Although most of what I write is not direct autobiography, I do tend to start from personal experience. “After Ten Years in America…” began with a childhood memory of my grandmother making dozens of banh chưng–sticky-rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves and layered with mung beans, pork, and fish sauce–to celebrate the Vietnamese Lunar New Year at her house in suburban Seattle. Each cake is pretty hefty and needs to be boiled for almost a full day. When my grandmother discovered that she didn’t have enough room to cook on her stovetop, she built a makeshift cauldron in her basement using a metal garbage can and firewood. Improvisation and all, she won praise for the most authentic-tasting banh chưng in town. This was a huge source of pride for my grandmother, who had left behind almost everything authentically hers when she fled wartime Saigon for the United States in the 1970s. It’s also an important image for me, proof that my grandmother and so many others like her aren’t just victims passively dislocated in the sweep of history. They are resourceful and creative survivors who carry old traditions to their new homes, moving beyond circumstance to remake their lives in meaningful ways.
“Harvest” and “After Ten Years In America, My Grandmother Decides to Celebrate Tet”, two strong, vivid and memorable poems by Kim-An Lieberman, will be featured in the September 2010 issue of Cha. “Harvest” contains an image of a girl collecting ‘fragments’: beads, buttons, twigs; the persona says: ‘She is not knowing, / just doing. A small thing jealous of the world’. Then the poem presents a surprising twist.
Kim-An was kind enough to tell us more about the inspiration of “After Ten Years In America”, a poem that brings tears to a Cha co-editor’s eyes on every reading. The story below adds to the power of the piece:–
Bio: Kim-An Lieberman is a writer of Vietnamese and Jewish American descent, born in Rhode Island and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Breaking the Map, her debut collection of poetry, was published in 2008 by Blue Begonia Press. Her work also appears in Prairie Schooner, Threepenny Review, Poets of the American West, and other journals and anthologies. Lieberman has been a featured reader at venues including the Skagit River Poetry Festival, the San Francisco International Poetry Festival, and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley and has spent many years in the classroom, teaching writing and literature at every level from 5th grade through college. Visit Lieberman’s website for more.