Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James Books), winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize, the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the Best Poetry Book Award from the Association of Asian American Studies. She has received awards from Poets & Writers, The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, and Artist Trust, among other places. She has taught at the New York University, Fordham University, and Sierra Nevada College, and she serves as executive director at Kundiman.
When I first started writing poems, I was always dissatisfied with poems and endings. I always felt the need to say everything in a single poem. “Here is my poem about my mother,” “Here is my poem about my father’s experience in the Vietnam war.” Somewhere along the way, I lost that compulsion. I think part of it was reading Jack Spicer, who does a lot of serial poems, and part of it was that I picked up this idea that poems are in conversation with one another and they can be fragmentary in nature. The cumulative effect of having them come together can create a larger narrative that is fuller, that echoes off itself. Split, altogether, is the sort of “big poem” I wanted to create.
Perhaps the writer’s most difficult task is to render the catastrophic linked non-stories that comprise transgenerational trauma. Cathy Linh Che’s collection SPLIT accomplishes this nearly impossible challenge with uncommon grace and power. Each poem unwinds the cataclysm of personal wounding by making itself irresistibly beautiful. The opening lines are seductive lures, to whose language we attach ourselves, only to be dragged upstream into a whirlpool of domestic deception and horror. Che’s work opens out to her mother’s tortuous needlework in Vietnam, to the death of her grandmother, and in a moment of absurdity to her father’s double role as refugee/actor.