Poet Of The Week

Chia-Lun Chang

     August 5–11, 2019

Chia-Lun Chang is the author of One Day We Become Whites (ND/SA, 2016). Recent work appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Bettering American Poetry (Vol. 2), PEN America, Hyperallergic, Literary Hub and Vinyl. A Jerome Hill Artist Fellow, she has received support from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Tofte Lake Center, Cave Canem and Poets House. She has performed at MoMA PS1, Ace Hotel, the Poetry Project and Queens Museum, and lectured at Pratt Institute, Queens College, Brooklyn Public Library, New York Foundation for the Arts, Tougaloo College and Hanoi University of Business & Technology. Born and raised in New Taipei City, Taiwan, she lives in New York City where she is a chapbook editor for No, Dear.

Do Not Grow Flowers for Oxygen

 

I spread rose myrtle and cannot figure

Republic of China is not located in mainland.

In order to trust a manmade system

I pass a bowl shape of the window

fulfill with eyes

Listen careful, Lily

People learn what it means when

loyal men sit around the table to discuss a little chance to take over

women boil streams under pajamas.

At least both sides are comfortable

by how it is made

Watch your steps,

under the clouds, darklight comes in.

Do not grow flowers for oxygen

they will be everywhere or seduce to be pigments

To balance the system

some have split the skin

a few have hidden

most cut off tails

to survive or sign up

for surveillance

 
—Originally published in No, Dear, Issue 19, Spring 2017.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

My friend and No, Dear editor Emily Brandt reached out to me when the magazine decided on the theme “Republic” for its spring 2017 issue. The first thing I did was to check the dictionary. “Republic: (noun) a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch” (Oxford). The first poem that came to mind in connection with the theme was “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas, though it wasn’t so much the poem’s standpoint but its implications that I found relevant. Thinking about “good men” and “wild men”—as depicted by Thomas—arranging the dynamics of supreme power, I felt that women and the lower classes would need to create connections, exchange information and news, and keep a close watch on the situation. Even the smallest move should not escape attention. “Do not go gentle into that good night” uses imperative sentences and sounds like a warning to me. That’s the atmosphere / tone I wished to set up in my poem.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on this interview and trying too hard to sound clever. I’m also doing revisions of my older poems. When I finish a poem, I usually keep editing for a few days, then leave it. After a couple months, I come back to read it again. Sometimes I wonder, What’s wrong with me? But some poems just need to sit and ferment for a while. Besides working on my first collection of poems, I’m looking for a platform to translate poems and introduce them to Taiwan.

What’s a good day for you?

I wake up with a job, knowing I can afford my own living expenses and won’t cause too much of a burden to my parents. I wake up without asking myself what have I done wrong or have I pissed anyone off. I wake up and still maintain hope that I’ll be back home someday. I wake up and have the desire to do things that interest me. I wake up and plan the way forward with my own will.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

MFA. I first came to the US through a work-and-travel program during college. I was really shocked to find out that absolutely no one cared about me. This utter isolation set me free and somehow motivated me to come back. After studying English for a few years, I was accepted to an exchange program in Jackson, Mississippi, to teach Mandarin and study. Two years later, my professor helped me to apply for an MFA program in Brooklyn and that’s when I came.

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?

At first, I lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, and eventually moved to Sunset Park to shorten the commute to school. I moved around Brooklyn during my school years because the rental situation was difficult. From Sunset Park to Crown Heights to Fort Greene to East Williamsburg, and then I moved out of Brooklyn. Each stay was so brief that I felt kind of like a passerby, so I can’t speak to how Brooklyn is changing. From my observation, people stayed only when they locked down a good apartment / deal. I haven’t been that lucky.

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

Everyone goes to therapy and praises the decision. I love how real people are. Staying in New York City / Brooklyn is quite expensive. People usually work very hard or long hours to pay the rent. Everyone tries to make a living and they inspire me day by day. I couldn’t be more grateful to have a bit of a Brooklyn moment in my life. I lived in Taipei for much of my life prior to coming to the US and I recall fragmented memories like wandering inside Taipei Main Station, seeing steam rise from the asphalt road while waiting for a bus, or biking before sunset. I won’t know what my defining Brooklyn experience will be until after I’ve left New York.

There’s a poignant moment I remember, though; once when I came back to Brooklyn after traveling, I shared with one of my classmates that I’d kinda missed Brooklyn. She stared at me and raised her voice: “Kind of?! Brooklyn is the best place!”

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?

I’ve met many dear friends in my adulthood through poetry. I appreciate finding poets who are direct and willing to help, whether in Brooklyn or in any other city where I’ve met new friends. Spending time with fellow poets and listening to their suggestions and perspectives is one of the best and most useful ways to discover a new place.

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

Recently I attended Jenny Xie’s Cave Canem workshop and I love her book Eye Level. I read the In Their Own Words feature on the Poetry Society of America website and was stunned by Diana Khoi Nguyen’s “I Keep Getting Things Wrong.” Also from an online feature, S. Erin Batiste’s “The Yellow Jackets.” Another book I’m reading is Ghost Carnival by Chiu Miao-Chin. I admire everyone from No, Dear magazine and Belladonna*; I am currently reading the chaplet Order the World, Mom by Wo Chan.

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?

It depends. I browse books in bookstores and libraries and read randomly, but also take recommendations from friends or online. I bought a Kindle recently and love the reading experience; it helps me to read and study English. Even though I love physical books, moving around and reading in a foreign language makes owning real books difficult to manage.

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

For a long time, I didn’t have any personal space, so I tended to write at night when I could be alone. Nowadays, writing beside a window always helps me to contemplate. I love to write at Poets House, but anywhere will do as long as the temperature is warm and I have a cup of black tea and my laptop at full battery.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Under the sky, BAM, Brooklyn Public Library, the swimming pool at Long Island University and wherever I spend time with friends.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate negativity and dead ends,

And what I sing in madness you echo,

For every summer, complaining energizes me as good

as sharing heat waves with you.

Why Brooklyn?

The people and their efforts. Isn’t Brooklyn one of the most suitable places for young writers and artists? Brooklyn is special, though there must be neck-and-neck contenders, no?