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About this poet

Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon. She received a BA from the University of Massachusetts and an MFA from the University of Iowa.

She is the author of A Portrait of the Self As Nation: New and Selected Poems (forthcoming 2018, W. W. Norton); Hard Love Province (W.W. Norton, 2014), which won the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (W. W. Norton, 2002); The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (Milkweed Editions, 1994); and Dwarf Bamboo (Greenfiled Review Press, 1987). In addition to writing poetry, she has translated poems by the modern Chinese poet Ai Qing and co-translated poems by the Japanese poet Gozo Yoshimasu. She is also the author of a novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (W. W. Norton, 2009).

She has won numerous awards for her poetry, including the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at Bellagio, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, five Pushcart Prizes, a Fulbright Fellowship to Taiwan, the SeaChange fellowship from the Gaea Foundation, the United Artist Foundation Fellowship, as well as residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Lannan Foundation, and the Djerassi Foundation.

Her work has been featured in a variety of anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, The Norton Introduction to Poetry, The Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, Unsettling America, The Open Boat, and The Best American Poetry of l996. She was featured in Bill Moyers’ PBS series The Language of Life.

Chin has taught at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and served as guest poet at universities in Singapore, Hong Kong, Manchester, Sydney, and Berlin. In 2018, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is currently professor emerita at San Diego State University.


Bibliography

Poetry
A Portrait of the Self As Nation: New and Selected Poems (forthcoming 2018, W. W. Norton)
Hard Love Province (W.W. Norton, 2014)
Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (W. W. Norton, 2002)
The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (Milkweed Editions, 1994)

Prose
Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (W. W. Norton, 2009)

How I Got That Name

an essay on assimilation

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of "be," without the uncertain i-n-g
of "becoming."  Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paperson
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated "Mei Ling" to "Marilyn."
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse—for we all know
lust drove men to greatness,
not goodness, not decency.
And there I was, a wayward pink baby,
named after some tragic white woman
swollen with gin and Nembutal.
My mother couldn't pronounce the "r."
She dubbed me "Numba one female offshoot"
for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die
in sublime ignorance, flanked
by loving children and the "kitchen deity."
While my father dithers,
a tomcat in Hong Kong trash—
a gambler, a petty thug,
who bought a chain of chopsuey joints
in Piss River, Oregon,
with bootlegged Gucci cash.
Nobody dared question his integrity given
his nice, devout daughters
and his bright, industrious sons
as if filial piety were the standard
by which all earthly men are measured.

*

Oh, how trustworthy our daughters,
how thrifty our sons!
How we've managed to fool the experts
in education, statistic and demography—
We're not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning.
Indeed, they can use us.
But the "Model Minority" is a tease.
We know you are watching now,
so we refuse to give you any!
Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots!
The further west we go, we'll hit east;
the deeper down we dig, we'll find China.
History has turned its stomach
on a black polluted beach—
where life doesn't hinge
on that red, red wheelbarrow,
but whether or not our new lover
in the final episode of "Santa Barbara"
will lean over a scented candle
and call us a "bitch."
Oh God, where have we gone wrong?
We have no inner resources!

*

Then, one redolent spring morning
the Great Patriarch Chin
peered down from his kiosk in heaven
and saw that his descendants were ugly.
One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge
Another's profile—long and knobbed as a gourd.
A third, the sad, brutish one
may never, never marry.
And I, his least favorite—
"not quite boiled, not quite cooked,"
a plump pomfret simmering in my juices—
too listless to fight for my people's destiny.
"To kill without resistance is not slaughter"
says the proverb.  So, I wait for imminent death.
The fact that this death is also metaphorical
is testament to my lethargy.

*

So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin,
married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong,
granddaughter of Jack "the patriarch"
and the brooding Suilin Fong,
daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong
and G.G. Chin the infamous,
sister of a dozen, cousin of a million,
survived by everbody and forgotten by all.
She was neither black nor white,
neither cherished nor vanquished,
just another squatter in her own bamboo grove
minding her poetry—
when one day heaven was unmerciful,
and a chasm opened where she stood.
Like the jowls of a mighty white whale,
or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla,
it swallowed her whole.
She did not flinch nor writhe,
nor fret about the afterlife,
but stayed!  Solid as wood, happily
a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized
by all that was lavished upon her
and all that was taken away!

From The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty by Marilyn Chin, published by Milkweed Editions. Copyright © 1994 Marilyn Chin. Used with permission.

From The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty by Marilyn Chin, published by Milkweed Editions. Copyright © 1994 Marilyn Chin. Used with permission.

Marilyn Chin

Marilyn Chin

Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon. The author of five poetry collections, she currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
War chariots thunder, horses neigh, the barbarians are coming.
What are we waiting for, young nubile women pointing at the wall,
   the barbarians are coming.
They have heard about a weakened link in the wall. So,
poem
You go home one evening tired from work,
and your mother boils you turtle soup.
Twelve hours hunched over the hearth
(who knows what else is in that cauldron.)

You say, “Ma, you’ve poached the symbol of long life;
that turtle lived four thousand years, swam
the Wei, up the Yellow, over the Yangtze.
Witnessed the
poem
            The prince speaks

Let me lower the curtains, my love
   Our last night together is brief
Let me straighten our wedding quilt
   And warm it for you, my love

Let me fold your nightgown, my love
   Let me unfasten your hair
Let me lift the veil from your face
   To see my bride’s last cry