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SPOKEN WORD Meridians Interview with Marilyn Chin M E R ? D ? A N s : Can you tell readers a little bit about your poetry? Marilyn chin: I see my poetry as a medium for the cross-fertilization ofEast and West, ancient and contemporary, the traditional and the experimental, the personal and the muse is open to infinite possibilities. In my book Rhapsody in Plain Yellou), (Norton, 2002) you may find a Chinese American blues song, next to an immigrant anthem, next to a love poem, next to an elegy for my mother, next to a formal experiment .... My poems, as you can see just from this list, begin with the personal and open up toward the political, but my muse is very curious and she tries to make the palette rich with the variations ofa complex, multicultural world. M E R ? D ? A N s : What has moved you to write poetry? Marilyn chin: My mother's suffering. Poetry helps me to describe the ineffable, the seen and unseen, and the heartbreak ofliving. Poetry is a medium that is closest to our hearts and it can give voice to those who have been denied a voice. My mother is at the center ofall mystery. I keep revising and rediscovering her in my poems. Rhapsody in Plain Yellow is both a tribute and a painful elegy. I believe that my mother was oppressed by my father and the feudalist patriarchal Chinese past, which deprived her ofher voice, which made her deprive herselfofa voice. However, as I've grown older, I am beginning to understand her worldview. She was a compassionate, peaceful, selfless Buddhist. From the Western point of view "peacelovingness " or "passiveness" are not considered positive values. Assertiveness and aggression rule the Darwinianworld in late capitalism. My mother was an anachronism as soon as she set foot on these shores. [Meridians:jeminism, race, transnationalism 2002, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 67-9]©2002 by Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved. 67 As I was growing up, I was ashamed ofher passivity. But, now I understand how powerful her goodness was and how she has inspired me to have high ideals. For the Chinese, cultivating one's humanity and goodness is an art. By her example, I learned that one always has the opportunityto do good.One has to be proactive in one's managementofone's life. I write poetry to give my mother justice, and by extension, to give justice to others like herwho were victimized and misunderstood; theywere trapped in the cogs ofhistory. I know that mypoetry embodies high ideals and the certainty ofpurpose, which may turn some people off. Do you know that it is unfashionable to write "identity poems" now? That "multiculturalism " is a dead word? That political poetry is shrill and rhetorical and ugly?µ E R ? D ? a N s : When did you start to write poetry? Marilyn chin: I began as a translator ofpoetry. I studied classical Chinese poetry with Prof. Cheng Ching Mao and Prof. Alvin Cohen at the University ofMassachusetts, Amherst as an undergraduate. I grew up in Oregon and went all the way to Amherst because I heard a rumor that James Baldwin was teaching in the five-college area. The truth was that he was actuallyin Paris and wouldn'tgo to Amherst until much later.... Well, I guess Iwas a very obsessive child who had read the expanse ofBaldwin's oeuvre, and I had decided he should be my guru. In any case, in the dank basement of Thompson Hall, under the guidance of a few top-notch avuncular scholars, I started translating Tang dynasty poetry, weird classical ghost stories, and modernist Taiwanese poetry. I also took creative writing workshops; but in the beginning, I was filled with idealism and social activism and wanted to do social work and perhaps legal work for the community. Somehow, my destiny was paved there in the dank basement of Thompson Hall. Somehow, I was able to synthesize classical Chinese literature, a political consciousness, and the yearning to write poetry and to start honing my own voice. One day as I was walking near the UMass library and the harsh wind was entangling my...


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