No ProblematicsViola Chen
Cover art: Lia Lepre
Editor: Nicholas Avedisian-Cohen
This is what they meant by the most terrible thing,
but I wanna be inside you so bad.
I want to be inside you
and I want you inside the thing I’m inside, too.
No Problematics takes interest in the moral panic around contemporary ideas of good political character. In decentering expected narratives surrounding identity, No Problematics creates a new world for us to consider in the process. Exploring how phenomena with extremely complex geopolitical histories are abstracted and reduced to flattened articulations of identity and relationality, Viola Chen questions: to what ends and for the benefit of whom? Chen attempts an alternative method through hardship, refusing to pay its constellations of intimacy due respect, and instead embodies a language of resistance that spreads like fire across the page.
“These poems dilute and constrict memory. Longing, interrupted with pathos for that precise longing—the sting of peeling dead skin from a fresh wound. This collection swirls with nameless energies: geopolitical dissonance, the intimacies of coping, subterranean fantasies, melancholia without telos. Immersed in a poetics of exile and elegy, No Problematics saturates neurosis until it becomes as elusive and universal as money. ‘If you love Pornhub / then you’ll love Pornhub live,’ where all that is buried becomes at once fleshly, visceral. I am lured into Viola’s world the way I am lured toward cracks in a window where light drips through.”
– Angie Sijun Lou, author of Dog Eaters (Fence, 2019) and winner of the 2018 Cosmonauts Avenue Fiction Prize
“Relationality, vectored as raced critical inquiry, animates Chen’s ambitious first collection of poetry, decentering conversations between an ‘I’ and their ‘you,’ a proliferating series of addressees. As diaspora is to gender dissonance, romance is to kithing kinship: no problem, a ‘tic,’—pluralized as a ticking timebomb—the heart, an indexical writing, process … solx-polarizing associations, an associative logic. Divided into four chapters—’killing eve’ but never ‘keeping quiet’—No Problematics knows grief, knows grief’s best met with Ngaian ugly feelings, humor set against loss’s sweeping panorama.”
– Amy Sara Carroll, author of SECESSION (Hyperbole Books, 2012) and FANNIE + FREDDIE/The Sentimentality of Post-9/11 Pornography (Fordham University Press, 2013)
“Viola Chen’s poem cycle runs on a quick-moving energy hemmed in by the closed-in walls of grief. I want to call No Problematics a long bottle poem, similar to a television episode set in one interior space: a father and a mother often enter to comment on a breakup. Love is for white people, the poems seem to half-joke, and yet the diasporic family’s stoicism offers the only attempts to explain the chaos of intimacy. Chen’s sly repetitions and clever ear craft lullabies are meant to unsettle rather than to lull. The present moment repeatedly pulls focus from heated reveries about the past in ways reminiscent of both Philip Whalen’s poetics of graphing thought and Hiromi Itō’s domestic grotesquerie.”
– Kimberly Alidio, author of : once teeth bones coral : (Belladonna* Collective, 2020) and After projects the resound (Black Radish Press, 2016)
Montreal Review of Books | “Viola Chen’s debut, No Problematics, splits. In four chapter-long poems that cleave even at the level of form, the speaker tries their best to refuse it. Despite the divisions – between worlds, loves, the self – their world crystallizes…”
Viola Chen is a writer, disability support worker and multi-media artist from Tianjin, currently based in Montréal. Navigating concatenations of identity, grief and absurd catharsis afforded within a disconcerting social order, they are interested in expropriating the distractedness of individual memory for collective affect. Their works have been exhibited in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Vancouver and Winnipeg.