Chosen by Bhanu Kapil
for the Tarpaulin Sky Press Book Awards
Paperback, 140 pp. Pub date: May 2018
Cover art by Maude Tanswai
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Mixing fable and fact, extraordinary and ordinary, Jennifer S. Cheng’s hybrid collection, Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems, draws on various Chinese mythologies about women, particularly that of Chang’E (the Lady in the Moon), uncovering the shadow stories of our myths — with the belief that there is always an underbelly. Moon explores bewilderment and shelter, destruction and construction, unthreading as it rethreads, shedding as it collects.
What are the secret aspects of a book, which cannot be spoken of and that unfold in ways that nobody can describe to us in advance? In a world where “boundaries are slipping,” what modes of metamorphosis now become possible? Can radical change be read as a “map of the body in motion”? In Jennifer S.Cheng’s Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems, these questions are both partially visible and submerged: a reptile becomes a woman then reverts, just as a house that is built is now “unbuilt” and the skies become “undone.” These reversals constitute a developmental form, the basis of a somatic and paranormal equation: a soft haunting of internal organs + moonlight = narrative. I am interested in Cheng’s idea of story as the place where we come to “forget something, as much as remember.” This is a formulation that precipitates the artifacts and deities of the book: “the logic of dust cloud, spiral.” Everything that’s left behind. If reading is a form of pilgrimage, then Cheng gives us its charnel ground events, animal conversions, guiding figures and elemental life. “I want to mark a new map for a body opening,” she writes, and then she does.
— Bhanu Kapil, Judge, 2017 TS Book Awards
“Each of the voices in Jennifer S. Cheng’s Moon speaks as if she’s ‘the last girl on earth.’ Alone in a vast, constantly changing Universe, she asks urgent questions: ‘What does it mean to forego the shoreline…’ ‘And what does one give up, in order to be a hero?’ ‘What lives are eroded from the sky in a murmuring blaze?’ In a world where cities have been ruined and recovered, homes destroyed and rebuilt, nests woven and abandoned, oceans crossed and recrossed, narratives cut into pieces and reassembled, the girl asks, ‘Where is my rock?’ What distinguishes this study of the Self in proximity to Other and to the World is the way Cheng refuses to tell stories and instead, insists on asking them. With curiosity and attention, Moon shines its light on inquiry as art, asking as making. In the tradition of Fanny Howe’s poetics of bewilderment, Cheng gives us a poetics of possibility.”
— Jennifer Tseng
“Cheng’s newest poetry collection bravely tests language and the beautiful boundaries of body and geography. This is a rare poet whose elegant poems create a lovely convergence of geometries and mythologies into something akin to ‘an ocean fever to break between…teeth.’ The assembly of ‘insect script’ in these worlds where ‘the sky becomes a chilled pomelo’ makes for a rich and deeply satisfying read.”
— Aimee Nezhukumatathil
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer S. Cheng is the author of House A, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize, and Invocation: An Essay, an image-text chapbook published by New Michigan Press. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Hong Kong and received fellowships and awards from Brown University, the University of Iowa, San Francisco State University, Bread Loaf, Kundiman, and the Academy of American Poets. Having grown up in Texas and Hong Kong, she lives in San Francisco. jenniferscheng.com
SEE OUR AUTHOR PAGE FOR JENNIFER S. CHENG