Hi everyone! For our featured poet series, it is my pleasure to introduce you to the poetry of Marilyn Chin.
She was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Oregon, in the U.S. Northwest. A noted anthologist, translator and educator as well as a poet and novelist, Chin’s work distills her experiences both as an Asian American and as a politically attuned woman. Her poetry is noted for its direct and often confrontational attitude. “The pains of cultural assimilation infuse her…poems,” wrote Contemporary Women Poets essayist Anne-Elizabeth Green, noting that in the collections Dwarf Bamboo(1987) and The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (1994) “Chin struggles passionately and eloquently in the pull between the country left behind and America—the troubled landscape that is now home.”
Photo credit: Niki Berg
Chin’s exploration of cultural assimilation often carries harsh political overtones. In her poem “How I Got That Name: An Essay on Assimilation,” from The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty, she writes of her father’s seduction by Western culture and values: a “petty thug,” he “obsessed with a bombshell blonde/transliterated ‘Mei Ling’ to ‘Marilyn,’“ thus dooming his dark-haired daughter to bear for life the name of “some tragic white woman/swollen with gin and Nembutal.” Other poems reflect upon the scars borne by diverse Asian Americans, including women whose value as human beings has been reduced to their novelty as sex objects. She also deals with the fate of second-generation Asian Americans in poems like “I’m Ten, Have Lots of Friends, and Don’t Care,” included in her first collection of poems, Dwarf Bamboo.
Marilyn Chin has won numerous awards and fellowships, including the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, multiple Pushcart Prizes, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Stegner Fellowship, the Paterson Prize and further fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Widely anthologized, her work was featured on Bill Moyers’s PBS series The Language of Life. Chin co-directs the MFA program at the University of San Diego, where she also teaches in the departments of English and Comparative Literature.
“Altar (#3)” from “Broken Chord Sequence”
Why cry over dried flowers?
They’re meant to be straw.
Why cry over miniature roses?
They’re meant to be small.
Why cry over Buddha’s hand citron?
Why cry over the hidden flower?
Why cry over Mother’s burnt forehead?
Her votive deathglow, her finest hour.
Chinese Quatrains (The Woman in Tomb 44)
by Marilyn Chin
The aeroplane is shaped like a bird
Or a giant mechanical penis
Or a giant mechanical penis
My father escorts my mother
From girlhood to unhappiness
A dragonfly has iridescent wings
Shorn, it’s a lowly pismire
Plucked of arms and legs
A throbbing red pepperpod
Baby, she’s a girl
Pinkly propped as a doll
Baby, she’s a pearl
An ulcer in the oyster of God
Cry little baby clam cry
The steam has opened your eyes
Your secret darkly hidden
The razor is sharpening the knife
The challenge is write a new poem or prose poem inspired by the title, verse or style by Marilyn Chin. I look forward to reading your work. Please visit and comment on the work of others. And Happy Weekend to all ! Grace (aka Heaven)