Revenge of the mooncake vixen

Ashley Perez

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Award-winning poet Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Ore. Her work expresses her experiences as an Asian-American and as a politically attuned woman. She has read and taught workshops all over the world. Recently, Chin presented a workshop held by the World Cultures program on March 19.

Chin’s witty humor and vibrant energy showed while performing several poems, including an autobiographical poem “How I Got That Name: An Essay on Assimilation” in which Chin bluntly describes her father’s infatuation with Western culture and transliterating her name ‘Mei Ling’ to ‘Marilyn”. Chin expressed that her father, a restaurant proprietor in Oregon, incongruously named her after the American actress and cultural icon Marilyn Monroe. She described Monroe in her poem as “some tragic white woman/swollen with gin and Nembutal”.

A spectator in the audience asked how Chin became so brutally honest while reciting poetry. Searching for an answer, Chin threw her head back laughing and belted out, “Don’t let anybody censor you!”

Chin stressed the everlasting personal struggle between two cultures. She addressed Chinese stereotypes that served only to minimize the humanity of individual Chinese Americans. Influenced by both traditional Chinese culture and contemporary American society, Chin offered the unsettling relationship between these two worlds through her bold and enlightening words. Chin’s openness about sexuality and social roles of women of color have earned her a reputation as a courageous and valuable political feminist poet.

The poet’s intensity was also noted by a Publishers Weekly critic, who said that Chin’s “stalwart declaration” provides her poetry with a “grounded force, line to line; and her imagery, simple and spare, lifts up those same lines.”

As an instructor in the Master of Fine Arts Program at San Diego State University, Chin stresses to her students there to “push the limits,” as well as exposing them to many different forms that cross cultures and languages. “I try to stress that they learn in another language and relate to poetry in another language.”

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