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Transpacific Poetics: Ideographic and Prosodic Transpositions in Li-Young Lee’s “Persimmons” and Marilyn Chin’s “Summer Sleep”


Through intercultural poetics, the speakers in “Persimmons” and “Summer Sleep” chart their journeys from “foreign” pupils disciplined by English authorities to bilingual wordsmiths. Lee’s speaker, punished by a schoolmarm for his inability to differentiate between English words that look alike, later uses Chinese sight rhyme in English to replicate the semantic use of ideographic “radicals” in Chinese poetry. Chin’s speaker, scorned by her mentor for being “mediocre,” grows up to become a sought-after instructor versed in prosodic sleight of hand. Both Lee and Chin address the loss of ethnic heritage and reclaim their inheritance by literary cross-pollination. Where Lee attempts to align the two dominant cultural traditions, Chin subverts both. This article demonstrates how transpacific literary exchanges can be advanced by different strategies that also require attendant linguistic knowledge and comparative analysis on the part of the critics.

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