I met Marilyn Chin at a week-long, Indiana University writing workshop in 2003. Not only did I find her poetry brutally direct, intensely honest and yes, confrontational—all qualities of a rebellious woman—I found that her personality and teaching style were also quite similar. I immediately adored her! I still do. In her courageous poem “How I Got That Name: An Essay on Assimilation,” from The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty, she explains she was named after some tragic white woman/swollen with gin and Nembutal. Much of Chin’s work confronts immigration, assimilation and specifically, in her sparse poem, “The Survivor,” how females are perceived inferior to males. She writes, you were born not a boychild but a girl, an acknowledgment that as survivors, we all must overcome our inherited obstacles, that we bloom this way and not that.
Don’t tap your chopsticks against your bowl.
Don’t throw your teacup against the wall in anger.
Don’t suck on your long black braid and weep.
Don’t tarry around the big red sign that says “danger!”
All the tempests will render still; seas will calm,
horses will retreat, voices to surrender.
That you have bloomed this way and not that,
that your skin is yellow, not white, not black,
that you were born not a boychild but a girl,
that this world will be forever puce-pink are just as well.
Remember, the survivor is not the strongest or most clever;
merely, the survivor is almost always the youngest.
And you shall have to relinquish that title before long.
Rebellious Women in Poetry (brought to you by rebellious women) is made possible by rebellious women. Reprinted from The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty by permission of the author. Chin co-directs the MFA program at the University of San Diego, where she also teaches in the departments of English and Comparative Literature. The Introduction is by Susan Yount, editor of Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal and madam of the Chicago Poetry Bordello.