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What's Possible: Chinese Canadian Poets

A recommended reading list by Grace Lau, whose book The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak is out now.

Book Cover the Language We Were Never taught to Speak

When I began writing poetry in earnest, I marvelled at how many Chinese Canadians writers were out there.

Throughout nine years in high school and university in Vancouver, I read, in total, maybe one or two books by Chinese Canadian authors.

And yet for many decades, unbeknownst to me, people who looked like me were devoting their lives to writing. I studied Donne, Dickinson, and Shakespeare (so much Shakespeare), not knowing there were living poets too who were worth my time.

Funny poets. Wonderful poets. Chinese Canadian poets who were writing about food, family, and the places they’ve been in this new place we all now call home…

I did not know what was possible.

Reading these writers’ works today has made me feel more connected to not only where I came from, but also where I am now. I think that is one of diaspora’s superpowers. No matter where you are from, I hope you can feel that connectedness through these poems as we do.

I would have loved to have read these Chinese Canadian poets in school.

They would’ve shown me what was possible.


Book Cover Beholden

beholden: a language as long as the river, by Fred Wah and Rita Wong

It’s always so cool to see collaborations between poets, and as a settler on these lands, beholden really resonates. It’s environmental, it’s political, and it’s a beautiful melding of two brilliant writers.


Book Cover Iron Goddess of mercy

Iron Goddess of Mercy, by Larissa Lai

I had the great privilege of reading with Larissa this past year in an Eden Mills series, and I can only hope to be able to do so again in the future! As a Hong-Kong-born Canadian, the topics that Larissa hits on are particularly poignant… this is definitely one of those repeat-reads that you just come back to again and again. (Extra nostalgia points: tie guan yin was my grandfather’s favourite tea, which we had every single weekend when we went for dim sum.)


Book Cover Mythical Man

Mythical Man, by David Ly

Can there be too many queer (debut!) poetry collections? Sure I’m 100% biased, and I say, “No, definitely not.” It’s always fascinating—and comforting—for me when I see other queer Asian poets writing about similar themes that come up for me when I write. I love to see the little differences in our shared-ish experiences, those little things that tie us together even though our paths have never crossed.


Book Cover My YT Mama

my yt mama, by Mercedes Eng

I love Mercedes’ work, and full disclosure I’ve reviewed this book before as well. There’s so much humour, reflection on being a daughter—oh, and pop culture too, if you’re into that. Do you like Tupac? He’s in there. Like basketball? There are references to AI and Kawhi. (And Prison Industrial Complex Explodes is worth a read too.)


Book Cover Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express, by Evelyn Lau

This was one of my favourite poetry collections that I read this past year. It’s heart wrenching—but will still make you chuckle—and for those who have depression or are close with someone who does, it just might be a literary balm for the soul.


Book Cover The Shadow List

The Shadow List, by Jen Sookfong Lee

It was really cool reading this collection, because Jen’s experience and skills in other forms of writing shine so brightly here. The way the characters in the poems are built, the way they’re narrated… the fingerprints of a prose writer are all over these poems—in the best way. When I grow up I want to be like Jen.


Book Cover the Language We Were Never taught to Speak

Learn more about The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak:

The poems in The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak explore the many identities, both visible and invisible, that a body contains. With influences from pop culture, the Bible, tech, and Hong-Kongese history, these pieces reflect and reveal how the stories of immigrants in Canada hold both universal truths and singular distinctions. From boybands that show the way to become “the kind of girl a girl could love” to “rich flavours that are just a few generations of poverty away,” they invite the reader to meditate on spirituality, food, and the shapes love takes.

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