June 7–13, 2021
Haolun Xu was born in Nanning, China, and raised in central New Jersey. He recently graduated from Rutgers University. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Electric Literature, Meridian, New Ohio Review, Ruminate, the Florida Review, Witness and elsewhere. Later this year, his debut chapbook Ultimate Sun Cell will be published by New Delta Review. Xu’s work has also been a finalist for the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize and the Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry. This past spring, he was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Joshua Mehigan’s workshop on The Sonnet.
Ode to Endless Night
We sat cross-legged in a parking lot, facing each other like dying planets.
Around us, men smoke—laughing at our open thighs.
Look at how they stare at us, she said.
This is the shape of a half moon.
I think they love us, because we’re willing to go beyond.
This is a shape of a blood moon.
They take chunks out of our bodies.
We’ll count these losses in the next decade. This is a crescent moon.
Dumb stupid soul, and your illegitimate ways.
Learn that light can grow stale. The clouds above us
dictate who speaks, and who can be seen.
There’s a parable against practicing sorcery
and to what ends will we take, to make another’s soul glow.
Tragic that we are the new age becoming,
and how even God throws his head back when he laughs, I’d imagine.
This one collects eyes. Surviving by seeing people cry,
and this is how a throne is made—
so we wed these chairs at night, made of mock bedding.
In time, all beautiful things must end.
Perhaps, it will be proven true that I am not beholden, or
even a small woven jewel.
Beware, time is a food chain.
And it never ends, this long and looming world.
Maybe this is how all of life is,
like a great sky passing over us,
with everything alright at the end.
Even this turns over. The proof that stones die.
This is that anthem, for what lies below the horizon line.
Pillars of light erupt in California and Sydney sinks into a hole.
Everything eventually comes crashing down.
Like all darkness and tenable fruit,
or marrow, or everlasting truth.
—Originally published in Gordon Square Review, November 2020.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem last summer in 2020. A friend visited my area when the COVID-19 rates were lower, and we sat outside a large and rather intense hotel in New Jersey that they were staying at. The topic of conversation was the variety of jobs we had physically both worked in, and how heartbreaking some of them were. We said, perhaps as we get older, we wouldn’t need to worry about being beautiful or interesting or chasing something we didn’t understand. But I think the message of the poem is that life is rather wonderful—and as long as you have a spot to be in, under the moon or the sun, you can get by every twenty-four hours no matter how painful or scary life can be.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently assembling a first draft for a full-length poetry collection. So far, it’s one of those meditations on desire and fantasy in the modern world. I’ve noticed that a large portion of my writing has to do with wish-fulfillment, and this impulse to hope that whatever it is that I want, there are others who want the same thing as I do. I think it’s a relief to contain a sense of being lost or wandering, into a physical form like a book. Perhaps I can leave a certain era of my life behind, where those years can be kept safe and sound within it.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me is one where I pay close attention to everything that I can. There are days where I think I’ve escaped an awful catastrophe by focusing completely on writing. I don’t know what this disaster would be, a form of intrusion on my soul, a kind of mayhem that is avoided. Someone once told me, every day and every hour, people make decisions. I spend so much of my time reflecting on this. But whether it be writing a good poem or having a nice moment with a friend or a stranger, these are all possible points of fate to me that I shouldn’t miss.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
I immigrated to the United States when I was around four years old. I am a little embarrassed to say it, but I’ve spent almost my entire life so far living in the same twenty-mile radius here in New Jersey. I surprisingly know this area only so well, there are always new spaces in towns around here that I rediscover, as life takes me to different situations. New Jersey has changed in many ways for me—in college, I kept finding myself in odd, very turbulent or even violent areas. I would find the personalities of others warped or damaged by this landscape, but it is also where people come to rest and heal. I am very close to those I grew up with around here, and something interesting I keep seeing is that my friends are returning more and more to our home state, as if they are all recovering or readjusting to circumstances much larger than they anticipated growing into.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I have spent countless days and nights in Brooklyn, since it’s so close to New Jersey. I used to go there while working odd jobs, since I was seventeen years old. I wish I knew more of the area—I’m terrible with local geography and being able to name particular streets or areas within a region, this includes even my own hometown here in New Jersey. But Brooklyn, I think, is very magical and filled with a certain kind of charisma. I try to be respectful of its immensely packed history, and how much it has changed over the last century, and before the birth of the United States. I enjoy, however, sitting near shore under the Belt Parkway, facing Staten Island. I think it’s one of my favorite places in the whole world.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that in where you live? Why or why not?
I started sending out my poetry to literary journals less than a year before the pandemic hit, and I didn’t really know how being a writer worked. I actually had no clue there was a literary community until I joined a journal as a reader and found out that so many writers are on Twitter and social media. I wish my instructors during my undergraduate education told me this! I knew next to nothing about the literary world. So my experiences with the community started completely during lockdown. It saved me tremendously, finding friends and colleagues and having this digital space safe from COVID. But I often wonder what the world of poets was like before the pandemic, and this is a big curiosity to me.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I greatly enjoy the works of Jenny Xie, Morgan Parker and Ariel Francisco. But there are so many poets out there in Brooklyn, and I wish I could name more that I have read extensively! I’m still learning which writers came from where. To be a poet from Brooklyn or New York City must be so incredible—I have heard how it is a brilliant and unique experience for every person.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Joshua Mehigan has been absolutely fantastic, and I really mean that, not just because I’m talking in a Brooklyn Poets space! His understanding of rhythm and sound completely changed my experience with every poem after my workshop. Recently I’ve been speaking with Brandon Shimoda, and I feel completely blessed—his concentration and dedication to what poetry and language can do makes me see how filled with magic writing is. I was also helped out a lot by Neil Aitken last year, who really showed me a lot about the world of poetry.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I have been going over and over again DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi. Choi’s approach towards the history and spatial relationships between South Korea and the United States blows my mind. The use of photographs, and the way she creates the framework for translation to reveal the voices of others in history! It feels it would take me decades, at the very least, to truly appreciate how much experience and detail has been crafted into the work.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
There are so many! I’m embarrassed to say it! I would love to read more Tang Dynasty poetry, however. I can only name one or two Du Fu poems for now.
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?
I enjoy reading fiction books in one sitting, but poetry can be built so differently, at least for me. I don’t think I can ever truly finish a collection of poetry, it’s just a continual cycle of reading and rereading. I’m also terrified of writing in books—it’s very difficult for me to do, even if I have the luxury of owning the copy. I enjoy taking notes, however, on my phone or saving stanzas to read later by posting them on a private Tumblr.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Since March this year, I feel as if I’ve been writing too much in sections, using Roman numerals. I would love to be able to write more poems that use longer lines and just stand as these giant stanzas that I see other poets create. It’s very impressive!
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Often I come up with ideas in parking lots or at the grocery store. I end up typing into my phone or writing them on my arms, which I think is very funny.
Sometimes I feel like, for many people, Brooklyn is a space that is inevitable.