TMWR #1: Our Favorite Reads Published Online in 2023 ✺

Abigail Chang & Ruoyu Wang

TMWR

TMWR #1: Our Favorite Reads Published Online in 2023 ✺

This column’s name might be “This Month We Read,” but to kick off the new year, our first post is a full wrap-up—pieces we read for the first time online in 2023 and fell in love with.


EIC Abigail Chang’s Favorites:


Before the Small Machines - Chiyuma Elliott (poetry)

“I spent my dimes and quarters

on candy, and was susceptible

to flattery. I learned to swim.

I wondered where you were.”


'Before the Small Machines' is one of those rare poems with everything going for it: gorgeous, abstract language, a discernible message, and a title that encapsulates both. Speaking to how in earlier times, things were different, and it was up to [me] to [wonder] where you were. Some poems are written on a higher plane; they simply have this deftness to them, maybe because they possess details picked with immense dexterity. So yes, I was drawn in by the images presented in this piece. What a selection! These words stuck out to me: augurs, candy, bland/acoustics, pines, evergreen, coordinates. This word stuck with me: interim. The poem walked me to the end, leaving snacks in its trail to entice me, make me remember. And yes. I remembered.



Known Affliction - Letitia Jiju (poetry)

“The Dead Sea is said to have tipped over

that night like a hiccup. I was incredulous for you.”


At only 14 lines, ‘Known Affliction’ builds and builds before the last line slams you to a halt. Such abandon, like holding hands with someone then stopping, forcing them to stop with you, they’re disoriented but your vision is clear. It turns around, makes a soft statement. I was incredulous for you. At this sudden display of vulnerability, I’m incredulous too. The previous 13 lines were peppered with words that made me raise my eyebrows: words I would never have thought of to use. The Richter scale, isotropes, perpendiculars. The Dead Sea. Solid words, words with mass. And yet there’s obvious love throughout the poem. Obvious longing. Only it sneaks along so well that you almost can’t see it coming. It’s the last line–such an unabashed declaration of you matter to me–that allows the emotion (and all of a sudden, there’s a lot of it) to come through.



Vignettes of Central Control - Jenny M. Liu (flash)

“I think about the professor who made us write about conformity, then compiled our common threads of thought. How worse than beating a dead horse, I had never seen an entire stable torched so fast.”


When a story unfolds snippet by snippet, it’s like someone laying out a picnic blanket. Each corner streaks into existence and all of a sudden the whole thing has materialized. 'Vignettes of Central Control' is not only written in unfoldings, it also sports this amazing undercurrent of a curled lip. The narrator makes tea, noting the “pleasantly thick” honey at the cup’s bottom. Wouldn’t you want even distribution? But that would defeat the whole purpose. Everyone was broke in college except for the ones who weren’t. It was fun to see who tried to hide it. I was struck by this little sneer. It made me smirk alongside it. A brain scan opens the piece, the doctor notes how “everything’s accounted for.” What he means is that I’m still here. I love when snark is prevalent in a piece, plain and simple. When every line and idea is a subtle jab, how can any of them fall apart? How can anything?



Prey Behaviour at P.S. 113 Claremont, 1979 - Sage Tyrtle (micro)

“She turns on the black and white television and watches Superfriends but we are there too, we are filling her head.”


Micros are so quick. A snapshot in time. All of my favorite micros simmer along, they are quiet–it is on first reads not obvious as to what is happening–until they are made by the last line. It’s almost better this way. I love that sudden shock and stomach lurch. Which is all to say, this one is no exception. Prey Behaviour explores the prey/predator dynamic in its most destructive form: the raw urge to cause pain. The wolves of third grade hunt down the rabbit and she has no escape, she has no one to tell. It’s quick, painful, then it’s over. Watching, sullenly, a black and white TV. Green string.



Executive Editor Ruoyu Wang’s Favorites:


In a Dream I Watch UFC With You - Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong (poetry)

“but there isn’t any blood, that’s a lie, I’m sitting in my room

and you’re not here and if I ever finish this poem

and if you ever read it then both of those things will be a lie too”


To say this poem is about heartbreak would not be enough. In a single-stanza poem of over 100 lines, Jeong seamlessly blends the meticulously planned violence of UFC with utopian innocence of Disneyland, and more, into a longing: one for home, for fighting, for all the distance between yourself and the dream you have of love.



I Have Not Written a Poem in Months - Laetitia Keok (poetry)

“This morning I stood in the shower for an hour not crying

thinking: there is a tenderness I must not be seeing.”


When Keok writes of tenderness in this poem, there is truly no other way to name the feeling it embodies. Every sentence is so vulnerable, and, in the face of isolation, reminds me of all the joy and light I am capable of holding. Reminiscent of Hua Xi’s “The Past Still Needs Me” in both form and slow hope, “I Have Not Written a Poem in Months” is absolutely luminous.



Heart Reacts - Angelo Hernandez-Sias (fiction)

“though of course email is not their sole means of transmitting short blinding passages and/or written non-kisses, no, they text daily, right now, in fact, lying there in bed, he is heart reacting to an iMessage…—Sadiya texts, there’s this bot that tweets out lines about food from Sylvia Plath’s diaries—”


“Heart Reacts” is so wonderfully playful and witty. Each set of em-dashes in this story— of which there are many—acts as a highway between every pop culture reference, every text, every impossibly specific time stamp.



Origin Story - Steven Duong (poetry)

"The lake became a pond
became a tank became a bowl

I lived & I lived

For you I did it elsewhere"


Duong presents such an incredible amount of whimsical detail in his work, and “Origin Story” is no different. There is so much hurt, so much smallness that the speaker folds themselves into, surviving only through these subtle means of resistance to the life they are dealt with. Still, they are standing. They are so alive. Piranhas and pond and all.



Finally, before checking out all of the lovely pieces we’ve recommended above, we encourage you to devote careful attention and energy to the following Palestinian voices:



Love Poems by Poets of Palestinian Heritage, compiled by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, featuring: Naomi Shihab Nye, Noor Hindi, Hala Alyan, and more.

“I believe less & less of sunlight these days. I won’t die alone. To awaken crying is to awaken displaced. Ghost of your joy in the bathtub. A face in the mirror. Your nephew’s painting in the foyer.,” —Noor Hindi, “The World’s Loneliest Whale Sings the Loudest Song & Other Confessions.”


Dispatches from Palestine in AGNI, published December 19, 2023, featuring authors Haya Abu Nasser, Ali Alalem, and more.

“Nights unfolded like chapters of despair, the sky ablaze with missile trails, smoke rising repetitively. The distant sea transformed into a mere shadow of our former dreams—a place where joy and contentment once danced…The humiliation was unprecedented—scrounging for plastic to shield against rain, fighting for meagre rations of wheat,” —Haya Abu Nasser, written from Khan Younis in Gaza.


A Palestinian Poet's Perilous Journey Out of Gaza by Mosab Abu Toha, in the New Yorker.

“Back at the detention center, blindfolded again, we kneel painfully for hours. I try to sleep. A man moans nearby; another is hopeful that he will get to go back to the doctor.”


Letters from Gaza in Protean Magazine’s series, in partnership with the Institute for Palestine Studies.

“If [even an ant] moves, [Israel] claims self defense and bombs it with a missile, creating a carnage of the body parts of children and women,” —Farah Barqawi, through her mother, Zainab Al-Ghonaimy.


Poets and Writers Killed in Gaza in LitHub, as of December 21, 2023. Those killed by Israeli attacks include: Refaat Alareer, Inas al-Saqa, Nour al-Din Hajjaj, and more.


As Hala Alyan said: although “poems will not save us,” they, along with all other forms of narrative and art, stand as witnesses. “They help us rehearse empathy, and build the necessary muscle memory to call upon it regularly. They [become] compasses, rest stops, places to sharpen our ideas and counter dissonance, to clarify our thinking, and our hearts, and to rest in community. They are where we unlearn stories, where cut our tongues on new ones…Narratives will get us out.”


Thank you for your support. ✺

TMWR #1: Our Favorite Reads Published Online in 2023 ✺

Abigail Chang & Ruoyu Wang

TMWR

This column’s name might be “This Month We Read,” but to kick off the new year, our first post is a full wrap-up—pieces we read for the first time online in 2023 and fell in love with.


EIC Abigail Chang’s Favorites:


Before the Small Machines - Chiyuma Elliott (poetry)

“I spent my dimes and quarters

on candy, and was susceptible

to flattery. I learned to swim.

I wondered where you were.”


'Before the Small Machines' is one of those rare poems with everything going for it: gorgeous, abstract language, a discernible message, and a title that encapsulates both. Speaking to how in earlier times, things were different, and it was up to [me] to [wonder] where you were. Some poems are written on a higher plane; they simply have this deftness to them, maybe because they possess details picked with immense dexterity. So yes, I was drawn in by the images presented in this piece. What a selection! These words stuck out to me: augurs, candy, bland/acoustics, pines, evergreen, coordinates. This word stuck with me: interim. The poem walked me to the end, leaving snacks in its trail to entice me, make me remember. And yes. I remembered.



Known Affliction - Letitia Jiju (poetry)

“The Dead Sea is said to have tipped over

that night like a hiccup. I was incredulous for you.”


At only 14 lines, ‘Known Affliction’ builds and builds before the last line slams you to a halt. Such abandon, like holding hands with someone then stopping, forcing them to stop with you, they’re disoriented but your vision is clear. It turns around, makes a soft statement. I was incredulous for you. At this sudden display of vulnerability, I’m incredulous too. The previous 13 lines were peppered with words that made me raise my eyebrows: words I would never have thought of to use. The Richter scale, isotropes, perpendiculars. The Dead Sea. Solid words, words with mass. And yet there’s obvious love throughout the poem. Obvious longing. Only it sneaks along so well that you almost can’t see it coming. It’s the last line–such an unabashed declaration of you matter to me–that allows the emotion (and all of a sudden, there’s a lot of it) to come through.



Vignettes of Central Control - Jenny M. Liu (flash)

“I think about the professor who made us write about conformity, then compiled our common threads of thought. How worse than beating a dead horse, I had never seen an entire stable torched so fast.”


When a story unfolds snippet by snippet, it’s like someone laying out a picnic blanket. Each corner streaks into existence and all of a sudden the whole thing has materialized. 'Vignettes of Central Control' is not only written in unfoldings, it also sports this amazing undercurrent of a curled lip. The narrator makes tea, noting the “pleasantly thick” honey at the cup’s bottom. Wouldn’t you want even distribution? But that would defeat the whole purpose. Everyone was broke in college except for the ones who weren’t. It was fun to see who tried to hide it. I was struck by this little sneer. It made me smirk alongside it. A brain scan opens the piece, the doctor notes how “everything’s accounted for.” What he means is that I’m still here. I love when snark is prevalent in a piece, plain and simple. When every line and idea is a subtle jab, how can any of them fall apart? How can anything?



Prey Behaviour at P.S. 113 Claremont, 1979 - Sage Tyrtle (micro)

“She turns on the black and white television and watches Superfriends but we are there too, we are filling her head.”


Micros are so quick. A snapshot in time. All of my favorite micros simmer along, they are quiet–it is on first reads not obvious as to what is happening–until they are made by the last line. It’s almost better this way. I love that sudden shock and stomach lurch. Which is all to say, this one is no exception. Prey Behaviour explores the prey/predator dynamic in its most destructive form: the raw urge to cause pain. The wolves of third grade hunt down the rabbit and she has no escape, she has no one to tell. It’s quick, painful, then it’s over. Watching, sullenly, a black and white TV. Green string.



Executive Editor Ruoyu Wang’s Favorites:


In a Dream I Watch UFC With You - Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong (poetry)

“but there isn’t any blood, that’s a lie, I’m sitting in my room

and you’re not here and if I ever finish this poem

and if you ever read it then both of those things will be a lie too”


To say this poem is about heartbreak would not be enough. In a single-stanza poem of over 100 lines, Jeong seamlessly blends the meticulously planned violence of UFC with utopian innocence of Disneyland, and more, into a longing: one for home, for fighting, for all the distance between yourself and the dream you have of love.



I Have Not Written a Poem in Months - Laetitia Keok (poetry)

“This morning I stood in the shower for an hour not crying

thinking: there is a tenderness I must not be seeing.”


When Keok writes of tenderness in this poem, there is truly no other way to name the feeling it embodies. Every sentence is so vulnerable, and, in the face of isolation, reminds me of all the joy and light I am capable of holding. Reminiscent of Hua Xi’s “The Past Still Needs Me” in both form and slow hope, “I Have Not Written a Poem in Months” is absolutely luminous.



Heart Reacts - Angelo Hernandez-Sias (fiction)

“though of course email is not their sole means of transmitting short blinding passages and/or written non-kisses, no, they text daily, right now, in fact, lying there in bed, he is heart reacting to an iMessage…—Sadiya texts, there’s this bot that tweets out lines about food from Sylvia Plath’s diaries—”


“Heart Reacts” is so wonderfully playful and witty. Each set of em-dashes in this story— of which there are many—acts as a highway between every pop culture reference, every text, every impossibly specific time stamp.



Origin Story - Steven Duong (poetry)

"The lake became a pond
became a tank became a bowl

I lived & I lived

For you I did it elsewhere"


Duong presents such an incredible amount of whimsical detail in his work, and “Origin Story” is no different. There is so much hurt, so much smallness that the speaker folds themselves into, surviving only through these subtle means of resistance to the life they are dealt with. Still, they are standing. They are so alive. Piranhas and pond and all.



Finally, before checking out all of the lovely pieces we’ve recommended above, we encourage you to devote careful attention and energy to the following Palestinian voices:



Love Poems by Poets of Palestinian Heritage, compiled by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, featuring: Naomi Shihab Nye, Noor Hindi, Hala Alyan, and more.

“I believe less & less of sunlight these days. I won’t die alone. To awaken crying is to awaken displaced. Ghost of your joy in the bathtub. A face in the mirror. Your nephew’s painting in the foyer.,” —Noor Hindi, “The World’s Loneliest Whale Sings the Loudest Song & Other Confessions.”


Dispatches from Palestine in AGNI, published December 19, 2023, featuring authors Haya Abu Nasser, Ali Alalem, and more.

“Nights unfolded like chapters of despair, the sky ablaze with missile trails, smoke rising repetitively. The distant sea transformed into a mere shadow of our former dreams—a place where joy and contentment once danced…The humiliation was unprecedented—scrounging for plastic to shield against rain, fighting for meagre rations of wheat,” —Haya Abu Nasser, written from Khan Younis in Gaza.


A Palestinian Poet's Perilous Journey Out of Gaza by Mosab Abu Toha, in the New Yorker.

“Back at the detention center, blindfolded again, we kneel painfully for hours. I try to sleep. A man moans nearby; another is hopeful that he will get to go back to the doctor.”


Letters from Gaza in Protean Magazine’s series, in partnership with the Institute for Palestine Studies.

“If [even an ant] moves, [Israel] claims self defense and bombs it with a missile, creating a carnage of the body parts of children and women,” —Farah Barqawi, through her mother, Zainab Al-Ghonaimy.


Poets and Writers Killed in Gaza in LitHub, as of December 21, 2023. Those killed by Israeli attacks include: Refaat Alareer, Inas al-Saqa, Nour al-Din Hajjaj, and more.


As Hala Alyan said: although “poems will not save us,” they, along with all other forms of narrative and art, stand as witnesses. “They help us rehearse empathy, and build the necessary muscle memory to call upon it regularly. They [become] compasses, rest stops, places to sharpen our ideas and counter dissonance, to clarify our thinking, and our hearts, and to rest in community. They are where we unlearn stories, where cut our tongues on new ones…Narratives will get us out.”


Thank you for your support. ✺