Christine Shan Shan Hou’s newest collection of poems, Community Garden for Lonely Girls, depicts a journey that traverses imagined histories and various states of consciousness. In Hou’s poems the now moves with such glacial intensity that folkloric myth and cultural detail are weaved together in animated modulation. These poems assert that desire for the unknown is pertinent to understanding one’s identity and survival: "I know I could die, but if / I could be anything // I would be an aquarium full of / colorful fish and deep // breathing, / You know // like nude and / without age."
Like a feminist spiritual quest or the act of a messenger delivering consequential information to a participant community, Hou’s poems shapeshift. They make the subtle, gross, and causal body get in alignment — despite the complexities and controversies of living a life.
Christine Shan Shan Hou is earth. An empathic, planetary being, yes, but also, as her poems remind us, an elemental and evolving substance, in which (whom) organisms are, as her poems remind her: growing, ceaselessly; nurturing (being nurtured); coming into color, in deference to and defying tongues; releasing spores, growing mold (incl. limbs); 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th ways of seeing; modes of intelligence that might, when they ultimately detach and self-determine, destroy the world, and all incipient translations of it; poems are BEING HOPEFUL, rising like bubbles, refracting, bursting, dying, spreading, drying out. Because I mean also a celestial body, codependent with the sun, in a state of constant transformation, is that an oxymoron?
Constant. Transformation. Perennial. Passing. Through the stages of life as through the stages of a fruit, a vegetable, an echinoderm, a stench and/or aroma, a collage (poem, for example) beginning with an empty landscape meditating, to which are added shapes, shards from each stage of ancestorhood, migration, loneliness, of grief. One of the most beautiful seasons is Community Garden for Lonely Girls … I have visited many times. I go and leave and go and write or draw something (the leaves) or take a nap or leave something, but do not leave, the garden changes. It is not an altar ("I have never built a shrine") but maybe an … altercation: everything trembling (like "before a feeding frenzy") on the border of total accountability, which focuses the garden, like a planetarium of mirrors, on the next person who, with whatever anxiety or hunger, enters; they are lucky, even if or because everything, the way it is right now, is temporary.
Spring-loaded psychic energy and heightened physical intensity catapult Christine Shan Shan Hou’s Community Garden for Lonely Girls into a divergent zone of surreal non-fictive super abundance. Reality is negotiated by imaginative drive as it is by the necessities of corporeality—forms of perception toggle precipitously. A keen attention of macro and micro focus generate poems that surge, rollick, bear down, fly into oblivion, and/or pin down fate with stealth maneuvers. Lingually sophisticated, emotionally generous, and somatically sensitive, this book is a brilliant realization and an epic breakthrough of terms when it comes to living life on planet Earth at this fraught moment in time—how to reckon the historical past and shattering futurity with a flexed lyric of major portent.
Christine Shan Shan Hou’s Community Garden for Lonely Girls invites readers of all gender persuasions to momentarily suspend the Enlightenment imperative to cultivate their individual plots and embrace the feeling of being disposable—and disposed—into a mass flowerpot. The community is summoned to revel in the confusion, messiness, tackiness, and pleasures of bodies, fluids, border-fucking, and abjection—the experiential fruits of Hou’s formidable poetic assemblage.
March 16, 2017
Christine Hou’s new poetry collection published by Gramma, Community Garden for Lonely Girls, is an irreverent, vibrantly written “feminist spiritual quest.” Hou offers an intimate and intense look at being a lonely girl.
Asian American Writers' Workshop
March 27, 2017
Hou ... constructs a cultural and hereditary mythology in her second full-length collection. She opens, appropriately, with “All My Dead Ancestors Must Be Catered to as to Avoid Angry Ghosts” and builds on this theme in a section called “Family Teachings,” exploring her grandfather’s forced deportation from India to Tibet and his subsequent disappearance as well as her great-grandfather’s captivity during the Sino-Indian War.
June 6, 2017