Poet Of The Week

Christine Chia

     March 18–24, 2019

Christine Chia is the author of The Law of Second Marriages (2011) and Separation: A History (2014). She coedited the poetry anthologies A Luxury We Cannot Afford (2014) and A Luxury We Must Afford (2016), both from Math Paper Press, and Lines Spark Code (Ethos Books, 2017). Chia has been a featured writer for the Singapore Literature Festival in New York. Her poem “y(ears)” appears in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology (Brooklyn Arts Press & Brooklyn Poets, 2017).

y(ears)

 
I once knew a man who
clutched the black telephone wire

like an umbilical cord,
carrying it everywhere,

especially the bathroom
where walls bounced back

his voice to him
like his mother’s womb.

His mother
didn’t listen to him;

all his life, he looked
for a woman

who had ears
only;

her silence
would

be his.

 
—Originally published in Washington Square Review, Issue 36, Fall 2015.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem was directly inspired by a former roommate I had. I was really puzzled by why he was on the phone all the time and couldn’t put down the phone even in the bathroom. Later on, I realized that he was a very lonely person.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve completed my first full-length play and am working on its first public reading in Singapore at the end of this month. It’s a serious comedy called We Cannot Bring Money When We Die. I’m also planning my third book of poetry, another play, and a speculative fiction novel. I work on whatever’s due.

What’s a good day for you?

Dinner with old friends, and good sleep—I’m obsessed with sleep. I feel I’ve been sleep-deprived since I was a kid and I’m still playing catch-up.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

My best friends from grad school were all in Brooklyn. It was wonderful being able to walk to everyone’s home and cook up a storm for each other. It was one of the healthiest ways of showing our care for each other in hard times.

Tell us about your neighborhood in Brooklyn. How long did you live there? What did you like about it? How has it changed? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I lived in Bushwick for about a year. You know a place is getting gentrified when there’s a vegan donut store and a gourmet mac and cheese shop within two blocks. Still, Bushwick has more grit than the East Village, where I used to stay.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

Reading my poetry to a very charming Walt Whitman lookalike, with the sun in our eyes while trying to get the right photo of the Brooklyn Bridge. Surreal.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Did you find that here? Have you found it where you live now? Why or why not?

A poetry community to me just means people who write poetry and support each other’s work, even if we write very different poetry. Yes, some of my best poems in my second book were written in my friends’ Bushwick homes, while goofing off with their pets. Yes, I have that community where I live now but I’m in a less pet-friendly place.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

R. Erica Doyle and Walt Whitman, if we have to be very technical about who’s a Brooklyn poet. If we can expand Brooklyn into a state of mind, I would love to claim Lucille Clifton as a Brooklyn poet. Her work gives life to so many harried people.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I’m super thankful to have the fierce intelligence of Kathleen Ossip looking over my poems. I also learned how to play with poetry from Elaine Equi and David Lehman.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

Blown, blown away by Jericho Brown’s The New Testament and can’t wait for his upcoming The Tradition.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Hieu Minh Nguyen’s Not Here, Safia Elhillo’s The January Children, Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

Definitely dip in and out of multiple books. I like to be taken by surprise when I’m browsing the stacks—the best kind of shopping. I love both physical books and digital texts. I love to look at physical books but for portability, digital books are hard to beat. I take very brief notes and they have to be in a notebook as loose notes always get lost.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

Maximalist poems. I’m innately a minimalist poet so that’ll be a stretch.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I love to read on the subway. If there’s a delay, and I have a book with me, at least I’m not wasting my life.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Brooklyn Academy of Music. Prospect Park. Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Music and trees make up at least half the magic of Brooklyn.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the sea breeze,
And what I dream about when you, our first mother, crawled
     out of the ocean
,
For every child is yours, even me as good as spurned you.

Why Brooklyn?

Always. The life force is strong here.