MIDWEST MONKEY: Adventures of an Expat Poet

Jasmine An shares her notes from the field in her monthly column Midwest Monkey.


I began writing this post sitting on the beach of the University of California Santa Barbara’s campus, and I penned the bulk of it in the Denver airport during a layover and finished it at my parents’ kitchen table back in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Eight cities in three weeks: Ann Arbor, Chicago, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Kalamazoo, Seoul, Bangkok, Chiang Mai. That was the whirlwind I set off on two weeks ago. In all these disparate places, I am floored by the writing community that reaches out to surround me.

In LA, I attended the AWP conference and finally met in person Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy of Two Sylvias Press who published my recent chapbook, as well as Keetje Kuipers, who selected it for publication. I saw again the Sundress Publications crew from Knoxville, old mentors from NYC and Kalamazoo, and literary crushes from across the nation. Fox Frazier-Foley, whom I’d never met offline, offered me a physical couch and the welcoming space of her home, and so many others materialized from Facebook into flesh.

Standing on the cliffs overlooking the UCSB campus beach, I wrote my first new poem in months, typing frenetically into a blank email I pulled up on my phone.

In Kalamazoo, the place where I’ve done my most important writing and deepest learning, I read poems to Sun Wukong, the Monkey King who has been my trickster muse and lends his name to this column’s title, and Anna May Wong, the archetypal ancestor who has recently graced my poems. Fitting that my last reading in the States was there, in the wood paneled room where I’ve heard so many idol-worthy poets share their work while surrounded by old friends and the mentors who have made me into the writer I am today.

Today, I shared one of my poems and many games of chase with my small cousins before saying goodbye and heading home to pack my bags for Thailand, where a fellow Sundress staff member is already present, pursuing his own writing project.

I’m going to Thailand to study the language and make a stab at being an independent poet, sans formal workshop group, sans university or MFA program. By the time this post goes live, I will most likely be sleeping on a plane over the Pacific Ocean. What a privilege and a pleasure to be embarking on such an adventure.

As I set off, Agape Editions remains a steady source of literary community and support. In the face of a proliferating breed of writers that I’ve heard Fox refer to as “broets” and the multiple scandals of old white dudes and plain bad editorial decisions by major publications (a couple examples of which have surfaced in the past week), I am extraordinarily grateful for the women and writers of Agape Editions. It is a joy to me that despite the fact that none of us live in the same city, we can all support each other in a community dedicated to producing and promoting excellent literature. This is the force I want at my back as I strike out into the world.

Jasmine An is a queer Chinese-American who hails from the Midwest. A 2015 graduate of Kalamazoo College, she has also lived in New York City and Chiang Mai, Thailand, and she studied poetry, urban development, and blacksmithing. Her chapbook Naming the No-Name Woman was selected as the winner of the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in HEArt Online, Stirring, Heavy Feather Review, and Southern Humanities Review. Her soulmate and forever muse is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. As of 2016, she can be found in Chiang Mai continuing her study of the Thai language.


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