Dorothy Chan (she/they) is the author of BABE (Diode Editions, 2021), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). They were a 2020 and 2014 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship finalist, a 2020 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Poetry for Revenge of the Asian Woman, and a 2019 recipient of the Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing from Cornell University. Their work has appeared in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere. Chan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Editor Emeritus of Hobart, Book Reviews Co-Editor of Pleiades, and Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of Honey Literary Inc., a 501(c)(3) literary arts organization. Visit their website at dorothypoetry.com
Chan received a PhD from Florida State University in 2019, an MFA from Arizona State University in 2015, and a BA from Cornell University in 2012.
Photo Courtesy of Bill Hoepner, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Revenge of the Asian Woman
About the Book
“Who doesn’t think kissing is the greatest thing / in the world other than eating?” Revenge of the Asian Woman comes to life on a sexed-up soap opera / B-movie platter where passion and food and fantasy reign supreme: excess in the form of full odes and triple sonnets with towers of macarons and carnival desserts and Hong Kong street food on a skewer—and make it a double.
The East Asian girl boss takes her revenge on those who have fetishized her, looking great in gold booty shorts, because “If I played roller derby, my name would be Yellow Fever, / knocking out all those white boys from college / who used to whisper sweet nothings to me // in Mandarin.” She narrates her parents’ love story, the Chinese-American immigrant dream, her eastern zodiac fate, and her own sexual awakening. Revenge comes to life with scenes that mimic the movies: the speaker’s father as a young boy in Hong Kong running into a circus tent, winning a rice eating contest; young lovers in LA at 3 in the morning; and a forehead that is “too Godzilla, too Tarzan / too Wonder Woman”—scenes of a Chinese American experience, one in which the female speaker is “ready for takeoff,” while paying homage to her heritage: a grandmother who wants to buy her all the jade and gold in the world, a younger cousin who thinks she’s had a hundred boyfriends, and a grandfather who watches Hong Kong soaps with her.
Revenge of the Asian Woman is really about “it,” whether that “it” is the It girl, the It trend, or that ineffable feeling you have in “LA, 3 AM, the wind in your hair, down to your / breasts, braless under a low-v dress, / stroking the driver who’s your lover.” This collection presents plenty of longing for those fleeting moments, regardless if those moments are the speaker’s first sexual awakening in “Ode to the First Boy Who Made Me Feel It”; the mother recounting her favorite childhood show about a family trying to reunite in “Triple Sonnet for Autoerotica”; or the nostalgia that’s presented with references to '80s teen films starring Andrew McCarthy, Liberace’s reign of Las Vegas, or “an appliance / that would deliver food from any part of the world—any part of the universe” from The Jetsons.
And with all this sex and food and longing, Revenge of the Asian Woman is above all, a fun romp. Let’s have a little Liberace-Las-Vegas-fun along the way with the glitz and glamour and kitsch of Japanese love hotels, B-movie starring Asian girls traveling to Mars, and total fantasy fulfillment as our dreams and nightmares come to life. The Asian woman conquers all, having her cake and eating it too—“Oh, cut that cake again.”
In Dorothy Chan’s new poems watch how the boys and girls of a materialist world depend on destruction (even of the earth) as the price of vision. This is a particle acceleration of the human heart, of shiny attractions that are mysteriously transmitted out of abstraction into our world—here desire organizes culture, one tracking the other in a wilderness that is increasingly desperate for perfection. Of course, she says, we are what we eat! This is a very very important book.
Dorothy Chan's mind is a banquet, a smorgasbord, a feast of oysters, caviar, cocktails, sexual investigation, and late-night bacchanals. Like Odysseus she is at the prow of her poetic ship of odes and sonnets, and with a fearless voice navigates through the sirens of 21st century peril. This is an all-you-can-eat buffet of wild abandon, a curious over-caffeinated woman plowing into the night of pop culture delirium. Be prepared to enter a world where Judy Jetson and Liberace tango with Aphrodite and Parmigianino's Madonna. Chan says, "Asian girls have that thing going on," and you may think you know what she means, but believe me, you have no idea what this poetic tsunami will unleash on your shores.
Here to snatch you into a frenzied, messy, riotous joy, the poems in Dorothy Chan’s collection flash and spin and buzz, a cyclone of imagery and formal play. A Fury in the middle of a John Hughes film, “a freak everywhere,” Chan’s speaker tears through the scenery: all pop and porn and “abs abs abs,” daytime soaps, boba tea in Kowloon, and “Technicolor Xanadu”; then quiets to reveal (“your grandparents worked at a pajama stand/ in Mong Kok”; or “two anime girls...sneaking a kiss/ in the rose bushes of the Catholic boarding school”; or how “one day, saying goodbye to your/ pet goose—you ran down the road/ and into a circus tent”) longing pulsing the center of each moment. Writing “Dad thinks my forehead is too Godzilla,” Chan pops the top, exposing a vast cache: the poetics of “a grown ass woman.” “...[A]nd you know I’m not some Fay Wray,” these poems declare boldly, “who screams at the sight of a hand.” Revenge of the Asian Woman translates itself into a dizzyingly lush and empowered excess. Revenge is “lavender religieuse and Ispahans,” “whipped plum ice cream,” “what potato chips taste like on Saturn.” Revenge is “I don’t have time to be someone else’s biographer.” Revenge is beautiful.
—Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
About the Book
BABE is about owning the room. It’s about physical touch. It’s about dancing (actually, grinding) on a heart-shaped bed and starring as the leading lady of the film (no matter how risqué it gets). At the core of this collection, the Chinese American speaker questions the conventions around her, dating back to her origin story as a Hong Kongnese child who would get up to stretch in the middle of Cantonese class. As an adult, she questions her fate since the family fortune teller screwed her over with a lazy fortune, yet got her brother’s completely spot-on. She triple sonnets her way through confrontations of queerphobia in her family, the trauma from a past relationship with a significantly older man, and the constant male gaze. She pays homage to the first girls who ever loved her in this analysis of sexuality, queerness, popular culture, and resilience. She’s baby forever.
When formal genius meets the most startling lyric language and imagery, we find ourselves entangled with the ghosts of Sylvia and Emily—Dorothy Chan’s new collection of poems will freshen every day that you devote to them. This work is brilliant.
— Norman Dubie
Dorothy Chan’s BABE is often a prismatically bittersweet coming of age. One could get the impression that they’re being confronted or traversing a fortress reading through Chan’s triple sonnets, her other dense and perfectly compressed poems. It could be true. The nostalgia here, found in food, film, literature, visual art, and other culture, is two-fold—both beautiful and destructive—beautiful when Chan’s speaker projects herself, and destructive when her speaker is projected onto by other entities. In some ways, Chan’s book is a generous and heartfelt list of complaints in response to the latter that emerge from candid and intimate accounts of family, friendships, and romance. I say generous because in this mode, the poems are equally tender, hopeful, and fierce as they also look inward at someone who is later coming into their identity in order to become their best self. Ultimately, BABE is action packed, admirable, and in its own words, “a wonder.”
— Dustin Pearson
Dorothy Chan’s BABE makes me drool. Dripping with triple sonnets, I’m obsessed with this book and its radiating ferocity and tenderness. Reading this book, I kept nodding and nodding and saying YES!—feeling the lyrical power of each poem infused with resplendent queer love, transnational ache, matrilineal strength, and fierce resistance against queerphobia and the hypersexualization of Asian women. BABE takes up space and damn right it does: “I want to take up space, create my own city / that’s filled with bakeries of every color éclair / imaginable as I feed orange blossom macarons / to a lover in the tub.” These poems are sexy, honest, and voracious. Please read and celebrate this book over jello salad, fried chicken, spicy rice cakes, eggs, and poached pears in chocolate. Chan’s poems are decadent, real, and gutturally magnificent: “My lover licks the beauty / mark on my stomach—it’s the real thing.”
— Jane Wong