Unspooling from a mysterious and deeply discomforting encounter between the speaker and “K,” THE ONLY NAME WE CAN CALL IT NOW IS NOT ITS ONLY NAME slowly morphs into a long and impossibly personal examination of willfulness and ownership, mother tongue and mother earth, chronic illness (of body and soil), homelessness and exile, violence and place, severance and longing, private parts and public spaces, intimacy and institution, affliction and ardor, performativity, faciality, vernaculars, voice, filth, instinct, and clowning. Written in a suspended moment when Hsiung experienced a profound crisis of silence in her life, what begins as a truly hybrid interrogation of an interrogation between student and teacher contorts into an entangled and incantatory excavation of the origins of a poet’s psyche and relationship with the world itself. A work that was not composed but decomposed by way of worms and flies and a hazardous exposure to the elements of mythology, ecology, and epistemology, The only name we can call it now is not its only name is both a perennial coalescing convalescence between individual and societal specters and the tectonic documentation of a repeated attempt to endure.
“Valerie Hsiung’s The only name we can call it now is not its only name takes us through the territory/lessness of the exiled: what is done to location, how one locates the self and community, and the journey to arrival should there be one. The tongue of the exiled contains multitude voices and forms. Hsiung’s poems speak to me about the performance of arriving at language reached through translations, through arrangements of letters that is also a displacement of other letters, territories, and bodies. The twists and detours in the story of ‘a place where I could not speak at first. I had to learn,’ speaks also to the journey to language the autobiography of community. What we think of as voice is not free of the politics of dispossession. In this landscape, the only certainty is that of impermanence and of change. The poems resist the meanings we might ascribe to it, slip into forms when we think we know its name. It’s a stunning collection.” —Tsering Wangmo Dhompa
“The only name we call it now is not its only name moves immediately beyond the realm of the bound book into an aeriel and psychedelic projection of mind, a continuously unfolding pattern that we can only ascertain from above the earth and through the concurrent music of clashing fragments. Hsiung’s text maintains its velocity and charm through perfectly timed peripheral detail giving way to the crystallized ongoing, luminous present. I never wanted to leave this book as it so closely illustrates the way a poet thinks back on reality: posing words as free-floating enclosures, sound being used as a necessary weapon of defense and our experience of being surrounded by language, helpless to continue listening and binding and throwing the line back out in new, unquantifiable formations.” —Cedar Sigo
Valerie Hsiung is a poet, interdisciplinary artist, and the author of several poetry and hybrid writing collections, including THE ONLY NAME WE CAN CALL IT NOW IS NOT ITS ONLY NAME (Counterpath, forthcoming 2023), TO LOVE AN ARTIST (Essay Press, 2022), selected by Renee Gladman for the 2021 Essay Press Book Prize, OUTSIDE VOICES, PLEASE (CSU), selected for the 2019 CSU Open Book Prize, Name Date of Birth Emergency Contact (The Gleaners), YOU & ME FOREVER (Action Books), and E F G (Action Books). Her writing has appeared in print, in flesh, in sound waves, and other forms of particulate matter. Her work has been supported by Foundation for Contemporary Arts, PEN America, Lighthouse Works, and public streets and trails she has walked on and hummed along for years. Born in the Year of the Earth Snake and raised by Chinese-Taiwanese immigrants in Cincinnati, Ohio, she now lives in Colorado where she teaches as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing & Poetics at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa.