115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Backward Glances: The Poetics of Marilyn Chin and Li-Young Lee

Ying Zhu, Macao Polytechnic Institute

Marilyn Chin and Li-Young Lee, adopt a “poetics of translations” through their backward glances at the Chinese poetic tradition as well as their re-interpretation of an American poetic tradition.  Chin and Lee advocate a “poetics of trans-nations” in which they engage their cultural inheritances forcefully and in turn transform them into a reservoir of creativity that helps them come to terms with their double allegiances: the Chinese and the American poetic heritages.

 

Proposal: 

The current research on two contemporary Chinese American poets Marilyn Chin (b.1955) and Li-Young Lee (b.1957) attempts to look into their intertwined and inquisitive relationship with a Chinese culture and a Chinese past that have been taken away from them due to the immigration early in their childhood.

Though both born outside of but grew up and were educated in the United States, Chin and Lee’s sense of foreignness and outsider status has always been a vital incentive in their personal and explicitly autobiographical poetry in which each has to make a troubled yet dynamic reconciliation with their varied consciousness. Furthermore, Chin and Lee stress the everlasting tension between two worlds—the Chinese society they have left behind and the American society they are living in, as well as the struggles and frustrations of cultural assimilation and the subsequent loss of one’s language, religion, and sense of self.

Drawing upon different cultural influences and practicing diverse poetic strategies, both Marilyn Chin and Li-Young Lee, the essay argues, adopt a “poetics of translations” through their backward glances at the Chinese poetic tradition during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) as well as their re-interpretation of an American poetic tradition heralded by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. In so doing, Chin and Lee advocate a “poetics of trans-nations” in which they engage their cultural inheritances forcefully and in turn transform them into a reservoir of creativity that helps them come to terms with their double allegiances: the Chinese and the American poetic heritages.

This essay is divided into three sections: the first section focuses on Chin and Lee’s re-interpretation and renewal of the American poetic tradition and their application of Chinese Tang Dynasty poetic strategies. The second section focuses on some of Chin’s autobiographical poetry to illustrate her activist politics, gendered expressions, and her experiments on poetic form. The last section observes Lee’s representative autobiographical poetry for understanding the important of a historical past (Chinese culture) and a recent past (exile, refugee, and immigrant) in his present American life.

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