A curated literary guide

Week #32 / 7th – 13th August, 2017

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Five Things with Safia Elhillo

1. The last thing that made you smile.

Revisiting Jay-Z & Kanye’s “Watch the Throne” & feeling thrilled by it.

2. A secret.

I’ve watched every season of America’s Next Top Model.

3. The last thing you wrote.

An Instagram caption, some couplets, an emoji-hieroglyph text message.

4. Favourite city.

New York DC Toronto Chicago New Orleans London

5. What you’d place in a time capsule.

My nameplate necklace and matching hoops from high school. My ever-changing eyebrow shape. Completed Muji notebooks. All the books I lent out and never got back.


Safia Elhillo is Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, she received a BA from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and an MFA in poetry at the New School. She is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017).

Summer Haibun

a poem from Aimee Nezhukumatathil

You were born
on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain

With the concise harmony of a haiku and the heightened elevation of a prose poem, the haibun is a poetic form suited for an exploration of narrative and emotion, one that blurs the edges of dream and the present. Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s new poem is tender and vibrant in its own flesh—with its tantalizing array of peaches and bread, items juxtaposed with “fresh tar and asphalt”. The playfulness of light and shine is also admirable. We can see the “pale mica flecks”, meteors, stars in our eyes. More like a companion rather than an ending, the haiku mirrors every sensation:

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light

As August eases into the uncertainty of autumn, ‘Summer Haibun’ is a poem to revisit and remain in even after the summer sun sets.

Visit Poets.org to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen

Lean Into It

a poem from Emily Hunerwadel

I read Emily Hunerwadel’s first lines and screamed, me too! Every line of her prose-poem sang to a corresponding note in me, to those ineffable, jumbled urges of humanness. Even as Hunerwadel is making the case of how hard it really is to know another person, precisely because we can’t occupy each other’s minds or bodies, she reaches right across that distance to strum the notes that reveal herself and for us, as readers, laying bare the space for us to find connection. And there is connection: from this point forward, I would like to use her poem to explain to everybody, like it was a psychometric online quiz along the lines of the sorting hat that when it comes to parties I am the “some dark owl and slowly shifting into a circling vulture.” I am a “collection of lighters, lucky pennies, and pocket lint.” Hunerwadel images and descriptions are weird, dark, and tilting towards the obscure. But, don’t fret about understanding completely; it’s all synapses, after all, and while the voice may be softest when there’s the most to say, by god, we hear.

Visit ELKE Journal to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby

Chinese Girl Videotape Leaked & Revenge of the Asian Woman

poems from Dorothy Chan

If I played roller derby, my name would be Yellow Fever,
          knocking out all those white boys from college
                    who used to whisper sweet nothings to me

in Mandarin

This week I have some poems to share with you from the latest knockout issue of The Boiler Journal. All three poems tackle the racist undertones in the fetishization of Asian women head-on, although I’m mainly looking at the first two, which are most closely tied together. The language is direct and undistanced in ‘Revenge of the Asian Woman’, a jab at the often tangled and complicated intersection of white privilege and how it acts on the white perception of others. It’s interesting to note that the “woman” being pursued here is not a person but a set of expectations and assumptions propped up by a limited and highly Americanized view of Asia as seen through the media.

What’s being “seduced” here isn't a person but a notion of a type of human that doesn’t exist. An idea. Similarly in the media, Asian women are often used as a prop or decoration to denote “otherness” in a film, and then sexualized to be made relevant to the story in some way. Media portrayal has never suggested that these characters had any agency or personality of their own, building NPC-like arc’s of their existence that then act themselves out in reality. Ideas of getting an Asian girl with your knowledge of this or that “Asian thing” isn’t a far stretch from “complete this quest and you'll get this reward”.

because unlike you,
not everything’s handed to her on a platter.

‘Chinese Girl Videotape Leaked’ examines dually the role the media has in perpetuating notions of hypersexuality and the failure of these stereotypes to hold up in reality. It also addresses how to exist as a sexual being when all the space for representation is taken up by racist sexual stereotypes and American-manufactured versions of otherness. In these poems, it’s made clear that the woman is not the same thing as the idea.

so just accept the fact that I look great in gold short shorts
          and will never take you back to my homeland.

Visit The Boiler to read the poems.

Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong

Fireflies

a poem from Christine Kitano

It’s understandable why fireflies are ubiquitous throughout poetry (and, really, any artistic medium you can think of). Their small bodies transform dusks into light shows that mimic stars and glitter and fireworks—the poetry is already there, glowing that soft yellow glow, ready for the page or your heart or both.

Christine Kitano’s beautiful poem ‘Fireflies’ doesn’t actually contain fireflies, but is rather informed by the memory of them, and the memory is bracketed by immigration and culture, of past (Japan) and present (Utah), and the future in the form of a daughter. In this poem, the white moths of Utah—with “moon-whitened wings / that collapse, not from the children's touch, but the sheer / pressure of air”—are mistaken for fireflies, but are their own magical flesh sprung from nature.

There is longing in this poem—“How to say fireflies / don't come to Utah, how to say how close, / or far, / we are from home?”—and it’s hard to see that longing as something ultimately beautiful and transformative, like a bridge between oceans of experience and symbols, or as something ultimately painful, ultimately unbridgeable.

In the last line of the poem, the daughter is upset to learn that the word she and her mother wrote in the dirt, hotaru (firefly), is gone: “But the next morning, when she / peeks outside, she cries to find the characters gone, / the name on the earth already erased by the wind.” I first thought “characters” referred to the moths, and I was (and still am) in love with the thought of how the human experience often turns animals into characters in the real-time story that envelopes us, and how characters can do a lot of heavy lifting for our memories, our longings, our possibilities. The letters and the moths may be gone, but they will continue to work for us, if we let them.

Visit BOA Editions to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein

Snow White Turns 39

a poem from Anne Sheldon

I love poetic re-imaginings of fairytales. They have such a capacity to lean into the cracks and chip at the idea that “happily ever after” is really the end of any story. ‘Snow White Turns 39’ gives us an alternate vision of our heroine, highlighting just how much she’s been traumatized. When we open with “I’m planning how to break a talking mirror: / hammer and earplugs”, we’re immediately drawn into how unique her struggle is: the mirror is a constant stream of judgment. Because bathrooms are a pretty intimate space where we can show our worst selves before primping into something new, the mirror’s comments are a complete breach of privacy in an otherwise quiet space. What if the room isn’t soundproof and those critiques spill out into other parts of the castle? Of course this would make Snow paranoid of others’ watching and hearing, a feeling that has colored her whole life.

Snow then fantasizes about the mirror's absence: “No more clipping recipes for sautéed heart / of virgin I can tell you that, / or sending milkmaids out to feed the wolves.” Look y’all, there's a lot of work that goes into being this devious and self-absorbed. It’s not just one recipe or one meal brought out by the milkmaid… She’s got these tasks on rinse cycle, to the point that it's a casual to-do list! That’s more than slightly horrifying. She’s all but been reincarnated as the evil queen, which makes the mirror not just an object to be possessed, but a overbearing power. What’s also striking? Snow is ONLY thirty-nine, which by general life standards, is still well under the halfway point. If she’s having such intense feelings of displeasure re: her appearance and life standing now, that feeling will only escalate as time goes on.

With intense feeling comes intense reaction, but luckily, Snow recognizes that this is not the life she wants to lead: “My husband found me under glass. How I miss the woodsman.” This draws a parallel between her glass coffin and the glass of the mirror. She knows keeping the mirror is a second death, because in both cases, she’s being judged by outside forces—the voice in the mirror, the prince, anyone who glances through the coffin to see her. Her beauty has always been tied to others’ standards, not just her own. Her urge to smash the mirror is a call to look beyond her exterior. Funnily enough, the woodsman is the only person who’s shown her mercy. He was actually generous in his seeing, namely in acknowledging her suffering but not adding to it. Imagine only coming into close contact with people and objects who act as if demeaning you is appropriate, when it’s really the biggest thorn in your side. In a space where it seems that everyone has been given agency over Snow’s life but her, we have to cheer for the woman who’s finally ready to break.

Visit The Poets’ Grimm to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse