chingPhoto: Sarah Grant

Chin-In Chen is author of The Heart’s Traffic and co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities. A Kundiman, Lambda and Callaloo Fellow, Chen is part of Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities, and was a participant in Sharon Bridgforth’s Theatrical Jazz Institute.

Chen, this year’s UC Riverside M.F.A. alumna reader, reads a poem titled “American Syntax”. She then explains how her poetic syntax is heavily influenced by her experiences as a young girl, when her immigrant parents would ask her to help them with various letters and documents to correct their English. The stiff precision of the resulting prose stuck with Chen, who later in life found beauty and poetry in that struggle, and it has impacted her writing to this day.

¤

American Syntax

The teacher straightbacked,
faced me off, her eyes.
My face in the cleave of
her shoulder, my bones
sitting high my cheek.
The word proper
arrives in the hall.  The order
of things, rolling
neat into pine drawers, dead-
clean. Squeezed juice of greedy
sponge.
Her teeth not match.
One chipped.  The corner lifted,
peeking a window, furtive.
The other, pearl, round
and perfect, looming above my
arched head.  About to bite.

¤

Filmed at UC Riverside on February 4, 2015. Interview by Tom Lutz