Kai Cheng Thom’s latest book, I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes From the End of the World (Arsenal Pulp, 2019), is an expansive and intimate collection of essays and poetry on transformative justice and radical love, both in and beyond queer activist communities. Read what the multi-genre writer thinks about choosing love, writing in different genres, and the ideal secret society.
Kai Cheng Thom
A maternal figure in my life recently wrote me to say she struggles with poetry precisely because it exists as a place between thinking and feeling—a place we’re out of the habit of visiting, let alone dwelling. But then there are some poems that shake you and bring you back to the space that flickers between pathos and logos. Kai Cheng Thom’s a place called No Homeland is the hearth of such a real yet imagined place. These are poems that live with paradox, straddling both myth and reality. In a place called No Homeland, Thom transposes the energy of queer punk spoken word onto the page. The result is a vulnerable, shimmering debut.
Throughout the collection, Thom commits to bringing queer, trans, and racialized bodies to the forefront. The inaugural poem, “diaspora babies,” tells us there are “stories that are never told / but known / nonetheless we bake them into bread / fill buns with secrets.” For Thom, these repressed histories endure despite their marginalization. They exist materially and spiritually in unexamined corners and baked into daily bread, nourishing the poet. Later in the poem she writes “some poems / cannot be written / just felt,” inviting us into her poetic (no) home—that space between thinking and feeling. These invocations initiate us into the world of the collection where tales of the oppressed emerge from their “invisible ink” and “ghost children drawing maps in the margins” sing themselves into vibrant existence.
What unfolds in the following poems are new geographies, both difficult and sublime. Thom transforms Vancouver into a “concrete rainforest / sequestered in silence / sea-hungry cavernous” in “downtown beastside,” blending mysticism and grittiness in a way that resonates sincerely with the fraught cityscape. Similarly, “the river” begins with a covert lesson in oral history and geography:
someone told me once
that a secret river flows
under every street
in every chinatown in every city
The poem sprawls beautifully, proceeding gently, at first, with the soothing alliteration:
this river speaks
in a secret language that sounds like
And then the poem rushes into the rapids of brutal revolution: “darling, when your revolution comes, i will not be here, / when the towers start to burn, i will be the first to die.” Many of Thom’s poems deploy this bold, storytelling voice, foregrounding the wisdom of what is said, experienced, lived, rumoured, and gossiped in lieu of traditional history with its myopia of normativity. a place called No Homeland consistently examines the collisions that marginalized identities encounter. And through this, Thom finds, “there is a poem waiting deep below.”
Adèle Barclay’s poems and criticism have appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Puritan, PRISM international, The Literary Review of Canada, and elsewhere. Her debut poetry collection is If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You (Nightwood, 2016). She is the 2017 Critic-in-Residence for CWILA. She lives in Vancouver.
In Anne of Green Gables—that beloved Prince Edward Island saga—Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote, “Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.” Well, Lucy Maud Montgomery wasn’t around for 2016. The tomorrows (and yesterdays and todays, hours and even minutes) of 2016 were not only marked by mistakes, but by catastrophic anguish and an alarming amount of apathy. I won’t even mention the mistakes of 2016 in this blog post for fear of giving them more power. If there is power in naming, then I want to give that power to 17 forthcoming books that will surely help remember what bright and remarkable beings we are, and to move forward knowing that possibility always exits. Books do this for us, right? (The answer is damn right.) I name these 17 Books to Read in 2017.
Currently on Newsstands
Room 42.2, Borderlands
Edited by Rebecca Russell
In this issue:
Selina Boan, Jenna Butler, Leonarda Carranza, Carolina Corcoran, Šari Dale, Marisol Diaz, Sarah Ens, Paola Ferrante, Katie Fewster-Yan, Hannah Hackney, Lori Hahnel, Natalie Homer, Liz Iversen, Jac Jenkins, Jaslyn Marshall, Laura McGavin, Emily McKibbon, Alessandra Naccarato, Ezi Odozor, Caitlin Prince, Rebecca Salazar, Ellie Sawatzky, Alysia Sawchyn, Farihah Aliyah Shah, Josephine Sloyan, Tanya R. Ward, jiaqing wilson-yang, Elana Wolff.