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

Mohabir_Liu_July2016Feature
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.

* * *

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).

 

Editors’ Corner: Two Summer Reads for the Homesick Immigrant Heart

The covers of Melody Gee's THE DEAD IN DAYLIGHT and Fiona Sze-Lorrain's THE RUINED ELEGANCE
Seeking home amid the ruins: Melody Gee’s THE DEAD IN DAYLIGHT and Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s THE RUINED ELEGANCE

It’s the season of travel. Schools are out, the weather is warm, and all over the country, people are preparing for journeys to faraway locations—vacations to new and unfamiliar destinations, but also often returns to the places that they identify as home. Of course, for the immigrant and the child of diaspora, “home” is an inherently complicated construct, riddled through with ghosts—of war, of imperialism, of other kinds of trauma—and with the specters of displacement and isolation and the feeling of perpetual rootlessness. In this June installation of Editors’ Corner, we’re featuring two recent collections by Asian American poets that explore this fraught relationship to geography, migration, and the notion of home.

Melody Gee’s The Dead in Daylight (Cooper Dillon, 2016), her followup to her debut collection (which we previously reviewed here), parses the map of family geography with finely tuned musicality and a delicate and beautifully precise attention to image. In its pages, the reader drifts through an imaginative pastiche that splices together scenes from the domestic and the natural (from the garden to the living room to the hungry sea that laps at the seams of the collection and consumes the speaker’s mother in the final poem) and moves fluidly between the realms of the living, the dead, and the interstitial territory of memory and dream that lies between. At once origin story and narrative of perpetual departure and return, The Dead in Daylight digs undaunted into the wreckage of generational memory, recalling inherited histories of loss and longing and building around them delicate, earthbound constructions: beautiful, otherworldly houses of paper and bone, mud and salt, ink and flesh, that gather together the scattered geographical detritus of the immigrant lens together under their rooves—motherhood and labor, revolution and famine, rituals of birth and burial, the land and the ghosts that inhabit it. The poet intuits the fertile lyric possibility nestled within the silences and undocumented blips in a familial narrative that reaches across continents and generations, and like her speaker, who returns again and again to the garden, she tenderly plants them in earth, where they put down roots and bloom like the speaker’s asclepia (or milkweed plants, favorite flower of the migratory monarch) in “Of What Next,” planted in the faith that what she has buried will one day “call over / butterflies” (16), a crop of brilliant homecomings alighting at journey’s end.

If Gee’s book grapples with a poetics of excavation by rooting, a burrowing into the earth in search of blood and filament with which to anchor the diasporic body, then Singaporean-French-American poet Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s latest collection, The Ruined Elegance (Princeton, 2015), can be said to point its gaze skyward, engaging in a magpie-like poetics of investigation by assemblage, a searching for new meanings and identities under the vast, universal canopy that hangs above the ruins of language, of history, of justice, of place and identity. The poems in Sze-Lorrain’s collection comprise a deftly curated gallery that takes on images of trauma and war (from a survivor’s account of Ravensbruck to scenes from the Cultural Revolution and from apparently contemporary political prison camps) by overlaying and skillfully collaging them together with ideas and images borrowed from European and Asian cultural touchstones. From the classical musical form of the partita (though not one of Bach’s, the poet is careful to note) to Magritte’s iconic The Son of Man to Joseon brush paintings and translated text borrowed from Chinese poets Zhang Zao and Gu Cheng, Sze-Lorrain carefully builds up layers of meaning and beauty around the rubble of written texts and oral narratives that have been erased by the violence of totalitarianism, the fickleness of memory, and the existential complexity of diasporic identity. She allows the ruins to become a kind of aesthetic in themselves, taking the absences as a kind of new form—startling and intentionally unbeautiful among the threads of the shimmering fabric that she weaves about and beneath them, stitching them together as a practitioner of kintsugi, a Japanese technique in which a shattered vessel is repaired by inlaying gold into the veins created by the cracks and missing pieces, might construct a new type of pot out of something once broken. It is here, in the glinting interstices of these carefully rejoined pieces, that Sze-Lorrain’s migratory speaker makes her home: “I want to honor / the invisible,” she says (5), and later, to “turn this ruined thought / into a poem” (45).

* * *

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

Summer Reads: Jai Arun Ravine & Henry W. Leung’s Top Three

Today’s installment of Summer Reads 2012 is the last of this year’s series, and a bit of a double-header. We have reads from two of our favorite LR Blog staff writers, Jai Arun Ravine and Henry W. Leung.

First, from LR contributor and book reviewer, Jai Arun Ravine:

Rachelle Cruz, Self-Portrait as Rumour and Blood (Dancing Girl Press), because it is about the aswang, a Philippine witch/vampire, and it has a bat/pterodactyl on the cover.

Javier O. Huerta, American Copia: An Immigrant Epic (Arte Publico Press), because it is about going to the grocery store and being checked out–by cashiers, cuties and INS agents.

Sarith Peou, Corpse Watching (Tinfish Press), because it is about being incarcerated and surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide, and for the amazing way it is bound.

And from LR book reviewer and “Panax Ginseng” columnist, Henry Leung:

Paper Shoes – Pavel Šrut
Between Security and Insecurity – Ivan Klima
A Prayer For Katerina Horovitzova – Arnošt Lustig

I’ve been in Prague discovering the work of incredible Czech writers. I got to hear Ema Katrovasread her prodigious translations of Šrut’s poems, which are brief and profound pieces following an everyman figure named Novak; and I got to hear Klima read a very insightful essay from his collection, about consumerism’s impact on religion and spiritualism today. Lustig, I’ve been told, was dedicated to the teaching of writing through fables; he was a Holocaust survivor (one of his titles, Transport From Paradise, is a heartbreaking reference to the way that the concentration camp at Terezín was paradise compared to the others), and an enormously important writer during the Velvet Revolution (along with Klima, Kundera, et al); he just passed away last year.

*    *    *

For more, read Jai’s “dern, 1” and “dern, 2” in Lantern Review, Issue 1, as well as Henry’s “Question for a Painter.”

To see the rest of this series (and find out what else our contributors have been reading this summer), click here.

What have you been reading this summer? Leave us a comment or drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter to let us know.

Summer Reads: Cathy Che’s Top Three

Cathy Che, whose multimedia workshop “Double Exposures: Documenting the War at Home” was featured in Issue 4: Community Voices, brings us today’s list of Summer Reads 2012. She writes:
Paisley Rekdal’s Animal Eye (University of Pittsburgh Press)–I just read a galley copy last week and loved it! I loved the way the poems moved–they never settled for the simple epiphany, but kept working and working, sometimes doubling back and reinventing themselves.

D.A. Powell’s Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf Press)–I’m a native Californian, and I love the way that Powell maps the landscape of Northern California, looking closely at its history of immigration, exploitation, personal histories, etc.

Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire (W.W. Norton)–I haven’t read the book yet, but ALL my friends have recommended it to me.
Bonus: Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press)
*   *   *

To see the rest of this series (and find out what else our contributors have been reading this summer), click here.

What have you been reading this summer? Leave us a comment or drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter to let us know.

Summer Reads: Monica Mody’s Top Three

Today’s reading list, part of our 2012 Summer Reads series, comes from Issue 4 contributor and former Lbook reviewer Monica Mody. Her recommended reads:

1. Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability. Art: Durgabai Vyam, Subhash Vyam; Story: Srividya Natarajan, S. Anand (Navayana)

Breathtaking reworking of the graphic novel form by the Pardhan Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam, which opens out the story of BR Ambedkar’s life into a multilinear, multi-layered narrative about how caste oppression continues in contemporary India.

2. Speaking of Siva, translated by A.K. Ramanujan (Penguin)

Translations into English of the vacanas, i.e. bhakti poems, of four 10th-12th century Virasaiva saints from Karnataka, along with a wonderful introduction by Ramanujan.

3. India: A Sacred Geography, by Diana L. Eck (Harmony)

Eck meticulously and soulfully persuades that the landscape of India is “living, storied, and intricately connected” through pilgrimage practices.

Also I’ve been keeping track of the books I buy/borrow/receive (and read) as I travel through India this summer—this list might also be interesting to LR readers.

*   *   *

For more, read Monica’s “Myth of Spirits” in Lantern Review, Issue 4.

To see the rest of this series (and find out what else our contributors have been reading this summer), click here.

What have you been reading this summer? Leave us a comment or drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter to let us know.

Summer Reads: Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé’s Top Three

Today’s installment in our 2012 Summer Reads series comes from Issue 1 contributor Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé. He says:
I’m all over the place with this summer’s selections. Hughes gives me a great lens into the lives of Whitman, Capote and Styron, against the gritty backdrop of Brooklyn. Pavel’s lovely memoir, translated from the Czech, is just altogether charming! The third title helps me understand the ruba’i, a two-lined Persian poetic form, with each line split evenly into two hemistitchs. The ruba’i is also known as “taraneh”, meaning “snatch”. This will satisfy my sporadic return to more formalist sensibilities.

 By Evan Hughes, published by Henry Holt and Company

By Ota Pavel, published by Penguin Books

Translated by Peter Avery & John Heath-Stubbs, published by Penguin Classics

Many thanks to Desmond for sharing these titles!

*  *  *

For more, read Desmond’s “first falling, to get here, ferric by foot” and “: craquelure at the interiors :” in Lantern Review, Issue 1.

To see the rest of this series (and find out what else our contributors have been reading this summer), click here.

What have you been reading this summer? Leave us a comment or drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter to let us know.

Summer Reads: W. Todd Kaneko’s Top Three

Today’s list (the third installment in this year’s Summer Reads series) comes from Issue 2 contributor W. Todd Kaneko. He writes:

here’s a list for you [. . .]

Let Me Clear My Throat by Elena Passarello (Sarabande Books)
Murder Ballads by Jake Adam York (Elixir Press / Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry)
Galerie de Difformite by Gretchen E. Henderson (Lake Forest College Press)

Writers I know, writers I don’t, books that are new, books that are new to me, essay, poem, labyrinth, ventriloquist test, dead people, QR codes, famous screams, history lessons, fake choose your own adventures, pages and pages of bad-assery.

Any reading list that promises “pages and pages of bad-assery” sounds intriguing to us!  Many thanks to Todd for sharing these titles.

* * *

For more, read Todd’s “Northwest Poem” in Lantern Review, Issue 2.

To see the rest of this series (and find out what else our contributors have been reading this summer), click here.

What have you been reading this summer? Leave us a comment or drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter to let us know.

 

Summer Reads: Maria Allocco’s Top Three

This week’s list comes from Issue 1 contributor Maria Allocco, who writes that the three titles she’s most excited about this summer, “in order of digestion,” are:

Shamanism As A Spiritual Practice for Daily Life
By Tom Cowan (Random House)

In my quest to meet my Guides and power animals, I plan on using this as a guide. As I have been in San Francisco now for almost a decade, I may fully initiate myself by buying a bongo.

Beneath The Lion’s Gaze
By Maaza Mengiste (Norton)

Maaza read an excerpt at a VONA reading in Berkeley last week, and I started her book over a badass organic burrito that night.

A Course in Astral Travel and Dreams
By Beelzebub

Lucid dreaming was one of my favorite nighttime activities in college. Now I hope to journey again, sans the 25 page paper interruptions.

Many thanks to Maria for sharing her list with us!

* * *

For more, read Maria’s poem, “Downstairs,” in Lantern Review, Issue 1.

To see the rest of this series (and find out what else our contributors have been reading this summer), click here.

What have you been reading this summer? Leave us a comment or drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter to let us know.

Summer Reads: Kimberly Alidio’s Birthday Reading List

Welcome to the 2012 edition of our Summer Reads blog series, in which past Lantern Review contributors give us a peek at what’s on their reading lists for the current summer season. This year, we decided to change things up a bit: instead of posting longer lists as we have in the past, we’ve asked our contributors to select the top three titles that they’re excited about this season and to write in about them. Throughout July and August, we’ll be sharing the Top Three lists that they’ve sent us on the blog.

This week’s Top Three comes from Issue 2 contributor Kimberly Alidio, who wrote us the following note on her birthday (July 9th):

July 9, 2012

Hello LR!

Thank you again for the invitation to share my summer reading list.

I just finished Scott Morgensen’s Spaces Between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), which demonstrates that neither scholarly questions nor queer decolonizing politics have to be “special interest” matters but instead good tools for anyone who seeks justice. Generous, thoughtful writing makes all the difference. Reading this helped me finish a research essay just last Friday.

Yesterday, I went to the Lucian Freud retrospective at the Fort Worth Modern and meditated quite a while with the textures of each face and figure. Maybe some ekphrastic poems will arise alongside Sarah Howgate, Lucian Freud Portraits (National Portrait Gallery, 2012). The huge exhibition catalog was a really necessary splurge since no photography was allowed in the huge exhibit, and I’m an obedient museum-goer. Less Instagram posts, more books!

Today is my birthday and my brother got me what I asked for: Cecilia Vicuña’s Saborami (Chainlinks, 2011), a book of daily poetry and object-making in response to military dictatorship first published in 1973 Chile. A good practice for us today.

Til next year — wishing you joy and ease —

Kimberly

Many happy returns, Kimberly! Thanks for sharing your list with us.

* * *

For more, read Kimberly’s poem “translation” in Lantern Review, Issue 2.

What have you been reading this summer? Leave us a comment or drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter to let us know.

Summer Reads: Issue 1 Contributor Rachelle Cruz

Welcome to our Summer Reads 2011 blog series!  Throughout the summer, we will be featuring recommended reading lists submitted by Lantern Review contributors who want to share titles they plan to read and want to suggest to the wider LR community.  This week features a set of reads from LR Issue 1 contributor Rachelle Cruz.

She writes:

I am so lucky to host a poetics radio program (The Blood-Jet Writing Hour) because it allows me to invite poets I am curious about and/or admire.  Although I feature poets of many different backgrounds, I seek to support and promote poetries of the Pacific Islands, Asia and their diasporas.  Summer is also the time for me to catch up on some fantastic Young Adult (YA) literature, poetry blogs/websites, and anthologies (hello, Norton!).

Below is just a small selection from my very long Summer 2011 Reading List.

Books:

*FROM UNINCORPORATED TERRITORY [SAINA] by Craig Santos Perez
(Omnidawn, 2010)

Innovative, intertextual poetry that disrupts, navigates and de-navigates the histories of Guam (Guahan). I’ve just finished FROM UNINCORPORATED TERRITORY [HACHA] and I am excited to start Perez’s second book.

 

*BOUGH BREAKS
by Tamiko Beyer
(Meritage Press, 2011)

A fellow Kundiman poet who was also featured in LANTERN REVIEW! Her book seeks to interrogate queer motherhood, gender and the politics of adoption. Tamiko will be on the show with another Kundi, Hossannah Asuncion…

Continue reading “Summer Reads: Issue 1 Contributor Rachelle Cruz”