English-Speaking Chinese by Can Zheng
English-Speaking Chinese is a short collection of seven poems by poet Can Zheng, who explores what it is like for International Chinese students to study English in foreign lands. Zheng contemplates the idea that these students become estranged from their first language of Chinese as they immerse themselves fully into the English language and culture, thus becoming strange to other Chinese citizens who do not sway from their homeland in such a way. ‘Root’ debates the actual idea of travel and where we belong, ‘English-Speaking Chinese’ illustrates how much these students change as even their journal entries are now written in English, while ‘Authentic Chinese’ contemplates what it means to travel to different places in the world as a Chinese citizen. ‘Grammar Breaker’ plays with words and meanings, ‘Pretension’ wonders about how we aim to understand one another, while ‘Stride Father’s Song’ is a lyrically written poem that reflects its beautiful depictions of description upon the reader. The collection closes with ‘Spine’ which is the longest poem, broken down into three sections. This poem is by far the most compelling, as it entrenches itself within the ideas of how we communicate through our use of language, and our bodies, to bring about a meaning to what we wish to say.
Zheng’s words play games with fate as she constructs beautiful prose about what it feels like to be a member of the English-Speaking Chinese community that exists today. Although her poems are not overly complex, she succeeds at bringing across deep meanings in all of the poems that she so lovingly writes. The passion for her poetry and her place in the world as an English-Speaking Chinese is so apparent on the page. This collection, though brief, is bound to remain within the mind of anyone who reads it, not only those who connect with it on a personal level, but with everyone who ponders over the ideas Zheng so expertly offers up.
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