Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl, Jennifer Wong
Bitter Melon Poetry, 2019 £3.00 (digital PDF only)
Folding penguin serviettes and success on the page
I didn’t buy into the use of the forward slash, until I read Jennifer Wong’s poems. Her ten-poem pamphlet, Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl, allows me to see what is happening, not just in my mind’s eye, but on the page.
In ‘My father, who taught me how to fold serviette penguins’, the poem is sliced up into phrases marked by slashes. This emulates the stiff folds in restaurant-linen napkins. The poem visually creates the step-by-step process of folding and has a disjointed feel. The repeated pattern of slash-divided phrases perhaps also reflects the work ethic of her father: ‘those evenings you came home / too tired to speak /’. And the stilted feel evokes the stoicism of ‘mother trying / not to let her feelings show /’ and the fragmented nature of memory.
‘Confessions of a minority student’ also jumps off the page. The split structure, with the main body of the poem on the left-side, and two columns with the word ‘success’ running parallel to the right, is intriguing. It shows the dichotomy between the minority student’s inner thoughts — where she faces ‘a day-to-day butchering’ from racism, set against the notion of ‘success’. Listing the word ‘success’ repeatedly suggests the concept has been drilled into her. It also brings to mind scrawling lines in a detention. Clearly, success at ‘Uni’ is not all it’s cracked up to be for this narrator. Her physical and mental distance from domestic students is highlighted through physical space on the page in the final line:
It is not alright to be lonely.
The use of non-glossed Chinese characters in ‘Girls from my class’ also caught my eye. The untranslated pictographs 棉納 alongside the alphabet show the juxtaposition of British and Chinese culture in a Hong Kong classroom. The differences are untranslatable. And the layout — a block of prose — is apt. It feels like a stream of consciousness as we travel from childhood to adulthood. At the climax, she asks herself (of becoming a poet): ‘what on earth were you / thinking?’