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Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple
The Poems of Frances Chung
Frances Chung; Walter Lew, compiler

Wesleyan Poetry Series

2000 • 189 pp. 2 illus. 5 1/2 x 8 1/2"
Poetry / Asian-American Studies

$17.95 Paperback, 978-0-8195-6416-0

“Her work [is] direct in voice and intensely personal in subject matter. Yet her identity is one that is always being refracted through the larger world . . . This collection’s editor, Walter... [continued in Reviews below]”—The New York Times Book Review

Two previously unpublished collections by an important Chinese American poet depict daily life inside New York's Chinatown and across the Chinese diaspora during the 1960s and 70s

Frances Chung's poetry stands alone as the most perceptive, aesthetically accomplished, and compassionate depiction of a supposedly impenetrable community during the late 1960s and 70s. Written "For the Chinatown People" and imprinted with Chung's own ink seal, Crazy Melon is collects brief poems and prose vignettes set in New York's Chinatown and Lower East Side. Chung incorporates Spanish and Chinese into her English in deft evocations of these neighborhoods' streets, fantasies, commerce, and toil. The title of her second collection, Chinese Apple, translates the Chinese word for pomegranate: there she offers "small crimson bites" of new themes and cityscapes -- delightfully understated eroticism, tributes to other poets, impressions of other Chinese diasporic communities during her travels in Central America and Asia. Its new formal experiments show that Chung's poetic prowess continued to deepen before her early death.

Publication of these two works will finally allow Chung's growing circle of admirers to experience the full range of her skills and sensibility, and will draw many others into that circle. Her poems are an inimitable synthesis of American urban vernacular and imagery, various East Asian and Spanish-language poetics, and a concern for ethnic and feminist cultural and political survival-in-writing that was so vital to American poets around the time that Chung first began to compose. Her always fresh perspective on the worlds around her smoothly shifts through multiple lenses, making wonderful use of her "power to dream in four languages."

Reviews / Endorsements

“Her work [is] direct in voice and intensely personal in subject matter. Yet her identity is one that is always being refracted through the larger world . . . This collection’s editor, Walter K. Lew, has done an admirable job of drawing [Chung’s manuscripts] together into a book that is rich with images and Chung’s vital, vibrant voice . . . Chung’s form owes much to William Carlos Williams; many of her poems are compact and oddly moving narratives that give voice to those who are between cultures.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Many poems are the product of careful attention to rhythmic and tonal effects, and recall the early Williams in their generosity, unorthodox line-breaks and beauty.”—Publishers Weekly

“A marvelous poet of working-class experience and urban life. Attuned from the start to the aesthetic as well as social implications of thousands of lives unfolding anonymously in a common space, she honed an art that intimates what can never be represented: the patterns formed by the intersections of all those stories.”—Women’s Review of Books

“[Chung] wrote tersely and elliptically about [the Chinatown] milieu and with laudable impersonality about events in her own life. She never ranted, but made her points with carefully selected details and bold irony . . . In rescuing from oblivion Chung’s artfully provocative multicultural voice, Lew has wisely respected the integrity of her arrangements.”—Booklist

FRANCES CHUNG (1950 - 1990) published her poetry in several anthologies and journals, including The Portable Lower East Side and IKON, and posthumously in Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry and Chain. A teacher of mathematics in Lower East Side public schools who often taught in Spanish, she was awarded several poetry fellowships by the New York Times Co. Foundation and New York State Council on the Arts.

This unique collection has been edited and has an afterword by WALTER K. LEW, editor of Premonitions (1995) and author of Excerpts from: IKTH DIKTE, for DICTEE (1982) and a collection of poetry forthcoming from Wesleyan.

Tue, 15 May 2018 12:58:21 -0500