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Months ago, the Transpacific Literary Project released a call into the world in search of “jettisoned histories of disregard”—the transience and durability embodied in plastic. And like the “material otherness” adrift in immortal sea, the pieces of this Plastic folio have been a long time floating to shore.

I want to imagine the writing gathered here as encounters with debris accumulating along a vast shoreline. While walking from here to there along some edge of sea, the abandoned out-of-place things attract those who cannot stop caring. I walk along and pick up things, with a stranger’s curiosity for this “forgotten, but not dead, waste.”

What is this, “is it odor or fragrance?” (Sawako Nakayasu) and who made it, “polishing poetry between machines” (Zheng Xiaoqiong/Eleanor Goodman), “continuously for twelve hours” (Xie Xiangnan/Eleanor Goodman)? Who used it, reused it, who tossed it down “the 21st century’s low slope of prosperity” (Zheng Xiaoqiong/Eleanor Goodman)? Which waters first embraced it and which carried it here? How long has the sea been kneading this thing into the earth and is it “natural” yet?

Shoreline debris, and the pieces of this Plastic folio to meet here, invite an asking into the nature of a thing: its origin, “A womb so supple and so alien” (Divya Victor) “she places her placenta in a Ziploc” (Craig Santos Perez), and its place: “I have never
to La Ciotat
nor been Pusan nor
nor Singapore, nor Dong
bei nor Berkeley

nor Ulaanbaatar

Never” (Tse Hao Guang)

Its nonliving lifespan far surpassing mine, “it encounters nonstop time” (Zheng Xiaoqiong/Eleanor Goodman), “its stench forever permeating” (Nay Saysourinho). I ask, does one’s deathless refusal to disintegrate necessitate one’s displacement?

The unnatural in nature, like the inhuman things I take into me “with a slow, careful regret” (Silvia Park). Its poison “leaches estrogenic and toxic chemicals” (Craig Santos Perez), “opalescent and scintillating” (Karen Gu). Its falseness, an “enlightened imitative dabbling” (Phan Bá Thọ/Jack James Huynh).

“What the hell are these?” (Esumi Fujimoto). The thing’s foreignness becomes an increasing part of my own body “and slip[s] his arm into her ear, as if to caress her brain” (Silvia Park). “She opens her fist-of-words and allows mean, toxic syllables to thus infiltrate the body” (Sawako Nakayasu).

My dependence on it is my hatred of it. “The sweetness is the taste of collapse” (Karen Gu).

I walk that shoreline from here to there, picking up these objects and handing them to you. “Numb after squatting, I sit down” (Bing Ma/Eleanor Goodman) and wait for you to read them back to me.

一Kaitlin Rees

*All unattributed introductory quotes from Michelle N. Huang’s Ecologies of Entanglement in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Accompanying each piece of the Plastic folio is one suspended moment from “The Fall”, an installation of artist Giang Nguyen Hoang. In this work, Giang studies Youtube videos in which robots are pushed to the ground to test their balancing skills (e.g. those carried out by Boston Dynamics). Through analyzing the precise movements of the falling robot and choreographing a tutorial for human replication, Giang explores the stumbling blocks of our/their post-human progress.


by Divya Victor

After a sperm whale sucks in a squid, it will vomit out its beak.
Plastic 1: Embodied language materializes in the mouthmind in Divya Victor’s suite of poems excerpted from the book-length collection, KITH (Fence/Book Thug 2017)

Fish Paste
by Nay Saysourinho

I will outrun the smell of wet decay, your Mekong river in a Gatorade bottle.
Plastic 2: Nay Saysourinho’s flash fiction takes in the deeply entwined relationships between smell, memory, and motherhood; calling on that which keeps and refuses to (dis)integrate.

Poor Unfortunate Fools
by Silvia Park

Astra unwrapped her long spindly fingers and weighed his member with a chilling fascination.

Plastic 3: In another voice of plasticity at sea, Silvia Park toys with a scientific language/gaze directed at the sexual lives of mermaids.


The Age of Plastic
by Craig Santos Perez

Ultrasound waves / pulse between fluid, tissue, and bone一 / the embryo echoes.
Plastic 4: Craig Santos Perez’s poem unsettles our human dependence on the nurturing and noxious material that is embedded in earliest forms of life.

Playing with white dust from Mongolia, always unfinished
by Tse Hao Guang (謝皓光)

into such sen / sitivity of it / such sense / could not say

Plastic 5: Tse Hao Guang’s poem knits from the notes and images of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s unfinished film, shaping an aesthetics of brokenness as junction.


Transpacific Literary Project is an ambitious online editorial initiative of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW) that is poised to foster literary connections between East and Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Asian diaspora, and a broader American reading public. The project has taken the shape of a series of portfolios published on AAWW’s online magazine The Margins. These portfolios comprise poetry and prose written by East and Southeast Asian writers, with an emphasis on works in translation, curated around broad themes, and seek to traverse geographic and other boundaries.

Giang Nguyen Hoang (b.1989) is a Vietnamese artist currently based in Milan, Italy. His works are multimedia with a focus in photography and video. His recent interests lie in the relationship between human and machine. Giang has shown his work at Nhasan Collective and Goethe Institut (Vietnam), as well as internationally at venues such as Museo del '900 (Italy), Asian Culture Complex (Korea), Galerie Nord/Kunstverein Tiergarten (Germany) See more of Giang Nguyen Hoang here.

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