Jennifer S. Cheng

Jennifer S. Cheng (CNF, Hybrid, Poetry) | San Francisco, CA

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Jennifer S. Cheng is a poet and essayist who is interested in hybrid genres and visual-textual modes. She is the author of House A, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize, and Invocation: An Essay (New Michigan Press), a chapbook in which fragments of text, photographs, found images, and white space influence one another to create meaning. She received her BA from Brown University, MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, and MFA in Poetry from San Francisco State University, along with fellowships and awards from the U.S. Fulbright program, Kundiman, Bread Loaf, and the Academy of American Poets. Her poetry, lyric essays, and critical writing appear in Tin House, AGNI, Mid-American Review, Black Warrior Review, Web Conjunctions, The Volta, The Normal School, The Offing, Entropy, Jacket2, The Rumpus, Guernica Daily, and elsewhere. Having grown up in Texas, Hong Kong, and Connecticut, she currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a founding editor of Drop Leaf Press.


House A (Omnidawn Publishing, 2016). Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize. Poetry.


Invocation: An Essay (New Michigan Press, 2010). CNF, Lyric Essay, Poetry, Hybrid.

Blurbs, Press & Reviews

“Jennifer S. Cheng’s House A is an exquisite exploration of the ability of diasporic longing to live within a continuous and full life. These tender epistolary prose poems embody the constant sense of dislocation for the immigrant, while redefining affiliation nonetheless. The poems addressed to “Dear Mao” in the first section weave, correct, and redirect. They chronicle in the alphabetically-organized second section, and instruct on “How to Build an American Home” in the third section, in order to make apparent the illusive tone and mood of an upbringing—its porousness relative to history, myth, and location. Not since Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and Calvino’s Invisible Cities have I encountered such attention to the construction of love and love’s capacity to transform unimagined locations.”
—Claudia Rankine

“In Jennifer S. Cheng’s House A the susurration of the tides pull at the posts that make a home, or at least the idea of home. A wound is a dwelling place. The smells of cooking, the sticky warmth of Texas summers, and the blueprints that map the human heart attempt elegies superimposed against the doors of childhood. Cheng deftly juxtaposes the world and the word in an intimate meditation on space and reverie, ultimately understanding that ‘. . . before language, children experience memories as image and sound, which is to say they experience them as poetry.’ House A is radiant.”
—Oliver de la Paz

“In Jennifer S. Cheng’s House A we find an intelligence so deep it feels primal, a sensory perception so acute it links us to the phases of the moon, the tidal patterns of the ocean, the movements beneath the earth’s surface, a tremulous upheaval which becomes a kind of knowing. Cheng shows us that this knowing is akin to a child’s—the child beneath the kitchen table, the child attuned not to language, or fact, or even story, but to atmosphere, spinning her web of silken presences at the juncture of the table leg. Family (and history) here is echo, heartbeat, windows and doors being opened, shadow and sunlight on the floors and walls—the texture of being cared for. Cheng’s poems paradoxically, beautifully, become the tools of a super-fine archaeology which unearths the foundations of our (almost) lost dwelling places before language—for in these poems sensation and instinct are at once elemental and as eloquent as the flight of migratory birds.”
—Barbara Tomash

“In her elegiac debut, Cheng…excavates the nostalgic ephemera of the immigrant home… Through eloquent stitching of a childhood dream, she resurrects an estranged home’s haunting air… Cheng’s poems are a ‘layer of skin’ that she is ‘inclined to peel’—a litany that takes the reader closer to the marrow.”
Publishers Weekly

“[Cheng’s] refractory poems…have the effect of a kaleidoscope, dividing experiences into tiny crystalline slivers and re-assembling them to illustrate the unexpected colors and shapes that lie buried within everyday domestic life… I read this book obsessively, like I would devour a great thriller or a decadent meal of language… Through this collage of tightly hewn images, anecdotal gestures, and the suspension of engrossing narrative tension, Cheng has constructed a poetic narrative that is as powerful as it is sparse. The success of Cheng’s book lies in its ability to render those ephemeral moments that exist solely in the negative space of what remains unsaid.”
—Kim Liao, The Rumpus

“This impressive debut collection…astounds as a gentle, intelligent meditation on the primal longing for anchoring, especially in those who have been displaced or have inherited the displacement of previous generations. Cheng’s poems delight in the melding of spaces, subjects, the tangible and the intangible, to reflect the fluidity of existence for people who cannot easily lay claim to a home.”
—Eugenia Leigh, Hyphen Magazine’s “Our Favorite Books of 2016”

House A inherits many tropes from the essay, especially its more formal, intellectual rhetoric, but the writing’s movement is more liquid, more ruminative…more like the immigrant’s decentered network… Just like Cheng’s concept of home, the essay is a structure too rigid to house her experience, but one that has defined it nonetheless. It’s an institution to be cherished and subverted, sometimes in the same breath.”
—Nick Greer, DIAGRAM

“The poems in House A…[tell] truths about distance, belonging, and home, but they do so in what Cheng calls “refracted” ways—i.e., ways that combine the straightforward and obscure, the verbal and non-verbal, the ambiguous and silent.”
—Floyd Cheung, The Massachusetts Review

“Jennifer S. Cheng’s debut collection of poems House A draws power from repetition, like waves or the stacking of bricks. It’s torn between wanting to build on dry land and honouring the ambiguity of seafaring. At its best moments, it gets to the heart of the immigrant experience, tapping into the suspicion that perhaps the whole earth is no natural home, that everyone builds their home one way or another. This is what many want to forget, especially as the world grapples with immigrant and refugee issues.”
—Tse Hao Guang, Singapore Poetry

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