Split Lip REVIEWS
"Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold" by Dorothy Chan
by Stephanie Trott
Dorothy Chan could take me anywhere—as poet, foodie, or allied traveler—and I would willingly oblige. Garnering every emotion from fear to revulsion to arousal, her debut poetry collection, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold, celebrates being awake and aware in the places where one person’s past becomes another’s present. In these nearly sixty poems, there are snake women and small books, glazed pork and ghost dogs. And at the forefront is a fearless poet constructing her world while simultaneously steering the reader through it, placing us squarely in the front row of this fun-house ride.
Divided into three sections, Chan’s collection explores and ruminates upon her speaker’s position in locations that vary from being physically in this world to being entirely within family lore. Early on, we’re introduced to the speaker’s family and their tales. We learn of her father, who ate moldy bread as a child and now plays blackjack beneath bare-bottomed angels. We see her grandmother running a pajama stand and ordering fatty pork at a market in Kowloon. We meet her mother, who as a girl wanted nothing more than ice cream and red stockings. The devotion to family in this introductory section serves as an epigenetic foundation for the remainder of the collection, which grows more fantastical with each line.
These are poems that leave a slight grit in your mouth. We’re not made to feel pity
for misfortune, not when deciphering the speaker’s daddy issues or reading about her being seen as less-than by the grandfather she previously met only once. Chan’s speaker is proud of her identity and unshaken in exploring her history. Her authority is evident in numerous direct addresses:
“and no, white boy, you can’t handle my food,
you can’t handle me, and I’m not your Asian cupcake,
your Chinese wet dream in a slit red slip and pink kimono,
I’m not your stuffed panda that dances when you poke
my button, though you say I have the softest skin in the world—
well, it’s sandpaper once I open my big fat mouth.”
—“Ode to All My Flings Who Have Hated Dim Sum”
These are poems deeply rooted in place: we join in quiet moments at a kitchen table in Allentown, Pennsylvania; run loose with animalistic showgirls on the Las Vegas strip; pose nude for a calendar and flirt with the photographer. But never do we stay in these scenes for very long, moving quickly from street to home to lover to family. Chan’s poems mirror the act of walking down a busy urban street and taking count of all that’s seen: while some things will only be found once, others recur and repeat with slight modification. The journey feels organic, creating a scavenger hunt of connectivity. Reading becomes reminiscent of dreaming, where details make us say: I think I’ve been somewhere like this before. And yet multiple helpings of lychees and cherries don’t detract from the experience of consuming this shining collection.
Chan brings explicit attention to the importance of body language, such as to offer intimate suggestion or eliminate haggling at a knockoff stall. We learn of hunger with the turn of a lazy Susan, how legs should be held just so during a photo shoot. Sexuality and the female form dominate the final third of the collection, which shifts from the bright, fast world to the soft darkness of our bodies. Even eating becomes sexualized, transformed into a desire to try everything and fill oneself with something purely for the sake of pleasure:
“give me a thousand fish tacos and cupcakes
and all the sushi hot dogs and hibachi filet,
bring me a man—no, make it a hundred men,
blond and ripped as West Hollywood gym bunnies,
eating bananas in front of me,
making eye contact the entire time,”
—“Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold with the Killer Legs”
These are poems that invoke a carnal appetite. They are raw and begging to be chewed with sharp teeth. They know their limits, toying coquettishly with the boundaries of where we think they are going before pushing past that comfortable, safe place and running somewhere not on the map.
Stephanie Trott (@sc_trott) lives and writes on the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. She is a senior editor for TRUE, the weekly online platform for Proximity Magazine, and holds an MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her writing appears in the Rumpus, Winter Tangerine, Cleaver Magazine, and New South.
Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold
Spork Press | April 2018