“yellow crowfoot in the pond,/ not lotus, not lily”: Mapping the River, Mapping Voices by Pamela J. Rader In the eponymous poem from Marilyn Chin’s collection, The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (1994), the speakers’ and river’s movements trace the histories of ancestors across landscapes of time and space. The voice acts as a kind of emigrant between various “I” personas, geographical and historical references, and human and non-human agents. Throughout this poem, different voices narrate the human body’s movements to mimic the meandering flow of rivers and non-human agents which also speak. Chin’s poem invites readers to consider how, the human presence does not anthropomorphize, but imitates the non-human. In teaching this poem to undergraduates, in an Asian American literature course, I examine how an ecocritical lens offers an alternative, yet enriching, reading of this lyrical landscape poem. Timothy Clark’s primer on “literature and the environment” reminds us that the ecocritical lens “challenges inherited modes of thought and analysis” and raises questions about humans’ relationship to nature (4). In the classroom, I challenge my students to consider poetry’s sonorous qualities to include the non-human. In their criticism of this poem, several scholars examine the multilayered, hybrid “I.” For instance, John Gery in his 2001 article, “‘Mocking my own ripeness’: Authenticity, Heritage, and Self-erasure in the Poetry of Marilyn Chin,” reads Chin in light of Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s ideas of self-erasure, where the “I” of Chin’s poems expresses multiple identities. While the importance of the self as both text and subject engaged in acts of translation (and transgressions) from body to page is not refuted, the ecocritical lens, or environmental criticism, allows for another aperture for reading the culturally-shaped self in an alternatively more universal light. Conscious of the societal and cultural worlds of race, ethnicity, gender, language, and class we inhabit, humans might lose sight that we share our natural environments with other non-human beings. Citing Calvin Bedient’s December 1998 interview with Marilyn Chin in The Writer’s Chronicle, Gery highlights the poet’s ideas that “[t]he ‘I’ in
This paper examines the prosody of Chin’s eponymous poem, "The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty," through an eco-critical lens. While it does not dismiss the hybrid cultural influences of the poem, it focuses on the ways the non-human agents, or the figures in the poem’s landscape, “speak.” Poetry, like the poem’s terraced gardens, traces tension between the controlling human forces experienced by the narrating female I personas and the natural world’s affective inclinations.
Rader, Pamela J.
"“yellow crowfoot in the pond,/not lotus, not lily”: Mapping the River, Mapping Voices,"
Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies:
Vol. 7, Article 7.
Available at: http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/aaldp/vol7/iss1/7