What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
For a long time, I didn’t know what a chapbook was. I was pretty sure they were art objects in some fancy library. A friend at Iowa gave me my first chapbook back in 2009: Mary Hickman’s Ecce Animot from Projective Industries. It’s incredibly beautiful. And I remember thinking how great it felt to hold her long poem in the palm of my hand. I have a growing collection of chapbooks by my friends. On the shelves above my desk: Hannah Sanghee Park’s Ode Days Ode, Adam Roberts’s Poem in Four Parts, Ally Harris’s Floor Baby, Justin Boening’s Self-Portrait as Missing Person, Don Mee Choi’s translation of Kim Hyesoon’s Princess Abandoned, to name just a few. My chapbook is also on that shelf and it’s like we’re all hanging out together.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
The chapbook takes invasive species and ugly creatures–i.e. the centipede–and places them in the spotlight/street lamp. At its very core, these poems are about my childhood, growing up in New Jersey. I grew up in a Chinese take-out in a strip mall. But they’re also about facing that which is uncomfortable. Kudzu is definitely different from my first chapbook, Dendrochronology, which is more interested in the larger question of history and relation (i.e. the first section takes place in Hong Kong, 1941). Kudzu is closer to my heart; it’s a brattier book. It stomps and slumps in minute details.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
At first, I wasn’t sure how to go about sending Kudzu out. I sent it out to a few small presses I admired and heard positive feedback, but it was a no-go. During the 2012 AWP conference in Chicago, I was on a panel with Jamaal May; I remember being so impressed by his poems and his determination to create encouraging, forward-thinking poetry communities. When he started his chapbook press, Organic Weapon Arts, which creates a family of authors, I knew it would be the right fit. I’m thankful to have such caring and hard-working editors.
A question from Bianca Spriggs: Which poem is the “black sheep” in your collection and why?
All of them! I think of these poems as side B/what’s left when you clear the sink drain. These poems are the ones that come slinking home at 2 am, after wasting their time sleeping in leaves. They aren’t “shiny” by any means; in fact, after finishing my MFA in 2010, I wanted to write poems about failure. The poem “Skunks” is particular pathetic: “I have become the one everyone tricks./ Pushed in the garbage can one too many times./ Skunks looking for leftover lasagna in my trash/ ask me, What, ramen, again?”
A question from Travis Mossotti: What do you find to be the most difficult and/ or rewarding part about the writing, revising, publishing, and promotion process?
The most rewarding part of the publishing process is collaborating with my art friends for cover illustrations! Rawaan Alkhatib drew the cover for Dendrochronology and Jill Kambs drew the cover for Kudzu Does Not Stop. They listened closely to the poems. I’m so grateful for their vision and talent.
A question from Curtis L. Crisler: Did your chapbook start out as something larger whose parts you made into a chapbook? Or, if it started out as self-contained, is it something that can be changed into a full manuscript?
I definitely see this chapbook as a discrete series, as I do with most long poems. I envisioned Kudzu comprising about twenty poems or so, before I began writing the first poem, “Fungi.” Interestingly, I wrote most of the poems in the order that they appear in the chapbook. I wrote these poems in about a month, right when I moved to Seattle. There’s moss everywhere here! I also wrote quite a few “Kudzu Does Not Stop” poems, which are threaded throughout (there are five of them). These poems keep coming back to questions of fear and uncertainty, which never go away.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What are some chapbook presses you admire and why?
Jane Wong’s poems have appeared in journals and anthologies such as Hayden’s Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, Salt Hill, CutBank, The Volta, Best New Poets 2012, and The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral. She is also the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the Fine Arts Work Center. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and lives in Seattle. Her two chapbooks are Dendrochronology (2011) and Kudzu Does Not Stop (2013).
“Death Cap,” Anti-
“Yellow Star Thistle” in Front Porch
“Centipede” in The Collagist
I am as opaque and unfaithful as a salt lake.
I could cry out in the morning but
there was a moon above, mocking.
The weatherman said I was greater than this area.
He waved his hands over New Jersey
as if performing an exorcism.
A range of almost two octaves means
the devil has risen in you. My mother pressed
against a washing machine by a man
not my father. How can we learn by dissonance?
There are notes we can’t even discern.
I held my ears to the microwave. I knew it wasn’t right.
To keep certain, I stare at the spot on the ceiling.
There is comfort in the beetle that does not move.
Leave me in the loud grass, the beetle says.
Throw open your windows.
Previously published in The Journal