Rhapsody in Plain Yellow

Overview

From homages to Li Po to polyphonic samplings of Emily Dickinson, from ballads of eternal love to lamentations, Rhapsody in Plain Yellow probes emotionally charged subjects with post-modern experimentation.

Marilyn Chin, with her multilayered, multidimensional, intercultural singing, elegizes the loss of her mother and maternal grandmother and tries to unravel the complexities of her family's past. She tells of the trials of immigration, of exile, of thwarted interracial love, ...

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Overview

From homages to Li Po to polyphonic samplings of Emily Dickinson, from ballads of eternal love to lamentations, Rhapsody in Plain Yellow probes emotionally charged subjects with post-modern experimentation.

Marilyn Chin, with her multilayered, multidimensional, intercultural singing, elegizes the loss of her mother and maternal grandmother and tries to unravel the complexities of her family's past. She tells of the trials of immigration, of exile, of thwarted interracial love, and of social injustice. Some poems recall the Confucian "Book of Songs," while others echo the African American blues tradition and Western railroad ballads. The title poem references the Han Dynasty rhapsody but is also a wild, associative tour de force. Political allegories sing out with personal revelations. Personal revelations open up to a universal cry for compassion and healing. These songs emerge as a powerful and elegant collection: sophisticated yet moving, hard-hitting yet refined.

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Editorial Reviews

Carol Muske-Dukes
Like a whirling acrobat-musician from the Peking Opera...Chin lands blazing before us.
John Gery
These are poems of burgeoning praise and heartfelt vision for the new century.
New Orleans Times Picayune
Publishers Weekly
Chin's concerns for heritage and descent, matched with confrontational rhetoric, seem to make her an old-school poet of Asian-American identity, while a liberal use of autobiographical material (her grandmother, her parents, her neighborhood, her lovers, her English department) positions her speaker as a representative witness to modern, multicultural, middle-class California. This third collection's jagged rhythms and fragmented forms, some based on Chinese poetry and music, others derived from blues and Persian ghazals, thus seem a small-scale syncretism of the personal and political. Chin can tear at familial wounds even while expressing dismay at the limits of tradition: "I, my mother's aging girl/ Myopic, goat-footed// Got snagged on an unmarked trail/ The road diverged; I took/ The one less traveled/ Blah, blah// I sit at her grave for hours...." In other elegies for her mother, and in the at times erotic title poem, Chin approaches the sinewy strength of Adrienne Rich. "Poetry is a vast orphanage in which you and I are stars," "Broken Chord Sequence" says; "One robe, one bowl, silent pilgrimage, the river filled with martyrs." One poem proclaims "The Colonial Language is English"; others promise musical idyll ("Summer Sonatina") or allegory ("The True Story of Mortar and Pestle"). Chin's ambitions can outrun her technique: some poems, especially those in short lines, lack aural or emotional power. Overall, though, this collection's speaker has a strong sense of herself and of her times a sense to which readers of many concerns could respond. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
No China doll, Chin is instead a "bold beauty" who describes the crossover from Eastern to Western culture in a forthright voice that's sometimes flippant and sometimes edged with anger. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393041675
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


    Blues on Yellow


The canary died in the gold mine, her dreams got lost in the sieve.
The canary died in the gold mine, her dreams got lost in the sieve.
Her husband the crow killed under the railroad, the spokes bath shorn his wings.
Something's cookin' in Chin's kitchen, ten thousand yellow-bellied sapsuckers
   baked in a pie.
Something's cookin' in Chin's kitchen, ten thousand yellow-bellied sapsuckers
   baked in a pie.
Something's cookin in Chin's kitchen, die die yellow bird, die die.

O crack an egg on the griddle, yellow will ooze into white.
O crack an egg on the griddle, yellow will ooze into white.
Run, run, sweet little Puritan, yellow will ooze into white.

If you cut my yellow wrists, I'll teach my yellow toes to write.
If you cut my yellow wrists, I'll teach my yellow toes to write.
If you cut my yellow fists, I'll teach my yellow feet to fight.

Do not be afraid to perish, my mother, Buddha's compassion is nigh.
Do not he afraid to perish, my mother, our boat will sail tonight.
Your babies will reach the promised land, the stars will be their guide.
I am so mellow yellow, mellow yellow, Buddha sings in my veins.
I am so mellow yellow, mellow yellow, Buddha sings in my veins.
O take me to the land of the unreborn, there's no life on earth without pain.


   That Half Is Almost Gone


That half is almost gone,
                       the Chinese half,
the fair side of a peach,
                       darkened by the knife of time,
fades like a cruel sun.


In my thirtieth year
                     I wrote a letter to my mother.


I had forgotten the character
                             for "love." I remember vaguely
the radical "heart."
                  The ancestors won't fail to remind you


the vital and vestigial organs
                             where the emotions come from.


But the rest is fading.
                       A slash dissects in midair,
ai, ai, ai, ai,
                more of a cry than a sigh


    (and no help from the phoneticist).


You are a Chinese!
                  My mother was adamant.


You are a Chinese?
                  My mother less convinced.


Are you not Chinese?
                    My mother now accepting.


As a cataract clouds her vision,
                               and her third daughter marries
a Protestant West Virginian


who is "very handsome and very kind"
The mystery is still unsolved—


the landscape looms


    over man. And the gaffer-hatted fishmonger—


sings to his cormorant.


    And the maiden behind the curtain


is somebody's courtesan.


    Or, merely Rose Wong's aging daughter


Pondering the blue void.


You are a Chinese—said my mother
                            who once walked the fields of her dead—


    Today, on the 36th anniversary of my birth,


I have problems now
                    even with the salutation.


    The Colonial Language Is English


Heaven manifests its duality
My consciousness on earth is twofold
My parents speak with two tongues
My mother's tongue is Toisan
My father's tongue is Cantonese
The colonial language is English
I and thou, she and thee
My mother is of two minds
The village and the family
My mother loves me, I am certain
She moulded my happiness in her womb
My mother loves my brother, certainly
His death was not an enigma
Yet, it, too, had its mystery
I had willed it in my heart
I had condemned him in his crib
When I touched his round, Buddha face
Drank in his soft, infant beauty
Cain and Abel had a sister
Her name is Tiny Pearl
Too precious to be included in their story
Her small throat trilled in vain
The Tao of which we speak is not the eternal Tao
The name that we utter is not the eternal name
My mother is me, my father is thee
As we drown in the seepage of Sutter Mill


    Take a Left at the Waters of Samsara


There is a bog of sacred water
     Behind a hedgerow of wild madder
Near the grave of my good mother
     Tin cans blossom there
The rust shimmers like amber
     A diorama of green gnats
Ecstatic in their veil dance
     A nation of frogs regale
Swell-throated, bass-toned
     One belts and rages, the others follow
They fuck blissfully
     Trapped in their cycle
Of rebirth, transient love
     Unprepared for higher ground
And I, my mother's aging girl
     Myopic, goat-footed
Got snagged on an unmarked trail
     The road diverged; I took
The one less traveled
     Blah, blah
I sit at her grave for hours
     A slow drizzle purifies my flesh
I still yearn for her womb
     And can't detach
I chant new poems, my best fascicle
     Stupid pupil, the truth
Is an oxymoron and exact
     Eternity can't be proven to the dead
What is the void but motherlessness?
     The song bellies up
The sun taketh
     The rain ceases to bless
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Table of Contents

Blues on Yellow 13
That Half Is Almost Gone 17
The Colonial Language Is English 20
Take a Left at the Waters of Samsara 22
Chinese Quatrains (The Woman in Tomb 44) 24
Emilies: Aria for My Mother 27
Millennium, Six Songs 30
Cauldron 34
Broken Chord Sequence 39
Altar(#3) 39
Hospital Interlude 40
Hospital in Oregon 41
Song of the Giant Calabash 42
Hong Kong Fathersong 44
Get Rid of the X 45
How Deep Is the River of God? 46
I Am Waiting 47
Libations, Song 10 48
Variations on an Ancient Theme: The Drunken Husband 49
Bold Beauty 52
The True Story of Mortar and Pestle 53
The True Story of Mr. and Mrs. Wong 55
The Cock's Wife 56
Where We Live Now (Vol. 3, #4) 57
Blues on Yellow (#2) 67
Horse Horse Hyphen Hyphen 69
Tonight while the Stars Are Shimmering 72
Bad Date Polytich, Eight Poems 75
Bad Date 75
Family Restaurant (#1) 76
Family Restaurant (#2) 77
Empathy 78
Blues on Yellow (#3) 79
Folk Song Revisited 80
Ohio/Ohio 81
So, You Fucked John Donne 82
Identity Poem (#99) 83
To Pursue the Limitless 85
Summer Sonatina 88
Horseyear 92
Rhapsody in Plain Yellow 96
Notes 101
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2002

    What a POET!!!!!

    I am very grateful to personally have Marilyn Chin come to my college, Simmons College that is, and recite her beautifully written poems! I am still speechless with the ways she presents herself and her poems. She took my breath away and replaced it with such awe and great laughter!!! All are very intriguing and touching to the bones! I am still not over the ways she expresses her words. I recommend everyone to read her poems from her book Rhapsody in Plain Yellow, and see for yourself what I'm trying to say.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

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