“What is the loss of country if it were not the loss of self?” This is the question Marilyn Chin asks in much of her poetry. This video segment from Poetry Everywhere features Chin, at the Dodge Poetry Festival, reading her poem “The Floral Apron” in which an immigrant woman keeps Chinese tradition alive in America, for the next generation, and for herself, but is she doing the right thing?
For a biography of the poet Marilyn Chin please visit the Poetry Foundation Web site.
The narrator of the poem watches as a “woman from my mother’s village” asks, “What shall we cook tonight?” We feel that she is facing a small group of skeptical young women—maybe children—who have been gathered together to watch the woman prepare a traditional Chinese meal of squid. The cooking lesson begins with the woman praising the squid, “lined up so perfectly on the block.”
The woman cuts into one of the squid, and a surprising squirt of squid ink “made us wince.” But as the woman goes on, frying up ginger and scallion in which to cook the squid, the girls are won over by the delicious smell.
We see the older woman as a teacher, passing on cultural lessons and information to the children, like a “tribal elder,” re-creating a communal identity. As a result, the girls learn to “love squid despite squid,” to honor their heritage and the one who teaches it to them.
Read a biography of the poet Marilyn Chin at the Poetry Foundation Web site.
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