House A

Jennifer Cheng. Omnidawn, $17.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-63243-023-6
In her elegiac debut, Cheng, winner of the 2015 Omnidawn 1st/2nd Book Prize, excavates the nostalgic ephemera of the immigrant home. The poems are delicate and dexterous, with Cheng juxtaposing diasporic history with childhood memory. Through eloquent stitching of a childhood dream, she resurrects an estranged home’s haunting air: “You were dust in my house. A shadow underneath the floorboards.” Anchored by the language of dislocation, each poem stands out as a courageous attempt to find what is imagined as home. Cheng translates the idea of home into a wholly new narrative, asking, “If the birds of history alight by a ritual of body and landscape, do they make the return out of longing, out of heartache?” The language of diaspora is often drowned out by a popular emphasis on historical language, but Cheng’s poetry is instead an “architectural palimpsest” of immigrant longing. In three sections—“Dear Mao,” “House A; Geography B,” and “How to Build an American Home”—Cheng utilizes the markers of immigrant language sparingly and demonstrates how that experience is more than history. In this house history is hidden, but shadows every line: “an immigrant is like this: cirrus, circular, circulate.” Cheng’s poems are a “layer of skin” that she is “inclined to peel”—a litany that takes the reader closer to the marrow. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 11/07/2016
Release date: 10/01/2016
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