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  • An Interview with Marilyn Chin
  • Anastasia Turner

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AT:

Marilyn, again, thanks for allowing me a glimpse of Hard Love Province (2014). Your poetry is so much fun and so allusive/elusive; it positively radiates with potential readings. Although all of your works thus far have reveled in what you call the “cross-fertilization” of different poetic forms, Hard Love Province seems to have more of a transnational and/or global aspect to it. In past collections, your poetic syntheses have made use not only of Chinese and English modes of poetry, but they have additionally been accented by Japanese literature, blues, African American lyric, etc. Yet, in this collection, we actually visit the places that spawned these forms, if just for a moment. I’m thinking specifically here about “Nocturnes” and its deliciously referential and historical images that range across the globe. Do you see your Hard Love Province as a destination, then?

MC:

Hard Love Province is not a static place. It’s a dynamic little outpost tucked behind Ubiquitoustan and Wongistan. A faraway hideout for hooligans and misfits, verbally adept graduate students, murderous dictators, drugged up musicians and dead women poets alike.

The governor is corrupt and takes bribes from the drug lords and human traffickers. It’s a sad, violent place where the denizens have endured historical pogroms and violent losses of loved ones…they have tasted injustice on their lips and have lots of weird stories to tell.

AT:

These “weird stories” certainly do take us for a wild ride through uncharted territory that willfully ignores conventional ideas of time and space. Do you see yourself as crafting a new geography of sorts with this volume?

MC:

The landscape is ever-shifting, the tonal range can move quickly from playfulness, to deep sorrow, to in-your-face-anger, to humor, to hot sex, to comic absurdity, to didactic finger pointing, to zen stillness, to the macabre. I wanted to hit as many nerve centers as possible and to show the versatility of mood as well as exhaust stylistic possibilities of the quatrain.

Also, the poems weave in and out of my memory and of our collective memories—in a single sequence, one could sing about Pol Pot and the maquiladoras, to remind the reader about historical atrocities. You might see a Humvee or a wild boar in the distance. In the very same sequence one could honor Elvis, Han Shan, Barry White and Chopin. The sublime and the ridiculous, the sacred and the profane.

AT:

Hard Love Province works with what you term the Chinese American quatrain. Many of the poems in Hard Love Province seem to be developed after the Chinese jue ju or “cut verse” style. How do the shortened, “cut” lines of jue ju poetry offer you a form to showcase your meaning? And, what about the quatrain form itself? Here my mind remembers other connotations of 4 in Chinese language/verse, namely the cheng-yu , 4-character idioms derived from older stories and poems, but also the negative connotations where 4 is homophonic with “death.” How does your poetry negotiate this line between such a revered style and the sinister connotations of 4, especially given the darker tone some of your poems incorporate?


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Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (2002)

MC:

I am not superstitious about the number 4. I know that it is homophonous with “death.” And I like the edge of that. I suppose I learned this from the great Goth big sister poet Emily D., who considered death and the impossibility of a hereafter with her insistent hymnal quatrains. She didn’t succumb to the suitor with the hoody and scythe, because she was so smart and ironic and defiant. She refused to sing full rhymes, used dashes instead of “end stops.” She refused to give us just a singular monolithic reading of her poems…she left the coffin ajar. She was truly a rebellious oppositional creature. She showed us that she can squeeze dazzling brilliance from a worn verse form. I love the quatrain form and studied the rich tradition from various cultural histories. I learned...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2153-4578
Print ISSN
0149-9408
Pages
p. 31
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-25
Open Access
No
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