Sherry Quan Lee’s poetry is mainly focused on ethnic experience as an Asian/African-American living in America. Her poetry book Chinese Blackbird (Modern History Press, 2008) bears close similarity in theme and modes, to her other poetry book How to Write a Suicide Note (Modern History Press, 2008). One perceptible difference is that of tone. How to Write a Suicide Note sounded more poignant and exuding the feeling of ethnic discrimination and identity crisis to the extent of leading one to suicide attempts. But Chinese Blackbird sounds more involved in self-expression and story-telling. Some pieces in this collection are in fact written in prose with the poetic feel coming through loosely maintained rhythm.
After a very warm, inviting preface by David Mura, Sherry Quan Lee’s very first line, “I’m pregnant with myself”, speaks her inner urge of having another birth, a sort of inner rebirth by conscious choice. There come poems then which question the arbitrariness of blackness, the biases gearing the judgmental process, and the deceptive standards of identity (based mainly on skin color). Some of the questions are quite broad and would challenge the intellect as a whole: “Is it too late to break silence?” “Am I the woman I’m in love with?” There is enough in this collection to spark some meaningful discussions.
Chinese Blackbird also tells more about the author’s family and her experience of family life as well as relationships. And at more than one place, it rejects men on different grounds. This is not to say that the poet sounds phobic of men without reason. But her interior self seems to express a greater trust of women, epitomized in the poem “Naming” where her tribute to her mother shows why she ultimately can trust a woman, and with good reason. Maybe, men would like to question her position, but they have to beat the poet’s inner voice with stronger reason and at least equal poetic talent.
If How to Write a Suicide Note was an uplifting book standing for the value of life against adversity, Chinese Blackbird is a poetic picture of the strengths of one’s interior and the possibility that one might find success with living by being true to one’s inner self, even if it implies looking at one’s face in the mirror with no social makeup on. These poems are important in addressing both personal and social aspects of life in a multi-ethnic society.