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Episode 7: Poet Marilyn Chin

Poet Marilyn Chin on a decorative red background

“She used to sing Chinese poetry to me, and she was illiterate, but she had memorized hundreds of poems and Confucius sayings and so forth. She reminds us that poetry comes from an oral tradition as well as a written tradition that is ancient. Everybody can embrace it, whether you can read it on the page or not — you can hear it. She was remarkable that way. I owe so much to my grandmother.”

Marilyn Chin

Marilyn Chin, a 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards winner for poetry, joins The Asterisk* to discuss loss, mourning and the importance of speaking grief, the influence of her grandmother, and the longevity of her poetry.

Born Mei Ling Chin in Hong Kong, she was five when her family moved to Portland, Oregon, where her father transliterated her name to Marilyn. (He had a crush on Marilyn Monroe.) After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Chin earned a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa.

In “Hard Love Province,” her AWBA-winning fourth volume of poetry, she experiments with quatrains, sonnets, haiku, allegories and elegies in precise words whose effect are brazen, icy yet inflamed. “Marilyn Chin’s poems excite and incite the imagination through their brilliant cultural interfacings, their theatre of anger, ‘fierce and tender,’ their compassion, and their high mockery of wit,” noted Adrienne Rich, a mentor to Chin until she died in 2012. “Reading her, our sense of the possibilities of poetry is opened further, and we feel again what an active, powerful art it can be.”

Chin sat down with The Asterisk* in the fall of 2020 from her home in San Diego, Calif. A professor emerita at San Diego State University and a Chancellor at the Academy of American Poets, she won the $100,000 Ruth Lily Poetry Prize and the 2019 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. Chin also earned a Stegner fellowship, four Pushcart prizes and a Fulbright fellowship.

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