Cathy Linh Che

Winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2015


I open my chest and birds flock out.
In my mother's garden, the roses flare
toward the sun, but I am an arrow

pointing back.
I am Persephone,
a virgin abducted.

In the Underworld,
I starve a season
while the world wilts

into the ghost
of a summer backyard.
My hunger open and raw.

I lay next to a man
who did not love me—
my body a performance,

his body a single eye—
a director watching an actress
commanding her

to scintillate.

I was the clumsy acrobat.
When he came, I split open
like a pomegranate

and ate six of my own ruddy seeds.

I was the whipping boy.
Thorny, barbed wire
wound around a muscular heart.


Adrian Matejka on Cathy Linh Che

There were many, many remarkable collections this group of 73 books submitted for the Norma Faber First Book Award. After reading and thoroughly enjoying their varied worlds, I kept returning to a handful of heart-spun and gorgeous collections: Malachi Black's Storm Toward MorningSplit by Cathy Linh Che, Tarfia Faizullah's Seam, and [Insert Boy] by Danez Smith.

I know I will come back to these collections again and again in the future because they each point a new direction for American poetry in very different ways—Black's elegance in language and contemporary forms; Che's intensity of image and experience; Faizullah's unflinching docupoetic and narrative innovation; and Smith's indestructible rhythm and lyric gestures.

Four very different and utterly successful collections that make clear that contemporary American poetry is capacious enough to go in all directions at the same time. I would have been happy to name any of these books the winner because they are all tremendous experiences of reading. In the end, I chose Cathy Linh Che's Split for the 2015 Norma Faber First Book Award.

I simply can't get the poems in Split out of my head. It is an unrelenting book, one that overwhelms the reader with its bravery and unforgiving honesty. It is a finally-balanced book, too. Emotion is the hinge for these poems while Che's sophisticated imagery and delicate lines sustain that emotion. But maybe more importantly, these poems investigate trauma and memory in a way that doesn't elide or glide but interrogates without fear. In doing so, Che makes clear for us that the only way to progress and evolve past a trauma is directly, no matter how painful that action might be. As the speaker in "Disassociation" says, "It hurt to be touched. // My posture folded in. / And yet, I grew."

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