February 20–26, 2023
Sofia Koyama (she/her) is a writer raised in Los Angeles and based in Brooklyn. She is a graduate of Boston University, where she studied journalism and was the photo editor for its student publication, the Daily Free Press. Her reporting has appeared in Los Angeles Magazine, Boston Magazine and elsewhere. Currently, she is the digital communications coordinator at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Koyama was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow last year for study in Carlie Hoffman’s “Origins & Closures” workshop.
after Jane Wong
The first time I cut into a scallion,
I leapt back, watching it splinter
into a thousand translucent Os
that skipped across the counter
like flecks of young jade.
I was enamored by its crinkle,
its staticky scrunch. How it
doubled over, limp,
in a melodramatic act of being
O so done with this world. Its
rubbery stems, capped in mottled
whiskery faces, like a deep-sea
bottom feeder, gasping as soon as
pulled from dark moist. I marveled:
O, tenacious green, teenage
zest. Skins that smear
in protest against board
when knife is too dull.
O, child of spring, ripped from home
far too soon, dug up for babyish
bulbs, your final form forgotten.
I confess, I sometimes falter when
you’re tucked between cousins
in camouflage of leek, shallot, chive—
and then I swore
to one day snip
a fistful of scallions
right at the end
of their hollowness,
in shallow water
and witness how,
when allowed to,
unfettered and alone,
Tell us about the making of this poem.
The first version of this poem was written for a Hugo House course on writing poems about food, led by the incredible Jane Wong. It was the first poetry workshop I ever took, and I included a version of this poem in my sample for a Brooklyn Poets Fellowship (which led me to the second poetry workshop I ever took!). Afterwards, I tabled this poem and didn’t touch it for a long while. Rereading it one day, I was taken back to the place of wonder I felt, and often feel, when it comes to feats of nature. I decided to refine it a bit more and am glad it became this whimsical, lighthearted little piece.
What are you working on right now?
Myself, as basic as that answer is. I’m painfully aware that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to believing in my work. This year, I’m trying not to get in my own way, as well as to read voraciously (same as every year) and prioritize my mental health. At worst, it feels like I’m working on nothing; at best, it feels like I’m working on everything at once.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day includes at least a handful of the following: coffee in the morning with the promise of a second later; unstructured time to read; chilly weather that demands a cozy fit and enormous scarf, or alternatively, a reason not to leave the house at all (makes for a great day but dangerous habit); a long walk to one of my favorite haunts; poring over a newly released album; time spent with my dog; an evening run; a loved one cooking for me; texts from my hilarious siblings; thwarting insomnia.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
Its community of writers and poets. In the pandemic, isolated from large chunks of my community, I was despondent and adrift. I craved somewhere demanding, unpredictable, brutal, daring, messy, creative and ever-changing. So many writers I admire were either raised or spent some part of their lives in this city, and vital literary and arts organizations are based in Brooklyn and the NYC area. It was so obvious, yet many of my friends had to talk me out of the other city I was considering moving to (thank you, sweet friends).
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’ve been in Bushwick for two years, and I can’t imagine myself ever leaving. I’ve never in my life felt like a place was waiting to welcome me into its arms the way Bushwick has. It’s the people—its compassionate, creative makers, its vibrant queer and immigrant communities—that make Bushwick feel cozy and exciting and familiar. When I first moved, I sent some packages to the wrong address and my neighbors were so kind and gentle about it. I’ve found wonderful venues for music and nightlife, some of my favorite local eateries, cafés for working/reading in the daytime and bingo/karaoke in the evening. I feel at ease here, like I occupy the perfect amount of space, and I find many beautiful moments to reflect and grow. I am forever indebted to this neighborhood.
My childhood hometown was largely made up of Asian immigrants, my family included, so it made for a fascinating, culturally rich and comfortable place for me to grow up—but it was also a bubble in a way. Going to school in Boston felt just as homogenous, but inversely. (White.) Brooklyn is the most diverse place I’ve ever been. It feels like I belong, because it feels like everyone does.
I don’t like seeing the gentrification, though I know I’m part of the problem. I hate the uber-sleek buildings that are randomly appearing. It feels sinister and looks terrible. I already feel protective of Bushwick and try hard to support my local businesses.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
The first time I saw fireflies in Prospect Park. There aren’t fireflies where I grew up and I was struck with the sharpest childlike awe. I felt washed clean by the joy of it.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community, to me, is the people I’m eager and joyful to be learning from and living alongside; people who see things in ways that are completely different from how I do, but will share, receive and create with me. I’ve found the beginnings of that here and I feel so uplifted and grateful! I can’t wait to keep nourishing it.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Ocean Vuong, Hala Alyan, Audre Lorde, Ada Limón. Carlie Hoffman was my instructor for the Brooklyn Poets course “Origins & Closures,” and she was absolutely life-changing.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I don’t have any formal education when it comes to poetry, so I consider my “mentors” to be anyone who has fed my love for poetry, directly or indirectly. This includes my English teacher in my junior year of high school; E.E. Cummings, whose poems I fell in love with before I had ever penned one of my own; poets I first found through spoken word; everyone from the few poetry courses I’ve taken who has made space and listened to my words. But I really hope to be a student to more mentors and teachers one day.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Maya C. Popa’s American Faith is a collection I read a handful of months ago that I’m still thinking about and desperately need to buy.
On the day-to-day, it’s every Lucille Clifton poem I’ve ever read/will read/will reread for the millionth time. And Hala Alyan’s “Spoiler,” which I will never, ever shut up about.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
When it comes to books and music, I’m addicted to the impossible pursuit of exploring everything. It pains me to think that there will always be a stone unturned, and that to an extent I’m leashed to the genres and styles my brain simply enjoys the most. But at the same time, it makes me insatiable.
To give an actual answer, Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS and Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America (Hanif is one of my favorite poets and essayists of all time, so this is a real crime) are two glaring ones.
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’m beholden to my emotions, so I kinda just do whatever I want. I usually read novels until the longing for poetry strikes—and when it does, everything else gets paused. My brain demands variability, so I throw at it a mishmash of genres and see what sticks. I’m pretty picky and will give up on books sooner than I’d like to admit.
There are a few rules that I do follow. I never rush through poetry collections; I sit with them for however long they ask me to. I read non-poetry books via the library so that I only spend money on my favorites. I prefer physical books, but will forever have Libby on my phone—just in case.
I take many notes. On everything. I have a terrible memory, so I take documenting every single thought my brain has about every single piece of media it consumes veeeeeery seriously.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
ABECEDARIANS! Is that the most popular answer? I feel like it should be. I want everyone to write an abecedarian and put it in a massive collection so we can all just read each other’s abecedarians forever.
I also dream of creating a found poem of only song lyrics. I’ll attempt to one day, even if just for me. I don’t love anything the way I love music (except for poetry), and I like the idea of weaving all the lines from all the songs that have ever made a home in my soul into a single poem—shared with others, maybe, but ultimately existing solely for me.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
PARKS! IN! THE! SUMMERTIME!!!
Before I lived in Brooklyn, I was a July Cancerian who despised summer. Now, it’s the season I look forward to the most. I will use every second of those stretched-out days to find a way to be sprawled out in a park with an open book against the sky. Also, public transit! Losing myself in poems while whizzing through a city on an underground vehicle I don’t need to operate whatsoever on my way to see beloved friends or do something silly is the highest tier of my needs hierarchy.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
The Center for Fiction; Brooklyn Poets (of course!); all the parks, with perhaps a fond emphasis on Cooper, McCarren and Prospect parks; Father Knows Best. And, technically in Queens: Nowadays, and the Ridgewood Reservoir, one of my favorite places in the entire world for a long run.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate because I can’t help it,
And what I fear, you somehow put words to,
For everything I hope of me as good burns bright in you.
Its spirit makes me it easier for me to hold and celebrate myself; it inspires me to move through each day with love.