One Woman Fruit Stand (Imaginary Friend Press, 2014)
What’s your chapbook about?
On the surface, it’s about fruit, a variety of unusual fruit. When I was pregnant, I read websites and books that said, This week your baby is the size of a blueberry (or kumquat or mango), so each week I meditated on that fruit while reading about what baby systems and parts were growing inside me. The poems resulted from conflating these images.
Could you describe the other chapbooks you have written?
The Backwaters Press published my collection of prose poems, We Grow Old: Fifty-Three Chinese Love Poems in 2008.
Dancing Girl Press published my first chapbook, My Body Is Not a Textbook But You Are My Mango (2012), a selection of poems from the same fruit/pregnancy-themed collection as One Woman Fruit Stand.
Dancing Girl also published my illustrated prose poems, House Cats (2014), and Stray Cats is forthcoming with them also. Each cat poem and drawing is inspired by a denizen of Houtong, a former mining town in Taiwan now famous for its stray cat population and “cat tourism” (I’m not making this up).
Boaat Press just published my (free) echapbook The Alphabet Between Legs (2014), some imagistic fragments written with Tender Buttons in mind, inspired by photographs of the female body.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I submitted the larger fruit/ pregnancy collection to contests but finally gave up, deciding the collection as a whole wasn’t strong enough and selected some of the best poems to submit to chapbook contests. I’m still hoping to find a publisher for the illustrated cat poems—there are 70 of them. I prefer open reading periods to contests, because I’m optimistic, but not that optimistic.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I collaborated with Dan Nowak from Imaginary Friend Press and a fellow writer and artist. I did a colorful painting, took a picture of it, and sent it to Dan, who did some design magic on it, and voilà, cover! My friend Sharon McGill, an amazing fiction writer and artist, read the poems and provided three beautiful illustrations.
What are you working on now?
Rewriting my mystery novel, Karaoke Girls. May this be the draft that sells.
What is your writing practice or process?
I’ve found two things important: the big picture and revision.
Poetry: I go for years without writing a poem, then work in spurts, often within the structure of a whole project. Even after a lot of revision, however, some poems just don’t work out, and I’ve learned to let those go. A solid chapbook is better than an uneven collection.
Fiction: My MFA is in fiction, though recently I’m feeling pretty inadequate in the genre. Short stories look easy when you read them, but they’re hard to write well. Every word needs to be well chosen and there for a reason. I look at my old stories, published ones, continue to see their flaws, and continue fixing them. I’ve rewritten my novel a dozen times as well, learning a great deal in the process, mostly about plot (big picture).
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Write, rewrite, revise, submit. Repeat.
What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?
I am Taiwanese, and try to bring my language and culture into my writing.
I set most of my stories and my novel in Taipei, Taiwan, but maybe because of the narrow focus, when it comes to a single poetry chapbook, sometimes I end up writing about women or cats.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
Women! And as mentioned on my dedication page, “all mothers: aspiring, expecting, new and experienced.”
Yu-Han (Eugenia) Chao was born and grew up in Taipei, Taiwan. She received her BA from National Taiwan University and MFA from Penn State. Her stories have appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Zyzzyva, and other venues. The Backwaters Press published her poetry collection in 2008, and Dancing Girl Press, Imaginary Friend Press, and Boaat Press published her chapbooks.
When Daddy Was Planted Last Year
What kind of mulberry is so giant and green
spiked with spiked tips
pollinated by old world fruit bats
born of 1500-2000 flowers
and roasted, baked, fried, or boiled
tastes exactly like freshly baked bread?
According to Hawaiian myth
when Daddy was planted last year, his grave watered with tears
a green shoot sprouted and blossomed and fed us all
Daddy the breadwinner breadmaker
making the fruit drop
his hair fell but coat grew
the outline of his organs memorized
before the vine ripened and fruit fell