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water/tongue

Grappling with the shock of her grandmother’s suicide, mai c. doan undertook a writing project that might give voice to her loss as well as to grapple with memory, and the challenge of articulation and of documentation, in all of their contradictions and (im)possibilities. In the poems that comprise water/tongue, doan conjures visceral and intuitive elements of experience to articulate the gendered and intergenerational effects of violence, colonialism, and American empire. Breaking the silence surrounding these experiences, doan conjures a host of voices dispersed across time and space to better understand the pain that haunted her family—made tragically manifest in her grandmother’s death. Looking not only to elements of Vietnamese history and culture, but to the experience of migration and racism in the United States, this book charts a path for both understanding and resistance. Indeed, doan does not merely wish to unearth the past, but also to change the future. If we want to do so, she shows, we must commune with the voices of sufferers both past and present. doan demonstrates how even the form of a work of poetry can act as a subversion of what a reader expects from the motion of the act of reading a line of type or a page of text. doan disarms and unsettles the ways a reader is led to levels of comprehension, and thus disrupts what “comprehension” might mean, as the reader follows the flow of a work, providing an opportunity to sense, and to confront hierarchies that structure ordinary reading and writing. doan brings a reader to conscious appraisal of the hierarchies that affect us, and how these hierarchies can constrain our insights and our mobility. water/tongue is a critical read for anyone interested in the long effects of gendered and cultural violence, and the power of speech to forge new and empowering directions.

72 pages | 4 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Poetry


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Reviews

"In a slim volume of tightly worded poems, Doan has created a framework through which to view her own processing of intergenerational trauma. . . . Doan’s terse poetry marks a personal catharsis even as it steals its resolve by calling out the postcolonial suffering still felt in younger generations."

Booklist

"A compelling examination of the diasporic body in an uncertain landscape, mai c. doan’s water/tongue enacts the ancestral, the matriarchal, and the ritual by way of witnessing the self. Through a critique of the American dream plagued with societal ills, failing healthcare, and the ever permanent and devastating effects of colonialism, water/tongue gifts the reader with a resilient voice seeking out truths in the historical to question 'why the dead are more alive than the living.' These carefully crafted lines embody a language of remembrance that becomes a way of holding space both for the living and for the dead, 'until the dead is swept up / and the dead is not / dead anymore.'"

Mai Der Vang, author of Afterland

"How many ways can we be killed by being forced to fit into a world we didn’t ask for? Death by emotional labor, by the clock and the soul-crushing imperative to professionalize. The 'we' here is misleading, for mai c. doan’s powerful book water/tongue is written from the position of being in, but not of, this monstrosity we call America. And she would rather stutter than be folded into the Empire. Here is a poetics of the trace, of unpronounced events reverberating on a sparsely marked paged, in the space between the cracked house that leaks memory: a girl running. Language becomes a placeholder for what cannot be said. Body becomes the event’s detritus. A gesture is repeated to make the dead undead. What is the speaker to do with the weight of what her ancestors have lived through? Repatriate the severed tongue. Build a politics of ritual, of hair and rose petals at the bottom of an empty bathtub."

Jackie Wang, author of Carceral Capitalism

"mai c. doan's water/tongue is a reminder that hauntings happen in our bodies, in the memory of muscles, the transference of trauma, the weight of language. It is a reminder we carry this weight through the act of living, loving, resisting as existing. The poet writes, 'My great grandmother taught me that love is sometimes survival and adaptability: when there was no longer a river, she crawled into the bathtub and bit off her tongue.' Such hauntings can do the work of driving us forward, holding our hand as we lean over the edge in an effort to look back. Such hauntings have a way of sustaining us in these times."

Truong Tran, author of Dust and Conscience

"Attending to the incalculable losses of colonial terror and its many afterlives, mai c doan’s water/tongue proposes 'one long ceremony' wherein the passage of time is knotted around your body. Feel its pressures: sharpened teeth to membrane, the scar of 'X' unforgotten, if/then scenarios that refuse to cohere. Feel its wounded logics of BEFORE; BEFORE; BEFORE? water/tongue reminds us that trauma has shape, has rhythm too. And feeling it, writing and [un]writing it, is an unending and needed ceremony. For how else to honor the suffering of our dead, to honor the suffering of those struggling to 'stay wild. stay free.'?"

Jenni(f)fer Tamayo, author of YOU DA ONE

Finalist, Bisexual Poetry

2020 Lambda Literary Awards

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