Monday, December 26, 2016

[Poet Spotlight] Jenna Le

Today for Poet Spotlight, I'm excited to highlight Jenna Le, who is the author of  the 2016 book of poetry, A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Anchor and Plume Press). She is also the author of Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), which was a Small Press Distribution Bestseller.

Her poetry, fiction, essays, criticism, and translations appear or are forthcoming in AGNI Online, Bellevue Literary Review, The Best of the Raintown Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Los Angeles Review, Massachusetts Review, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

I've greatly enjoyed reading her verse. She's a Minnesota-born Vietnamese American, which always gets my attention. She earned her B.A. in mathematics as well as an M.D. degree. She currently lives and works as a physician in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire.

Le has been a Minnetonka Review Editor’s Prize winner, a two-time Pharos Poetry Competition winner, a William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition finalist, a Michael E. DeBakey Poetry Award finalist, a Pamet River Prize semifinalist, a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a Best of the Net nominee, and a Rhysling Award nominee.

I'm always interested in what direction Vietnamese American speculative poetry will take, and with A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora, she presents a bold text to respond to. This easily became one of my three favorite books of the year. 

As Anchor and Plume describe it: "9 million years ago, the ancestors of modern whales left their terrestrial habitat to embrace the unknown perils of an oceanic existence. In this new poetry collection, Jenna Le reflects with wit and lyricism on the ways that land and sea creatures alike are defined by their predecessors' immigrant narratives. In doing so she writes from a wide variety of perspectives including her own as a second-generation Asian-American, daughter of Vietnam War refugees, and physician in the melting pot of the Bronx. Here is a book of verse steeped in the aromas of sea salt and ambergris, blood and antiseptic, love and death."   This one ought to be a strong contender for a number of awards in the coming years ahead. 

I find her style brief but strong in imagery, imagination and daring. Don't miss "Công Binh", for example, or her recent "Chè Bắp." You also owe it to yourself to see how she works with the myth of Marsyas, which tie in to the classics of Greece as well her own personal experiences.

I'm looking forward to future books from her, even as I'm amazed by how she balances an artistic life with one in medicine. She discusses this in her enjoyable essay at Big Think, "Centaurs, Ligers, Doctor-Poets, and other Hybrid Breeds." I certainly hope Minnesota brings her back to read and present in the near future, and that it's not too long before she gets to travel abroad to share her work. I know I'll be following her work closely in the future. Be sure to visit her website at

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