Melody won the Perugia Press Poetry Prize for her manuscript of poems, Each Crumbling House. Perugia Press is one of my favorite presses because they consistently publish books I love (such as Jennifer K. Sweeney's How to Live on Bread and Music, a book I keep on my desk - my highest compliment), so it didn't surprise me that I also loved Melody's work as well.
Victoria Chang wrote in the blurb for Melody's book that "Melody Gee proves to us through her poetry that first-generation Asian American experiences still matter and will always matter. But even more so, her quietly unsettling and powerful book speaks to the whole human experience through its exploration of inheritance. These are haunting poems about culture, nature, and ultimately about love."
And I agree, these poems are about the human experience. Melody's work is immediate and brings the reader directly into the poem, scene, or moment. She writes to share an experience not block you from it. She is accessible, smart and has some of the loveliest openings lines ever.
Here are a few of my favorites--
The field is not us.
We are clover and the field is
from "The Field is Not Us"
No one starves here. The women
do not chew the soles of their shoes
for juice and fibers.
It seems, MaMa, nothing
you told me is true.
from "What You Believed"
The story I tell is a fish
gaping its gills in my hands.
The only place I have
to set it down is prairie.
from "A Fish in Prairie"
The whole book is visually pleasing like that. From "Rain, California" where "I am eating orange slices dripping/from the sangria pitcher" to "The wind drives a current in my red/wine ocean, and I am bringing/you back to me slowly..."
So many poets are writing from their back corner of their minds these days, full of abstract thoughts, intended confusion, blissful uncaring, but it was refreshing to see that these poems do not come from that place--they come from heart and history. They come from story and shape where "trees burn with monarchs" and the details of "As a girl, you leashed crickets with ox hairs/and baited bees with sweet tomato flesh."
She is a poet who crafts her poems as doors into this world that moves from China to America through the house of history and self. We are in the poems too, as witnesses and readers. We experience "a flock of gulls erupt from the sand, pushed into flight" just as we experience "I have inherited a father/whole language I cannot fold my tongue to."
I lost myself in these poems and found myself in San Francisco 1929, in Li-Hing Lei village 1957, in a wedding in a garden.
I am thankful for this poet for writing a book of poems that so gracefully weaves through history into present time, that shares culture, family, and the art of story so well. I may be late in saying how much I like this book, but it doesn't take away the gift of this talented poet, one who is definitely carving a path for herself and one who I expect more good things from in the future.
Melody's bio (stolen from her website):
Melody S. Gee's first poetry collection, Each Crumbling House, won the 2010 Perugia Press Book Prize. (Available here.) Originally from Cerritos, California, she attended the University of California, Berkeley and the University of New Mexico, and has taught at Purdue University, Ivy Tech College, Saint Louis University, and the University of Missouri - St. Louis.
Her poems and essays are published or forthcoming in Blackbird, Copper Nickel, Southern California Review, Dogwood, Packingtown Review, Alligator Juniper, The Greensboro Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Washington Square Review, and Crab Orchard Review, among others.
A Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the Robert Watson Literary Prize for poetry, and a 2008 Kundiman Asian American Poetry Retreat fellow, she currently teaches writing at Southwestern Illinois College and lives with her husband, Paul, in St. Louis.