blackmail press 21
Guest editor Renee Liang
crossed cultures - special issue
C r o s s e d  C u l t u r e s

I’ve spent my whole life skipping over cracks in cultural pavements. I’m Chinese so I wear my difference on my skin (but not always up front). I’ve always been aware of two different views of myself: the one others see when they look at me, and the one I see of myself inside.  It’s always upset me that others couldn’t see what I saw of myself. Maybe that’s what drives me to write.

When Doug first invited me to edit this issue, I was overwhelmed and, I admit, a little nervous. Blackmail Press is such a wonderful hothouse for emerging writers (and established ones as well), and I wondered why Doug would trust a relative newcomer with an issue. (As I worked with him more, I realised that he trusts everyone, as he’s so generous and passionate about poetry that he can’t imagine others being any different).

After I got over the shock, my thoughts turned to what I could use as a “theme”. It didn’t take me long to decide.  Identity and culture are key themes in my work. You might even say that I’m obsessed with it.  And I was curious to see what others had to say.

A huge amount, as it turned out. As I read through my pile of submissions, I was caught up in the richness of people’s experiences, their voices, and their stories.  One thing people don’t warn first-time editors of is how much of a steep learning curve it is – not just in terms of editorial skills, selection, and the worst part, rejections - but just how much of a learning experience it is as a writer.  I hadn’t heard of piyyutim before, nor had I known they could be mixed to make a sepphardic remix.  I was inspired by the depth and layering of some poems, by the deceptive simplicity of others. The rhythms and resonance got my writing fingers itchy.

Most of all, I was inspired by the narratives I was hearing and the countless interpretations.  Culture is not just about genes; it’s about everything in our lives. White, brown, yellow or some other colour, we are all crossing cultural cracks, every day, everywhere. None of us are who we seem. All of us wear another self (or three) underneath our skins.

I am thrilled to be presenting voices from as far away as India, the Philippines and Canada. I am also thrilled that many poets in this issue are from my country – New Zealand. Although they may call Aotearoa home, they speak of their roots from Samoa, from Tonga, from Malaysia, from England, from Poland. Let this issue be a legacy to our multistranded community.