Categories
2020 Poetry

Dorothy Chan

TRIPLE SONNET AND THREE CHEERS OF WHITE RUSSIANS

The couple at the bar wants to adopt me, even though I’m twenty-four, and I’ve just
ordered a White Russian, and my date’s
waiting for me with his pitcher of beer,
and what was I thinking, ordering a drink
with cream in it, but at least it’s not milk,
when the wife asks me to recite a poem—
“Just a line,” she says. “I want to hear
your voice more,” as she calls her husband
to come over, and I forget about my date,
wondering if these people are looking to make
their celebrity fantasy come true, quenching
their desires for an Asian baby, only I’m not
a baby anymore, despite what some men

try to call me, and I can’t be a baby, because
I behave myself way too much, and I wonder if
the three of us are actually starring in a play
of three acts: in Act I, my character meets them
at a bar, and the wife character says she wants
to adopt me, but the audience knows, and I know
what this woman and her husband really want
isn’t an adoption, but a three-way encounter, and
hello, that’s the beauty of theater: the truth always
comes out. And question: is it considered Oedipal
or Elektra if you bang someone who is playing
your parent? I’m asking for a friend, really, since
I can’t say I’d do it, because I’m not anyone’s
fetish, and look, I get it. I hate clothes, and I might

as well be wearing a bib with my crop top and
mini skirt, and I love the video of the drag queen
getting a bib in the mail, saying she’ll bedazzle it,
rhinestoning it all over, and that would solve
at least two of my problems, and I’m drinking
a cocktail with cream in it, but at least it’s not
milk, sitting atop a pool table, spreading my legs
just a little, but not too much, reminding me of
time the Russian architect offered to buy me bulk
candy if I watched a German film with him, and
no boy, no, don’t you dare try to buy me, and deep
down, I’m really such a good girl, and in this three-
act play, I end up leaving the couple at the bar, alone
with their fantasies, return to my date—chug his beer.


TRIPLE SONNET FOR CHARGING ADMISSION

Rita says I need to charge admission,
because my dress keeps riding up during
a performance, and that’s what I call art.
That’s what I call power. That’s what I call
walking into the room in the nude, and Alexa,
play something that takes me to the pink section
of the nail salon, also known as Yena’s favorites,
also known as the pink pussy section—orgasm
on the cheeks in the greatest shade of all time,
and thanks to you and you, and of course, you,
and aren’t fingers the most delicate feature on
a woman, other than the collar bone, and I love it
when celebutantes are asked what their favorite
body part is, and they all point to their collar bone,

like it’s some kind of hot girl secret code,
and brush on some highlighter there, ladies.
I love nuance, like a whiff of coconut milk cream,
also known as not giving it all away. But baby,
if you want to give it all away, I won’t blame you.
I won’t blame you if you want to march into the room,
skirt riding up, feeding ice cream to an audience
member, and save a little for me, why don’t you.
And I love nuance, or how in Art History 200,
we’re taught to study the way artists painted
the hands of their muses, or in the words
of a boyband, Do you want to hold her hand?
Does she come alive out of the canvas?

And I think of Raphael’s La Fornarina:

Margherita Luti holding up that gossamer fabric
over her breasts, and oh, that smirk, and oh,
that look into the camera. My heart pounds
for her, and I think wow, she really knew what
was going on, didn’t she, Raphael’s name on fabric
over her arm, and I heard he was the dreamiest
Renaissance man, marking his paintings with
one look into the audience, because in the words
of today, having a camera around makes life
just a little more worth living, which is a wise
saying by a wise woman. And Rita says I need
to charge admission, because my dress
keeps riding up during a reading, and all
I have to say is buy a ticket. Baby, I own it. I own you.


TRIPLE SONNET FOR LOSING MY VIRGINITY AGAIN

I dream of losing my virginity again
in Singapore when I’m in a deep sleep
on a queen bed with fluffed pillows
and white sheets—Good night, Dorothy.
And sometimes in life, I feel like a virgin,
because my ears aren’t pierced, no tattoos—
aren’t I such a nice girl for you to take home
to Mommy? Let me bake cookies for her,
messing up in pigtails and a frilly apron
in the kitchen, while the intercom yells,
Baking is a science, or some other gibberish
I don’t care for—I’m such a nice, wholesome
girl licking the batter, and cookie dough’s
the best topping for brownies and ice cream,

and I flash you on the countertop, a pink thong
exposing my butt cheeks, straight out of your
pornographic memory, straight out of a home
video—press play, lick my cake, press play,
lick my cake—go ahead and lick whipped cream
off my nipples, off my chest, and I dream
of losing my virginity again in deep sleep
in Singapore, but now I’m transported to
an office, sitting on an office chair, answering
office emails, and an office man opens the door,
and he’s got the same face as a man I knew
from college. I get up, stroke his hair, tell him
to sit down, and I want him to enter me, oh
so badly, and he enters me right then and there

on the office chair, my pink panties tossed
aside, and I moan in pain, I moan in pleasure,
but isn’t that so cliché, reading like romance
novels, or remember in the early 2000s
modeling competitions when girls faced off
with looks serving Harlequin covers—look,
she’s a milkmaid and he’s a farmhand. Look,
she’s a poor girl and he’s from the upper crust,
and back in the office, I moan more, then wake
in Singapore on a white bed with fluffed pillows,
and I feel pain. I feel like I’m bleeding, only
there’s no blood. I think about my double loss
of stupidity and how no pain will ever top
the pain I feel right now as I’m awakened again.


Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinese Girl Strikes Back (Spork Press, forthcoming), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2020 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Poetry for Revenge of the Asian Woman, a 2019 recipient of the Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing from Cornell University, and a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared in POETRYThe American Poetry ReviewAcademy of American Poets, and elsewhere. Chan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Poetry Editor of Hobart.

Categories
2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Dorothy Chan

Dorothy Chan, author of Revenge of the Asian Woman

Revenge of the Asian Woman, Dorothy Chan

Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinese Girl Strikes Back (Spork Press, forthcoming), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, March 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She is a 2019 recipient of the Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing from Cornell University, a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, The Cincinnati Review, Quarterly West, The Offing, and elsewhere. Chan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Poetry Editor of Hobart.

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: We love the titles of your books and poems. Talk to us about your titles!

Dorothy Chan: Oh gosh, I love talking about titles. I could teach a whole semester’s workshop just on titles. My trick is to aim for titles that are four words or longer—don’t be afraid to give it all away—more is better. I always remember what my mentor Alberto Ríos said about lines: “The best line of the poem is the one that I am reading, and this does not exclude the title.” One time he told me that one of my poems shouldn’t be titled “Balloon Animals,” but instead, “Balloon Animals Set Free in Ibiza.” He was right.

Regarding my book titles, I like to joke that I have this hidden obsession with Star Wars (even though I know almost nothing about Star Wars), because my first three book titles are as follows: Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019), and Chinese Girl Strikes Back (Spork Press, forthcoming). So, Attack, Revenge, and Strikes Back. And yes, I know that Attack and Revenge are titles of the franchise’s prequels, but still, it’s fun to have this “trilogy” of first books. It’s a happy coincidence how the titles worked out.

Also, when you think about effective poem titles, think about timeliness movie titles, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) or It Happened One Night (1934). And of course, The Empire Strikes Back (1980). And oh, fun fact: Who Framed Roger Rabbit doesn’t contain a question mark, because the creators thought it’d be bad luck to have a question mark in a title—it’d be like questioning the success of the film. I apply this same idea to my poetry. I rarely use question marks. Even questions end in periods. Clipped sentences. Always be sure of yourself.

BRP: How long did it take for your first book to gestate? From conception to publication.

DC: I have about the worst memory, but it started as far back as my undergraduate years at Cornell. At Cornell, I was lucky enough to be mentored by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon. Lyrae is such a legend. And we’re still very close today. I remember writing two sonnet crowns in her workshop, and then one of them became the basis for my New Delta Review chapbook, Chinatown Sonnets, which is also a section in Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (2018).

BRP: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you?

DC: I do. This past summer I was on a strict one-poem-a-day schedule. It’s like vitamins.

I’m weird. I actually love pressure.

BRP: Who are you crushing on arts-wise?

DC: Gucci. Seriously. Have you seen their new furniture and décor? I especially love their blue seashell-shaped chairs and jellyfish wall dividers and their fun throw pillows with teddy bears, and tigers, and the infamous Gucci logo. It’s all so gorgeous and luxurious. I want to live in a movie that features that furniture.

Well, that was my answer from the past summer. I’m just very much driven aesthetically. Right now, I’m re-crushing on a bunch of East Asian artists, like Ren Hang, Nguan, Yoshitomo Nara, Ai Yamaguchi, and Jang Koal.

Oh, I also love going on the Pantone app and looking up my favorite colors.

BRP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?

DC: I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but I drink a lot of coffee and green tea.

I also watch Riverdale every Thursday. Riverdale is the greatest show on television. I’m kidding but I also 100% mean that. It contains film noir, melodrama, mystery, teen angst, a mix of high and low fashion, and many other things I love.

I also like taking a bath in the middle of the night. This helps clear my head and get into poetry mode.

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

DC: Everything my poetry dad, Norman Dubie has ever told me. He is everything.

Here’s a piece of his advice that will help everyone (paraphrased): I remember the first day of Norman’s workshop, the first day of the MFA at Arizona State. He told us to stay healthy, to eat well, and to limit our drinking. He said it was important to stay healthy because staying healthy also ensures good poetry and longevity of career.

I always think about Norman’s advice. The poetry world can feel so competitive sometimes, but it’s also important to keep the big picture in mind, in more ways than one. So, it’s important to stay healthy. If you’re not healthy, you can’t write your best poems. You can’t organize full-length collections. You can’t keep a clear, calm, and steady mind.

BRP: Do you keep a journal, or do you prefer to write on anything you can find?

DC: Right now, there’s about twenty or so Post-its on my desk, all filled with notes for the next next book.

I also keep journals, of course. They’re especially handy while traveling. But I think I actually jot down ideas on my iPhone Notes app the most. At times, I’ll have 100+ notes, all with poem ideas and opening lines.

BRP: When it comes to writing/editing, would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

Both. Always. I was telling my students this the other day: I love the part of the book process when you print out all your poems, lay them on the floor, and arrange and re-arrange their order. I love both the micro and macro aspects of revision. One technique I always reinforce in the classroom (regarding revision) is to do multiple “test runs” of the same poem, so make multiple copies of the same poem and don’t be afraid to really get in there and do major overhaul.

BRP: When and how does inspiration find you? For example, do you go outside to find it in nature, or does it suddenly come to you in the middle of the night?

DC: I’m not a nature person at all. More like inspiration from midnight to 4 AM, honestly. I also don’t necessarily believe in epiphanies. I believe in putting ideas to the page almost immediately.

BRP: If given the choice to spend 24 hours in a museum creating something, what medium would you prefer?

DC: I’m totally designing a whole fashion line. The problem is that I can’t sew. But I would get over that in order to make something very memorable. I wish I could have my own fashion line IRL. It’d be a mix of tomboy chic and Harajuku style, plus a little bit of early to mid-2000s celebutante. Oh, and also a little bit of Ivy League prep. Very eclectic yet practical. Street style at its finest. Very sexy too.  

BRP: Tell us about your new book and your new recipe form.

DC: The Triple Sonnet is my favorite form in Revenge of the Asian Woman. It’s basically three sonnets in a row, or to refer to my favorite quote by Liberace/Mae West: “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” I think the sonnet is the perfect form, so why have only one when you could have three in a row?

Revenge is set up in a triptych structure: I. Chinese Soap Opera, II. On the Menu, and III. Hong Kong Babe in Vegas. It’s about excess, it’s about “it,” and it’s about awakening. Here’s my elevator pitch: “Who doesn’t think kissing is the greatest thing / in the world other than eating?” Revenge of the Asian Woman comes to life on a sexed-up soap opera / B-movie platter where passion and food and fantasy reign supreme: excess in the form of full odes and triple sonnets with towers of macarons and carnival desserts and Hong Kong street food on a skewer—and make it a double.

The Recipe is the new form I recently invented, and there’s a whole section of these recipe poems in my forthcoming collection, Chinese Girl Strikes Back. There’s literally a recipe in the middle of the poem—I mean, what’s better than food and poetry? I love this third book so much. It’s just so decadent.

Order Revenge of the Asian Woman here!

Categories
2017 Poetry

Dorothy Chan

ODE TO NURSES, LOVE HOTELS,
AND MARILYNS ON THE COVERS OF PLAYBOY

I see two nurses kissing at the gay club,
              their latex dresses and Florence Nightingale caps
and white heels straight out of my childhood
              dreams of being like Hello Nurse
from Animaniacs, that blonde bombshell
              sex goddess cartoon with cleavage stacked
like bookshelves and red lips even tastier
              than the pizza she nibbled on in that scene
when Yakko and Wakko sing about her 160+ IQ
              and multiple PhDs, but you know what
they were really drooling over,
              leaving seven-year-old me to wonder
what place a little Asian girl has in this world
              of ’90s Marilyn Monroes running in slo-mo
on the beach wearing red swimsuits,
              their nipples perking up on primetime,
or fair-skinned sex kittens on the covers of
              Playboy, Hustler, and whatever men read
“for the articles,” girls-next-door
              with baby faces and bare bums,

while twenty-five-year-old me thinks
              about getting a guy who can “do both,”
because the kissing nurses are two blond pretty
              boys with just enough muscle, and oh,
how every time I’m attracted to a guy,
              I think about what he’ll look like in a dress,
because I refuse to be the only one with
              feminine wiles, and it’s funny how we’re
turned on by the simplest things,
              how love hotels in Japan have “Under the Sea”
themed rooms, and what woman wouldn’t
              want to get fucked dressed as a mermaid
and “In the Space Station,” a ’70s James Bond
              romp in the golden sack, then of course,
the Victorian rooms and the hot tubs
              surrounded by Roman pillars, and the red
bird cages for a little midnight dance,

              but what if I’d rather play doctor than
nurse, or teacher than schoolgirl,
              or fly you rather than ride you? Or why can’t
we have a go on the carousel
              in the middle of the funhouse, surrounded by
carnival mirrors, because I like you a little scared
              riding that horse, wrapped in my arms.


ODE TO SEXPOTS AND MY MOTHER’S RED STOCKINGS

All my mother wanted as a little girl was a pair
              of red stockings, her childish version of elegance,

the way scarlet would pop against her clothes,
              and I think about this when she sends me a package

of fishnets, because I like things a little sexpot,
              a little oh honey, it’s not what I did, but what

I can do to you tonight, and how my mother wanted red
              so bad it gave her a fever, because she grew up

with three siblings in a closet-sized Hong Kong apartment,
              my grandmother running the pajama stand downstairs,

my grandfather working in HR, bringing life-size dolls
              with glass eyes from Europe and watches from Sweden,

but never anything a girl wanted, and I see this image of my mother
              at fifteen at the dinner table: she and her sisters rush

through Grandfather’s noodles so they can run downstairs
              to the candy store before closing time, and let’s face it:

my grandfather’s never been the best cook, and my mother’s stuffing
              her face with vegetables when my father walks in—

he’s twenty-nine, a friend of my grandparents and that weird age gap
              between being too young to be their friends and too old

to date my mom, but I know the way she’s looking at him,
              the movie star of her apartment, like this could really be

something, but boy bye, I need to buy my chocolates first
              before closing time, and we’ll have a year to get together.


ODE TO SUSHI, SASHIMI, AND THE EELS IN THE TANK

My father hates sushi,
              and that’s the Chinese tiger in him talking
at the rotating sushi belt restaurant
              in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong,
as I grab a slab of sweet corn nigiri,
              my dreams of eating corn on everything
since the day I was born, now coming true,
              and Dad sticks to his grilled hamachi,
dumplings, and the sake we’re chugging,
              wondering why I craze over fatty tuna
belly and scallop and striped bass and sweet
              shrimp, because to him, it’s just hunks of raw fish
atop rice, made to look pretty,

              not to taste good, but if he only understood
chewing a piece of squid forever,
              or tasting the sponginess of tamago egg
just as sweet as it is yellow,
              or taking a lesson from The Three Bears:
sashimi that’s not too thick, not too thin,
              and behold foie gras sushi,
nigiri with mango cubes—
              ahhhh to all the wonders of mackerel,
the beauty of the shrimp head,
              the chirashi bowl, like a garden of flowers
from Wonderland, complete
              with cucumber centerpiece,
and seaweed salad that looks like mermaid’s hair,

but when the unagi on rice bed comes,
              I’m three again, remembering
the times we visited the wet market together,
              looking at the eels in the tanks,
me hiding behind him,
              my shield, my knight, the tiger that
growled at the water snakes jetting their heads
              out the tanks, as I begged to leave, crying,
wanting ice cream instead of this erotica:
              eels necking each other,
trying to neck me in, suck on me,
              and Dad would grab my hand,
buy me a strawberry cone, a red bean cone
              for him—on the walk home, a cone
in one hand, a bag of lychees and cherries
              in the other, he’d stop to buy me
the stuffed gorilla with the big nostrils
              I pointed at outside the toy shop window.

 


Dorothy Chan is the author of Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, forthcoming March 2018) and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared in Blackbird, Plume, The Journal, Spillway, Little Patuxent Review, The McNeese Review, Salt Hill Journal, and others. Chan is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com

Categories
2017 Poetry

Dorothy Chan

CHINESE GIRL VIDEOTAPE LEAKED

I want to be sex on legs,
your thinking man’s porn star
in a home video
that’ll never get leaked,
because I refuse to turn
into a rich blonde girl
in a velour tracksuit and fuzzy top
asking for five minutes
to take a call from a rhinestone
cell phone blinged out,
and you’re not getting me
in a cheongsam or kimono
or chopsticks in my hair
or a silk dragonfly blanket
wrapped around our naked bodies,
bamboo door exposing our shadows,
your Asian-fantasy-Manifest-Destiny-
’70s-Roger-Moore-Bond-era-
yellow-fever-piece-of-crap-
ending in a hot, hotter, hottest
tub scene, but not all East Asia’s
the same, and it’s a no go
if you can’t get to a woman’s heart,
or know when she eats mooncake,
and not puke at merely the mention
of durian, or learn what provinces
her parents came from,
why they came to America,
why her skin’s so soft
and her eyes so black,
or why she’s always craving
a sampler of dim sum for breakfast
and some Cantonese duck for dinner,
because unlike you,
not everything’s handed to her on a platter.


REVENGE OF THE ASIAN WOMAN

If I played roller derby, my name would be Yellow Fever,
             knocking out all those white boys from college
                           who used to whisper sweet nothings to me

in Mandarin, trying to seduce through the pure poetry
             of simplified Chinese on hand-delivered letters,
                           and come on, this is the 21st century,

and I’m not here to make friends or be your 4th grade pen pal
             just because you’re lonely after watching tentacle porn
                           for the first time, and you don’t understand real art:

how to sit during tea ceremonies or where to watch
             the best Chinese opera, and how buying a kimono
                           at EPCOT doesn’t qualify for a pass

to Tokyo Fashion Week, and you expect praise, idolatry,
             applause from the entire Chinese population
                           for your summers in Shanghai selling real estate,

working for Daddy, and oh, white boy, how you think every form
             of Asian food is a dumpling, because they’re all
                           so “cute and small,” just like your type of girl

with dark hair and red lips that you want to display as trophies,
             as “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” Japanese collectibles,
                           as vintage dolls from the mainland,

and they’re all interchangeable, and all of this is too good for you,
             so don’t you dare tell me how to pronounce “nigiri”
                           when you can’t even chug sake like a CEO

or tell me where to get the best Hong Kong buffet
             when you can’t stomach red bean and oyster sauce
                           and don’t know the difference between teas

and I don’t have time to help you pick out a soy sauce,
             so just accept the fact that I look great in gold short shorts
                          and will never take you back to my homeland.


IN SOHO, HONG KONG, A

KOREAN GOLD DIGGER BUYS EVERYTHING

My aunt is picking out blouses and I can’t help but stare:
the woman in fishnets and silver heels tries on cocktail outfits:
floral teacup dresses, lace shirts, floor-length skirts
golden, dramatic, matching the length of her glued-on lashes
and cheekbones higher than the Victoria Peak.
Her beau, an Australian Sugar, dandies himself,
taking a top hat off the mannequin, adding in a cane,
playing dress-up: he’s now a flaming-haired flâneur
from Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe—
the all-black outfit, hand over chin, pondering,
lying back while the woman’s the bold one.

The gold digger keeps asking about prices,
though she’s not the one with the wallet. I look at necklaces,
wondering how much money she plans on spending—
maybe after the next couple thousand, she’ll flee this man
and pick up a new one who’s hanging around an overpriced pub:
greasy fingers, mid-life crisis, loser back home,
ready to score big in Asia.
My aunt whispers, “It’s all happy shopping for now.”
I look at this woman, remembering all those Australian
and British men in Singapore night clubs who wanted to wine and
dine me, or that businessman from yesterday’s happy hour
who offered to buy me a red dress,
fly me to an Ivy League ball in Tokyo.
It’s a weird life. But who really holds the power?
Should I have gone off with that man,
taken the dress, seduced him on the dance floor,
make him buy me double shots of whiskey?
No, but I’ll take the weirdness and the power,
and I think back to Manet, how the nude woman
acts so unabashed, like she’s laughing at the viewer,
as my aunt is too busy buying tight sweaters plus a watch for me,
as we’re leaving and the Korean woman tries on
a top hat headband as her dandy admires her head of hair,
both their hats in tow like we’re in Paris at the turn of the century.
Is this the couple of the ages? Who are we anyway?

 


Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinatown Sonnets, which was selected by Douglas Kearney as the winner of New Delta Review’s 6th Annual Chapbook Contest. She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship and a 2017 finalist for the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry from Pleiades Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, The Journal, Spillway, Little Patuxent Review, The McNeese Review, and Salt Hill Journal. She is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com