poem index

book

Split

Year

2014

Type

Poetry Book
Split by Cathy Linh Che

The title of Che’s debut collection, winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize, suggests the original Greek meaning of the word trauma: wound, that which splits the mind or flesh. “The projector / in my chest / is a home movie,” Che writes, and here, the projected trauma is twofold—of immigrant parents haunted by the legacy of the Vietnam War (a father whose “psyche is shot through,” a mother who “still dreams / of the war”) and of a young woman whose memories of childhood are dominated by sexual abuse. But in Che’s unflinching free-verse poems, these traumas are, like the bedsores she describes on her dying grandmother’s body, “mouths / that refused to close.” As Che “sing[s] into the confessional,” the act of witness becomes an act of defiance, a refusal to accept conquest and victimhood. “I look into [the bathwater] and read my past,” she writes in "Transmutations.” “It is a difficult book. I prop it up.” And though hers is a book suffused with pain—both inherited and lived-through—love is its relentless redemptive force, in all its complex and troubled forms, filial and erotic. In her final lines, she admits: “I want to rewrite everything. / In love, my back arched / like a cat’s.” Thankfully for Che—and her readers—these poems already possess a feline resilience and grace.


This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2014.

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