Marilyn Chin


Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon. She received a BA from the University of Massachusetts and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is the author of five collections of poetry, including most recently A Portrait of the Self As Nation: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2018) and Hard Love Province (W.W. Norton, 2014), which won the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. In addition to writing poetry, she has translated poems by the modern Chinese poet Ai Qing and co-translated poems by the Japanese poet Gozo Yoshimasu. She is also the author of a novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (W. W. Norton, 2009). She has received numerous honors for her poetry. Chin has taught at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and served as guest poet at universities in Singapore, Hong Kong, Manchester, Sydney, and Berlin. In 2018, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is currently professor emerita at San Diego State University. Source 

How I Got That Name

an essay on assimilation


I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin

Oh, how I love the resoluteness

of that first person singular

followed by that stalwart indicative

of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g

of “becoming.”  Of course,

the name had been changed

somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,

when my father the paperson

in the late 1950s

obsessed with a bombshell blond

transliterated “Mei Ling” to “Marilyn.”

And nobody dared question

his initial impulse—for we all know

lust drove men to greatness,

not goodness, not decency.

And there I was, a wayward pink baby,

named after some tragic white woman

swollen with gin and Nembutal.

My mother couldn't pronounce the “r.”

She dubbed me “Numba one female offshoot”

for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die

in sublime ignorance, flanked

by loving children and the “kitchen deity.”

While my father dithers,

a tomcat in Hong Kong trash—

a gambler, a petty thug,

who bought a chain of chopsuey joints

in Piss River, Oregon,

with bootlegged Gucci cash.

Nobody dared question his integrity given

his nice, devout daughters

and his bright, industrious sons

as if filial piety were the standard

by which all earthly men are measured.




Oh, how trustworthy our daughters,

how thrifty our sons!

How we've managed to fool the experts

in education, statistic and demography—

We're not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning.

Indeed, they can use us.

But the “Model Minority” is a tease.

We know you are watching now,

so we refuse to give you any!

Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots!

The further west we go, we'll hit east;

the deeper down we dig, we'll find China.

History has turned its stomach

on a black polluted beach—

where life doesn't hinge

on that red, red wheelbarrow,

but whether or not our new lover

in the final episode of “Santa Barbara”

will lean over a scented candle

and call us a “[   ].”

Oh God, where have we gone wrong?

We have no inner resources!




Then, one redolent spring morning

the Great Patriarch Chin

peered down from his kiosk in heaven

and saw that his descendants were ugly.

One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge

Another's profile—long and knobbed as a gourd.

A third, the sad, brutish one

may never, never marry.

And I, his least favorite—

“not quite boiled, not quite cooked,”

a plump pomfret simmering in my juices—

too listless to fight for my people's destiny.

“To kill without resistance is not slaughter”

says the proverb.  So, I wait for imminent death.

The fact that this death is also metaphorical

is testament to my lethargy.




So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin,

married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong,

granddaughter of Jack “the patriarch”

and the brooding Suilin Fong,

daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong

and G.G. Chin the infamous,

sister of a dozen, cousin of a million,

survived by everybody and forgotten by all.

She was neither black nor white,

neither cherished nor vanquished,

just another squatter in her own bamboo grove

minding her poetry—

when one day heaven was unmerciful,

and a chasm opened where she stood.

Like the jowls of a mighty white whale,

or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla,

it swallowed her whole.

She did not flinch nor writhe,

nor fret about the afterlife,

but stayed! Solid as wood, happily

a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized

by all that was lavished upon her

and all that was taken away!





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:




Humor & Satire


Intersectionality & Culture

Poems of Place

Literary Devices:


a line break interrupting the middle of a phrase which continues on to the next line


the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect


a comparison between two unrelated things through a shared characteristic