“All i want is to turn my lungs into a glass instrument and let them sing glory to my sisters”: A Review of Kai Cheng Thom’s poetry collection A PLACE CALLED NO HOMELAND

a-place-called-no-homeland-kai-cheng-thomHot damn, people, Kai Cheng Thom’s a place called NO HOMELAND is a fucking phenomenal collection of poetry. I have ho-hum experiences with poetry often enough—especially books I’m sent to review for the blog—that when I pick up something like NO HOMELAND and it’s as extraordinary as this collection is, I am ecstatic. You should all be really, really excited for when this debut collection drops from Arsenal Pulp Press in April of this year. I mean, I’m almost tempted to buy the regular copy when it comes out since the ARC I have only has the beautiful cover art in a smaller image and I know that this is a book I am going to re-read.

Honestly, I can’t even believe it’s her debut. I mean, I know by the time someone gets a book of poems published that means they’ve probably been writing for a while, getting poems published in magazines and journals and maybe—like Kai Cheng Thom—performing poems live, but still. Holy cow.

You might remember Kai Cheng Thom as she was one of the Canadian trans women writers that I featured in my list of “Six Canadian Trans Women Writers You Should Know,” where I was talking about what seemed to be her sudden bursting onto the queer and trans literary scene (which was likely the result of years of hard work). Her first novel, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, came out last year with Metonymy Press, and she also writes fabulous book-related things for Autostraddle, among other online and print publications. And this spring a place called NO HOMELAND is being released! What an exciting time.

Okay, onto the poetry! I’ve already told you how amazing these poems are, but what kind of poems are they, you ask? They are poems with strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word: you can really hear them in your mind and heart. So many of them I could picture being performed on stage; there were moments where I wanted to clap or snap my fingers, as if the poet was right there in front of me. These are the kinds of poems that make you want to pump your first in the air and yell, “fuck yeah,” or “preach!.” But they weren’t the kind of poems that seemed lost or out of place on the page, as if by taking them from the context of spoken word they lost some of their power or immediacy. No, they just seemed alive and present, as if Kai Cheng Thom was right there in front of you. People, that means $14.95 for this book is a fucking steal.


Kai Cheng Thom, image via ladysintrayda.wordpress.com

These poems are tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. (All of the important and intense and complex and mostly beautiful things in life).

There’s not much more I can do now but present you with some of the poems from a place called NO HOMELAND with the knowledge that you will fall in love with them. You’re welcome.

How about this punch right in the throat short, short poem:

there is a poem
scratched onto the walls of my throat
no one has heard it
but it is there

How about when she writes what is one of the best opening series of lines I’ve ever read:

sit down, shut up, and listen.
dear white gay men:
you are neither the face
of my oppression
nor the hands
of my salvation

The poem “girlboy, you femme femme fabulous” is a beautiful trans femme prose poem manifesto:

you got to forgive yourself for hurting. you got to remember that your heart is not a clenched fist your heart is not a bruised face your heart is a mango full to bursting with sunlight oh sticky heart, smooth substance, there is joy in your aching, refuse to forget. boy, you got to love the girl in the boy in the girl in the boy in you in you in you

Doesn’t that make you want to burst into simultaneously sad and joyful tears?

Here’s one of my favourite poems in its entirety:

someday they’ll cut this body open
and discover that my flesh is made of sky:
azure, sapphire, cerulean, turquoise, ultramarine
cirrus and cumulus clouds stirring behind my eyes
cumulonimbus, alight with lightning,
crackling through the capillaries of the heart.
i am oh so full of rain
you could fall through me forever.
dear scientist, mortuary explorer, search me thoroughly
tenderly catalogue all my wayward parts.
find somewhere in me
the forgotten moon, the faded stars.
re-member, reassemble, this tattered heaven, this
celestial thing

The poem “your white cisgender boyfriend can’t save you from the end of the world” tells us that trans girls are the best apocalyptic heroines:

when all the city lights go out in the wake of the apocalypse
it is you who will have to lead him to safety at night …
girl, you were born to live through the end of the world
and the end after that, and the end after that

There are so many moments of technical, poetic beauty combined with burning, raw honesty, like in “that trans woman” when Thom writes

that trans woman who is terrified to stop being brave and just live in the world
like a regular vulnerable human being for once

and when in “i guess you could say that i’m just tired of The Movement” she writes

let me just admit that i was only ever an activist to make people love me, like …
all i want is to turn my lungs into a glass instrument and let them sing glory
to my sisters, like

Well, I can’t think of a better description of what Kai Cheng Thom has done in this book except that: sing glory to her sisters.

[Triggers warnings for sexual assault and gendered and racialized violence]

Bonus! Did you enjoy this review or find it useful?  Consider supporting me on the Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian that I launched last month! Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up. I’m currently at $61 a month, working towards my next goal of $75!

About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She lives and works in the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (Nanaimo, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
This entry was posted in Asian, Canadian, femme, Poetry, Queer, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to “All i want is to turn my lungs into a glass instrument and let them sing glory to my sisters”: A Review of Kai Cheng Thom’s poetry collection A PLACE CALLED NO HOMELAND

  1. ladysintrayyyda says:

    Thanks for this lovely review, Casey! I’ve been reading your blog since forever, so this is a huge book geek thrill! – Kai Cheng

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