Hal Y. Zhang

Books | AMNESIA

A poetry chapbook about the jagged bilingual holes in my memory, in 中文 and English.

a puzzle: what is one but two? you have one tongue. you have always had one tongue but the tongue remembers.


What people said:

“no one speaks mandarin to me unless / they are desperate.” Hal Y. Zhang’s poems are funny and plainspoken in ways I didn’t know I needed—and then they swerve into devastating yet nourishing dreamscapes I can’t stop wandering through. For a collection called AMNESIA, it is remarkable how vivid this work is, how visceral, down to “gut bacteria” and “consonants for broken birds to nurse.” This chapbook demonstrates how gaps in memory are themselves wildly generative and embraces the subterranean pathways that open up in (mis)translation. Zhang never lets a reader forget that language is more than the words one recalls—it is accusative light and aphoristic teeth and “heart things.” —Chen Chen, author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

With thoughtful nods to Chinese poetic history, Zhang’s poems purposefully dis-orient, highlight dis-ease. One must re-orient, like the immigrant, in order to read. For it is an immigrant’s language—more legible and richer the deeper one’s immersion in two places at once. Striking back at the mute pictograph of Pound and Fenollosa, AMNESIA is a breaking-through of character, a touching and daring medium between selves. —Yanyi, author of The Year of Blue Water

“this is chinese, pictographic only for the free trial,” asserts Hal Y. Zhang’s opening poem, setting up an unfolding of “radical loss.” Just as a shadow life trails immigrants and their children through their days, the shadow language of Chinese animates many of these incisive English lines. Spare and visual, Zhang’s poems capture the longings and misunderstandings that come with migration, as well as “what we gain in translation.” AMNESIA is a powerful distillation of complex experience into the fewest possible words. —Adrienne Su, author of Middle Kingdom and Peach State