In Manatee Lagoon, her third full-length collection, physician and poet Jenna Le blends traditional form and the current moment. Sonnets, ghazals, pantoums, villanelles, and a “failed georgic” weave in contemporary subject matter, including social-media comment threads, Pap smears, eclipse glasses, and gun violence. Le also sheds light on the experience of being the daughter of Vietnamese refugees in today’s sometimes tense and hostile America. The morning after the 2016 election, as three women of color wait for the bus, one says, “In this new world, we must protect each other.” The book also addresses the topics of implicit bias, the immigration crisis, and damage to the environment.
Le’s previous collection, The History of the Cetacean American Diaspora, used whales to examine the experience of migration; here, the recurring sea mammal is the manatee. A symbol as wide-ranging as the book itself, the genial but vulnerable sea cow gets aligned with mermaids, neurologists, the month of November, harmful political speech, and even a family photo at the titular lagoon.
Manatee Lagoon is a treasury of voices, bringing together the personal and the persona, with poems dedicated to Kate Spade, John Ashbery, and Uruguayan poet Delmira Agustini, and written in the voices of both Polish mathematician Casimir Żorawski and a neighbor of Vincent van Gogh. With this book, Le establishes herself as a talented transcriber of the human condition—and as one of the finest writers of formal verse today.
88 pages | 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781946724519 (pbk)
PRAISE FOR MANATEE LAGOON
“Jenna Le’s poems navigate between science and imagination, political awareness and lyric timelessness, Vietnamese cultural heritage and American pop culture sensibility, traditionalist’s mastery of craft and rebel’s assaults on complacency. Frank and raw and smart and funny and enormously talented, Le is one of my favorite contemporary writers. A new book from this busy physician-poet is a cause for celebration.” —Julie Kane
“To wade into Jenna Le’s Manatee Lagoon is to happen upon the bioluminescence in a bloom of plankton in the darkest of times, when you can’t tell sea from night, when you need something bright and beautiful to show you a way out of drowning. With a lyricism that is sometimes the night-light you want, sometimes the lightning you deserve, Le masterfully weaves poems out of inherited forms and meters that are at once surgically precise and organically necessary. They will whistle you past the sickbed of American xenophobia, misogyny, and misanthropy and remind you that ‘In this new world, we must protect each other.’ Read this book as a light back into yourself and onto a world that threatens to stay dark.” —Matt W. Miller