As other second–generation immigrant writers, Chin-In Chen addresses the American experience from a position of both belonging and not-belonging, which is clearly evident in her collection The Heart’s Traffic. The collection crosses embodies boundary-crossing beyond the typical use of plot (though that is present as well), and results in a comingled impression of life from the perspective of an immigrant and her family. As with many poetry collections, the evidence of the collection’s conceptual identity (in this case, border-crossing and existing in multiple realities concurrently) presents initially with the cover of the book. However, the reader will notice quickly that Chen’s collection follows through with these concepts in nearly every poem. Continue reading
Even the cover reflects the contents of Kasischke’s poetry collection. Both the title – Space, in Chains – and the Rothko abstraction on the front point at the nearly ungraspable poems in between the covers. But the reasoning behind the ungraspable-ness may be the ungraspable subjects and themes Kasischke meditates on through these poems. That is, the poet approaches and interrogates the unknowable, and attempts to enlighten through the medium of abstracted understanding. Continue reading
There is a contemporary parallel to the Chartist movement in nineteenth century England. That parallel is the Occupy Wall Street movement, and although the specific goals are different, at their hearts, these two movements are linked despite the intervening 173 years. These movements are both about representative government and the demand to see fair and equal representation. In the case of Chartism, the protestors argued that suffrage be expanded to include voting rights in the middle and lower classes (although at this time women were still excluded), while Occupy Wall Street seeks, in one sense, to remove corporate control over legislative bodies. Both of these goals stem from a great economic inequality. In early 19th century Britain, as clearly represented in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, “the most deplorable… evil that arose out of the period… was this feeling of alienation between the different classes” (127). That same feeling appears again today with the Great Recession and the beginnings of the Occupy movement. The parallels between the two movements, and the media coverage thereof, extend beyond the reach of this essay, but should be readily apparent by the conclusion. Continue reading
This entry has been replaced by the index of reviews and reflections.
It’s a Sisyphean task, taking the responsibility to convey all the movement and humanity that Cynthia Marie Hoffman attempts in Sightseer. There are so many things one must choose to leave out, and it is the left out which compels in her collection. How many collections worth of material was she able to mine from these excursions, to bring back to us in the new history side of the world? And will she find herself written into a corner if she keeps exploiting them, or like a responsible miner, shut the mineshaft down? Despite all of what was left out, the keen gaze Hoffman exerts on her chosen subjects, many of them religious artifacts, asks the reader to step past the gate and down to the below surface as in the poem “On the Western Coast of Anglesey, the Tourists” (59-60) while at the same time requesting the assertion of gaze at those two women on the beach in their hiking boots.
Indigo Moor’s collection, for an eighty-page group, feels as though he has written several separate collections. All four sections read easily on their own, almost as if a chapbook, and this makes me question the poet’s decision to present them as a cohesive unit, as opposed to collected chapbooks. For example, the section “Daybreak” focuses on long (two to three page), slender poems with some creative indentation, and what must be a variety of ekphrasis, although the dedications and other ephemera do not always provide clarity to this. “Midday,” on the other hand, offers a series of ekphrastic poems in response to one painting, and which offer an equal split between controlled couplets and more free-formed poems as in “Daybreak.” The final section in Moor’s collection, “Dusk,” contains a series of longer poems which border on stream-of-consciousness, though they are more controlled than that. From this wide perspective, as a reader, I am left confused as to the reasoning of these seemingly arbitrary delineations.
If that is not clear enough, where a confessional poet’s version of these poems might harp on the “woe is me” shtick, Addonizio manages to allow the reader to experience these poems as though they come from inside, and not from the page. So, not that we are reading a memoir, but experiencing all the love offered to us. Even reminding the reader in a subtle way of other personal experiences. Sometimes, I can almost imagine being the speaker. Whether that is a fault of Addonizio’s writing, or my own empathy, I do not know; but I have an understanding, a connaissance, that is drawn out by the poems in this collection.
Thrity Umrigar’s main characters in her novel The Weight of Heaven are American. She writes from their perspective, and although it sometimes comes across as slightly didactic at times, she generally portrays Frank and Ellie sympathetically. It is clear, for instance, that these are two people who find it difficult to truly communicate with one another, and this is reflected in several other couples presented in Umrigar’s novel. Indeed, the first few words of the novel highlight this schism in their marriage engendered by the death of their son Benny. Soon after, the couple finds themselves in India, where Umrigar takes the opportunity to mirror this interpersonal shortcoming in the larger field of transnational understanding. The reflections compound as if the relationships are co-metaphors, with either reflecting the other. As Umrigar introduces more interpersonal relationships, this hall of mirrors becomes more complex, revealing the complexities in transnational relationships in a globalized world.
Anh Hung Tran’s film, The Scent of Green Papaya, is full of slow continuous shots which move easily between indoor and outdoor settings. These shots serve to conflate the two settings, and reflect Mui’s ambivalent standing within the family. Mui is held both within the family and without, as the mother views her in her daughter’s place and the two sons strive to keep her out of the inner family. Although the movie is set at the end of French colonial power in Vietnam, and before full American involvement, very little mention is paid to these two outside powers, except that Mui’s place in the family may be read as a metaphor for the experience of a colonized people. In other words, just as Mui occupies an ill-defined, liminal space within the family, a colonized country occupies an ill-defined, liminal space in relation to itself. Such a country lay well outside the central power of the colonizers, and yet is unable to self-determine in such a way as to be a successful society. It is not until Mui escapes from the family she serves that she begins to occupy a self-determined space in the world, and even that space takes time for her to create.
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Bich Minh Nguyen writes about the intermingling of cultural desire through food in her memoir Stealing Buddha’s Dinner. The obsessions with unobtainable foods and everyday foods come across clearly in indexes of American junk foods and experientially local family foods. Nguyen’s childhood – at least as indicated in her memoir – was filled with a cross-cultural desire that at first was met by her father, yet later restrained by her stepmother Rosa. Although this restraint of junk food induced a certain resentment, Rosa also introduced her family’s foods to the Nguyen family. Food experience and culture are intimately linked to common family experiences of mealtimes and celebrations. And as with any childhood, Nguyen was exposed to desires outside her control, as well as culture to which she had to adjust. Unlike Americans generations deep in the U.S., however, Nguyen’s father did not have the cultural awareness to ground her new experiences, as many of them were new to him, as well. Nguyen’s ambivalence for this liminal state of being pulled in two (or even three) cultural directions is represented by the nostalgia with which she writes about the various food obsessions she had as a child. As many American writers, Nguyen writes about her obsession and her family, creating a space in the literary tradition for her multivalent existence in a multi-cultural immigrant family.