“Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots! / The further west we go, the further east we will strike; / The deeper we dig, the more China we will find,” exclaimed Marilyn Chin.
With her hands on her hips, her head tilted forward, and a deep smirk on her face, Chin rekindled the 20-year-old poem with new fire. The essay depicts the immigrant families’ war of assimilation, a struggle that begins with the transmission of an English surname.
Chin stepped into the spotlight of the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archive, and Rare Book Library wearing a fuchsia silk jacket printed with floral embroidery in commemoration of the Lunar New Year. The award-winning writer greeted the public on March 13 with a reading of his poem “How I Got This Name.”
The event was part of the library’s Raymond Danowski Poetry Library Reading Series. To celebrate Women’s History Month, Chin presented a series of her poems that explored the political, historical, and personal self.
Library director Jennifer King began the reading with an introduction to the library’s mission to enhance the teaching of literature and prose. King praised Chin’s multifaceted talents as an anthologist, translator, educator, poet, and novelist.
“We are so excited to have [Chin] with us and to hear him read his poems, bringing ancient Chinese poetry and literature into conversation with a contemporary and critical conversation about identity,” King said.
Peggy Li, a postdoctoral fellow at the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference, took to the podium after King to deliver a heartfelt and powerful message about the impact Chin’s work has had on her own life. .
“Today we are so lucky to be honored by the presence of a true *** villain,” Li said.
The scholar described Chin as a skilled time traveler, traversing multiple languages and eras of history. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon, Chin’s story resonates with the children of Asian immigrants.
“His journey to this stage is a magical alchemy of passionate mind and heart, uncompromising rage against injustice, and testy intellectual commitments,” Li said.
“Her bad girl haikus, her immigrant anthems, her sissy-sassy limericks, her renegade quatrains, her hilarious hijinks, all affirm a voice that is at once wild, inventive, and familiar with memory,” Li continued.
The poet’s experimental and joyful style resonates and shapes future generations of writers. Chin is a force in contemporary American poetry, having recently won the 2020 Ruth Lilly Poetry Price and play an influential role in shaping San Diego State University’s creative writing curriculum.
Chin went on to read a selection of poems that critiqued the rarely explored intersection between the patriarchal structure and the Asian American “model minority” myth. From “Blues on Yellows” to “Chinese Quatrains (The Woman in Tomb 44)”, to “Fruit Etudes”, Chin took audiences on a journey of subversive and disruptive literature that evoked a double-sided play of humor and drama. ‘introspection.
Chin departs from the classic Shakespearean sonnet with non-traditional variations. She most often uses “Sonnetnese,” a portmanteau of “sonnet” and “Chinese,” while employing explosive hand gestures and expressive intonation to deliver her carefully crafted rhymes and puns.
“My dear, we are staring into the void, on the edge of Americanness,” Chin recited.
‘Sonnetnese’ is a personal reflection that also serves as an archival study of its ancestral past. She drew inspiration for this poem by analyzing the use of literature to expose oppressive governments, a practice that dates back to the Tang dynasty through poets like Su Dong Po. Masked in intimate anecdotes and non-political description, a poet can encode an entirely different meaning in parallels and idioms.
In addition to his poems, Chin closed the reading with a selection of works by other authors, such as an English translation of “Snow Falls On China’s Land” by Ai Ching. She teased several lines from unpublished poems, such as “If,” which is set to be published in her new book. Finally, she ended the event with an audience-chosen poem titled “The Floral Apron,” an ode to how immigrant families carry their traditions across the sea and lift them to new soil.
“And though we have traveled far / We shall never forget this primordial lesson / -on patience, courage, patience, / on how to love the squid in spite of the squid, / how to honor the village, the tribe , / that floral apron,” Chin mentioned.
The poet evoked the aroma of sweet ginger and spices contrasted by the aggressive decapitation of an animal – the paradoxical love of an Asian mother.
Packed to capacity in an hour, Chin shared lessons about the female soul and the plight of Asian Americans. It’s one thing to read her poetry online, but it’s a full body experience to hear the slight tweaks and dips in her voice that she uses as an instrument.
Swinging skyward in grand gestures, as if conducting an orchestra, Chin speaks as if singing melodious, rhythmic jazz. Her storytelling examines her own identity as well as a larger community than the individual.