kaya publishes books of the asian pacific diaspora

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Jenny Liou

Jenny Liou is an English professor at Pierce College and a retired professional cage fighter. She lives and writes in Covington, Washington.


Muscle Memory

Kaya Press October 2022

In Muscle Memory, Washington-based poet Jenny Liou grapples with violence and identity, beginning with the chain-link enclosure of the prizefighter’s cage and radiating outward into the diasporic sweep of Chinese American history. Liou writes with spare, stunning lyricism about how cage fighting offered relief from the trauma inflicted by diaspora’s vanishing ghosts; how, in the cage, an elbow splits an eyebrow, or an armbar snaps a limb, and, even when you lose a fight, you’ve won something: pain. Liou places the physical manifestation of violence in her sport alongside the deeper traumas of immigration and her own complicated search for identity, exploring what she inherited from her Chinese immigrant father—who was also obsessed with poetry and martial arts. When she finally steps away from the cage to raise children of her own, Liou begins to question how violence and history pass from one generation to the next, and whether healing is possible without forgetting.


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“This debut collection by Jenny Liou, a Renaissance scholar who is also a former cage-fighter, attests to her unique position at the crossings of the seemingly contradictory strands of an evolving personal identity and her diasporic heritage as the daughter of a Chinese immigrant.  She honors them all as one who chooses not to ignore the richness of her complexities, creating poems that move dimensionally, shadows of each profound experience trailing her as she enacts rueful and yet dutiful blessings of her family’s Chinese past, recalls battering her opponents in the cage (and being herself battered), and then gratefully embracing her own erotic and family life as a lover and a mother.  In one of many remarkable poems, she writes being punch-drunk is like thinking in little pieces with big feelings, over and over.  She may as well have been describing her own poetry, backgrounded by deep literary learning, flashing bursts of eloquence and beautiful imagery in quick jabs and crosses, her strophes suddenly upon you as a spatter of your own blood sprays from the blows of her viciously gorgeous verse.”

– Garrett Hongo, author of Coral Road

“Liou writes as the trained fighter she is, her poems feinting across the page with the deft precision of a body turned weapon. From the hyper-masculinity of sweaty cage fights in Vegas to a father’s immigrant hands planting seeds in the Idaho dirt, Liou’s poems show how strength itself is an act of severing. What do we lose in the act of becoming strong? What borders are crossed in quiet violence as we survive? Within the ring of these pages, wilderness, blood, and diaspora weave together with the calculated ferocity of a truly singular voice.”

– Tessa Hulls, Feeding Ghosts