Friday, August 6, 2010

Each Crumbling House (Melody S. Gee)

So this is something new. As you might know already, up until my graduation this past May, I was the Poetry Editor for the Southern California Review, USC's graduate literary magazine. One of the poets who I chose to be in the last issue, Melody S. Gee, just sent the review a copy of her first book! Two of the poems we selected for SCR are included in the book, and she even went so far as to thank us in the back. Well, she thanks a lot of people, but this is still a big deal for SCR, DG, and myself personally. This isn't so much a review as a shout out to an emerging poet with an amazing debut collection.


Melody is a first-generation Asian American struggling to find her place in the mix of opposing cultures that is her life. Her first book, Each Crumbling House, is a collection of poems combining all of her feelings towards dealing with what is essentially a life in transition. Many of the poems are written through the lens of Chinese immigrants either heading off to an unknown land or newly arrived in the United States. She depicts beautifully their isolation among those whom they travel or work with. She also writes lovely poems about her own experiences, though. In the poem "In Translation," Gee tackles the issue of not always being able to properly communicate with her own mother. There isn't always a direct connotative match in Chinese for the words she would normally use in English.
I am reading out loud at the table
where she has left ripe
ancestor offerings, reading slowly
so she will hear the texture of desire

that climbs my throat,
which I can only translate as selfish,
to want,
or missing. Always
a word away from the word I need.
In "Giving" she addresses her issues with her family's practice of always providing food for their ancestors before a meal, even if it means going hungry. Gee's writing is intensely visual, but also evocative and emotionally clear. It's an excellent first attempt from a writer who I can only imagine will continue to produce beautiful work well into the future.


Each Crumbling House
by Melody S. Gee

As always, there is no real way to quantify merit in poetry. I will say this, though: I am extremely picky. The "reject" pile always towered over the acceptance pile at our SCR meetings, but Melody managed to get not just one but two poems past me (and almost a third, if I remember correctly). It's not always easy to put into words the reasons why certain poets or poems reach a person. Though it seems like Melody's work is the type that is not meant to be analyzed, anyway, but quietly accepted and understood. She reaches far enough into herself that she is able to find each one of us as well. I've never experienced the horror of having to leave my family to travel thousands of miles across the ocean and start a new life from scratch, but Each Crumbling House proves that it isn't always necessary to experience the same traumas in order to connect with someone on the most basic human levels. Very well done.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Contact Information and FTC Disclaimer

FTC Rules: While I do not make any money from authors, publishers, or anyone else related to these books in exchange for these reviews, there have been times where I've received free copies of a book to be reviewed, and may receive more in the future. Due to FTC compliance rules, however, you should always assume that I have an ulterior motive, and thank them for their unceasing vigilance in the face of this ever-increasing threat of blog advertising.

If you would like to contact me regarding a book you would like reviewed, or for writing matters in general, feel free to email me at