The Operating System

6th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: Day 1 :: Michelle Lin on Chen Chen

For this, the 6th Annual iteration of our beloved Poetry Month 30/30/30 series/tradition, I asked four poets (and previous participants) to guest-curate a week of entries, highlighting folks from their communities and the poets who’ve influenced their work.
I’m happy to introduce Janice Sapigao, Johnny Damm, Phillip Ammonds, and Stephen Ross, who have done an amazing job gathering people for this years series! We’re so excited to share this new crop of tributes with you. Hear more from our four guest editors in the introduction to this year’s series.
Hungry for more? there’s 150 previous entries from past years here! You should also check out Janice’s piece on Nayyirah Waheed, Johnny’s piece on Raymond Roussel, Phillip’s piece on Essex Hemphill, and Stephen’s piece on Ronald Johnson’s Ark, while you’re at it.
This is a peer-to-peer system of collective inspiration! No matriculation required.
Enjoy, and share widely.

– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator [/blockquote][/box]
These writers with San Francisco Bay Area roots who’ve honored and shared their love and praise of poets remind me that to write is to spend time. I asked Rachelle Cruz, Denise Benavides, mgb, Steffi Drewes, Michelle Lin, Erick Sáenz, and Li Patron to write their poetic homages, so that I could, in essence, spend time with them and the words that keep them company. In and outside of writing, I admire these folks – and the ones they’ve written about – because of their activism and the literary spaces they’ve created for queer, trans, nonbinary, DIY/DIT (do-it-yourself/do-it-together), students, and communities of color. Each of these writers has, in the past year, published their first book, or zine, or seminal script for a theatrical production. This year has been, as we say in the Bay, Hella Lit.
This is what we spend our time doing.
In the Bay, we refused to be slept on by outsiders. We are always awoken by our passion for righting the wrongs and social change. We are known for our diversity and liberal politics, but this masks our resistance and the disparities we see slowly produced every day.  We are writing, emerging, and honoring the folks who’ve cleared a path for us to share.
Thank you for taking the time to read.

– Janice Lobo Sapigao [/box]


Day 1 :: Michelle Lin on Chen Chen

I can’t remember the first time I saw Chen Chen read his work, but he was most likely wearing a wonderful shirt with a splendid pattern—a print of something cute, and bold. What I am grateful for in Chen’s poetry is the embodiment of what is at once cute and the bold, the magic-making and worlds-rendering of pattern and anaphora—all the glimmering possibilities held there.
[…] for I will do/undo what was done/undone to me:
to be brought into a patterned world of weathers
& reports. & thus I pledge allegiance to the always
partial, the always translated, the always never
of knowing who’s walking around, what’s being left behind,
the signs, the cries, the breadcrumbs & the blood. the toe-
nails & armpit hair of our trying & failing to speak
our specks of here to the everywhere, dirty snow of my weary
city, I ask you to tell me a story about your life
From “For I will do/undo what was done/undone to me” in When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Future Possibilities (BOA Editions, LTD). First featured in PANK magazine.
When I read Chen’s poems, I am reminded of Toi Derricotte’s famous quote “Joy is an act of resistance.” The joy of Chen’s language-play and whimsy is not simply a resistance against the structures that seek to destroy queer POC, immigrant life, but also a resistance against us forgetting our own hearts during the exhaustion of resisting.
My job is to trick adults
into knowing they have
hearts. My heart whose
irregular plural form is
Hermes. My Hermes
whose mouths are wings
& thieves, begging
the moon for a flood
of wolves, the reddest
honey. My job is to trick
myself into believing
there are new ways
to find impossible honey.
For I do not know all the faces
of my family, on this earth.
Perhaps it will take a lifetime
(or five) to discover every
sister, brother. Heartbeat
elephantine, serpentine,
opposite of saturnine.
I drive in the downpour,
the road conjugated
into uproar, by hearts
I do not know.
From “Spell to Find Family” in When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Future Possibilities (BOA Editions, LTD). First featured in Nepantla
[/box] [line]
Chen’s work has “tricked” me into remembering my own heart. It is fearful, most times. It is overwhelmingly tired and lonely living with capitalism. Often, it forgets why poetry? It forgets to laugh. My heart forgets this work is never without promise and possibility.
……………………………………………………………… […] Trying to get
over what my writer friend said, All you write about is being gay or Chinese.
Wish I had thought to say to him, All you write about is being white
or an asshole. Wish I had said, No, I already write about everything—
& everything is salt, noise, struggle, hair,
carrying, kisses, leaving, myth, popcorn,
mothers, bad habits, questions.
From “Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls” in When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Future Possibilities (BOA Editions, LTD). First featured in Print-Oriented Bastards.

How resilient we are to still have so much love, even when in grief or rage. In fact, how beautiful this resilience where our love only grows rounder collectively with our grief and rage. The joy in Chen’s poems is not a forgetting joy. It is not a joy that erases or dismisses anything or any people. It is a joy that does not compromise anything.
………………………………..[…] Do I have to
forgive in order to love? Or do I have to love
for forgiveness to even be possible? What do you think?
I’m trying out this thing where questions about love & forgiveness
are a form of work I’d rather not do alone. I’m trying to say,
Let’s put our briefcases on our heads, in the sudden rain,
& continue meeting as if we’ve just been given our names.
From “Poplar Street” in When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Future Possibilities (BOA Editions, LTD). First featured in Poetry magazine.
I carry Chen’s work with me to remember the root: the joy of language, of play, of the “anything” and the “everything.” Of sudden elephants, and jelly beans, and nipples, and attics, and the profane. In the face of growing up, in the loneliness of capitalism and its demands, of everyday mourning and survival, I am reminded of the transformative power of poetry to endure it all.
I am 8 again, hidden in some dusty corner of my immigrant family’s home, writing gleaming possibilities and hopes to myself, for myself. I am learning—maybe for the first time, maybe for the 100th time—this country’s demand for us to compromise. I am understanding that in language play, such compromises are transgressed a trillion times over. I remember to laugh in the face of it all. I know my own heart.
[textwrap_image align=”left”][/textwrap_image] Michelle Lin is a poet, activist, and author of A House Made of Water (Sibling Rivalry Press), a lyrical examination of Asian American identity, gender and daughterhood, the inheritance of stories, and survival from trauma. Her poems can be found in HEArt, Apogee, Powder Keg Magazine, Dusie, Asian American Literary Review, North American Review, ZYZZYVA, Adrienne, Quaint Magazine, Aster(ix), and more. She has performed for Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture, grlhood-redefining the I // here I am, Litquake, and more. Her work was showcased in Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s “Lo Writer of the Week” and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s Public Poetry Project. She has taught art and poetry for the Gluck Fellows Program for the Arts, LEAPS summer program, Young Writer’s Institute, and the University of Pittsburgh. She has edited for journals Hot Metal Bridge, B. E. Quarterly, and Mosaic, and currently serves as Poetry Reader for Twelfth House Journal. She works for API Legal Outreach, a social justice non-profit serving marginalized communities in the greater Bay Area. She is a Kundiman fellow.

[box]Next up: Day 2 :: Leslie Patron on Lisa Donovan[/box]

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