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House A
Jennifer S. Cheng

Omnidawn 1st/2nd Book Contest

2016 • 128 pp. 6 x 9"
Poetry / Poetry - Asian American / Poetry - Women Authors

$17.95 Paperback, 978-1-63243-023-6

“House A by Jennifer S. Cheng investigates the tones and textures of immigrant homebuilding by asking: how is
the body inscribed with a cosmology of home, and vice
versa? Selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the
2015 Omnidawn 1st/2nd Book Contest.”—
Publishers Weekly

Selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the 2015 Omnidawn 1st/2nd Book Contest

House A investigates the tones and textures of immigrant home-building by asking: How is the body inscribed with a cosmology of home, and vice versa? With evocative and intellectual precision, House A weaves personal, discursive, and lyrical textures to invoke the immersive-obscured experience of an immigrant home’s entanglement while mapping a new poetics of American Home, steeped in longing and rooted by displacement.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“In her elegiac debut, Cheng, winner of the 2015 Omnidawn 1st/2nd Book Prize, excavates the nostalgic ephemera of the immigrant home. The poems are delicate and dexterous, with Cheng juxtaposing diasporic history with childhood memory.”—Publishers Weekly

“The precocious [Letters to Mao] combine references to neuropsychological theories of sleep with tender memories of a parent’s cooking or storytelling. They also play with our logical expectations, which is fitting, since these poems grant access to the truth of daydreams, not waking reason.”—Floyd Cheung, Massachusetts Review

“A poetry collection constructed from three disparate yet harmonious parts, House A concerns itself with identity-building, diaspora, and the physical act of building a home and an immigrant family on foreign soil. Yet while these are familiar themes, Cheng defamiliarizes them for the reader through her refractory poems that have the effect of a kaleidoscope, dividing experiences into tiny crystalline slivers and re-assembling them to illustrate the unexpected colors and shapes that lie buried within everyday domestic life.”—Kim Liao, Rumpus

“At its best moments, it gets to the heart of the immigrant experience, tapping into the suspicion that perhaps the whole earth is no natural home, that everyone builds their home one way or another. This is what many want to forget, especially as the world grapples with immigrant and refugee issues.”Tse Hao Guang, Singapore Poetry

House A inherits many tropes from the essay, especially its more formal, intellectual rhetoric, but the writing's movement is more liquid, more ruminative. Where an essay might position itself as an argument, a procession of points that builds on itself through causality—if  this then that—Cheng's writing is more like the immigrant's decentered network, a collection of and's and or's that are too intimate, too contradictory to build up to something as singular and definitive as a thesis. Just like Cheng's concept of home, the essay is a structure too rigid to house her experience, but one that has defined it nonetheless. It's an institution to be cherished and subverted, sometimes in the same breath.”—Nick Greer, Diagram

House A, her first full-length collection of poems, shows us the “chaos and wholeness” of a voice that is sedimented with its own past, even in the most personal moments of lyric address. Indeed, the speaker’s lexicon is revealed as being at once mediated and insular, a social construct that ultimately isolates. ‘We each live within our own language,’ Cheng explains, and any closeness, any true connection requires “stitching these languages together.” Yet speech is not as simple as the relationship between signifier and signified. Rather, Cheng reminds us that the larger structures of power and authority that surround us are embedded, and enacted, within our smallest grammatical choices.”Kristina Marie Darling, LARB

House A is a three-part constellation of poems and tiny lyric essays about dislocation, diaspora, and how the undercurrents of history wind through our ideas of identity and home. It opens with ‘Letters to Mao,’ a series of epistolary prose poems, followed by ‘House A; Geometry B,’ a dreamlike glossary that slips around questions of space and architecture, and then ‘How To Build an American Home,’ which pairs blueprints and diagrams with brief shards of text. As she worked on these sections, Cheng began to see that they were each ‘orbiting the same center, an investigation of home.’”—Edward Hardy, Brown Alumni Magazine

“We do not get ‘a sense’ in House A but instead the relational ‘more of a sense’; a sheen across the world might offer some ‘intuitive knowledge,’ but, then again, it might not. I carried these two phrases with me throughout Cheng’s work, which is relentless in its renderings both of a childhood home’s emotional space and of a phantom house that settles around a physical one. The poems here asked me many times to consider the difference between a sense and an experience, what it means to move through the world in a ‘sheen’ that blurs times and the things in those times together, and to whom such access is meaningful. Each time I considered anew the wash of difference between fact and feelings.”S. Brook Corfman

“In Jennifer S. Cheng’s House A the susurration of the tides pull at the posts that make a home, or at least the idea of home. The smells of cooking, the sticky warmth of Texas summers, and the blueprints that map the human heart attempt elegies superimposed against the doors of childhood. Cheng deftly juxtaposes the world and the word in an intimate meditation on space and reverie, ultimately understanding that ‘. . . before language . . . children experience memories as image and sound, which is to say they experience them as poetry.’”—Oliver de la Paz, author of Post Subject: A Fable

From the Book:

Dear Mao,
I want to describe for you the feeling of sleep, as described by neuropsychologist Giulio Tononi, who uses words like oscillations and waves, while his patient is noted to gather the phrase the sea moving a boat. Elsewhere are words like sleepwalking and daydreaming, so I can only conclude that sleep is a boundary whose line is slowly eroding. Sleep, like childhood, is more of a sense than an experience we can articulate from beginning to end. As a child in Texas bathed in sun, I often fell asleep in the car, even in daytime, and my father would carry me into the house with my head pressed against his shoulder. If my mother, who is much smaller, was the driver, she would crack open a window on warm afternoons, and I would later wake to the pleasure of utter silence and aloneness, the sun across my face. I want to emphasize to you that both responses were acts of love, and if by chance an airplane overhead excavated an echo in the sky, then I knew that I was cradled in its sound. Inside our home of secret languages, my mother boiled up a pot of salty rice porridge and my father watched our neighbors like a devout mockingbird: straw doormats, pine wreaths in the winter. So I want you to know that if sleep is an ocean, then it is because we are migrants inwardly sighing along to its many oscillations, unintimidated by factual distances but awash in the knowledge of three: body, bodying, embodied. And if water is a metaphor, then it is because water fills up a room, slow-moving, blurry, immersive but obscured. Strangely enough, it was not my father but my mother who gave us history lessons steeped in a pale, languorous liquid: we sleep where our home is, and we build a home where we sleep.

Jennifer S. Cheng is a poet and essayist with MFA degrees from the University of Iowa and San Francisco State University and a BA from Brown University. A US Fulbright scholar, Kundiman fellow, and Pushcart Prize nominee, she is the author of an image-text chapbook, Invocation: An Essay (New Michigan Press). Having grown up in Texas, Hong Kong, and Connecticut, she currently lives in San Francisco.

Tue, 15 May 2018 13:39:06 -0500