A Chat with Dorothy Chan

Dorothy Chan is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, Spillway, Little Patuxent Review, Day One, and The Great American Poetry Show.

Crab Fat: Could you tell us a bit about the Centerfold poems and “Centerfold Versailles”?

Dorothy: So, “Centerfold Versailles” is part of a larger work titled Centerfold of the Year. I’m obsessed with the idea of the centerfold — I mean, thePlayboy playmate is such an American icon. When I think of American popular culture, several brands immediately come to mind: Disney, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and of course Playboy. The centerfold has such a lasting impact on culture because she’s pin-up, she’s risqué, and most importantly, she pushed the boundaries of sex, along with the representation of sex in everyday culture. Then again, “centerfolds” technically existed for a long time before that — think of the famous nude women in art, such as Ingres’ La Grand Odalisque or Goya’s La Maja Desnuda. One can argue that the idea of the centerfold is outdated now because 1. Playboy stopped doing nudes and 2. Internet culture has made this icon obsolete. However, in my poems, I look into what the centerfold did for women. I challenge the male gaze in my poems in that these models are tough yet vulnerable, and they’re flirty yet they know who’s in charge. They’re in charge. They find pleasure in having this power, and exuding this beauty. The backdrops in these “sets” also gives these poems an intellectual edge.


Crab Fat:  What’s the reasoning behind the “Centerfold” in these titles?

Dorothy: In particular, “Centerfold Versailles” looks into Rococo era France. When I think of Rococo, I think of Marie Antoinette and Fragonard, one of my favorite artists of all time. This poem is a play on that era. Fragonard is most famous for his painting, The Swing, where a young woman in a big pink dress is being pushed on a swing by an older man, who is unaware of the woman’s lover watching her from the bushes. It’s a flirty painting — the lover is watching her swing from underneath, and the woman even loses a shoe. I used this poem as an opportunity to intellectualize the centerfold. There’s almost no limitation of what you can do with sets. In this piece, the centerfold is in a makeshift Versailles, and she’s enjoying both the wealth opulence along with the rustic and natural. She’s rolling around in the gardens, and then she’s taking off her bra with a chandelier hanging above her.

Crab Fat: Is there any current project or are there pieces that you’re working on that you’d like to tell us about?

Dorothy: I’m currently working on exploring this Centerfold series even further. I think it’s important to revisit work in order to enhance it and look at it from a new perspective.

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