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ON THE SHELF: ‘Monsters I Have Been’

“Monsters I Have Been” by Kenji C. Liu (Alice James Books).

Using an invented poetry method called frankenpo (frankenstein poetry), Kenji Liu takes existing texts and remixes them, creating multi-faceted poems that investigate the relationship between toxic masculinity and forms of violence plaguing our modern society.

In “Monsters I Have Been,” Liu also explores the male-male erotic and marginalized masculinities that are urgently needed as a counterweight to today’s dominant hypermasculinity. By challenging perceived gender norms with his playful, yet poignant, new form, the reader is directed toward a wider, more inclusive definition ofwhat it means to be a “man.”

frankenpo [frang-kuh n-poh]

noun 1. an invented poetic form

verb 2. to create a new poetic text by collecting, disaggregating, randomizing, rearranging, recombining, erasing, and reanimating one or more chosen bodies of text, for the purpose of divining or revealing new meanings often at odds with the original texts.

Liu is author of “Map of an Onion,” national winner of the 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize. His poetry is in American Poetry Review, Action Yes!, Apogee, Barrow Street, The Feminist Wire,The Progressive, The Rumpus, The Volta, Split This Rock’s poem of the week series, several anthologies, and two chapbooks, “Craters: A Field Guide” (2017) and “You Left Without Your Shoes” (2009). A Kundiman fellow and an alumnus of VONA/Voices, the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, and the Community of Writers, he lives in Los Angeles.

Liu will appear with Heidi Andrea Restrepo (“The Inheritance of Haunting”) on Friday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. Info: (323) 660-1175,

“Kenji C. Liu’s ‘Monsters I Have Been’ writhes knotty tentacles through textual boneyards,disturbing screenplays, theoretical works, and literatures in their coffined-off sleeps. What it draws back are parts through which the poet might, as Lucille Clifton wrote, make up ‘a kind of life’ in the global slaughterhouse of heteropatriarchy andracism. Sharp, protean, dexterous, and discontent — Liu’s collection shows where the bodies have been buried, and that many won’t stay dead. No doubt, this book is alive as all hell.” — Douglas Kearney, author of “Buck Studies”

“The monstrosity of the times speak to us through filmscripts, Internet writings, faux-apologies, divinations, public utterances, and savage declarations that hit from all directions ― letting us know that the patriarchal, capitalist, heteronormative inheritance of poetry no longer suffices to meet the demands of the day. Gone is the poet’s singular voice, the poetic transmission from muse or god or anguished affect. These frankenpos, as Kenji Liu calls them, arise from the thick and twitching mass of language constantly exploding between our ears―the overflow is rebellious, unapologetic, multilingual, and fierce.” ― Sawako Nakayasu

“In his book ‘Monsters I Have Been,’ Kenji Liu offers the franken-po(em) as swarm, as a reterritorialization of the border, of the montage, of the assemblage, a series of sensuous, disorienting confrontations. Gravities, sinkholes, craters, and other forms of post-slippage encounter grass, tide, fish and other types of undulations. The symphonic, multilingual, multi-signage aspect of ‘Monsters I Have Been’ allows for the question of what are you to be asked again and again, through different veils and performances of blur, innocence, and aggression. Read this spectacular, sexy book because it is a sublime, dusky love letter to our resurrections and our de/formations, ‘Deep earlight, you could be fuel for gender thievery.’” ― Sun Yung Shin, author of “Unbearable Splendor”

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