Crafted with lines from her late father’s letters, Jennifer Tseng’s Thanks for Letting Us Know You Are Alive is a portrait of an immigrant, a rootless person whose unspoken loss—that of his native geography, family, traditions, language—underlies every word. Though her father’s first language was Mandarin, for more than twenty years he wrote these letters in English, so that she could understand them. Some are riddled with errors, some nearly unintelligible. Lines from his letters appear as titles and are scattered throughout the poems, blending voices of father and daughter. This collection enacts what it means to lose someone and commune with them simultaneously—the paradox of grief and all it gives us.
Not so dear Jenny:
But we two can never divorce each other.
“Please say hi to your family for me.”
Oh, that was quite a letter.
Please let me know how you feel about this understanding. Can you take it or you can care less.
All of a sudden it dooms on me . . . maybe you already knew.
Parents love for their children has no condition.
Do NOT try any sleeping pills under any circumstances.
Love, Your poor and ignored daddy.
Why should we blame others for forgetting me?
Do not second guess my true feeling.
I sincerely hope it was not a decision derived from the physiological desire of your body.
Diane is here and we are happy to have her with us.
Dear Jenny & Mandy,
As a matter of fact, your daddy is the biggest failure of you all—I could not even hold a family of four together!
To my beloved girl in paradise:
None of the literature Nobel Prize winners I know of were graduated from the most prestigious universities.
(Please note the jade is a genuine jade, not a plastic fake.)
Dear Monkey #1:
I begged her not to do it.
I would have hated myself for not calling or writing you more often when I see the Saint at the Gate.
Now you have completely disappeared.
You are definitely not the outsider.
Good medicine tastes bitter. You should not feel hurt. You should feel being deeply loved.
If I lose in Superior Court, I will appeal myself.
I have tried my best and their is a limit to my patience.
Remember you are an American by birth but a Chinese by heritage, skin, look, and name. Don’t kid yourself about it.
Come to think of it I have really made a fool of myself for so many years.
There is a will there is a way.
Please save this letter for future use as evidence.
You are the one who appears drifting away from us.
I never read one word Toni Morrison wrote.
There is no short cut.
I wonder how you manage to survive.
You probably never can imagine how often I thought of you, fond of you.
The advice meant well at least.
We are happy to hear that you’re not lonely.
We sincerely hope that you’d make the right decision all the time in the future.
Roses Are Red / Violets Are Blue / My Admire For You / Will Always Be True! / Your Secret Admirer
Dear Baby: You are approaching the end of your rope.
Drink a glass of warm milk.
I have a strong mixed feeling regarding myself.
Please ask your mother one more time to drop the warrant for my arrest.
My dearest Jenny:
JENNIFER TSENG is an assistant professor of literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz. She is the author of two previous full-length poetry collections: The Man With My Face and Red Flower, White Flower. Her flash fiction collection, The Passion of Woo & Isolde, was a Firecracker Award finalist and winner of an Eric Hoffer Book Award; and her novel, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness, was shortlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and the New England Book Award.
“A kaleidoscopic book that performs grief's tireless and ambitious work, Jennifer Tseng's poems, aptly narrowed and scalpel-shaped, concussive with enjambment and hard stops, commit to the work of excavation and salvage—but do so via the heartbreaking and heart filled collaboration with the dead and the ghosts that go on living in our words. A clear-eyed and courageous feat.”—Ocean Vuong, author of Time Is a Mother and On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
“Jennifer Tseng’s Thanks for Letting Us Know You Are Alive asks: what do we remember if we go further, and further still? Pulling from the exoskeleton of the speaker’s father’s letters, these poems worm their way through memory, language, childhood, and diaspora, creating new epistolary creatures: ‘Love rid itself / Then led me here.’ Deeply intimate, these poems pulsate with grief and terror, as well as tenderness toward the healing self. Each fragment, each line break is gorgeously considered, as each ghost unfurls with complicated longing: ‘My ghost, my guessed. / Where are you, farther?’”—Jane Wong, author of Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City and How to Not Be Afraid of Everything
“Distinguished by italics, the language lifted from these letters takes on an eerie physicality; I feel I can touch English as it swells, ripples, shines, and breathes. Thanks for Letting Us Know You Are Alive is a radiant reminder that we are all children of someone or something gone, sifting through and integrating the language the human dead leave in their wake: ‘Like you, I died became / English words . . . Your words are my sisters.’ Its commanding speaker faces with grace and verve the infinite mysteries and pressures of blood relation. This book is at once an intoxicating page-turner and an intricate lyric investigation of correspondence under global capitalism. I will cherish it.”—Emily R. Hunt, author of Company and Dark Green
“Crackling with the charge of the unsayable, Thanks for Letting Us Know You Are Alive is a richly moving collection that unseams entanglements and griefs from a father’s pained correspondence. Tseng bends, warps, and undercuts the language of these letters to build a blooming and intimate work that evokes the distances and hauntings between us and our closest relations. Through Tseng’s arresting play of language, these poems enact a stunning dance of loss and retrieval, and of the many ways in which ‘a father never ends.’”—Jenny Xie, author of Eye Level and The Rupture Tense
“Jennifer Tseng’s Thanks for Letting Us Know You Are Alive braids silence and grief, intergenerational trauma and personal memory. These poems and hymns show the many faces of language, from what could have been to what is now possible. Tseng spares no words for the neglected plant which flowers anyway. The intimate letters from a father press firmly into the page, holding worlds of duty, alarm, failure, and unbearable love.”—E. J. Koh, author of The Magical Language of Others and A Lesser Love
“The speaker of Jennifer Tseng’s Thanks for Letting Us Know You Are Alive is a speaker deeply attuned to both the harm and the healing that language can do. Drawing on language from a father/phantom’s letters, the daughter/darer of these poems reconstructs adolescence, deconstructs diaspora, and gorgeously makes song out of sorrow. These poems sing and sting. A father’s appeal becomes a daughter’s appall; university morphs into universal; Diane turns out to be Diana; to remember is to ‘member it again / again,’ to ‘dream the embers of a hooded / nation into place’; and two people can and do share a face—’Every morning I see / You mourning in the mirror.’ Jennifer Tseng reminds us of the power of address, the dangers and the liberations of the epistolary. These poems made me weep and ravenously wonder.”—Chen Chen, author of Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency