Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Featured Poet for February - Jennifer Chang

This year I am going to try focusing on new and emerging poets rather than the established and well known. They need all the support they can get, and I'd like to think that my little blog can be of, at least a little, assistance.

Our poet for February is:

Ms Chang teaches Contemporary Poetry, MFA Poetry Workshops, and BFA Thesis Seminars, at the Bowling Green University in Ohio. Her debut poetry collection, The History of Anonymity, was published in 2008.

“As a scholar, I don’t trust autobiography, and as a lyric poet, I don’t trust narrative: both enforce a coherence that reveals more about the writer’s motives at the moment rather than the life or story being told. What I do trust is mystery; I trust confusion.”

"I write poems at my desk. I don't write every day, but I wish I did. The first draft usually begins with 'I,' and then I try to revise as much 'I' out as possible. Lately, I prefer to write about 'you.'"

Her work has been included in the Poetry Society of America’s New American Poetry Series and in The Helen Burns Poetry Anthology: New Voices (2008, edited by Mark Doty), The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (2006, edited by Ellen Datlow, Gavin J. Grant, and Kelly Link), Best New Poets (2005, edited by George Garrett and Jeb Livingood), and Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (2004, edited by Victoria Chang and Marilyn Chin).

Ms Chang co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the support and promotion of Asian American poetry. 

Her first collection

The History of Anonymity,

was selected for the Virginia Quarterly Review’s Poetry Series, and was also a finalist for the Shenandoah/ Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and is readily available

This stream took a shorter course—
a thread of water that makes oasis

out of mud, in pooling,
does not aspire to lake. To river, leave

the forest, the clamorous wild.
I cannot. Wherever I am,

I am here, nonsensical, rhapsodic,
stock-still as the trees. Trickling

never floods, furrows its meager path
through the forest floor.

There will always be a root
too thirsty, moss that only swallows

and spreads. Primordial home, I am dying
from love of you. Were I tuber or quillwort,

the last layer of leaves that starts the dirt
or the meekest pond,

I would absorb everything.
I would drown. Water makes song

of erratic forms, and I hear the living
push back branches, wander off trail.

Again a Solstice

It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked
for bacon in my sandwich, and then

I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar:

I did not use a knife. I lied
about what he did to my faith
in loneliness. Both mistakes.

That there is always a you. Mistake.
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,

is faith in self. My instinct, a poor polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!

We swim in glittering murk.
I tread, you tread. There are children

testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,
the lifeguard perilously close to diving.
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.

It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.

I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake.
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion

I'll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.

What does it even mean to write a poem?
It means today
I'm correcting my mistakes.

It means I don't want to be lonely.

The Skin's Broken Aria

I cross the street
and my skin falls off. Who walks
to an abandoned lake? Who
abandons lakes? I ask questions
to evade personal statements. When you are
skinless, you cannot bear to be
more vulnerable. With skin, I
would say I am in love with
as in that old-time song
crooners like to croon. With skin,
I would wear elbow-length opera gloves
of pearly satin. Protect my skin.
Hide it. There is no skin
like my skin. How I miss it —
I miss it as I would a knitted bonnet, a
pewter teaspoon to stir sugar into hot water.
My great passion was my skin. The lover
I loved. They don’t
sell skin at Wal-Mart. And really, how
could I, humanely, buy it? Would you ever
give me your skin? This is a terrible world
we live in. There are mistakes and
batteries littering a junk drawer,
where Mother would hide my house keys and Father
would store his eyeballs. Do you know
Puccini? Do you spill silk
at the gorgeous onslaught of love, of Pinkerton’s
lurking return? Butterfly had no skin either
but you could not tell from the outer left
balcony. As I lay in a bed
of my dead skin, I dream of Butterfly
and what she could have done instead:
run away to this little room
to lose her aching voice, to listen
to the hourly ringing of bells
that is really the souring birdsong
of a child, skinned and
laughing, a child that will never be hers.


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