Example poetry

“Return Flight” is poetry like transcendent sweet and sour citrus

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In acknowledgments to the award-winning collection of poetry Return Flight (Milkweed Press, 2022), its author Jennifer Huang writes that the book is “in part, a search for home – and the realization that home is not a destination, but a journey”. It’s the perfect description of Return Flight, a powerful exploration of undocking. Jennifer Huang is the child of Taiwanese immigrants, and their book explores coming of age and finding belonging amid the hardships caused by their family and the larger cultures around them.

One of the ways the search for home is expressed throughout this collection is through the theme of the desire for transformation, something very familiar to many non-binary people, and this theme runs through many of Huang’s best poems. “That Dawn at the Beach” begins with the memorable line, “I saw a sika turn into a shark.” Huang writes: “…its legs/rising towards the heavens/and its tail becoming an arched fin. Return Flight also links a search for love (including self-love) to the divine by invoking gods and myths everywhere, both Taiwanese and Chinese. In the poem “Tongue-Tied”, Huang explores the complexities of their identity and the effect their family history has on them. Huang parallels the story of their nearly drowned father’s uncle – believing he was saved by the earth god Tudigong – with the more everyday personal myths of Huang’s Taiwanese family trying to survive: Shame not to know. While exploring their family’s race and culture, Huang illuminates not only the consequences of talking, but also the consequences of not saying anything.

It should be noted that many of Return Flight’s powerful poems are also the most tragic, involving harrowing examples of how abuse can destroy a person’s identity and force them to undergo the difficult process of forging one. a news. For example, in “Departure”, Huang describes scraping his knees as a child while playing, and his mother trying to beat them “with a wire coat hanger” as punishment. One of Return Flight’s most powerful poems is “On Days I Stay With My Father”, in which Huang writes to him, “I never remember your face/because I often looked/at the ground when you were screaming/ so strong .” In this poem, Huang compares meeting their father’s eyes with staring at the sun, and the poem ends with the lines: “The dog turns around, lets the sun/touch his belly – then we”, implying that both they and their father may be able to forge a connection with each other, but their dog’s pose also suggests submission and servitude.In another poem, “Notes on Orange”, Huang explores other meanings that sunlight has for them, both negative and positive, the way it illuminates life but also makes them want to get out of it “before we desire again”. Flight home, Huang delves into the complexities of being abused by loved ones by showing the abuse in vivid and heartbreaking detail.At the same time, Huang also shows how attached they have become to the memories of their abusers because ‘they had nothing else to rely on era.

Huang writes skillfully in many different forms, from tanka and haiku to prose poems and free verse. Some of their poems even form meta-narratives. “Zuihitsu for Yushan” is a particularly complex and memorable example, which weaves different forms of writing with mythology to explore Huang’s journey trying to breathe new life into an ancient work. It sums up all the great qualities of Return Flight’s poetry. In this poem, Huang describes an old draft of a poem – the first they wrote about life in Taiwan – then recounts a Chinese myth they discovered while researching possible poem titles. The myth tells of a goddess who had a demigod son with a human man, only for the goddess to be imprisoned in a mountaintop by her brother. The son then trains with a Taoist master who gives him a magic axe, which the demigod uses to defeat his uncle and open the mountain to free his mother. Huang then asks himself questions as if he were being interviewed, then, dodging these questions, they write: “I did it again. I made a man my mountain and dug inside. They describe climbing this mountain of their own making: “I take my ax and almost split myself. I stop, instead, to hear the child of me/inside recite: Where I’m from/everyone’s family but me. The attached line they quote from their own poem is a perfect description of being alienated from one’s family – of being seen as never devoted enough, and yet not being treated as an equally deserving family member. love. In this poem, by refusing to drop the axe, Huang chooses love, breaking the cycle of violence.

Return Flight is both serious and beautiful, often simultaneously, a clear window into the life of Jennifer Huang. I recommend Return Flight to all lovers of poetry and people who yearn to engage in the struggles and facets of identity the author writes about so poignantly – with verse of pinpoint accuracy.

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