enormous range of communities and experiences, the volume combines beloved favorites like Li-Young Lee’s “Hymn to Childhood” with more recent works like Aimee Nezhukhumatathil’s “On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance” and features a star-studded list of contributors that includes many of my [Iris’s] own favorite poets to teach—Joseph O. Legaspi, Franny Choi, Ocean Vuong, Alberto Ríos, Juan Felipe Hererra, Ada Limón, Bao Phi, and more. Ink Knows No Borders would be a wonderful text to teach in any high school or community setting or as an addition to any undergrad- or graduate-level reading list, while individual poems from the volume could also shine in the middle-grade classroom. To get you started, Penguin Random House, which distributes the book, has even helpfully provided a teacher’s guide to aid with introducing selected poems from the book to young readers.
Born out of a student-teacher collaboration, this landmark volume thoughtfully collects together craft essays by poets of color—including numerous APA voices such as Ching-In Chen, Sasha Pimental, Ocean Vuong, and Craig Santos Perez. In keeping with the “windows and mirrors” principle, which proposes that students need to read texts that both offer glimpses into others’ experiences and reflect their own, Of Color tackles the need for diversity among not just primary works, but also among secondary writings on poetics, theory, and craft. In her introduction, coeditor Luisa A. Igloria recalls how the project came into being after a meeting when Amanda Galvan Huynh (who was then her student) confessed her frustration that “there was nothing in [her craft and theory courses’] syllabi or course reading lists that reflected who she was back to herself” (19). Indeed, the resultant volume speaks to a desire to carve out and create not just a resource—but a community. Writes Huynh in her own introduction, “To BIPOC writers: I hope you find what you need to hear in these pages, the support, the love, the struggle, and the reassurance that you are not alone in this poetic artistry” (16). A beautiful testament to the strength and importance of community, Of Color would be a strong addition to any undergraduate or graduate creative writing syllabus.
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What books that you encountered in school helped open your world to diverse voices? If you’re an educator, what texts have you loved for including racially diverse perspectives in your curriculum? Share your recommendations with us in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).
As summer comes to a close, we wanted to alert you to a number of exciting collections by Asian American poets that are forthcoming this fall. These poems are both luminous vessels of time travel and crucial artifacts of our milieu. They are guides that point out the boundaries between worlds and identities and—with a sleight of hand—expose a hidden latch, revealing unseen horizons. We hope these poets’ offerings of sight, memory, and sound will help to sustain you this autumn. May they inspire you to continued resistance and resilience.
Emily Jungmin Yoon’s collection is a persistent and lucid study of sexual violence, colonization, and war. Over and over, Yoon deploys language, documents its destruction. She returns to mourn; she collects the remains. At the heart of her project is “Testimony,” a section that gathers the stories of Korean women who survived Japanese occupation. In another sequence, “An Ordinary Misfortune,” the speaker asks, “How could I put a child in a haunted place.” This question resounds throughout the pages of her collection, relentless, resilient, and shapeshifting as Yoon’s lyric “I.”
Sardonic and erotic, Monica Ferrell’s second collection reads like a tête-à-tête gone rogue. Given voice, brides and beloveds come alive, unbraiding their limbs from Flaubert, Duchamp, and Tolstoy. Once stripped bare, now decked in furs, the women of Ferrell’s poems stalk and stomp, recognizing the bridegroom’s cry for what it is: “a lost boat’s foghorn bleating.” You Darling Thing arranges the savage dance of courtship, only to split the social contract of marriage: “A woman alone is a cave of violets, / A man alone a squirming rat, who squeaks.”
The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin knits poetry with prose, Tokyo with Manzanar. Probing an elusive Japanese American identity and reaching deep into traditional Japanese poetic forms, past LR contributor Hellen writes boldly, “I have a mouth to tell my story.” The result is a hybrid collection that acts as star chart for the present and enacts a communion with the past.
Isako Isako by Mia Ayumi Malhotra (Alice James Books, Sept 2018)
We’re beside ourselves with excitement for our very own founding editor Mia Ayumi Malhotra, whose first collection just hit shelves yesterday! Inspired by the stories of Malhotra’s own grandmother and great-grandmother, Isako Isako grapples with Japanese incarceration and American occupation, as well as mass displacement and transnational migration.Four generations of women reach across lost decades and burning cities, and they convene in the poems to brush palms, slip tissues, and share war rations. When her speaker calls out, “Isako Isako are you leaving me. How much longer Isako will you remember me,” Malhotra sets forth a yearning that knows no bounds—after all, as the poems remind us, survival is nothing without remembrance.
The Bindery in San Francisco will be hosting a launch event for Isako Isako this evening, September 5, where the author will be joined by Jennifer S. Cheng (author of Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems) as well as experimental improv drummer Paul Sakai. If you’re local to the Bay Area, we hope you’ll consider coming out to celebrate our Mia with us!
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In this season of harvest, what collections are on your reading list? Which poets and what images do you find yourself returning to? Share them with us in the comments or let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).
Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe that 2017 is already here. In the past, we’ve made an annual tradition of listing some of our favorite reads of the year before the holidays begin. But this season, as we find ourselves staring down the barrel of a year that promises to hold significant changes for our nation with a mixture of apprehension and resolve, we’ve decided to do things a little differently. And so, rather than a list of holiday reading recommendations, here are a few books by some of LR’s friends and past contributors that inspired us in 2016 and that we hope will inspire you to take heart, to speak up, to fight harder, and to dream and make art with even greater passion in the coming year.
We are so proud to have published an excerpt of the manuscript that eventually became this collection in our sixth issue. In Power Made Us Swoon, Saito uses persona to probe family legacies of trauma, immersing herself in the history of Japanese American internment during WW II. Saito’s speaker is transitory, transcendent in the resolve that propels her to continually return to the artifacts of memory, and to inhabit sites and stories in search of narrative, lyric, image. In a time when more than one public figure has attempted to erase the trauma of internment in service of grotesquely racist and xenophobic rhetoric, this powerful collection seems prescient indeed.
A finalist for the National Book Award, Sharif’s Look captures the anxieties of our time, illuminating the frightful spectre of language mutated in the mouth of war. The collection recasts terms from the Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms to perform a kind of documentary acrobatics that shows how language and experience are imbricated in times of war. “I am attempting my own // mythmaking,” Sharif says, in an elegant, urgent argument about how the private and public, the immigrant and emigrant, and the civilian and military are realities that cast shadows, chiaroscuro-like, on each other.
One of the first poets whose work we published, Ocean Vuong has a distinctly masterful voice that sings and flits through this finely-tuned collection. At once delicately intimate and intensely raw, Night Sky with Exit Wounds powerfully stitches together—no, choreographs—feathered fragments of memory and the legacies of war and displacement onto a document of the speaker’s coming-of-age journey, a rich odyssey of survival and self-discovery as seen through the lens of language and text. In the context of the troubling conversations about refugees that have swirled to fever pitch of late, Vuong’s singular voice rises to bear poignant, timely witness.
“I’m that person who can’t stop looking,” Wong writes, and indeed, hers is the writing of an eye—or an “I”—that is attuned and attentive, a poetry startled into mystery, one into which perception floods, impressions overlaid and juxtaposed to encapsulate everything from the cosmic to the kitchen. The language in Overpour is filled with riddles and slips, steeped in undergrowth, and inhabited by mushrooms, carnations, and sweaters. The poems are songs, tasting the strangeness of language, its slippages and shifts in meaning, and embedded music.
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Of course, there are so many others that we could list—starting with the books and chapbooks that we featured on the blog in 2016. Janine Joseph’s Driving Without a License seems especially prescient right now in the context of the fraught conversations about immigration happening in our country, while Sun Yung Shin’s voice in Unbearable Splendor provides critical witness for the Asian American adoptee community in the wake of the unjust deportation of Adam Crapser. Meanwhile, Timothy Yu’s 100 Chinese Silences, Jai Arun Ravine’s The Romance of Siam: A Pocket Guide, and Pat Rosal’s Brooklyn Antediluvian model unique modes of resistance, writing back in satire and song. Nor are they alone in doing so among the titles that we have written about this year. Here is the full list:
Radio Heart(Finishing Line Press, 2015) and Yellow(Tinfish Press, 2011) by Margaret Rhee [Read our dual interview with Rhee and Chen Chen here.]
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We hope that 2017 is a year filled with brighter things for our community, despite all apparent expectation—glimmers of illumination in the midst of struggle, moments of delight that surprise us in the thick of the ever-present work. As you labor on, may these books, and the many others like them (c.f. also Bryan Thao Worra’s extensive roundup of books by API poets published in 2016, and Hyphen magazine’s 2016 poetry favorites), be touchstones to you. Return to them when the work feels weary; keep their words and images pressed to your skin like small talismans kept in a coat pocket, warm and smooth to the touch. May language serve you well this year, and may your own words in turn be infused with strength and truth and beauty, lantern-glow against the ever-quickening dark as we stride into the months ahead.