Poet Of The Week

Jireh Deng

     June 26–July 2, 2023

Jireh Deng (they/them) is a queer Asian American writer and filmmaker born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley. Their poetry and prose have been published by the Rumpus, the Margins, the Human Rights Campaign and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and their words on LA appear in the Guardian, the Washington Post, Teen Vogue, NPR, the LA Times and elsewhere. They co-direct the Asian American Journalists Association’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group and serve as a national board representative for its LA chapter. In 2022, they directed a short documentary about a transgender Asian American elder, Mia’s Mission, which has been selected to screen at several film festivals including the 2023 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Deng was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow last year for study in Rosebud Ben-Oni’s workshop on poetry and science. You can follow them on Instagram at @bokchoy_baobei.

An Algorithm Matches Me With a Nice Girl and I Tell Her


I have always been grasping for words

like when my mother phones customer service

dressed in her best American Accent™.

I was a part of a music program, Giving Bach;

she pronounced it bark. Isn’t that what is asked of us?

Heel and sit, repeat as told. A pledge of allegiance I always closed

with “Jesus for all.” When I ask for salami at the grocer,

instead, tsunami pours out: a titular chirping in my chest,

ossified wings in my throat. I am safest without language

to wound (I mean /wound/)—wind myself around

a bastion of stories. I am gatekeeper and pariah. Mess-

iah and anti-Christ. I know wisdom is just a graveyard of teeth.

Alone is a city that will not carry your dead. Money as in time,

as in the communists call us slaves to capitalism,

but they seem to forget human nature is a sower.

A sorrow seeder, in·ter·ne·cine, being halfway bold

or stupid. 4 is also death, and the character 四

is also a window, a mouth, an esophagus. I don’t know

the difference between agápē and agape. An uncle once showed me

how he kept his youngest son’s eaten chicken bones in a study

drawer. So clean, he had gnawed off all the cartilage.

Does this mean I have been swallowed thrice before?

The ancient sapien instinct: love is an approximation to danger.

You make me feel safe, so I want to run away.


—Originally published in the Rumpus, December 2021.

Brooklyn Poets · Jireh Deng, "An Algorithm Matches Me With A Nice Girl and I Tell Her"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

So I wrote this poem after the experience of mutually ghosting someone that I was casually talking to during the pandemic. I was just starting to date as an out queer person and I found that years of hiding my identity in the closet made it so hard to access the language and affection I wanted to express. I think, in many ways, I was self-sabotaging because I truly didn’t believe I deserved to have that easy and safe kind of love. In many ways, I’m still struggling with this today. So I wanted to explore this through a lens of having always struggled a bit with the English language because Mandarin was actually my first. I remember struggling a lot to get words right as a kid because I couldn’t pronounce them in gradeschool and I was learning imperfect English with an accent from my own immigrant parents.

What are you working on right now?

I work full-time as a freelance journalist right now, and unfortunately it’s a very rough patch in the industry at the moment. Layoffs haven’t impacted me directly or any editors I work with, but I feel the effects of it and I think that on some level my artistic practice hasn’t had space to flourish because all my creativity is going into paying my bills through artist talks, nightclub photo/video work and freelance community reporting.

What’s a good day for you?

I’ve been having a lot of good days recently and I feel like it’s pretty simple. I would love to start off a day with my running group in LA, the Pasadena Pacers, and get in six to seven miles at 7 AM. I would love to then volunteer some time at the local El Sereno Community Garden, maybe see some friends for brunch or get some writing and reading done. I love sharing meals with people I love, especially if I’m introducing them to comfort food from my own culture. In the evening, I love going to a good party and dancing to some global sounds. Luckily I know some amazing DJs who are my friends.

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?

Los Angeles has been my home forever. I’ve lived here for all of my twenty-three years; I was born and raised here in the San Gabriel Valley just east of East LA. I love that this neighborhood has grounded me in my Asian American identity. I grew up surrounded by immigrants and their food, so I definitely was spoiled in that way. The Chinese food here is unparalleled in the rest of the Chinese food landscape in the United States. I believe my hometown was the first suburban Chinatown.

I do get scared seeing my neighborhood change in unfamiliar ways. Many LA immigrants and LA locals are getting pushed out of neighborhoods they used to live in by rich transplants and that includes my own neighborhood. There are a lot of new yuppie brunch and dinner spots opening up, which is always a sign that a new crowd is coming in. I worry that losing this place as a cornerstone for my Chinese American community could fundamentally shift how I connect to my own culture and Angeleno identity.

I haven’t really lived anywhere else except LA County, but I moved to Long Beach for college for a number of years and that was a culture shock. Long Beach barely has Chinese food options and they more recently started adding boba shops to their neighborhood.

Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.

I’ve visited Brooklyn twice now and I know at least two dozen people in that borough. It’s a little insane because I will literally bump into acquaintances while I’m visiting for two weeks and I don’t even live there! I visited most recently in January and plan to be back in NYC this fall, most likely crashing with a friend in Brooklyn when I run the New York City Marathon for the Asian American Journalists Association. (Please donate to my run so I can raise money for our nonprofit!)

Every time I’m in Brooklyn, I fall a little deeper in love with its people and places. Everyone talks about how LA is so diverse, but in actuality, we are segregated into our tiny pockets by race and class. In New York, you walk down the street and you’ll hear at least five different languages being spoken at once. There are neighborhoods that represent ten different nationalities. It’s beautiful and I love that taking public transit everywhere makes me feel that much more connected to the fabric of Brooklyn neighborhoods. I really hate driving in LA and I love that all my writer friends are in Brooklyn, so I have a feeling I might move out there just to try and see if I could survive New York City.

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

I think there have been moments when I’ve leaned more into poetry community and other times when I’m a little distant, and it really all has to do with my capacity to be plugged in. I am very lucky that at any moment I know where I can go to find poets in LA, whether that’s at Da Poetry Lounge, Junior High Los Angeles or just open mics and writing spaces. I have found an amazing network of poets through my reporting, writing and advocacy, and it’s been a huge part of my artistic journey. Before I was a journalist or a filmmaker, I was first a poet who was trained by spoken word artists in LA.

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

I have to shout out George Abraham, my first teacher to work deeply with poetic form and invent new forms. George helped me understand what I was trying to do on the page with troubling the English language from a site of pain, diaspora and colonialism. I took a class with them through Kundiman and it taught me so much of what I still rely on today when I think about inventing forms.

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

Oh god, I’ve been obsessed with Hera Lindsay Bird. Her poems in her book Hera Lindsay Bird are the epitome of chaotic bisexual. She has so many heart-wrenching lines that also border on comedic absurdity. She has these lines in a poem about Monica from Friends:

I am falling in love and I don’t know what to do about it

Throw me in a haunted wheelbarrow and set me on fire

I mean come ON! Like what the fuck?

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

There are so many it’s quite embarrassing. I’ve been just growing my stack of books. Right now, I’m still trying to make my way through bell hooks’s Killing Rage.

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 love to discover my next read at random, and I generally try to take turns between genres when I feel like I might be too serious reading nonfiction and whatnot. I definitely like to read physical books because there’s something about flipping the page and smelling a book that always gets me. I am not a serious note-taker, but I generally will underline lines that I like so I can see them later when I reread a passage.

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 create new forms, especially through the space of relearning my own heritage language. I hope that one day I can write a crown of sonnets that will incorporate some Chinese.

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

I really love reading and writing at the public library. It’s always cool temperature-wise in the public library and you can hide in the stacks to avoid being perceived by other people. I also enjoy reading in the car when I’m being driven by other people. I’m usually the driver, but it’s nice to be the passenger princess and let someone else handle the LA traffic and just chill out and read.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

It’s hard to say if there are standout Brooklyn spaces that I love, mainly because I haven’t stayed long enough to make a judgment. But I love Prospect Park. It’s huge and it’s beautiful in the midst of this concrete jungle, an oasis of green. When I see all the birds feeding each other, it just fills me with such deep joy. I just love the subway—again, I love not having to drive. I love being surrounded by people and observing them, but not having to face the pressure of small talk and conversation. I’ve cried a lot in public on the subway and that experience has been liberating, to be witnessed but also left alone.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate love and friendship,

And what I offer you is my loyalty,

For every moment you spend with me as good as the years I hope to spend with you.

Why Brooklyn?

Brooklyn feels similar in some ways to LA—the changing neighborhoods, the fierceness of the locals. Spatially, they couldn’t feel more different, but I recognize the tenacity and strength of people who love where they are from and want to preserve the places where they grew up.