Genève Chao is the child of émigrés, a translator of poetry between French and English, and the author of two other books of poetry. This book is a monument to all the strands of Chao’s family.

by Genève Chao • 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0-9987438-6-8 • 57 pages; $16

In her “Afterword,” Geneve Chao writes:

“the word ‘immigrant’ is someone who comes into a place, of course, and (in our English) its converse, ‘emigrant,’ is less used, calling attention as it does t o the place of origin, the lost home, the history of families and migrations. An immigrant is an incrusté, an interloper, whereas an emigrant is someone who has gone out. An émigré is thus one who is absent from the place that was once home. We forget, even those of us in the process of so doing, that immigration is not merely a process of glomming on to a place like barnacles on the hull of a boat, but is a process of transplantation in which parts of an organism are necessarily damaged or lost;

emigration is almost always preceded by exigency, waves of emigration more so.”

Emigre is the same in English as in French, but this is a book of differences. Chao writes in Guernsey French, English and American English, while bringing in stories of plantation workers in Hawai’i. This multi-vocal book is at once playful and earnest, revealing the complications of deracination by way of its words. Words mean something, but they are also miniature allegories for departure and (at least imagined) return.

Emigre is about islands and the words that emigration obliges us to make into islands.


When I circle all the words I do not know in Chao’s Émigré, the pages become bold with textual mime. Thought bubble after thought bubble of bl-understanding test one’s openness to learning. Chao’s powerful work obliges us as, more than readers, social actors in a very real world. Again and again, the poems ask us – in regret, in defiance, in hope – if we can be as curious, patient, and kind towards human beings as words. I dare you to rise to the challenge.
–Ya-Wen Ho

émigré, in its interweaving of four languages, is a strange experiment for the reader, as if their own language were delocalized, moving into and out of tongues as one follows the continuum of the text. And the tour de force is probably that the speech, in these poems, seems to take place in an unlocated interval – a space in between, “like foreign / ghosts.”
–Alain Cressan

A slip, a lilt, doucement into the folds of this book, and there you will find “a précision/blade turned” — in these delicate, sharply turning moments of near-translation, my mind’s ear flickers back and forth, no terre to land upon, no land to rester en place. I sit beside the restless murmur of Genève Chao’s language, the echoes of nouns and verbs that refuse domestication, resist the erasure – of those who have left, émigré, wondering, “brutal/et absolu.”
–Sawako Nakayasu


with winds
comme des
through channels
fourmis on
sifting sand
grimpe les uns
into glass, every
sur les autres
chamber packed
se hissent
tight with bodies
jusqu’aux toits
in boxes in alleys
afin de voir
finally to climb
enfin la lueur
to see stars
des étoiles