Published in 2017 from Kelsey Street Press.
Can a poetry seek to examine the erasure and reconstruction of a community history? Ching-In Chen's recombinant is a work of material critique, philosophically jarring in its use of syntax, sound, the erasures held in the stillness of its whitespace that again and again mimic a historical registry. Drafting and growing multiple discourses, this text urges the reader to investigate female and genderqueer lineages in the context of labor smuggling and trafficking. Its syntactical utterances create a music that is masterful in these poems' fractured words and experimental representation of page and praxis. Voices from various communities interact with each other to create what Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan calls an assertion of diasporan realities where multi-directional, heterogeneous modes of representation challenge conventional representation via photographs; newspaper articles; maps; city directories; records of immigration, birth and death; as well as scholarly research and archaeological records. recombinant is a work of insistence, a refusal of erasure, a proof of shared memory through the rewriting and remixing of historical remnant.
Praise for recombinant
The sweat of migrants, the starving bodies of impoverished workers, the they-children raised for export, the identification cards of the disobedient bodies with multiple names, the testimonies in interrogation rooms, the manufactured girl-bombs: the historical and linguistic presence, aliveness and residue of ancestral, immigrant lineages…in recombinant these entities are synthesized into brilliantly engineered narratives that chronicle the limits of what can be held at the borders we construct around our various identities, be they bodily, linguistic, national, occupational, familial, commercial….This is an intricate, careful, impression-making, impressive novel of a poem that necessarily exposes the secret testimonies and histories of the worlds among us that our larger world wishes us to never understand or see.
Promising "[n]o memory what I held in my mouth that bright morning," Ching-In Chen's recombinant undertakes the difficult work of witnessing without false promises of consolation or recognition. Accumulating and unsettling the cartographic records and rememorabilia of lives lived and lives lost to violence in this land that is always island, recombinant maps histories of Yellow Peril, race riots, and white slavery, the latter as imaginary alibi for the former, and opens out their interlock with and interlocution of anti-Black racisms, slaveries and lynchings and ongoing colonial genocides of Indigenous peoples.
How might a poem diagram destruction? What survives records or doesn't, leaves traces, ledgers or ghosts' marginalia? It is a bleak and beautiful summoning, one that discovers/inscribes a world anew in testifying to the destruction of this one.
Ching-In Chen's recombinant is an innovative and powerful collection about genealogy, migration, survival, gender, memory, and ecology. The poems unearth and recombine fragments from museum artifacts, laws, census data, and historical archives with lyric reflections and open-heart composition strategies. By the end, you will feel haunted by the ghosts and ancestors who have continued their journey in the vessel of the poet's tongue.
—Craig Santos Perez
Cover illustration: Geraldine Lau, "Information Retreival 131 (Central Pacific Railroad)," 2007.
The Heart's Traffic
Published in 2009 from Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press, The Heart's Traffic is Ching-In's debut collection of poems.
This novel-in-poems chronicles the life of Xiaomei, an immigrant girl haunted by the death of her best friend. Told through a kaleidoscopic braid of stories, letters, and riddles, this stunning debut collection follows Xiaomei's life as she grows into her sexuality and searches for a way to deal with her complicated histories.
At times, meditation, celebration, investigation, and elegy, this is a book about personal transformation within the context of a family forced to make do—a Makeshift Family—and how one might create new language to name the New World.
Praise for The Heart's Traffic
Ching-In Chen composes a book-length sequence that inventively incorporates such Western and Eastern forms as the sestina, villanelle, epistle, haibun, pantoum, and zuihitsu. 'A girlbirth in the flanks of the zodiac, / a gift of fossilizing heat,' she writes in this mythic, cross-cultural collection.
At the overwhelming crossroads, where the body, sexuality, and culture collide, you will find The Heart's Traffic fibrillating with emotion and pumping forth the strained language that shudders off the tongue, 'end of the intimate and divine source.' No wonder, then, that these poems warrant such innovation of shape, direction and structure, such defiance of pleasantries and political correctness—they thrive 'objecting to the world around them.' Ching-In Chen has come out to unsettle the poetry stage with a debut collection that shimmers with fierceness and 'sunslickstarfight.'
Ching-In destroys idioms, genres, 'crafts' and the various literary borders and orders of East/West canons. Then she re-stories (not "restores") an anti-poem made of anti-novels and anti-heroes and sheroes. I am captivated by her labyrinth voices, by Xiaomei's wicked tender wand, by Ching-In's anti- I-Chings of parable, wisdom jokes, love letters, word-tables, false self-immolations, anti-ethnographies and brutal investigations of double-heavens and double underworlds. This is brilliant super-nova bursting-bursting love and loss and mind and body and greedy-mouth-demon-sparrow spirit. A magic language sorceress power-kit. A border-breaking, time-bending, space-burning, herstory-making work. Number one, if there were numbers.
—Juan Felipe Herrera, Author of Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems
One knows from the amazing number of modes and styles in The Heart's Traffic that Ching-In Chen is no ordinary poet. She is in fact many poets at once: a poet of wide ranging forms, a poet of resonant voices, and most significantly, a poet anchored by intensity. Shapely and wild, personal and cultural, tough and vulnerable, this is a poet and a poetry of steadfast innovation and depth.
Ching-In's first book, The Heart's Traffic, constructs a re-naming, a caterwaul call to arms to attend to an archipelago of hybrid identity: political, sexual, and always love-persuaded. Here the father is temporary, the mother is dead-alive and girls are writing tiger-legends through sestina, haibun, and the lost letters that must be reinvented if we can understand this new American body.
Aside from my blog (Sunslick Starfish) where I will be posting poems, prose, and news, my work can be found online at the links below.
- Poemelon - 4 poems from Volume III Issue I, Summer 2008
- Tea Party - "Fob," poem from Issue #17
- Asian American Poetry - "After Virginia Tech," poem from September 2007
- In Our Own Words - "War," poem from Volume 4, Fall 2006
- Asian American Movement Ezine - "Solidarity Trip to Another World: Where Other Worlds are Possible and Surviving," article from June 2004
- Asian American Poetry and Writing - "Lending Us Luminous Words," interview with Kawita Kandpal from September 2008
- We Will Not Be Moved!: a Story of Oakland Chinatown - a poem-film
- Inland Empire Literary Podcasts - Ching-In Chen speaks with UC Riverside professor of music Dr. Deborah Wong about music, performance, and culture in Asian American and Southeast Asian communities, October 2008