Cover illustration: Geraldine Lau, Information Retreival 131 (Central Pacific Railroad), 2007.
by Ching-In Chen
Forthcoming in March 2017.
Available to pre-order:
A limited number of early release copies will be available to purchase at the AWP Bookfair in Washington, D.C. and at author readings in February.
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
Excerpts from recombinant on Barzakh
Artist Geraldine Lau's website