Poet Of The Week

Wendy Xu

     January 26–February 1, 2015

Wendy Xu is the author of You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013) and several chapbooks. Selected by D.A. Powell for the 2011 Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry, her recent work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Poetry, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Guernica, Black Warrior Review, Hyperallergic, The Volta and elsewhere. She was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2014. She lives in Bushwick and teaches writing at CUNY.

You Think You Are Something Less Real Than You Are

You put on some new pants. I put
on some sunlight. I put on a coyote. You
put on a bigger coyote. You put on all
of the coyotes. You put on the sand as it flies
beneath your incredible little paws. I put on
rain not reaching the desert. You put on how we
feel sad after this. You put on the sadness. You
put on methods for dealing with it. The sadness tries
to put you on but you say No! You wrestle
the sadness to the ground. You are big and need
large wings. You put on the large wings. You are still
a coyote. You put on the howling. You put on
things that howl back. There is nothing
you won’t put on. You put on the darkness.
You put on some stars and even what
is between them. You put on the moon. The moon
that shines. You put on how we want
to stay here. You put on how we forget where
we were before. You put on the earth how
it cracks. You put on its face when it sees us.

–From You Are Not Dead, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I love anaphora. I also love thinking about the fluidity vs. fixedness of “you” in poems and the tradition of the first-person/you relationship. I wanted to start with a sort of deadpan premise “you put on some new pants” and twist a surreal logic towards an earnestness and depth of feeling. You know how people like to give young poets “rules” for writing? I was once told that the moon and the stars (and etc etc) don’t belong in contemporary poems anymore—they are cliché, they are over. I was like, “Who is this person?” Have you seen how amazing the moon and the stars are!

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a manuscript of poems called Phrasis, as in from ekphrasis but perhaps a very loose definition, informed by the images of (the despair of) sensationalist news media. I’m also writing an incredibly long and messy prose thing, my first prose venture. I have always been trying to sort out what I want the relationship between my writing and my experiences as an immigrant POC to be. As a woman, as a feminist, as a “non-native” speaker of the language in which I write poetry. As a body in predominately white spaces almost all of the time. Perhaps I’m working on a record of dissatisfaction and recovery. For now it’s titled Notes for an Opening.

What’s a good day for you?

I have time for morning coffee in my apartment, I’ve been responsible enough to allow at least an hour before I have to interact with anybody. I just love to begin my day alone. After that I’m happy to play extrovert, first with my students (I teach early mornings), then with friends, perhaps we go to a reading or we share something to eat. On a good day I’m around poets. I get to read something for pleasure. My inbox is <10 unread. How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

At this moment I’ve only lived in Brooklyn for 5 months, in Bushwick. In 2010 (before I went to graduate school) I lived in Manhattan (East Village) but it didn’t last long and I had a rather lonely time.

I live directly across from a trash processing plant and sometimes the smell is exactly how you might imagine. Sometimes it’s obnoxious, sure. But I like that it reminds me that trash doesn’t “end” when I throw it away. It goes through an incredibly long process that (like so many other processes that aren’t fun to look at) I’d rather forget. And I do forget, easily. And I forget the lives of others that are involved in these processes which I’d rather not think about or consider because it’s boring and it doesn’t make me “feel good.”

I spent a long time thinking about this and I think it’s one of the things I like most about Brooklyn in general—the daily task of being confronted by others and their lives, their realities. And what I choose to do in the moment of my own surprise at that collision.

More plainly, I like that I live really close to Mellow Pages, Maria Hernandez Park, an Associated Grocery, The Narrows and a hell of a lot of great galleries that I can’t even keep up with.

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

Just a few nights ago on the train home, alone, very late, a man was playing “Moonlight Sonata” on an accordion. He was pretty good. When I got above ground it had started snowing. Brooklyn is the most surreal place I’ve ever lived.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

Currently: Marjorie Welish, Jenny Zhang.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Molasses Books, Unnameable Books and Berl’s. Mellow Pages is a library (which is even better than a bookstore) but it’s two minutes from my apartment and filled with treasure.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I have trouble writing anything besides lesson plans or paperwork in public, but Wendy’s Subway is maximum cozy for reading or working. I like a sunny patio spot at The West in the summer. They signal shifts in the mood of the space by dimming lights or bringing you a candle—coffee in the daylight, maybe a beer when the candle arrives.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

Doris is where I’ve had the most fun dancing in Brooklyn so far. Suburbia for Hatchet Job. Williamsburg Cinemas for $8 movie night makes me feel like I’m positively stealing.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

Backchannel by Emily Skillings
June Fourth Elegies by Liu Xiaobo (trans. Jeffrey Yang)

Why Brooklyn?

For the first time in my life I regularly see people who look like me. It’s indescribable.