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Justin Chin’s third poetry collection, Gutted, which is dedicated to the memory of Chin’s father, Dr. Chin Jeck Soon, is comprised of poems conveying a son’s exhaustion as he comes to terms with his father’s terminal illness, and his own illness, in which the death process, and the process of grieving are public and participatory. These poems are unadorned, honest, and gritty, and as a result, Chin manages not to manipulate or force the reader to pity for either the loss of the father, or his own looming death. 

Formalistically and emotionally, Chin’s poems move between the rigorous and disciplined, the fragmented, and the sprawling and chaotic. He begins with a ghazal, “Tonight again,” in which the end rhyme of each couplet’s second line serves as a refrain or litany, indicating resignation to a cycle of lamentable situations in which the grieving individual is stuck...

...There are the individual crises which the speaker has brought upon himself, and then there is the geopolitical; the speaker is subjected to both of these contexts simultaneously, almost indifferent to those things which continue to bring him harm: “Blah blah blah, over and over, again and again, again tonight.” In this way, he is inconsequential. ThroughoutGutted, navigating the private and the public, the speaker runs the risk of becoming inconsequential, as in the untitled poem about the one monkey who’s called in sick, one of “a thousand and one / monkeys pounding / away at one thousand / and one iMacs.” It seems so silly, but consider that amid the dull and incessant noise of trendy and cute technology, individuals, barely valued for their work, are dehumanized. 

A note on the forms tells us that Chin utilizes a loose variation of the Japanese zuihitsu, “diary entries, lists, quotations, observations, commentaries, fragments,” and this mirrors that emotional range of the son experiencing the father’s terminal illness and the grieving process which is realistically muddled, disordered, and rough. Chin presents us with various fragmented ironies and absurdities, language and concepts his speaker just cannot make sense of while in this prolonged emotionally vulnerable state. In “(Petit Mal),” he writes, “A little evil, a small illness. Why does it sound like a pastry?” And after actually witnessing a petit mal (seizure), “Small is relative. / Illness all.” The L-consonance of this poem underscores the unapt lightness of the word, “petit mal.” Also inappropriate in this time is pharmaceutical language: “Suicidal ideation… Medicine to cure will do this. / Irony? or HMO?” We wonder if it the medicine which causes the suicidal ideation, when we hold such faith that medicine ought to “cure” this. Instead, we find an insert of a Schering Corporation pharmaceutical drug package: “…may cause patient to develop mood or behavioral problems. These can include irritability (getting easily upset) and depression (feeling low, feeling bad about yourself, or feeling hopeless). … Some patients think about hurting or killing themselves or other people and some have killed (suicide) or hurt themselves or others.”

This, placed at the bottom of a page which begins, “W.W.J.K. // Who Would Jesus Kill?” And with this combination, Chin has provided us with something strange and pointed to think about. ....