Celebrating Contributor Successes: Q&A with Dorothy Chan

One thing we love at Little Patuxent Review is to celebrate the success of past contributors. Our latest opportunity comes from Dorothy Chan, whose poem, “Animal Discovers Fire, Orders Chinese Takeout with Fries,” we published in our Summer 2016 issue.

Earlier this summer, Spork Press published Dorothy’s first full-length collection, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (available for purchase at this link). Dorothy is a PhD candidate in poetry at Florida State University. She is the editor of The Southeast Review. We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: The title of your collection, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold, leads me to read with interest the poem with an almost-identical name, “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold with the Killer Legs.” But quickly I realize that across your poems, this isn’t the only attack, the only fifty-foot woman, the only centerfold, or the only killer legs. The collection is filled with images and ideas besides these that cycle in and out of the poems in new ways. Here’s just one example, an excerpt from “Jungle Love”:

Our eyes lock for the first moment,
I throw that spear—domesticate him, domesticate you.
I’ll bring that meat home. You can cook it,
Or maybe you want to rescue me from lava,
play the hero as a swarm of killer hornets or killer gorillas
or killer 50-foot women come my way,
you hold me in your arms, fly away—
off into the sunset or into outer space
and I go all vampy Plan 9 on you,
until the director yells “Cut!”

Can you share a bit about how this collection came together? On a craft level, what was it like for you to edit the poems in this collection as a unified whole—after, I imagine, you originally wrote and edited many of the poems as separate pieces?

Thanks for your insightful reading of my poems, Andrew. This collection comes from my childhood. I’m really big on nostalgia. I grew up in the nineties, which was a very interesting decade. I remember Baywatch. I remember Pamela Anderson being everywhere. I remember having a crush on Tara Reid in American Pie—on a side note, her character Vicky goes to Cornell, which is where I ended up going for undergrad—I’m not 100% sure why that’s important, but it feeds into my nostalgia. I remember Hugh Hefner having eight girlfriends. I remember waiting for a table at Denny’s and begging my mom for fifty cents just so I could get the Playboy logo sticker—remember those sticker machines? Of course, my mom said no, and of course I didn’t know what the logo meant at the time. I just thought it was cute. And then I remember sitting at a Volvo dealership, glancing at the TV and seeing this preview of the Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold: the centerfold character takes up a whole pool, and she’s talking to a man who looks so little in comparison. I thought it was fascinating.

I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is no place for an Asian girl like me. I had to create my own worlds. But then on certain weekends my parents and I would drive to Chinatown (either in Philadelphia or NYC) to go grocery shopping. They’d always buy me a big Hello Kitty plush, as well. The images and scenes of my nostalgia are extremely varied. I do miss those Chinatown trips.

On a craft level, this collection comes from separate projects that eventually became one. “Section II. My Chinatown (我 的 中國 城),” a quadruple crown of sonnets, came from a larger manuscript of sonnet crowns. “Section III. Centerfolds, Histories, and Fantasies” came from a larger manuscript of persona poems in the voices of centerfolds. When I was in college, I was asked to pose for a silly calendar. I never did, so I always wonder what would’ve happened if I had. And then “Section I. Snake Daughter” came because I had to fill in the gaps. I think this is why the triptych works so well. Sure, I did individual poem edits, but the triptych structure made me think about the narrative as a whole. I had to inform my own exploration, whether it was an exploration of my family history or my sexuality (or even a combination of both, for instance, “My Father is the Son of a Concubine”).

Q: Diving a bit deeper, can you bring us into the process of writing “Jungle Love”? I do wonder what came first to your imagination—the “domestic” layer, so to speak, or the film layer—and how the creative gears turned in your mind.

Great question. I’m against domesticity, so of course I had to throw in, “domesticate him, domesticate you.” The film layer actually came first. Ed Wood is such a great film. I kept thinking back to the scenes when Johnny Depp’s Wood is filming Plan 9 from Outer Space. Or that scene when he first meets “Vampira.” I thought a lot about Vampira. I thought about Elvira. I thought about the 60 Foot Centerfold movie. I thought about all these B-movies, and then the gears started turning.

I can be really kitschy as well. I’ve spent hours looking at Halloween costumes on Trashy Lingerie’s website, and I think my love of those costumes mixed with my love of film is where “Jungle Love” came about. I used to wear the most ridiculous things. I remember this Leg Avenue cab driver costume I wore one Halloween during college. And this schoolgirl costume. And all those crop tops with anime characters and Care Bears on them. All these kitschy, sexy costumes represent fantasy. I used to have so much fun with that fashion ridiculousness, and the poetic page allows me to revisit those ideas. I also tend to riff on lines, so I must have heard a variation of “Feel me up, you tiger,” somewhere.

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