Marilyn Chin

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Marilyn Chin in 2015

Marilyn Chin (陈美玲) (born in 1955) is a prominent Chinese American poet, writer, activist, and feminist, as well as an editor and Professor of English. She is well-represented in major canonical anthologies and textbooks and her work is taught all over the world. Marilyn Chin's work is a frequent subject of academic research and literary criticism. Marilyn Chin has read her poetry at the Library of Congress.


  • I am gratified that some of my poems have served the people for decades. From the start of my career I waxed personal and political and have sought to be an activist-subversive-radical-immigrant-feminist-transnational-Buddhist-neoclassical-nerd poet who was always on her soapbox with a bag of tricks. I see myself as an inventor of a fusionist aesthetics, of bilingual and bicultural hybrid forms.
    • Preface to A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (2018)
  • Am I not the poet of witness? Am I not a disciple of Nellie Sachs and Paul Celan trying to describe the horrors of the Holocaust, meanwhile inventing a new lyric, which questions the possibility/impossibility of poetry after the most heinous episodes of history? Am I not a descendent of Qu Yuan, whose lyric intensity caused him to drown himself in the Mi Lo River in protest? And the descendent of the courageous feminist poet Qiu Jin, who recited a poem on the path to her own beheading?
    • A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (2018)
  • The Woman Warrior was a very important book in my life. I discovered it in 1977…in Amherst, Massachusetts. I was an undergraduate there...for a long time I was in despair. I thought, there was really no audience for my voice. And the narrator, the protagonist in The Woman Warrior, she was working hard to let her voice out. She had to wade through the contradictions of this dual culture, this heavy-duty heritage. If she had the power and the fortitude to continue her 'pressed duck' voice, to eke out that voice, I said, perhaps so must I continue my struggle.

Interview with Asian Review of Books (2020)

  • I was raised by my grandmother who spoke Toisan, a very ancient language. I see myself as part of the minority tribe. I align myself more with people like Kafka, with his weird dialect. I see myself as an outsider on many levels even if we are Han.
  • When we were young, we have to memorize those texts from Tu Fu and others. And my grandmother used to carry me on my back and chant to me Chinese poems and sayings. The first kind of poetry I heard was Chinese poetry, and it ingrained in my ear, even though English is my main language. I can hardly read Chinese. The Chinese poem was ingrained in me when I was very young. You can hear the Cantonese language in my work. The Chineseness is in the DNA of my work. I can’t divorce it from my work. I can’t say I forget it. it’s there. Bei Dao’s generation was not trained in that tradition. They didn’t go to university to study wenyanwen or ancient poetry. They were imitating the West. I tried to read Chinese poetry every day, because I think it’s important for my aesthetics.
  • it has to do with Du Bois’s idea of double consciousness: you inherit a set of values at home, and have to embrace another set of values when you walk out of home. You are appreciated if you are more assertive at school. On the contrary, you are supposed to be obedient at home. It’s about balancing the two worlds. My poetry is about negotiating many worlds, the past and the present, as well as the East and the West. “Inner cultivation” and outer despair. The sublime and the ridiculous.
  • I am always fighting against the stereotype of the subservient female maiden. I want to shake up the assumptions about being a Chinese-American woman. We all must champion women’s and children’s rights in the world. The little brown girl is still the most vulnerable person in the room.
  • I believe that I am a poet of the body and of the mind and of the soul! to mimic Whitman.
  • Writers must always speak out against racism and injustice...In terms of the responsibility of a poet, it is important to engage in political and social issues, yes! This is a racist world! We must speak against all kinds of injustice.
  • Henry Louis Gates told me that I must assert that I am first and foremost a poet, not just an activist poet. My work encompasses activist poetry but also does a lot more than protest. I am reinventing bicultural forms. I am an innovator: the creator of the Chinese-American quatrain, of the lyric manifesto, of erotic haiku and remix sonnets!
  • The two main issues in American history are slavery and the destruction of native Americans, historical events that have left a profound mark on American history. On even a larger scale, I would say more than ever, now in the era of Trump. We must fight against demagogues all over the world. This open hatred against immigrants! Against dark-skinned peoples… The language of building a wall, “bad hombres”, China-shaming! The demagogues are manufacturing fear and hate, Islamophobia, and generally, phobia against anybody who is “different” and might take your job.
  • I echo Adrienne Rich’s idea that the personal is political. My poetics is rooted in my personal history, and from there I examine the world around me. I see myself not just as a Chinese-American, but as a global citizen. I care about America but also about what happens in the world.
  • Chinese history, Hong Kong history course through my blood.
  • I think it’s important to reinvent with poetry...I like to keep experimenting. It’s important to love your genre and the possibilities. There’s so much to explore for those poets with bilingual and multicultural backgrounds as well.
  • I belong to the American legacy and deserve a place in it.
  • It’s important to have a transnational readership. To not have borders, to have one’s poetry travel well. I celebrate my Americanness. I celebrate my Chinese-ness. I celebrate my transnational identity.
  • I retired from my tenured job early partly because I would like to devote more time to writing poetry. The ancients did that too, they retreated to the countryside and “cleanse from the mud” of the academy and “palace art”. They retreated into the woods to hear their own voice again. Of course, these were rich privileged aristocratic poets. Some were forced exiles like Du Fu, who wrote some of his best works in his later years. In angst, of course. He felt abandoned. However, as we all know, he became the greatest poet of China.
  • Adrienne Rich believes “the poem must serve” the people. Somehow, I don’t want my poems to be relevant to only a few readers in academia.
  • I hope my work will prompt someone to consider or study more about Chinese poetry.

Interview (1995)


In The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets by Bill Moyers

  • I see myself and my identity as nonstatic. I see myself as a frontier, and I see my limits as limitless. Somebody once accused me of being a leftist radical feminist, West Coast, Pacific Rim, socialist, neo-Classical, Chinese American poet. And I say, "Oh yes, I am all of those things." Why not? I don't believe in static identities. I believe that identities are forever changing.
  • poetry is my passion. It is my art. It is my love, it is my first love beyond all loves, beyond romantic love. It's as necessary for me as breathing is necessary for me. I can't live without it.
  • I feel that I'm a conduit for many voices. Historical voices, ancient voices, contemporary feminist voices. Women's voices mostly.
  • Just as I think it's impossible to keep Chineseness pure, I think it's also impossible to keep whiteness pure. I think everything must merge, and I'm willing to have it merge within me, in my poetry.
  • When Americans talk about racial politics they talk about the poles of black and white, where one group may be demonized and one group may be sanctified. I think that we must meet in the gray space in between to find harmony.
  • As a poet I believe I need to work in both Eastern and Western paradigms; I need to know both traditions.
  • Food is celebratory, but its flip side is hunger and deprivation. Spiritual deprivation and hunger in the new country are important motifs of ethnic American literature. Hunger in the "gold" country, in the land of the plenty is almost obscene, so there always that doubleness in my work when I write about food.
  • America is no longer a monolithic, European-derived culture. It is no longer a mono-lingual or mono-cultural country, and the margins are moving toward the center. That's to say that those of us who have an urgent message or who have polyphonic voices or who have colorful backgrounds and interesting lives and pasts have a lot to say, and it's now our turn to say it. Indeed, there's more urgency in what we have to say, and the contemporary poetry world can't keep us out. That's the thing. We're breaking new ground, and this is the voice of America. My voice is one of the many voices of America.

Quotes about Marilyn Chin

  • Marilyn Chin is a major voice.
    • Eavan Boland blurb for A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (2018)
  • I praise Marilyn Chin's poetry!
    • Gwendolyn Brooks blurb for A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (2018)
  • Marilyn Mei Ling Chin draws on ancient cultural sources and at the same time reflects something wholly Western, urban, and contemporary-so that we have here two kinds of sophistication combined, in proportions uniquely determined by her strong personal sensibility. The results are strong with an authentic and captivating strangeness, beauty and offbeat wit.
    • Denise Levertov blurb for A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (2018)
  • She writes often about the conditions of exile, assimilation, and loss, and her poetry has been hailed for powerfully addressing the subjugation of Asian women raised in patriarchal societies.
    • Bill Moyers The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets (1995)

  • Reading her, our sense of the possibilities of poetry is opened further, and we feel again what an active, powerful art it can be.
    • Adrienne Rich blurb for A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (2018)
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