Book Review: Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold by Dorothy Chan
Dorothy Chan is the author of Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, Forthcoming March 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Academy of American Poets, The Cincinnati Review, The Common, Diode Poetry Journal, Quarterly West, Jet Fuel Review and elsewhere. Chan is the Editor of The Southeast Review and Poetry Editor of Hobart.
Chan is currently a PhD candidate in poetry at Florida State University. She received her MFA in poetry at Arizona State University and her BA in English (cum laude) with a minor in History of Art at Cornell University.
A Review of Dorothy Chan's Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold by Miguel Soto
Dorothy Chan’s Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold is a collection of poems in three segments: “Snake Daughters,” “My Chinatown, a quadruple crown of sonnets,” and “Centerfolds, Histories, and Fantasies.” Each segment contains an actualization of the speaker’s self, and their position in Chinese-American culture, finding an abundance of beauty and appreciation. Through the satirical mode in each speaker’s voice, Chan delivers a vivid experience of Chinese-American culture, food, and womanhood. The speaker’s experiences is a realization of sexual manifestation, giving into, controlling, and owning the lustful appetite that develops in many human beings.
In Chan’s first section, “Snake Daughters,” the poem “Ode to All My Flings Who Hated Dim Sum,” is a celebration of Chinese-American culture, serving the reader plates of food, history lessons, and sociopolitical critiques. The poem’s first two stanzas are loaded with flavor, which the speaker points out her past “flings” are constantly missing out on:
And they’re missing out every time I order
Food becomes crucial in many of Chan’s poems, as food is the center point for the speaker’s own realizations when it comes to how people respond to the food she presents them to, or even more simply, the celebration and joy that comes from being in the presence of familiar foods. Chan's speaker in “Ode to All My Flings Who Hated Dim Sum” assures the reader and her past “flings” that the issue is not with her cuisine, but the “flings” themselves: “these men / can’t handle the truth that this isn’t Bizarre Foods for me.” In countering the comments and gestures the speaker’s “flings” make, she adds a feeling of both exasperation and humor for having to deal with the ignorant remarks of the “white boys” she brings into her comfort zone:
and no, white boy, you can’t handle my food,
The speaker refuses to be the object of Anglo-American misperceptions and stereotypes, rejecting the sexual fantasy imposed on her. The last line subverts the fetishizing of “softest skin” with “sandpaper,” mocking both the “white boy” and reader for thinking Chan's speaker ever even cared about being accepted into the confines of the ‘proper’ etiquette often imposed on women, especially non-white women.
Moving into Chan’s second section, “My Chinatown, a quadruple crown of sonnets,” the poems connect between historical backgrounds, Chinatown square, family, food, and a multitude of vivid memories, creating mini vignettes of experiences as a Chinese-American in the U.S. Chan’s segments are full of rich stories, critique, humor, and emotional range. In “Welcome to the Family,” the speaker amuses a “High Roller of Hong Kong’s Happy Hour” for a while, considering commitment versus passion. While the “High Roller” decides to meet the speaker’s grandmother, her displeasure shows in her comical stance:
Is this the 21st century romance of
The poem’s rhetorical question examines the authenticity of the commitment ensuing. The speaker entertains the unnamed “High Roller” out of commitment, but her own disinterest surfaces, revealing her refusal to accept the fabricated “love story.” Chan’s section “My Chinatown, a quadruple crown of sonnets” sticks to the fourteen-line form, but is transformative in line variation, theme, and subject.
Progressing into the third section, “Centerfolds, Histories, and Fantasies,” Chan’s titular “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold with the Killer Legs” encompasses the titillating motifs throughout Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold. The speaker’s purpose throughout each poem reclaims sexuality from objectification, refusing to be the object of the male gaze; instead, choosing to be the subject that she commands to be, because “this is LA, and women will have it all.” The "centerfold" proves how she commands her surroundings, coming down from the billboard, and stating, “King Kong only needed Faye, but a woman like me needs one hundred men.” The speaker’s authority “attacks” expected gendered conventions, shifting her position from the desired object as Faye, to the attacking giant, becoming the subject, but with the ability to direct the scene:
my men run to Fredrick’s to pick up
Chan’s “centerfold” demands and directs the attention of the scene, displaying autonomy over her own body and actions, and demonstrating the agency earned in refusing to be degraded by the men on their terms. The “centerfold” speaker exercises her influence over the men and scene: “I dare ten of them to lick me, but they freeze / at my womanhood.” Chan’s direction over her lines and language illustrates the unexpected turns of what she asks for, and what is actually acted on. Chan’s control over her lines conducts the shift in emotion, being able to depict the satire behind the significance of the “fifty-foot centerfold.” Instead of allowing the giant “centerfold” to run with bewilderment, the “centerfold” owns her sexuality, and knows exactly how to work it in her favor.
Dorothy Chan’s Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold is a journey of accomplishment and acceptance of the poems’ speaker’s Chinese-American origin, sexual fruition, and dominion over appetite. Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold is for the reader looking to experience the fulfillment of living in complete control over one’s own body, fears, desires, and oppositions. Dorothy Chan creates a world where her lead woman lives just as she pleases, and her pleasure becomes the reader’s own pleasure.
Miguel is the Asst. Managing Editor and Book Reviews Editor for Jet Fuel Review. As an editor, one of his main concerns is giving a space to marginalized voices, centralizing on narratives often ignored. He loves reading radical, unapologetic writers, who explore the emotional and intellectual stresses within political identities and systemic realities. His own writings can be found in OUT / CAST: A Journal of Queer Midwestern Writing and Art, The Rising Phoenix Review, and Rogue Agent. He writes for the Jet Fuel Review blog in Not Your Binary: A QTPOC Reading Column.