Henry W. Leung, reviewer for Lantern Review, has written an extensive review of the current edition of Cha (Issue #12); the review is now available on the LR blog.

Henry emphasises, among other things, the Asian-themed poetry (‘Most of the poems in this issue fit the “Asian” label easily enough[.]’) and the translations (‘I laud Cha for being international and diglossic, because the presence—or shadow—of other languages encourages us to confront our own more objectively.’) in the issue as well as our critique column, A Cup of Fine Tea:

If you followed the links to these poems, you’ll know that many are paired with commentary or reviews in the correlating blog, A Cup of Fine Tea, emphasizing the dialogue that small-press literary journals are intended to be.

In the review, works by Annie Zaidi, Clara Hsu, Eddie Tay, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Helle Annette Slutz, Kim-An Lieberman, Marco Yan, Inara Cedrins and Peters Bruveris, Phill Provance, Steven Schroeder and W.F. Lantry are discussed, some very favourably. 

Henry also poses an important question to Cha editors in his review: as an Asian journal, should we be more aware of publishing pieces that fit the “Asian” label? Of course, “Asian” can be roughly interpreted at least two ways: 1) Asian-themed works and 2) works by Asian writers/artists. However, in his discussion, Henry suggests that content comes before authors’ racial make up or current location, as he points out that Annie’s and Marco’s poems, “Diaphragm” and “Remembrance” respectively, ‘don’t immediately fit any distinct cultural categories’, despite the fact that Annie is from Mumbai and Marco lives in Hong Kong. Henry reminds us, then, that a piece of work by an Asian-born or Asian-based writer does not by default make it “Asian”. I agree there is a distinction.

The discussion of “Asian-ness” reminded me of Jeff‘s editorial written for the second anniversary issue of Cha (Issue #9), in which he contemplates on the notion of “Asian writing community” in today’s globalised world:

I also had no sense of the diversity of the Asian writing community. When we began, I assumed that Asian writers were those found on the continent, locals, maybe a handful of expats. I have come to realise that this definition was far too narrow—that in a globalised world the idea of Asian writing must be more inclusive and fluid, must encompass the perspectives of writers from the diasporas, travellers to the region, even people with an interest in the continent. Asia it turns out is everywhere. All you have to do is open your doors. How else can one run a Hong-Kong based journal from a house in London?

Admittedly, the passage above does not cover works by ‘foreigners’ that are not in any way thematically relevant to Asia — a concern raised by Henry in his review of Cha. Looking through the journal’s archive, I can say that the prose pieces are all Asian-related while in other categories we have not been as strict. For example, in our selection of poetry, “Asian” is far from the first criteria that we use to judge a piece. Why is that? Henry has drawn our attention to a point that we will certainly be thinking some more. What are people’s thoughts on this?

Thank you, Henry and Lantern Review, for reading Cha so attentively and sharing your thoughts with us!

Also read “Cha A Literary Review Debate”

Meet Kim-An Lieberman

“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:

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.

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.