Ask a Poet: Marilyn Chin

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Welcome to the Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today’s featured poet is Marilyn Chin!

ChinHey Marilyn! What’s new with you?
My new book A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems will be published in October, 2018. I can’t wait to read some of the poems to the Dodge audience. It’s a selection from 30 years of “activist” poetry, that is to say, I cover a lot of relevant social and political themes: identity, race relations, war, justice, feminism, poverty, immigration, biculturalism…all that important stuff. And Oh, yes, I also include poems about love, friendship, family, animals, Goddesses and all that fun stuff. What else is new? I am taking hip hop dancing classes and doing hot yoga!

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
When I was two years old and living in Hong Kong. My grandma used to carry me on her back and recite Chinese poetry to me. She was illiterate but had an amazing memory. She had memorized hundreds of poems and Confucian, Buddhist and folk sayings. I believe that hearing poetry very early in my life – even in an ancient Chinese dialect that I couldn’t fully understand – doomed me to a life of poetry!

Do you have a favorite Festival moment from the past?
When I performed at the Dodge Fest in 2016, a student was so into the moment that she spontaneously got out of her seat, climbed up onto the stage and sang my poem “Blues on Yellow” in a beautiful bluesy, jazzy sultry voice! She felt that this poem needed to be sung. She felt that I did not do it justice by just reciting it! The entire audience erupted with applause. Certainly, this was an exciting and humbling moment for me. I learned so much from this student – Obviously, a blues poem comes from a musical tradition and should be sung, duh! I shall cherish this moment forever.

Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2018); Hard Love Province (W.W. Norton, 2014), which won the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (W. W. Norton, 2002); The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (Milkweed Editions, 1994); and Dwarf Bamboo (Greenfiled Review Press, 1987). Her many honors include the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at Bellagio, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Wallace Stegner Fellowship, and the PEN/Josephine Miles Award. In 2018, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is currently professor emerita at San Diego State University. 

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