Ching-In Chen On Queer Poetry: a zuihitsu

Ching-In Chen (Photo by Sarah Grant).

Ching-In Chen (Photo by Sarah Grant).

1 ) You asked me to write about queer as genre, poetry as genre – and all I can think of in terms of intersections is failure and scatter.  What Kind; sort; style, asks the Oxford English Dictionary.  I am obsessed with the zuihitsu poetic form, a hybrid Japanese form which utilizes subjective lists, journal entries, juxtaposition, fragmentation, etcetera, to create a sense of randomness which is not really random.  Because it is messy, chaotic, contradictory, it is a form I frequently return to, especially when I do not always know what and how to say.  It is a form which maps and contains my fear.

2 ) “My poetry is often guided by an impulse to fail.  When this is the case, writing is an attempt to salvage something from the mess.” – Douglas Kearney.

3 ) I moved to Milwaukee from California and met five queer Asian people (not me, though I have been referred to myself multiple times – is this a mistake?  Are others mistaking me for me? Do I look like myself?)  This is totally subjective – I moved toMilwaukeefor poetry, not for queerness.  Yet the search becomes what I frustrate, what pushes me to lineate, what creates the next line, what is filled up here.

4 ) What are the essential qualities that make up this loneliness?

5 ) Queer sorts:

One moved with me from California for school.

One I met in a cafe with leafy greens overhead.   We met there because he drank tea, not coffee (my uncle – a handyman – in another life dreamt of opening a teashop).  I think he had been persuaded to meet with me as a recruitment/retainment strategy.  One of us had been tricked to be there?  My mother was visiting, and we talked about whether he would be comfortable if she came along.  She said, you go ahead, I don’t want to make him uncomfortable.  It was a matter-of-fact conversation, and I cannot remember another one about this topic with my mother.

One told me the only queer (gay? lesbian?) Asians she knew in the city were her two siblings.

One told me he was glad to be moving away because he felt unsafe.

One spent a night with me in a red bar, coastal people, fast talkers both.  When I met her, not wanting to assume, I asked – do you identify as Asian?  Are you ____?

None of them are like me, exactly, yet I want.

6 ) In another blog entry, writing from the past, Bhanu Kapil: “I become so familiar with this scene that at one point, I lie down on the ground instead.  I exchange my body with the body of another girl.  I wait for something to happen, and it does.”

7 ) When I left California, an old friend from my MFA program told me that she had seen my doppelganger in the MFA program.  By the time she had gone up to her to say something, my twin had replied: I know, I know, I look like Ching-In. I have never met anyone who looked like me.  Or is this a lie?

8 ) Last week, at Las Dos Brujas Writing Workshop with Kimiko Hahn, poet who originated writing zuihitsu (as poetry? As essay? neither? all of the above?) in English.  On Wednesday night, in the middle of the week, her reading was sparsely attended.  I cried; it felt like a reflection on me.  We are not interchangeable bodies, yet my body feels related to hers, familial.  If she disappears (ridiculous!), will I not be seen (a fear), not be related to (a fear), not be recognized (a fear), not be made sense of (a fear).

9 ) In this extreme city, my bodies become multiple.  How do you like to be addressed? Them, I reply, and they nod.  At Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall, where I have just performed with my band, the owner/bartender mistook me for a Sir and apologized. That’s okay, I reply, I identify as multiply-gendered.  A trans-man at the next table is indignant on my behalf and ask me how I feel.  How I feel?  These words all originate from my bodies.

10 )  “Because to fail to define your world, your nation, means disappearing from it. Latinos, they’re banning your books inArizona, and no one is saying anything about it. They’re failing your children in cities across the nation. Your elders are dying off, and are being forgotten. They want you gone, forgotten. They don’t want to hear your voice, because your voice complicates the story. Who’s they? You tell me. A complicated story is a true story.”  – Rich Villar.

11 )  I buy Kimiko’s reading copy of Toxic Flora after her books sell out.  She looks through the book for errant writing.  I tell her I don’t mind, but she says if she has made notes, she needs them.  She writes me a note, but I lend my book out to another writer and do not see until after she has exited the premises: “Good to see you so often and now here.”

12 )  “From indicates a particular time or place as a starting point; from refers to a specific location as the first of two limits; from imagines a cause, an agent, an instrument, a source, or an origin; from marks separation, removal, or exclusion; from differentiates borders.

“Where are you from?” – Craig Santos Perez.

13 ) Is the answer not a poem?

Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart’s Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press). The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she is a Kundiman and Lambda Fellow and a member of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation and Macondo writing communities. A community organizer, she has worked in the Asian American communities of San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside and Boston. Ching-In is a co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press). In Milwaukee, she is cream city review’s editor-in-chief and involved in her union and the radical marching band, Milwaukee Molotov Marchers.