If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
I’d love to hear Alejandra Pizarnik read either Árbol de Diana or La tierra más ajena, and to know more about her experiences. I’d offer her tea, coffee, and/or coriander strawberry salad.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
I tend to write about difficult experiences, events, and circumstances. I think this is important for a number of reasons. For example, poetry can serve as a companion to a reader, helping us to feel less alone and/or to better understand ourselves and the world around us. Moreover, poets are a sort of historian, ensuring important events, perhaps especially the emotional information surrounding those events, is not lost. We must learn from the past. However, I certainly fear that my more difficult work could evoke painful memories in a reader or listener. For this reason, there are poems I will not read at a reading unless the event has been marketed in a way that the audience clearly understands which topics will arise. Moreover, I am deeply fortunate to have a community of fellow writers to whom I can show my work and with whom I can chat about my concerns. I trust them to be honest about how they receive the poems and how they feel the work may be otherwise received.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
Lee Ann Roripaugh. Perhaps more than any other books, Lee Ann Roripaugh’s poetry collections have taught me about the craft of poetry, especially cohesive collections, effective book-length topography, as well as the effects that literature can have on the intersection of our hearts and our minds. I teach her most recent collection, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 (Milkweed Editions, 2019), in my Asian American Literature class at Nevada State College, and we read some individual poems in my Creative Writing courses, as well. I had the exceptional honor of hosting her for a reading and a generative-writing workshop through my Clark County Poet Laureate programming, and my adoration for her only grew. She is eloquent, brilliant, and generous.
What books are on your nightstand?
Currently books are cascading from my nightstand, which is a prettier way to say that I have a mess. However, a few of them are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Lee Ann Roripaugh’s Beyond Heart Mountain, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Oceanic, Lisa Ciccarello’s At Night, Jake Skeets’ Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, and Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko. There are also a few proofs of Tolsun Books, a small press for which I am a founder and editor.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
I’m currently in love with the em-dash for the ways in which it allows me to shift meter and pacing.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
This isn’t quite the same, but perhaps sometimes our Band sheet music. On occasion, we’d riff and improvise, often much to the conductor’s dismay.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
I might thank my saxophone. Long before I became a poet, I learned musicality--phrasing, meter, pacing, and more--by playing the saxophone.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
I have two thoughts. First, I might write, Make time for yourself. Authors’ successful writerly processes vary greatly, so I hesitate to give too much advice. However, I think that if we don’t take some time for ourselves, it can be difficult to exist as creatives.
Second, something I tell my Creative Writing students is to try each poem 11 different ways. I learned this from one of my MFA mentors, H.L. Hix. I can’t remember if the exact number was 11, but the message I took from a conversation with him about revisions was to try our work in a variety of ways so that we can learn and grow as writers as well as allow a poem or story to discover its truest version of itself.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends. If I can strike a balance between teaching, hiking or swimming, and writing, then writing energizes me. However, if I’ve already spent too much time sitting still in a day, then I need to get up and outside to brainstorm. This said, this, too, is part of my writing process.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I think it is important to read often and widely and to spend more time writing than submitting.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
An empty bag of coffee. I know this is a bit cliche, but I really love light roast coffee. I get in my own way in plenty of other ways, too, such as anxiously prioritizing to-do lists. However, I’m lost without coffee.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yes. Well, more specifically, while I was Clark County Poet Laureate, especially during 2020 in the thick of the pandemic, I was often too tired to read. This might sound wild, but even holding up a book was cumbersome. This said, I did listen to audiobooks like On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous; hearing that novel in Ocean Vuong’s voice was exceptional.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I admire books that are deeply cohesive within themselves, such as Roripaugh’s tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, which explores the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster, and Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, which tracks the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. I like to understand how poems fit together within a book. Otherwise, I might prefer beautiful broadsides of individual poems, for example. All of this is to say that I would like each of my books to gather deeply connected pieces together to make a whole, but I don’t endeavor to have a set of books with clear connections to each other.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
My experience confirmed the importance of cohesion. I want to explore the topography of a book, how poems speak to one another, what themes might be present, how the collection-length narrative may be discovered, however gently that arc might be weaved. Certainly, there are plenty of exceptions, but as I mentioned, many of the collections that move me the most gather poems that are deeply tied to one another. This is something I already knew about myself from reading, editing, and reviewing other poets’ collections, but publishing strengthened my understanding and, therefore, commitment to this aesthetic. Especially today when we can find singular poems or brief suites of verse online, and we can create breathtaking single-poem broadsides, my messy heart-brain yearns to know how poems work together within a book, harmonizing and/or building upon one another.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I get anxious if I can’t travel. Going abroad has been life changing, but I don’t always need to go far. Even a day trip to Mojave Desert Preserve in California helps me make new discoveries and then return to the page more creatively. I loved riding the train from Nevada to Chicago with my husband; I brought my Royal Eldorado typewriter.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I grew into poetry in general. I misunderstood poetry in middle school and high school, probably because of standardized tests or textbooks geared toward them. It thought that poems had singular specific meanings, implied thesis statements, if you will, and this is absolutely incorrect. Part of what makes a poem a poem is that it is difficult to paraphrase. Poems have themes. They can tell us stories. Most certainly, we can learn from them. However, they aren’t emails, memos, or expository essays. That’s not how art works! It is subjective, and the multifaceted nature of a poem is part of what makes poetry beautiful and brilliant.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was very young I dreamt that space aliens took me to their ship and then vacuumed my voice out with our shop-vac. This is a nightmare that I’m still unpacking, but even then, I think it spoke to the importance of communication.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I think I’d like to take this moment to share how deeply I admire both Ugly Duckling Presse’s Lost Literature Series, which is how I discovered the work of Pizarnik, for example, as well as Milkweed Editions Seedbank series of world literature. Here’s a few lines from Milkweed’s “About the Series” page: “just as repositories around the world gather seeds to ensure biodiversity in the future, Seedbank gathers works of literature from around the world that foster conversation and reflection on the human relationship to place and the natural world—exposing readers to new, endangered, and forgotten ways of seeing the world.” I am deeply grateful for the important work of Ugly Duckling Presse and Milkweed Editions.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Many. Right now, however, I’m working on a collection of pantoums. I started to be drawn toward them early on in the pandemic. Due to the form’s repetition, they became a way for me to sit with what frightens me most as well as to rediscover even the most seemingly mundane aspects of life. They allow me to hold images and experiences almost within the palms on my hands, to roll them around, to see them from many angles, to contemplate what everything means. Of course, I almost always discover more questions, not answers, and I find comfort in this.
What does literary success look like to you?
For me, literary success is having a lifestyle that both allows me the time to write as well as to give back to other writers, such as my undergraduate students, the authors we publish at Tolsun Books, the diverse voices my Nevada community champions through workshops and open mics, and/or the authors whose small-press books I review to help spread awareness about their important work.
What’s the best way to market your books?
There are so many factors. I think finding a publisher that believes in your work and will champion your book is invaluable; astute line edits, a stunning cover design, professional press releases, a timeline that accounts for review copies, and an active relationship with distributors can be deeply important. This said, authors also must work to market their books by sharing the news with their communities, encouraging presales, being available for interviews, reading at events, and more.
This may be less about marketing one’s book, but especially because I have mentioned the importance of making time for oneself, I should share this, too: I hope all writers might consider taking on some form of literary stewardship, whether that be editing poetry journals, hosting open mics, leading community storytelling workshops, reviewing small press books, etc. There’s so much that writers can learn from one another. Moreover, I believe in the importance of writing communities and of giving back. On that note, I’d like to express deep gratitude for S.R. and everyone at Unsolicited Press; you folx are exceptional.
What did you edit out of this book?
There is so much that I edited out of this book. I revised this collection countless times. One poem I removed was a sonnet. Between the rhyme scheme and the iambic pentameter, that metrical foot which mirrors our heartbeats, the form felt too neat and tidy, too perfectly controlled, for a collection that explores, in part, the complexity and unpredictability of grief.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I’m a Lecturer with Nevada State College. I teach classes such as College Success, Creative Writing, and more. This said, if I didn’t write, I’d probably play my saxophone more often; I miss playing out with bands, but there are only so many hours in a day. I’ve also been a barista, a communications and development coordinator for a nature center, a Certified Veterinary Technician, etc.
Gathering Broken Light
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