A Speaker to Root For

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

During the first few months of the pandemic, I couldn’t read anything. My attention span was gone and anything I did manage to read left my mind immediately. But that ended when I sat in the park and read Dorothy Chan’s Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019) from cover to cover. My locked-away ability to read had found its key. Already a fan of Chan’s work, this just helped solidify my love for her poetry even more, and I’m always more than happy to check out any of her newly published poems. The October 2020 issue of Poetry gives the gift of her poem, “Ode to Chinese Superstitions, Haircuts, and Being a Girl.”

The poem flows in a rush, like a held breath finally exhaled. Chan begins with the Chinese superstition “it’s bad luck / to get a haircut when I’m sick” and leads into the role the speaker fulfills as a daughter, as a girl, as someone who “always bring[s] / the party, cause[s] the trouble . . . .” While there are specifics tied to her own self, culture, and family—her brother’s fate, her mother’s thoughts on her future, her father’s opinion on how “good Chinese girls” wear their hair—Chan leaves the reader plenty of room to relate to her words. If we don’t feel like her, we can still root for her and her “short skirt,” her “forehead forever exposed.”

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