In honor of National Poetry Month, we’re interviewing several poets and asking them a few questions about poetry. Our first featured poet is Jane Wong! Stay tuned all month for more featured poets.
1) Why poetry?
I write and read poetry because it carries the weight of my questions. It’s a means of getting closer to understanding; I think about the mathematical concept of the asymptote, which is a line that continually approaches a given curve but doesn’t meet zero/the axis ever. Poetry for me is always doing that: approaching some sort of understanding, but never actually fully reaching it. It’s that joy of language moving along the curve.
2) Do you feel like poetry is more or less important & relevant today?
Always important, always relevant. Poetry has stakes in the real world; it alerts us to look closer. I always return to Lorde: “[Poetry] is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” I write poetry especially for this last part of Lorde’s quote: to make the voices of my ancestors heard – living and dead.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and a thinker.
I have quite a few poets who have impacted me and I think of us all as a community. If I had to highlight just a couple, it would be Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and Lucille Clifton. Cha taught me how to feel through poetry. That it didn’t need to be “about” something and instead, you can rise and fall through a text as a result of your own personal experience. She taught me to value my own participation as a reader. DICTEE’s multiplicity as a text opened up fragmented ways of reading – just like the experience of migration and language loss itself. Clifton taught me how to demand to be heard. Each poem of hers strikes me as necessary – as language that must be said. She reminds me, in poems like “won’t you celebrate with me” that there is joy in declaring selfhood in your poetry. And that declaration of selfhood is an act of bravery.
4) Tell us about one lesser-known contemporary poet who you’d like more people to know about.
I love the work of Khaty Xiong, a wildly talented Hmong American poet. Here is a link to her website with poems: https://khatyxiong.com/index.php/poems/
Her work is multilayered, visceral, and utterly heartbreaking in its confrontations with grief, migration, and the self.
5) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
Here is a link to a recent poem, “When You Died,” in The Foundry.
This poem is part of a longer series of poems written to the dead – to my missing family members during the Great Leap Forward. The Great Leap Forward, a Maoist campaign, resulted in massive starvation. I was thinking about the passage of time in this poem; how time passes in states of hunger. Of the silence of water only. Of holding onto someone who is also hungry.
Jane Wong‘s poems can be found in anthologies and journals such as Best American Poetry 2015, Best New Poets 2012, Pleiades, Third Coast, and others. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of scholarships and fellowships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Fine Arts Work Center, Squaw Valley, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Along with three chapbooks, she is the author of the book Overpour (Action Books, 2016). This fall, she will be an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Western Washington University.