24 Sep / The Heart’s Traffic by Ching-In Chen
The “traffic” in Chen’s collection revolves around broken love, made even more jarring by a literal jaggedness on the page with the layout of her words. The protagonist, Xiaomei, loses love too many times. In childhood, her first loss is her father who “disappeared into the black hole of America.” She loses her childhood best friend Sparrow to disappearance, probably death. The familiarity of her birth country vanishes with immigration; in her new world, she loses her identity to strangers who shape her into “Ching Chong Chinaman.” As an adult, she falls in love – much to her family’s disapproval – with a woman once named Jing Jing who will later become unrecognizable as Jenny.
Chen uses a wide variety of poetic forms – from sestinas to riddles to gazal to a zuihitsu – to enhance the troubled “traffic” of her heart. She has an inventive style of layering multiple voices both with words and with the physical layout on the page. Most memorably, Chen’s clever, intertwined use of actual interviews with Arthur Golden, author of the infamous Memoirs of a Geisha (oh do NOT get me started!), and Mineko Iwasaki, the real-life geisha whose life story Golden apparently stole, in “The Geisha Author Interviews” is not to be missed!