other ways of seeing: the poetics and politics of refraction

For three months, I am excited to be writing for Jacket2 on “Other Ways of Seeing: The Poetics and Politics of Refraction.” I wanted to write this series as a way to deepen my exploration of certain works of art that have come to preoccupy me, while thinking about a topic I find compelling. The first and second articles are already up, and I’ll be posting new ones each week. Artists whose work I will explore: Christine Sun Kim, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Cybele Lyle, Kara Walker, M. NourbeSe Philip, Francesca Capone.

A description of my series: “In renaming the world anew, poets and artists engage in acts of “translation” that are intentionally askew. What truths and beauties are revealed in such blurry distortions of our world, and what is at stake in this moment of refraction for poets and artists from the margins? While we are familiar with Dickinson’s dictate Tell all the truth but tell it slant, I explore these angles through the lens of visual and mixed media—artwork that function as poems in miraculous ways—with the belief that they shed light on the poetics of language by manifesting it viscerally and tangibly. Simultaneously, I take the study of refraction further by examining how oblique renderings of status-quo notions urge the audience to inhabit non-dominant spaces of perception that challenge the terms of their reality. These artists demonstrate how refractive poetries invoke alternative or marginal perspectives, constructing new meaning by moving beyond normalized ways of experiencing the world.”

from the voice of the lady in the moon (black warrior review)

One of my most favorite journals to read Black Warrior Review invited me to write a craft essay (which ended up being a lyric essay) for my poems “From the Voice of the Lady in the Moon.” The poems are in their latest issue (42.2), from a newer series I am writing based loosely on the Chinese folktale of Chang ‘E. The poems unthread her narrative and have to do with unbuilding a house in order to build it.

Excerpt from the craft essay: “If it is true that every story has a shadow story. If there is always an underbelly to be found. If a woman’s voice is a space that begins boundaried in. If there was something I wanted to speak into the air, the clotted atmosphere, if I thought to myself, The edge of her dress, my fingers in her hair. If it was ruin, and I carried it heavy and spilling in my belly, a breadth too immense for my own. So I wanted to say it to the corner of the room. So I borrowed the shape of her mouth.”


And belatedly: Thanks to Paul Hoover for soliciting a couple “Letters to Mao” which you can read online at New American Writing. The issue includes gorgeous work from GC Waldrep, Craig Santos Perez, Barbara Tomash, and classmates Aurelia Cortes Peyron and Maxwell Shanley. It was also lovely to be part of Columbia Poetry Review, where a former student and now friend, Jan-Henry Gray, is an editor. This issue includes three of my image-text poems “How to Build an American Home” from my forthcoming book HOUSE A.

dear blank space + how to build an american home

Happy New Year! I spent mine in bed with a terrible flu, so my start to 2016 was: foggy, bleary. But I am proud of this piece “Dear Blank Space: A Literacy Narrative,” which closed out the year in Entropy magazine (and was included on LitHub Daily!). It is a lyric essay on the poetics/ethics/politics of blank space; or a meditation on the intersection of my obsessions – silence, wilderness, unknowability, the margins, and broken things; or how I am grateful to this form for giving me a language. The section “Dear Ruptures” is pretty much a metaphor for how I feel almost all of the time.

I also have 4 image-text poems from my series “How to Build an American Home” in one of my favorites, DIAGRAM. In the series I want to redefine ‘American’ as my own immigrant home, I want to blur the blueprint for what an American Home means.

names for homesickness; etc.

Missing this home very much at the moment. Trying to find the technical vocabulary for the geographical region and vegetation, all I can distill from the surrounding context is: subtropical broad-leafed forests, low-lying woodlands, shrublands, grasslands. 

My gathering tendencies…

{ laurels, beeches, & oaks, magnolias & witch-hazels, ericales (it has a milky sap) & myrtles // japanese bay trees (persea), short-flowered machilus (短花楠), cekiang machilus (長序潤楠), cinnamon trees, 木荷, 罗浮栲, japanese camellia kissi, cleyera, magnolia fordiana (龙楠树), chinese banyan, chinese laurel (salamander tree, currant tree), 黄桐, 九节, agarwood, rose apple, javawood, hong kong abacus plant,camphor trees, rose myrtle, baeckea, fried egg plant (egg flower), oblong-leaf litsea, india hawthorn, red melastome, embelia vine, chinese sweetspire, 降真香, ivy tree, chinese sumac, yellow cow wood }


In belated news: A September poem “Velella” at The Volta. There are whales in it. Its sister poem “Octopus Teeth” is in an upcoming issue of The Normal School. Both have to do with sea creatures and with oppositions that collapse into one another.

(Also: happenstance convergence that the poem section of The Volta is called They Will Sew the Blue Sail…perfect description for velella ♥︎)

the poetics of translation

[I Am a Deaf Artist Redefining “Sound”]:

“And the second thing I think about is ghost. Because I can’t see sound – it’s not there.”

“As a society, the majority of people hear. And I mirror them. I have to follow what they’re doing. It was not like society gave me a clear, safe place to do whatever I wanted. I had to learn how to integrate to their ways. And the more aware I become of the noises and the norms, the more I play around with that in my artwork.”

“Most people who write music have this idea of silence, but they can hear and they use that to define or shape silence, or vice versa. So how can I learn the idea of sound and silence from their perspective? I can’t relate to that. So I’m starting over from scratch with everything. I’m redefining things.”

“There’s different ways sound has an impact on the body. Sound doesn’t enter only through the ears.”


[Sep 2015] Her work, and the way she talks about it, is really moving to me. It takes courage to redefine terms we have been given, and an artist has the ability to make this transformation beautiful and compelling. There’s an interesting relationship between necessity and play; I think this is true for children, for artists, maybe for everyone. We play (with words, colors, sounds, etc.) because we need to understand something in the world, to make it recognizable to our bodies. And of course, again: the mystery of things that the body knows/absorbs…

poor claudia + tarpaulin sky + the normal school

I’ve been reading their series on poetics since it began, so I’m very happy to have a little lyric essay, “A Poetics of Iteration,” at Poor Claudia.

Also my manuscript, House A, was a finalist for the Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize, and although they won’t be publishing my book, I am excited even to be featured in Tarpaulin Sky magazine. There is some gorgeous, gorgeous work in there by winners and finalists. I’m especially enamored with Kim Parko’s The Grotesque Child; her statement about her manuscript is equally beautiful and haunting.

Finally, a couple poems on the “Anthropology of the Body” went up at The Normal School Online. They have to do with language, metaphor, connection, and the body.

hikikomori: salt constellations

It was enriching to work with the AGNI editors, especially Jennifer Alise Drew, who sharpened the essay’s experience, examining my sentences with me even more closely. I’m a slow writer (I feel like a snail or jellyfish), and I began writing this essay in the middle of tumultuous years. Publishing it was unexpectedly heavy–to confront the subject again and to feel as if I were relinquishing ownership of it. It made me think about the internal/external spaces of being a writer and how we negotiate them. I am grateful for its home in the world.

“Hikikomori: Salt Constellations” is in issue 81 of AGNI, and it also ran on The Literary Hub on April 17, 2015. It was passed out as a pamphlet during AWP at the AGNI booth, if anyone happened to pick it up.

“I wrote down phrases like book of shut and cultural muteness, like a creature in the ocean clicking haphazardly, unsure of what it is sounding for. Increasingly in those years I held the image of water in my mind: the invisible pressure, the sudden self-consciousness of a body submerged, a deep and impressionable and stunning silence.”