Poet Of The Week

Jennifer Huang

     August 28–September 3, 2017

Jennifer Huang was born in Rockville, Maryland. Before moving to Brooklyn, she lived in Pittsburgh and is still looking for her city soulmate. As a first-generation Taiwanese American, her writing is a tribute to her childhood, a love letter to her ancestors, and an honoring of Taiwan. This summer, she received a Brooklyn Poets Fellowship for study in the Naysayers workshop led by Simone Kearney and Emily Skillings. Her work has been published in Blueshift Journal, the Oakland Review and HVTN. She has an affinity for animals, rocks and bodies of water. Her Sun and Moon signs are in Taurus.

Author photo by Alex Walker

After the Storm

We pick wet flowers and mix them into the tire-indents
where our parents’ cars should be. This is flower stew.
We play pretend—I am the robin and she is the blue jay.
We play reality—I am the tire and she is the car.
Her parents don’t sleep together and neither do mine.
We part at dawn. I run up the stairs. My mind is always faster
than my body. My mother sees the scrapes on my knees
and tries to beat me with a wire hanger. It never reaches
flesh. Still, I can never walk past a sharp corner
without bruising myself. I climb the monkey bars at midnight.
Sorry doesn’t mean a thing, never laugh too hard, always
think ahead
—this is the story my father reads to me
at night. I bring this with me as I swing my legs and squeeze
my frame through the bars. I climb on top of the rungs.
I sit then stand on the rungs. I laugh too hard, then jump
down. At dawn, my father wakes me up. I lay in bed
and wonder if it is possible to go back to sleep
and wake up tomorrow younger than I am today.

—Originally published in Blueshift Journal, 2016.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I write a lot of poems that are a mishmash of different memories of my childhood blended together, and this is one of them. Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about the little street of townhouses I grew up on—Lambertina Place. I think a lot about the games we used to play, the friends I used to hang out with, and how many of our parents ended up divorced. I used to think of it as a curse, but now I know it was probably just coincidence. At the same time, there used to be a creek near our home that eventually dried up, so maybe that has something to do with it, too.

When my parents were in the process of becoming separated, I would sneak out of my home at night and walk to the park. Lambertina Place was a long street but it ended in a wide cul-de-sac with a big park in the middle. I’d go there just to think, listen to music and look at the stars. I miss those nights. They were peaceful—something different than what I had to deal with in the daytime. This poem is about that, too.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I’m working on a project that involves learning more about Taiwan and my family’s history. I’m interested in patterns of behaviors and trauma that are passed down through generations and that stem from geographical, political and cultural history. I’m learning that it’s a project that requires a lot of patience—which is hard for me. And it requires me to slow down and to really listen.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day always starts out by waking up after a good night’s sleep. And it could involve discovering something new, being out in nature, eating delicious foods, or having good conversations—with strangers, acquaintances or old friends. Sometimes I hit all of those marks, and that’s pretty extraordinary.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

My friends—most of them live in Brooklyn.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I moved from Bushwick to Flatbush in March, so I’ve lived here for about half a year now. Before that, I lived in Astoria and Bushwick and I suppose I’ve moved a lot since coming to New York. But I’ve never disliked a neighborhood that I have settled in.

I love Flatbush—there’s definitely a strong sense of community here. There are community gardens, auto shops, nightclubs, churches—all within a block-or-two radius of my home and it makes for quite a great blend of serenity and liveliness. There are little bits of change that seem to happen every week. I can even see it on my block. Just this week, two houses were boarded up for what I can only guess will be renovations. My neighbor who lives on the end says he sold his house and lot. It will one day become a large apartment complex.

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

One time on the Q train, I sat next to a man with a pet parrot. The next day, on that same train, someone was being obliviously obnoxious in our car and everyone looked severely annoyed. I sort of rolled my eyes, which caught the attention of the woman sitting across from me and we both laughed. That was nice.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

A poetry community means everything to me. Without it, I would feel like I was writing into a vacuum and to me, that’s not what poetry is about at all. Instead, it’s about connection and the ability to live, at least for a moment, in someone else’s strange and beautiful mind. I am finding a poetry community slowly, but I guess that’s how most communities are built. I’m really appreciative of all of the poets and writers I’ve met in New York and the support we’ve been able to give each other.

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

One would definitely be Jason Koo. A friend brought me to my first Brooklyn Poets reading back in January, I believe, and seeing the community that Jason has built inspired me to write seriously again.

Simone Kearney and Emily Skillings, because their workshop, the Naysayers, really sparked some fantastic discussions about poetry, writing, able-ness and art.

I also admire Ocean Vuong, Tommy Pico, Morgan Parker, Camille Rankine and Ben Lerner, among other Brooklyn poets I hope to read some day. And of course, Walt Whitman—his Collected Poems was the first poetry book I ever bought.

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

My first poetry mentor was Lauren Shapiro, my professor at Carnegie Mellon who taught me almost everything I know about poetry today. She was also the one who really encouraged me to pursue writing and has really believed in me from the start.

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

The last book I read was House A by Jennifer S. Cheng, which really blew me away emotionally and intellectually. I wanted to read it in one sitting, but it was quite painful at times, in the most beautiful way.

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

The Collected Poems of Ai—I’ve really been meaning to read that. I’ve also been meaning to read many of the classics, and the one that comes to mind is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

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 have tried reading multiple books at once, but in the end, I always end up putting one aside and finishing the one that I like more. And then the one that gets pushed aside more often than not never gets finished. So, I mostly stick to reading one book at a time. To be honest, I actually have a hard time finishing books, but I also believe that books can serve their purpose even if they are not finished.

As for habits, I hate writing in books but I also love underlining. So, I compromise by using a 2H pencil.

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

I’ve been trying to write a happy poem …

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

I love to read and write in public spaces like libraries, parks and coffee shops. I also have an affinity for reading and writing in art museums—like the café at the Met Breuer, the sculpture garden at MoMA, the steps outside of the Brooklyn Museum, and so on.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Brooklyn Public Library because it feels like a second home to me.

Maria Hernandez Park because that’s where I learned to love running.

Prospect Park—because who the hell doesn’t love it?

And BAMcinématek for the times it has provided me with A/C (and good cinema).

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate with a dance of palms,
And what I give you do not have to take,
For every dance that embraces me as good a dance for you.

Why Brooklyn?

Maybe someday I’ll know.