Monstrous Poetry

Kenji Liu Is Using Frankenstein As A Metaphor For Toxic Masculinity

by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo
FROM: Bitch Media

KenjiKenji Liu and I enter a tea shop on Las Tunas Drive in an area that feels like the epicenter of the boba tea shop movement in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. K-pop plays over the speakers while a worker noisily fixes a hole in the ceiling, and Liu and I have to raise our voices in order to discuss Monsters I Have Been, his new collection of sci-fi–inspired poems that uses the figure of Frankenstein’s monster as a way to reflect on toxic masculinity. But though our location isn’t an ideal place to record an interview, after immersing myself in Monsters’ mix of languages, pop-culture references, and chopped-up texts, I wanted to meet in a location that has a similarly busy vibrance.

Much of the work in Monsters I Have Been is what Liu calls “Frankenpo,” a style of his own creation that chops and mixes multiple texts into one body. The poem “Stomach me, delicious world” is a Frankenpo, and according to Liu’s notes at the back of the book, combines “the screenplay of Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together (1997) + screenplay of Alice Wu’s Saving Face (2004) + article ‘Confucius on Gay Marriage’ in the Diplomat + New York Times article ‘Court in Hong Kong Invalidates Antisodomy Law from British Era.’”

Liu’s poems are experimental and strange; they demand that readers move through the pages without a guide—and many times without a speaker. Like specimens in a mad scientist’s laboratory, they are raided parts dropped into glass containers of formaldehyde for our viewing. But what are we looking at, and what does the scientist want us to do with the pieces? We sit down with our tea, and Liu begins to explain.

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