My fifth post, “Russell Leong, ‘The Country of Dreams and Dust’ (West End Press, 1993),” is up at the Poetry Foundation blog. Here’s an excerpt:
This is what I expect to find in a collection of Asian American poetry — conventional immigration and immigrant narratives which give us a clean delineation between “there” (homeland) and “here” (host country), translating into a neatly packaged conflict. In this conventional Asian American “identity politics” poetry, the poet’s ethnic identity is the thing driving forth the narrative, the reason for the conflict, and the primary if not sole lens through which the poet views his “there” and “here” world.
That said, Leong’s book, which received the PEN Josephine Miles Award in 1993, is not at all what I expected; it isn’t at all “clean” in terms of the breach between “there” and “here,” home and host. Instead, Leong writes Los Angeles in the early 1990’s, San Francisco and California post-Gold Rush, Southeast Asia circa 1960’s-1970’s American wars, Tiananmen Square and its aftermath, a modern day free enterprise China, Buddhism, queer identity, and AIDS.