An Asian American Poetry Companion: Must-Read Titles for Summer 2021

An Asian American Poetry Companion: May 2021. Clockwise from top left, cover images of: DIVINE FIRE by David Woo, A THOUSAND TIMES YOU LOSE YOUR TREASURE by Hoa Nguyen, DRAKKAR NOIR by MICHAEL CHANG, APPROPRIATE by Paisley Rekdal, THE GLASS CONSTELLATION by Arthur Sze, IMAGINE US, THE SWARM by Muriel Leung, SPARROWS AND DUST by Zilka Joseph, ELEVEN MILES TO JUNE by Ha Kiet Chau, IRON GODDESS OF MERCY by Larissa Lai, ANGEL AND HANNAH by Ishle Yi Park.
New and Notable Asian American Poetry Books for Early Summer 2021

Yet another Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is drawing to a close, but even in the face of the hatred that our Asian American community has faced this year, there is still so much to celebrate. This month’s Asian American poetry companion is jam-packed with recent releases to savor. We hope you’ll consider picking up a few (or all) of them to carry with you into the summer and beyond. After all, as we often remark, Asian American literary excellence doesn’t end with May!

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FEATURED PICKS:

MICHAEL CHANG, Drakkar Noir (Bateau, May 2021)

If you enjoyed MICHAEL CHANG’s lusciously textured epistolary poem in Issue 8.2, you’ll want to get your hands on a copy of Drakkar Noir, their prizewinning debut chapbook, out from Bateau this spring. Dorothy Chan writes, in praise of the book, that “CHANG gives us romp and runway fused with popular culture that leads into allegories of what it’s like to be queer and Asian American in America—in the world today—around people who want to slow you down. Drakkar Noir is a love letter to all queer Asian Americans that calls out performative allyship.” If you’re looking for an intimate read that speaks presciently to the present moment, you won’t want to miss this one!

Paisley Rekdal, Appropriate: A Provocation (Norton, February 2021)

Though Appropriate has been out since February, we wanted to save it for our May roundup because it seemed fitting to it feature during APA Heritage Month. In this thoughtful craft book, framed as a series of letters to a student, Rekdal tackles the thorny subject of appropriation with delicacy, investigating difficult questions of power and authenticity that come into play when writing about the experiences of others—and probing, ultimately, the limits of empathy. Rekdal writes with care and pragmatism; her nuanced approach to this tricky topic makes this, in our opinion, an essential read—not just for students and teachers but for anyone who writes.

Muriel Leung, Imagine Us, the Swarm (Nightboat, May 2021)

Muriel Leung’s second collection, which won the Nightboat Books Poetry Prize, is hot off the presses this month. A collection of essays in verse, Imagine Us, the Swarm considers the loss of the poet’s father. In so doing, Monica Youn writes, it “renders visible the liminal space of the Asian American, an occupied territory in which every silence, every potentiality, hums with the white noise of other people’s imaginings.” Given the context of our community’s continued struggle for justice, and in light of our theme this season (Asian American futures), this collection is one we can’t wait to read.

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MORE NEW AND NOTEWORTHY TITLES:

Ha Kiet Chau, Eleven Miles to June (Green Writers, April 2021)

Zilka Joseph, Sparrows and Dust (Ridgeway, April 2021)

Larissa Lai, Iron Goddess of Mercy (Arsenal Pulp, April 2021)

Hoa Nguyen, A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure (Wave, April 2021)

Ishle Yi Park, Angel and Hannah (One World, May 2021)

Arthur Sze, The Glass Constellation (Copper Canyon, April 2021)

David Woo, Divine Fire (U of Georgia, March 2021)

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What titles by Asian American poets are on your reading list this summer? We’d love to hear from you! Share your recommendations with us in the comments or on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).


ALSO RECOMMENDED:

Cover image of MIGRATORY SOUND by Sara Lupita Olivares

Migratory Sound by Sara Lupita Olivares
(U of Arizona Press, 2020)

Please consider supporting a small press or independent bookstore with your purchase.

As an Asian American–focused publication, Lantern Review stands for diversity within the literary world. In solidarity with other communities of color and in an effort to connect our readers with a wider range of voices, we recommend a different collection by a non-Asian-American-identified BIPOC poet in each blog post.

Writing into History All Year Round: Summer Craft Inspiration from Three APA Literary Greats

Book covers of A PORTRAIT OF THE SELF AS NATION by Marilyn Chin (red title on off-white background, featuring an illustration of a long-haired woman in a floral dress, dangling earrings, and lace-up ballet flats pulling a laden horse), THE UNDRESSING by Li-Young Lee (two white-featured wings closed at the joints as if in prayer or worship against a pale blue background; red title text above), and NIGHTINGALE by Paisley Rekdal (image of the torso, arms, and thighs of a white classical marble sculpture of a woman against a white background; blue title text). Beneath, the words: Writing into History All Year Round: Summer Craft Inspiration from Three APA Literary Greats
L to R: A PORTRAIT OF THE SELF AS NATION by Marilyn Chin, THE UNDRESSING by Li-Young Lee, NIGHTINGALE by Paisley Rekdal

Though APA Heritage Month officially concluded a couple of weeks ago, for so many of us, the necessity of engaging with lineage in our craft is a continual process that doesn’t just end on May 31st. Summer is finally here—a season that is often a time of great output, especially for writers who live on an academic calendar. Hence, this month’s post looks to some of the “greats” from within the APA literary community for inspiration on writing into history. Drawing from recent works by Marilyn Chin, Li-Young Lee, and Paisley Rekdal, we’ve gathered three writing prompts to energize your own writing practice this summer.

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1. Write into a manifesto (Marilyn Chin, A Portrait of the Self as Nation, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018).

In Marilyn Chin’s most recent collection of poetry, A Portrait of the Self as Nation, Chin’s feminist manifestos serve as sharp reminders of how poetry is deeply intertwined with the body. In “Brown Girl Manifesto (Too),” for instance, Chin mocks and subverts the literary lineage of Orientalism:

“I am your parlor rug your chamber bauble
Love me stone me I am all yours
Pound Pound my father’s Ezra”

Through the use of wit and wordplay, “Brown Girl Manifesto (Too)” exposes how modernist poets like Pound chose to uphold their own fantasies and projections rather than engage seriously with existing Asian literary traditions. By summoning sense and sensation in her criticism, Chin evokes the body in all its glorious volatility, asserting fantasy on her own terms and in her own tone.

For this exercise, reflect on the history, lineage, and intentions that guide your poetics. What events inform your poetic style and themes? What circumstances have made possible the lines you write? For, after, or against whom do you write? List these out, gathering them into a lyrical statement—whether in paragraphs, as with “Postcript: Brown Girl Manifesto, One of Many (2010),” or in clusters of key words, as with “Brown Girl Manifesto (Too).” Write several versions of your manifesto—what happens when you experiment with the tone and the form? Allow your manifesto(s) to guide your future writing.

2. Build shelter in the moment before (Li-Young Lee, The Undressing, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018).

The second section of “Our Secret Share,” a poem from Li-Young Lee’s most recent collection The Undressing, takes Indonesia’s social unrest of the 1950s and 60s as its backdrop—but Lee’s focus is not on “the killing,” which “has already started / and will go on into the night / and the next day, night and day, day and night” (42).

Rather, the speaker conjures the moment before the violence, recalling an image of his sister being ferried across the Solo River by a boatman—she stands “still and straight beside her bicycle” as the reflections “slide along beneath them in the water” (42). By centering a fleeting moment of stillness, Lee underscores the permanent and unspeakable loss that lies just beyond the poem’s frame—but he also creates a safe harbor from which the speaker can safely reflect.

Consider a key moment of dramatic tension or revelation. Write about this conflict through the lens of the moment before, developing the image or scene over at least fifteen lines. What happens to the “moment after” when the events that lead up to it have been slowed down and expanded upon through poetry?

3. Stage a critical intervention (Paisley Rekdal, Nightingale, Copper Canyon, 2019).

At the center of Paisley Rekdal’s most recent collection Nightingale is a lyric essay, “Nightingale: A Gloss,” that begins with the Greek myth of Philomela. Questioning Ovid’s retelling of the myth in Metamorphoses, in which Philomela is raped and mutilated by her sister’s husband, weaves a tapestry to communicate her assault, and is transformed into a nightingale, Rekdal asks, “Why should Philomela sing, when our presence only increases her suffering?” (50).

By drawing from research on subsequent retellings of Philomela, Rekdal stages a critical intervention in the literary history of sexual violence. Bringing the speaker’s experiences and Rekdal’s own poetry into the conversation, “Nightingale: A Gloss” ultimately engages with the decision to put language to trauma, returning voice to the survivor: “I stand in the field. I whistle back” (54).

Consider with your own relationship with a character from myth or legend. How have others engaged with this narrative in the past? How do your own experiences resonate or diverge? Write a poem in which you bring these different approaches and intentions into conversation.

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What works by APA literary greats or moments from history have affected or inspired your own craft? Share them with us in the comments or let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).