Tseng’s lyrical poems take their titles from letters her father wrote to her over a 30-year period. Tseng’s father was born in China and his first language was Mandarin, but he wrote the letters in English so his daughter could understand them.
“One of my father’s most commonly occurring phrases throughout our correspondence was, ‘Save this letter!’” Tseng says. “This chapbook is my attempt at saving his letters.”
What struck the Bateau editorial team most about “Not so dear Jenny” was how the poetry is both document and performance, says editor-in-chief and College of the Atlantic writing professor Dan Mahoney.
“The documentary character of the work is clear in how Tseng performs the job of dutiful daughter cataloguing her father’s correspondence; but it is the performance of Tseng the poet, at home in the address of the epistolary, that is dazzling,” Mahoney says. “In responding to her father’s letters, Tseng locates herself, as daughter, and her voice, as poet. We, the readers, are witness to the reckoning.”
Each poem in the collection circles around its title, explores the slippage of translation, and represents the once simple object as a dynamic subject, Mahoney says.
Reflecting on how she came to compose the poems, Tseng says she followed advice on writing from author Franz Kafka: “You don’t need to leave your room; remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen; simply wait. Do not even wait; be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked; it has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
When working on the poems in “Not so dear Jenny,” Tseng says, she would “write a line from one of my father’s letter at the top of the page and listen…until the language rolled in ecstasy at my feet.”
Jennifer Tseng is the author of two award-winning poetry books, “The Man With My Face,” and “Red Flower, White Flower,” which features Chinese translations by Mengying Han and Aaron Crippen. Her debut novel, “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness,” was a finalist for the New England Book Award and the PEN Robert W. Bingham Award for Debut Fiction. She currently teaches for the Fine Arts Work Center’s summer program, FAWC’s online writing program 24PearlSt, and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing.
Bateau Press commissioned Amy Borezo of Shelter Bookworks to design and letterpress the cover of “Not so dear Jenny.” The books are hand-sewn by COA Bateau student editors and volunteers. The publication date is February 15, 2017. Learn more at BateauPress.org.
Bateau Press, a letterpress publisher of chapbooks and an annual magazine, is committed to producing high-quality, well-designed, environmentally minded products. As of 2016, Bateau is housed within College of the Atlantic.
College of the Atlantic is the first college in the U.S. to focus on the relationship between humans and the environment. In 2016, both The Princeton Review and the Sierra Club named College of the Atlantic the #1 Green College in the United States. The intentionally small school of 350 students and 35 faculty members offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in human ecology – the study of how humans interact with our natural, social and technological environments. Each student develops their own course of study in human ecology, collaborating and innovating across multiple disciplines.
Why Should we Blame Others for Forgetting me?
By Jennifer Tseng, from “Not so dear Jenny” (Bateau Press, 2017)
We is you & me
Against the others
Who are all of us.
Me is separate.
Me is blameless.
Me is forgotten.
I, too, am nowhere to be found.
Like you, I died & became
English words. We were
Beaten. You mastered
The language, Father.
You did to them
What you did to me.
Your words are my sisters.