Friday, June 10, 2005

Reading Tina Chang In Central America

Reading Half-Lit Houses in Central America is a good fit. The poems are striking and then elusive, tangible and then gone. I think of ghosts when I am in Central or South America. Two years ago, in Cusco, Peru I wrote some (of what I considered to be good) poems about ghosts. In the plaza in Cusco, there is a restaurant named Yaku Mama (delicious bread!) where ghosts were always present. Lima inspired a poem I wrote called, "Ghost in a Museum," in which the ghost of artist Carlos Baca Flor inhabits the musuem and watches the old Peruvians sweep the tile floor. These poems are being published in a forthcoming anthology of Korean adoptee writing.

I liked Tina Chang's book right away, and I am enjoying it upon many rereads. Good poems do that, of course, ask you back for more time together because the time between you is meaningful. I keep thinking about countries and poems. Five years ago in Beijing I found a copy of Ginsberg's Howl translated into Mandarin (I also found a great, authorized biography of Chairman Mao written by his longtime bodyguard). I found some So Chong Ju in Seoul as well as having a copy sent to me once by the generous Stephen Wunrow at Korean Quarterly for a review I wrote for them. Can you imagine my awe at reviewing So Chong Ju?

Anyway, Tina Chang reads well here. I don't think straightforward, linear narrative would be as enjoyable (it usually isn't anyway). Something about the pace of life in Central America reminds me of some of the poems...purposeful but airy and meandering, deliberative yet tight.

At least my copy of her book is still dry. Yesterday we made the treacherous hike through Parque Nacional El Imposible (near the Guatemalan border), over seven hours of very steep climbing. Five hours in, a thunderstorm hit and drenched us---among the soaked items were my passport, money, and journal...but among the dry were my camera for more pictures and Half-Lit Houses for more nights of good reading ahead.

p.s. If you've read this far, thank you for your interest. I hope to post a few poems sooner than later, and I definitely hope to post more regularly when I return to the U.S. (late June). Til next time.



Anonymous said...

Dear Lee,

I stumbled upon this entry quite by accident. What a surprise...thinking of my book traveling all the way to Central America. I appreciated your insight and I'm glad you enjoyed my poems. The book took me a good seven years to write so it's heartening to know that there are great readers out there. I also love So Chong-Ju's work which I'm publishing in an anthology that I hope will be out in the next few years. Thanks again for your comments. How thoughtful and enlightening. - Tina Chang

Lee Herrick said...

How cool to have you post here, Tina. It's nice to "meet" you. I want to ask you a couple of questions, so if you happen to peek back here and read this, email me at if you have some time.

I wish you the very best with your book. It deserves wide readership and will no doubt receive it. If you are ever in Central California, I would love to host a reading for you.