Winner of the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Prize for Poetry
From a poet of "dazzling longing" (Los Angeles Times), a stunning new collection of haunting elegies and playful quatrains.
Marilyn Chin is a poet acclaimed by Adrienne Rich for her "powerful, uncompromised, and unerring" poems. Dancing brilliantly between Eastern and Western forms, fusing ancient Chinese history and contemporary American popular culture, she is one of the most celebrated Asian-American poets writing today.
Chin's fourth volume of poems, Hard Love Province, is composed of erotic elegies in which the speaker grieves for the loss of her beloved. In "Void" she writes with the imagistic, distilled quietude of a solitary mourner: "It’s not that you are rare / Nor are you extraordinary // O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree / You are simple and sincere." In "Formosan Elegy," by contrast, she is that mourner, beyond simplicity or quietude, crying out for a lover: "I sing for you but my tears have dried in my gullet / Walk the old dog give the budgies a cool bath / Cut a tender melon let it bleed into memory."
Here, too, are poems inspired by Chin’s poetic forbearers and mentors—Dickinson, Plath, Ai, Gwendolyn Brooks, Tu Fu, Adrienne Rich, and others—honoring their work and descrying the global injustice they addressed. "Whose life is it anyway?" she asks in a poem for Rich, "She born of chrysalis and s**t / Or she born of woman and pain?"
Emotionally nuanced and electric with high-flying verbal experimentation, image after image, line by line, Chin's spectacular reinventions, her quatrains, sonnets, allegories, and elegies, are unforgettable.
To read Chin (Rhapsody in Plain Yellow) in her fourth collection is to set foot in a land where death and loss are omnipresent and possess their own native tongue. "Any moment now," she writes, "The diasporas will form a new dialect," and they do. Bookended by poems for a lost lover, Chin's collection is a high-octane elegy that mourns the beloved even as it implicates the mixed-up world the beloved has left behind. Chin transforms the haiku, no longer confining it to reflections on natural beauty, but turning it into an obliterator of identity: "Gaze at the charred hills,/ the woebegone kiosks,/ we are all God's hussies." This collection emphasizes stark borders between life and death only to strip them down: "My cousin calls him Allah my sister calls him Jesus/ ... I call him call him on his cell phone/ But he does not answer." Put another way, "You could be a rich corpse or a poor corpse." Yet, these poems are not consigned to the reality of the grave as destination. Chin shouts into the void, almost frantic, insisting that we "write pretty poems pretty poems pretty poems/ Mask stale pogroms with a sweet whiff of oblivion."