Thursday, 11 November 2010


Henry W. Leung, reviewer for Lantern Review, has written an extensive review of the current edition of Cha (Issue #12); the review is now available on the LR blog.

Henry emphasises, among other things, the Asian-themed poetry ('Most of the poems in this issue fit the "Asian" label easily enough[.]') and the translations ('I laud Cha for being international and diglossic, because the presence—or shadow—of other languages encourages us to confront our own more objectively.') in the issue as well as our critique column, A Cup of Fine Tea:
If you followed the links to these poems, you’ll know that many are paired with commentary or reviews in the correlating blog, A Cup of Fine Tea, emphasizing the dialogue that small-press literary journals are intended to be.
In the review, works by Annie Zaidi, Clara Hsu, Eddie Tay, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Helle Annette Slutz, Kim-An Lieberman, Marco Yan, Inara Cedrins and Peters Bruveris, Phill Provance, Steven Schroeder and W.F. Lantry are discussed, some very favourably. 
Henry also poses an important question to Cha editors in his review: as an Asian journal, should we be more aware of publishing pieces that fit the "Asian" label? Of course, "Asian" can be roughly interpreted at least two ways: 1) Asian-themed works and 2) works by Asian writers/artists. However, in his discussion, Henry suggests that content comes before authors' racial make up or current location, as he points out that Annie's and Marco's poems, "Diaphragm" and "Remembrance" respectively, 'don’t immediately fit any distinct cultural categories', despite the fact that Annie is from Mumbai and Marco lives in Hong Kong. Henry reminds us, then, that a piece of work by an Asian-born or Asian-based writer does not by default make it "Asian". I agree there is a distinction.

The discussion of "Asian-ness" reminded me of Jeff's editorial written for the second anniversary issue of Cha (Issue #9), in which he contemplates on the notion of "Asian writing community" in today's globalised world:
I also had no sense of the diversity of the Asian writing community. When we began, I assumed that Asian writers were those found on the continent, locals, maybe a handful of expats. I have come to realise that this definition was far too narrow—that in a globalised world the idea of Asian writing must be more inclusive and fluid, must encompass the perspectives of writers from the diasporas, travellers to the region, even people with an interest in the continent. Asia it turns out is everywhere. All you have to do is open your doors. How else can one run a Hong-Kong based journal from a house in London?
Admittedly, the passage above does not cover works by 'foreigners' that are not in any way thematically relevant to Asia -- a concern raised by Henry in his review of Cha. Looking through the journal's archive, I can say that the prose pieces are all Asian-related while in other categories we have not been as strict. For example, in our selection of poetry, "Asian" is far from the first criteria that we use to judge a piece. Why is that? Henry has drawn our attention to a point that we will certainly be thinking some more. What are people's thoughts on this?

Thank you, Henry and Lantern Review, for reading Cha so attentively and sharing your thoughts with us!

Also read "Cha A Literary Review Debate"


  1. Where does Asia begin
    Where does Asia end
    Are the Asians
    Living in other countries
    Still Asian
    What of half bloods
    Like Kim-An Liberman
    Is she disqualified

    To me it feels like Art
    Or Poetry or Love
    Setting boundaries
    Seems too analytical
    Missing the spirit
    The feelings
    and sensuality
    That speaks to the heart

    Let the academics quibble
    Behind the scenes
    Bringing up the rear
    With their
    sink or swim
    Publish or perish

    CHA is avant garde
    Blazing new paths
    Into the unknown regions
    Lighting the way
    With the fiery brightness
    That heats our tea
    And takes us deeper


  2. The Asian-ness of the text versus the Asian-ness of the author. We wouldn't think of this tension 30 or 40 years ago when globalization was something unheard of, and there's no easy answer to that. In fact, do we need an answer? I am not sure if editors in all 'Asian' journals really want to foreground Asian-themed works upon reviewing, but it is true that such works may stand a better chance of coming into light. We should blame any Asian author for not writing about Asia, or else s/he will be working on the same subject matter throughout his/her until Asia becomes the world. This is undoubtedly the burden of any Asian authors at the moment. It is a burden because we are still looking up to the American and European literary scene, while Asian-based Americans and Europeans are exceptionally welcomed in Asian literary journals. This comes to the question that bothers me a lot - and no offense - why is there no Asian member in the editorial board of Asia Literary Review, when it claims that it is the largest regular print journal on Asian-ness in the world? Readers should therefore be more skeptical about the representation of Asian-ness and the perspective of authors even if their works seem enjoyable.

    Another interesting thought: if someone from Asia gets published in an American print journal that welcomes international submission. Can the piece stand a chance of being selected in the Best American series?

    Do we need labels anymore?

  3. Freudian slip perhaps: I meant "... should not blame any Asian authors..."

  4. Asia, in particular, is a lot more than a mere geographical entity; it has been the crossroads of civilization. I don't see how one could define "Asianness" exactly; probably, the only way I could start defining it is by way of excluding certain very specific voices or experiences. A girl talking about how they had a spirit week in their spiffy high school while the weather outside is spiffy, that's something very American and wouldn't fit, at least so far, as the world is increasingly taking on uniform shades, so maybe soon the labels of cultures will only be historically important. So far, every poem in Cha has spoken to me as a voice that I recognize as an Asian and as a human.
    The one concern to me is that there's a lot more Asia--Siberia, the Middle East, and the Turkic nations, to name a few strips of regions--that is absent from here; probably you don't get enough quality submissions from those places? I would like to know their tales.

  5. That is true, Ankur --- we don't receive enough submissions from those places you mentioned.

  6. Oh, that's sad; I hope people there get to know about Cha. By the way, I noticed a grave typo in my comment; I meant "icky weather," not "spiffy weather"!

  7. Can I interject briefly? I think it's very pretty and Whitmanian to believe we're past labels (how nice if I weren't still a "minority writer"), but that's a grave underestimation/dismissal of the situation and leads to insincere writing. Once you're aware of the water you swim in, you can never again pretend to not know; you can reject the water, but that's as much a decision as accepting the water.

    It seems to me that most of the stigma and pressure comes from the surface representation of "Asianness," the self-defensive tourguide-voice that must justify its culture to the mainstream. It's become a genre (read: "generic"). And the reality is much more complex today; but if writers of nuanced experiences (mixed race, transnational adoptees, etc) resist the Asian label entirely, that label will still persist as a stagnant misrepresentation instead of undergoing public transformations.

    I also make a distinction between persona biography and personal biography. I disregard blood measurements; the curiosity of a Chinese author writing in English about Asian things or Western things amounts to gossip. But the figure of the writer is intentionally constructed; an expat in HK can be an honest voice from HK, if he's sensitive enough to his surroundings. Or he can choose to write as a tourist. Or write about Victorian England. So that intended persona, that authored voice, matters immensely as a qualifier of Asianness (i.e. "What culture does the speaker in this poem--rather than the person who wrote this poem--come from or aspire to? In what discourse does the speaker's language engage?").



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