October 10–16, 2022
Stephanie Niu is a poet from Marietta, Georgia, and the author of She Has Dreamt Again of Water, winner of the 2021 Diode Editions Chapbook Contest. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Waxwing, Ecotone and the Georgia Review. She has taught generative workshops at Yu and Me Books and the Oregon Poetry Association conference. She lives in New York City. On Friday, October 21, Niu will be a featured poet along with J.C. Rodriguez at the Brooklyn Poets Friday Night Open.
Is it bad that in the crash
of trash down the chute I hear
music? The sound of hollow boxes
and old bottles of booze
lulls me, confused, into its groove:
I have trash guilt. I’m culpable.
Though I compost, sort my
recyclables. I know that no
amount of used glass
can amount to real absolution.
A friend suggests we throw it
into space as the solution. My date’s dad
is a psycho recycler, I remember
as I pass a strangely fragrant can.
He sorts everything, the chopsticks
and their wrapper separately bagged.
We can’t all be like him. The system
can’t need us to be superhuman.
Of course I toss takeout containers
without rinsing the grease first.
What am I if not a glutton
for convenience? Waste is easy
as moldy tomatoes tossed in the bin.
I discard what I can’t carry.
Cheap furniture. Responsibility.
The ambitious bag of bacteria
for kombucha never brewed,
still fizzing miraculously.
I empty myself gladly. Trash knows.
It barrels into a bulge, shows off
the ways we still overflow
with hunger, so much hunger
with nowhere to go.
—From She Has Dreamt Again of Water, Diode Editions, 2022.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote “Garbage Boogie” in a season when I was attending a lot of open mics. I was drawn to the particular musicality of poems and songs that are meant to be performed, and I wanted to play with the internal rhyme, assonance and rhythm I was hearing. The spark for the poem itself happened when I emptied my recycling one day and listened to the complicatedly delicious sound of glass bottles tumbling out of the bin.
What are you working on right now?
Dare I confess? I’m working on my first full-length manuscript. A snapshot of how it’s going: one afternoon I emerged from a room where I had been dutifully rearranging printed pages on the floor and lamented to my sister, “It’s impossible; there are literally forty factorial [40!] ways to order this manuscript.”
What’s a good day for you?
Waking up well-rested, without guilt. Quiet moments in a public library or museum. Fresh air. Conversation with friends. Maybe a bowl of noodle soup at the end.
What brought you to New York?
My desire to be in a city filled with diverse and deeply creative people. I focused my job search after college on New York City, and it worked out.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it?
I grew up in Marietta, Georgia, and consider it the site of my childhood. I lived there until I started college. In both houses we lived in across that time, the Chattahoochee River was never more than five minutes away. I loved that about my home.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I’ve happily spent much more time in Brooklyn this year than last. In Brooklyn, I feel like my mind has more space to breathe—and I sort of like that biking is often the quickest way to navigate the borough. I’m especially fond of Brooklyn Heights (where the comforts of a Vietnamese iced coffee, Xi’an Famous Foods, or a loved one’s apartment is never far away), Clinton Hill (where the architecture makes me feel like I’m back on a college campus, in a good way) and Prospect Heights (park walks and delicious foods abound).
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
To me, poetry community means not feeling alone in doing this thing I love. Finding a community here has been a work in progress; I didn’t study creative writing in college or at the graduate level, so I’ve relied on a few close friends and family to sanity-check my experiences with writing (and as faithful first readers!). I’m thankful to organizations like Brooklyn Poets for giving poets not just events to gather around, but a welcoming space that truly feels like it’s ours.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I’m indebted to my former teacher and first mentor, Esther Lin, for not only teaching me how to read my own work and break a line, but for providing answers and encouragement when I have felt most lost within the poetry world.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Mary Ruefle’s Dunce routinely made me feel buoyant and strange. Her poems balance levity and insight remarkably in such compressed forms. Reading Dunce, I felt like I was floating far above a well of knowing, getting glimpses of the water through the clouds.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee comes to mind—long overdue!
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 starting things and dread finishing them, and this includes reading books. I keep a rotation of (admittedly, too many) books I’m actively reading to give myself options based on my mood. Within this rotation (currently thirteen books), two remain constant: a subway book kept in my bag for train rides, and a bedtime book (almost always fiction) to calm me for sleep.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I tend to write short (less than one page) poems, so I’d love to challenge myself to write in a long, ambitious form like a sonnet crown.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Anywhere fresh air can touch the paper. A good bench, public parks, rooftops, beaches. Recently, in the absence of square footage and daylight hours to write, I’ve started writing on my fire escape at night and find it surprisingly relaxing.
The trees, the delicious conversations, the delicious meals, the poetry.