Rajan, Gaia: Killing It
Black Lawrence Press, paperback
Publication Date: September 27, 2022
Winner of the Spring 2021 Black River Chapbook Competition
Poet Gaia Rajan’s second short collection is a razor-sharp interrogation of queer Asian American identity, intergenerational trauma, and the detritus of American achievement. Here, lineage is at once redemptive and violent: "Sometimes / when people say I’m killing it I remember everything / exemplary I know or ever will traces back to a small girl / on the floor praying please, please, make them see me."
In this steely gut-punch of a collection, Rajan’s speakers don’t flinch, even when confronted with their own dissolution. They haunt ghost towns and cheer on bank robbers; they wake in the middle of the night with visceral dreams of a centuries-old genocide, trying to remember "how to coax a howl to eat;" they grasp for myths sturdy enough to hold, emerging empty-handed and furious. Killing It is vibrant, disquieting, a collection that demands to be read with reverence and abandon.
"Gaia Rajan’s KILLING IT deeply considers the ethics of poetic observation: 'I worry that to be a poet is to sit and wait for beautiful things / to die. To exploit distance. To steal / flight.' With extraordinary narrative deftness, Rajan guides her reader from phantom water sounds trapped in a knee to the televangelical economy of Ohio with skillful, almost mathematical wordplay and uncanny insight. The speaker multiplies herself in order to gain some omniscient dimensionality, moving from 'I' to 'She' to 'You,' all while exploring how modes of address position our vulnerabilities to our families, the outside world, a beloved, a sister, an ancestor, an editor, a stranger. Rajan understands the part she is meant to play and then gleefully destabilizes the crafted role, creating her own rituals. Of the speaker’s father, she writes: 'Unlike him / I am a good man; every time I kill, I bury it.' The poems are not about distance or flight, then, but what is still holy about the proximate and the fallen, what we do with what has already been deemed damned." —Megan Fernandes, author of Good Boys and The Kingdom and After
"In her outstanding new chapbook KILLING IT, Gaia Rajan explores queerness and the overwhelm of outside reactions to that queerness. 'I lived / in a narrow house where every night the ceiling / closed on me like a lid.' Throughout these surreal and vibrant poems, Rajan questions language’s relationship to death and violence, as well as her own relationship to language. In 'Inside Every Poem You Can Hear Muffled Screams,' Rajan writes, 'I worry that to be a poet / is to sit and wait for beautiful things // to die.' Rajan manages to fit an anthology’s worth of striking images into this chapbook, and I’m already aching to reread it." —Paige Lewis, author of Space Struck
Poetry. LGBTQ+ Studies.