Books

Bright Fear by Mary Jean Chan: Poetry alive with compassion and acceptance

Chan's poems shimmer with the knowledge that amid the pitfalls of the world, you might still come home to yourself

Bright Fear by Mary Jean Chan

Mary Jean Chan’s second, scintillant poetry collection, Bright Fear, maps the poetic self in flux, delving into roots of queer longing, the enduring harm of colonialism and the shifting undercurrents of family interactions.

Chan unravels the ways in which the poet is always in the process of becoming – navigating migrations through language and place, the agonies of the pandemic, and the small spaces that beckon within parental conversations. The speaker states “when I was young, I realised my body was something to be held back”, and moving into various encounters as an adult, Chan observes a sea of microaggressions, with racist, anti-Asian and queerphobic intent that flood from “many wild mouths”, who force the speaker to reassure the very people who misread and harm them.  

In clear and simple verse, Chan figures the respite that the “constructed space” of the poem can offer, considering their polyglot inheritance of four languages, each singing with their own individual clarity. Vitally, Chan explores the senses through which we can be simultaneously known and unknown by those who care for us most, stating “This is the myth of love’s tenderness/that it only heals and cannot wound.”
This collection is alive with compassion and acceptance. The poems shimmer with the knowledge that amid the pitfalls of the world, you might still come home to yourself.

Annie Hayter is a writer and poet

Bright Fear by Mary Jean Chan is out now (Faber, £10.99. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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