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Merging Memory with Storytelling

Guest Post by Kate Gaskin

In Wider than the Sky, Nancy Chen Long’s second book of poetry, the biological constraints of memory merge with the practice of storytelling to show how families create intimate legacies and private lexicons that both heal and stifle.

Long uses the language of science to meditate on the power of stories to determine—or even rewrite—reality. In “Interstice,” she writes “Our memory is flooded with holes, pocked like cotton eyelet.” To participate in narrative, then, is to admit its fallibility: “There are gaps in our stories / and in our history. People are missing.” “In the Family of Erasure” shows a daughter and mother engaged in a complicated dance through each other’s individual memories in order to arrive at a shared history they can both tolerate.

Throughout this collection, Long mines both the personal and the general to show how memory is a mutable and ever-evolving force that steers migrating butterflies around long-gone mountains and compels a daughter to clean “off the family’s stains . . . to keep her memory-rooms blameless.” In the closing poem “Wordlust,” Long writes of the bittersweet futility of determining shared history: “The world is filled / with words. We are a seaward-bound people, / chasing a flood / of sorrows our stories cannot explain.” These are tender and insightful poems that probe the fallibility of memory, asking which parts of our legacy we can control and which parts are inherited by complex forces that stretch back into our DNA.

Wider than the Sky by Nancy Chen Long. Diode Editions, March 2020.

Reviewer bio: Kate Gaskin is the author of Forever War (YesYes Books 2020). She is a poetry editor for The Adroit Journal. 

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