Monday, January 27, 2014

Asian Artist Profile: Michelle Chan Brown

Michelle Chan Brown’s Double Agent was the winner of the 2012 Kore First Book Award, judged by Bhanu Kapil. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Linebreak, The Missouri Review, Quarterly West, Sycamore Review, Witness and others.
Michelle received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was a Rackham Fellow. A Kundiman fellow, Michelle has received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Vermont Studio Center and the Wesleyan Writers’ Conference. Her chapbook, The Clever Decoys, is available from LATR Editions. She lives with her husband, the musician Paul Erik Lipp, in Washington DC, where she teaches, writes, and edits Drunken Boat and co-curates the Cafe Muse series. Find her online at

1. From reading your collection, Double Agent, I was struck by wide range of your poems. You have poems about family, about race, power structures, culture, there’s even a poem, "Apollo 11”, which makes reference to the space race. Can you talk about what interests you as a poet? Is there a main theme that you find yourself gravitating towards? 

Thanks for your insightful distillation of my obsessions. I would also add the boundaries, borders, alliances, permissions, addictions, rituals, compulsions - between the self and the other, the self in relation to itself, and the individual to the institution. The outsider stance is de rigueur for writers, of course, but I don't feel authentic positioning myself as the artist on the periphery, observing and digesting, and detached. I'm always looking for ways to place myself inside, and find myself baffled/fascinated/anxious in that process.

Insinuation is how I'd describe my relationship to language and writing poems, as well; some say they feel "in control" or "themselves" on the page, but I see it more as a series of negotiations with words; I want the music of the line to dominate me as much as I want to conquer it.

Lately, I've been trying to move away from "Michelle" or the "I" as subject, which puts far too much value on the Poet in Solitary, liberating the riches from the palace of their mind or whatever. I moved to DC a year and a half ago and the city - strange, stagnant, picturesque, where dissembling is a high art - is in a lot of my newer work.

2. You’re the poetry editor at Drunken Boat! In the latest issue, #18, you’ve put together a folio of poems on Debt. What’s was the process like for putting this together? Is it different for every issue?  

I'm very proud of the work in Debt. Many of the poems were solicited, but the open call generated a host of wonderful responses. More themed folios are to come.

3. Can you talk a bit about your experience at Kundiman’s Workshop Retreat?

Kundiman is a fellowship of Asian American poets; they host an annual three-day retreat in New York that's emotionally and intellectually intense - in all the right ways. Kundiman is a powerful reminder of necessity of community, friendship, other humans, a cause bigger than the self. Given that poetry is not, well, a product that has much of a market edge, one would think that there'd be a sense of "we're all in this together" for poets when they're not in solitude. That's not always the case, of course, which is why the time at Kundiman retreat, talking and writing with poets with dazzling and aesthetically varied work felt so novel, inspiring, fulfilling, etc. I encourage all Asian-American poets to apply.

4. How has being an Asian American influenced your writing? 

That's a difficult question to answer for two reason - one, because I don't see Asian-Americanness as a fixed identity, and two, because, being mixed, I rarely thought of myself as a Real Asian-American.

And yet there's a thread through my poems, be they about sex or Russia or mill towns or Republicans or the nanny culture, that engages with dual selves, dueling...

What it means to me now is committing myself to promoting and supporting other writers of color.

5. You have the “Honey Badger’s Don’t Give a B**k Tour” upcoming! What writers will be touring with you? How did this come about?  


Eugenia Leigh, Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014), Tarfia Faizullah, Seam (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), Cathy Linh CheSplit (Alice James Books, 2014), and Sally Wen Mao, Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014). Asian-American female poets with prize-winning first books. In a car. For a month (July-August). Across America.

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