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I Love a Broad Margin to My Life by Maxine…

I Love a Broad Margin to My Life

by Maxine Hong Kingston

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in the tradition of the "long poem" (h.d., pound, eliot, wc williams) 'tho critics ( " reviewers " ) may never make the association, this one is an epic and a memoir,
to be read aloud by candlelight ...
to ones you love ( including yourself ).
i laughed a dozen times and wept several.
each time i thought it had reached its peak, i was tricked because around the corner awaited a yet greater surprise.
the ending rivals don quixote or the tempest.
what can i tell you ?

( )
1 vote nobodhi | Apr 8, 2013 |
An interview with Kingston aired on NPR, and I really wanted to like this verse memoir. A few of her poems had appeared in anthologies over the years, but none of them caused in me any over excitement. Her interview, on the other hand, sounded so interesting, I immediately went out and bought the book.

While the poem had its interesting moments, those were few and far between. Large sections slipped into stream of consciousness, compounded with some obscure cultural references. Some of those references are explained in a glossary, but some are not.

This example of such a passage might illustrate what I mean:

“Sleeping in public, jet-lagged, soul
loose from soul, body trusted itself to
the grass, the ground, the earth, the good earth,
and rested in that state where dream is wake,
wake is dream. Conscious you are conscious.
Climb – fly – high and higher, and know:
Now / Always, all connects to all.” (60)

However, I am not giving up on this book. I have really been busy with school and other projects, so I am going to set it aside and come back when I am in a calmer state of mind. 3 stars – for now!

--Chiron, 7/17/11 ( )
  rmckeown | Jul 19, 2011 |
In this fascinating and unforgettable memoir, Maxine Hong Kingston, an award-winning second generation Chinese-American writer and pacifist, shares the story of her past life and the experiences of her family in the United States and her extended relatives in her ancestral village in China, along with an extension of the story of Wittman Ah Sing, the protagonist of her novel Tripmaster Monkey. What makes this a unique read is that it is in verse form, often in the Chinese talk-story form that Kingston uses in her earlier books The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts and China Men.

The book begins in the present, as Kingston reflects on her upcoming 65th birthday in "Home":

I am turning 65 years of age.
In 2 weeks I will be 65 years old.
I can accumulate time and lose
time? I sit here writing in the dark—
can't see to change these penciled words—
just like my mother, alone, bent over her writing,
just like my father bent over his writing, alone
but for me watching. She got out of bed,
wrapped herself in a blanket, and wrote down
the strange sounds Father, who was dead,
was intoning to her. He was reading aloud
calligraphy that he'd written—carved with inkbrush—
on his tombstone. She wasn't writing in answer.
She wasn't writing a letter. Who was she writing to?
This well-deep outpouring is not
anything. Yet we have to put into exact words
what we are given to see, hear, know.
Mother's eyesight blurred; she saw trash
as flowers. ‟Oh. How very beautiful.”
She was lucky, seeing beauty, living
in beauty, whether or not it was there.

In "Leaving Home", Wittman Ah Sing, an aging Chinese-American free spirit, decides to travel to China, alone from his wife:

"I need
to get to China, and I have to go
without helpmeet. I've been married to you
so long, my world is you. You
see a thing, I see it. The friends you
like, I like. The friends you can't
stand, I can't stand. My
perception is wedded to your perception.
You have artist's eyes. I'd wind up
seeing the China you see. I want
to see for myself my own true China."

In "Viet Nam Village" she writes about her experiences as a pacifist, including an all-woman demonstration against Operation Iraqi Freedom in front of the White House, for which she, Alice Walker, and others were arrested and temporarily detained. In this section, she compares her arrest with those of her father's, many years in the past:

I had nothing apposite to say, but
had to talk. "Now I'm on the trip
my father went on. In a paddy wagon to jail.
I'm reliving his arrests. I'm knowing his feelings.
Scared. Helpless. He wondered what would become
of him. Maybe deportation. They're driving
him to the border, never to see his family again.
Oh, but my father wasn't committing civil
disobedience like us. He committed crime,
ran gambling, half the take in the city.
It was his job—go to jail, regularly.
Once a month, they raided the gambling house,
and took just one guy, my father.
He was all alone in the paddy wagon
riding through the streets and out of town.
It was okay. By the end of the night, he
was home. They let him go. He gave them money
and whiskey and cigarettes, and they let him go.
He gave them a fake Chinese name,
a different Chinese name every time;
he doesn't have a record." BaBa
used to say, "I want the life
you live." Now I'm living
the life he lived.

In "Mother's Village", she travels with her husband, a "white demon", to her mother's ancestral village, where she learns about her family's past history. She is treated like royalty, not from her status as a famous American writer, but because she is a descendant of a former emperor of the region:

"Your names are here," said the mayoress, pointing
to branches nearest the door. A fear
went through me, that fear when I am about
to learn something. I asked carefully,
"Were we soldiers? Were we servants?"
I would've asked, "Were we courtiers?"
but didn't know
courtier. Most likely,
we were courtiers. "No! No! You emperor!
You emperor!" You who left for America,
became American, you forget everything.
You forget who you are. Emperor!
Chew Sung Emperor. Emperor of the Northern Sung.
Emperor of the Southern Sung. A teacher of English
took my hand, bowed over it, and said,
laughing, "Your majesty."

As she leaves her ancestral village, she sits next to a younger woman from her village, who is leaving China for the first time to reunite with her husband in America:

Once I was on an airplane beside
a village girl in the window seat. At takeoff
I asked her, "Where are you going?"
"Waw!" She shouted in surprise, and grabbed
ahold of my hand, "You speak like me!"
"Yes, I speak Say Yup language."
"Are you from the village?" "No, my MaMa
and BaBa came from Say Yup villages.
They left for New York. They lived in New York,
then California. I was born in California."
I feel like a child, younger than this girl; I'm
telling about parents as if I still had them;
I'm talking in my baby language. "Waw!"
she exclaimed, loud as though yelling across fields.
Iam going to New York! I
am meeting my husband in New York. He's
waiting for me in New York. He works
in a restaurant. He's rented a home. He sent
for me, and waits for me." She did not
let go of my hand; I held hers tightly
as we flew the night sky. She looked
in wonder at webs of lights below.

I'm hard pressed to put into words how much I enjoyed I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, but I would say that this is easily one of the best works of verse I've read. Maxine Hong Kingston is my favorite living American writer, and this book confirms my love of and respect for her work. ( )
4 vote kidzdoc | May 12, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030727019X, Hardcover)

In her singular voice—humble, elegiac, practical—Maxine Hong Kingston sets out to reflect on aging as she turns sixty-five.

Kingston’s swift, effortlessly flowing verse lines feel instantly natural in this fresh approach to the art of memoir, as she circles from present to past and back, from lunch with a writer friend to the funeral of a Vietnam veteran, from her long marriage (“can’t divorce until we get it right. / Love, that is. Get love right”) to her arrest at a peace march in Washington, where she and her "sisters" protested the Iraq war in the George W. Bush years. Kingston embraces Thoreau’s notion of a “broad margin,” hoping to expand her vista: “I’m standing on top of a hill; / I can see everywhichway— / the long way that I came, and the few / places I have yet to go. Treat / my whole life as if it were a day.”

On her journeys as writer, peace activist, teacher, and mother, Kingston revisits her most beloved characters: she learns the final fate of her Woman Warrior, and she takes her Tripmaster Monkey, a hip Chinese American, on a journey through China, where he has never been—a trip that becomes a beautiful meditation on the country then and now, on a culture where rice farmers still work in the age-old way, even as a new era is dawning. “All over China,” she writes, “and places where Chinese are, populations / are on the move, going home. That home / where Mother and Father are buried. Doors / between heaven and earth open wide.”

Such is the spirit of this wonderful book—a sense of doors opening wide onto an American life of great purpose and joy, and the tonic wisdom of a writer we have come to cherish.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:00 -0400)

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The author presents a series of versed observations on her experiences of aging, covering topics ranging from her literary activities and activist work to her views on her characters and a visit to China.

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