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“The Next Big Thing”

PERIODICITY

I know I haven’t shown my face around here for over two years, but a couple of weeks back, the wonderful Luisa Igloria invited me to participate in “The Next Big Thing” (a “book tour” survey meme of sorts in which writers reflect on their own books using a series of questions and then refer their readers to other blogs) and I figured that now might be as good a time as any to make a (sheepish) reappearance on this blog.

So here I am. (Hi! I’m—sort of—back!) And I have a published chapbook now, that’s coming out in February! It’s called Periodicity (you can pre-order it here, or read an excerpt here), and it’s based on that middle section of my MFA thesis, the one I wrote about here, when the project was still very much in-process (seems like forever ago now). So here’s a little bit about Periodicity. (N.B. I’ve changed the wording of some of the questions slightly to make the survey more applicable; for the original questions, please see Prof. Igloria’s “Next Big Thing” post).

1. What is the title of your book?

Periodicity. After the principle around which the periodic table of elements is organized. (It’s also the title of one of the poems therein).

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?

My father was a chemist; he lived and breathed his passion for science, and as a result, I grew up steeped in it—from the impromptu lesson on boiling points he once gave me when I asked about making soup to the time he was developing a saliva pregnancy test and asked my mom to freeze vials of her spit every morning as a control! In middle school, I developed a deep fascination with science of my own accord, a fascination that followed me into college. Though I ended up majoring in English rather than in Biology, my interest in the natural sciences never waned. I remember writing a few poems in college using imagery from things I was learning in my biology courses, and my professor (Bruce Snider) encouraging me to continue writing about science, as he observed that it seemed to be a fruitful source of creative inspiration for me. The real seed of the project that became the women scientist poems, though, was planted during the Levinthal Tutorial I took with Andy Grace during my senior year. One week, Andy challenged me to write a poem using the sonic structure of Charles Wright’s “Clear Night” as a form. For some reason, I found myself writing about Marie Curie. When that poem was written, I thought about the women scientists I’d grown up learning about in high school biology: Rosalind Franklin, and the terribly unjust treatment she was given by Watson and Crick; Barbara McClintock, who always seemed like such a wise and lovely, but incredibly lonely, soul; Rachel Carson, whom so many people accused of being crazy at first. I thought that it might be interesting to try writing some poems about these and other women in science—women whom I’d grown up seeing as heroes and role models as my own interest in science had developed. So I did.

When I began my MFA program the following year, I brought a couple of the women scientist poems into my first semester workshop, and was very surprised when people said that they liked them. They encouraged me to write more. So I did. And the women scientist poems became a project. I researched more women scientists, experimented with ways to distinguish and differentiate their voices from one another on the page (some of my strategies included trying out different forms, borrowing language from their own writings, trying to shape the arc of the poem according to a particular force or principle that was important to their work, etc.). I even began writing about women who weren’t scientists themselves, but who, like me, has a close, loving relationship of some sort (as wife, daughter, sister, etc.) with a well-known scientist. I found that what drew me to these women was not just the force of their stories (the importance of their research, the misogyny they often they struggled against), but the way in which science became for them not just an intellectual passion, but a way of life. They were wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers; and their drive, the thing which they loved and lived and breathed (or which, in some cases, their loved ones lived and breathed)—was often inextricably inflected in these relationships.

Eventually, my handful of women scientist poems expanded into a whole sequence, and that sequence became first the core of my thesis, and later—in revised form—my chapbook.

3. What is the genre of the book?

Poetry, of course!

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t think my chap would lend itself to film very easily, unfortunately. It’s not narrative in nature; nor is it meant to be. (A filmmaker friend who’d asked to see my work a few years ago once gently confirmed this!) Nevertheless, because the book relies heavily on persona and other forms of dramatic monologue, it’s interesting to imagine it performed in another way, maybe as an audio piece. If I had to cast actors, though, I’ve heard that Renee Zellwegger’s film portrayal of Beatrix Potter was phenomenal, and I think it would be interesting to see Eve Curie as a sort of Anne Hathaway / Sutton Foster type figure. I must admit that I’m not too sure about any of the other figures in the chap.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Periodicity weaves together the voices of 15 different historical women whose lives and relationships were inextricably entwined in the world of science.

6. Who is publishing your book?

I’ve been lucky enough to have been taken on by Finishing Line, a small poetry press that’s local to the Lexington, KY area (where I moved in January to work at the University Press of Kentucky).

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This is bit of a hard question to answer: I’m not sure that the manuscript (as a chapbook) ever had a complete first draft at any given time. But the poems in it have all been in process, at one stage or another, since my senior year of college (2008). Those first couple of woman scientist poems did not turn into a project until 2009. And that sub-project did not become a chapbook until 2011, when I decided that the focus of the full-length project needed to change, and that the women scientist poems probably deserved to be a separate manuscript of their own. (You can read more about my process in the last question of this interview, which the folks at The Collagist were kind enough to run earlier today, or hear about it in this radio interview I gave).

8. What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

I can tell you what books I looked to for guidance and inspiration, or which drew my interest while writing: Louise Gluck’s The Wild Iris, Jill McDonough’s Habeus Corpus, Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia, M. Van Jordan’s Quantum Lyrics, and to some degree, Jeffrey Yang’s An Aquarium. I’m not sure I’d say that the result is comparable, though; I admire all of their work too much to consider mine anywhere near equivalent!

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

[See question #2].

10. What else about your book/your writing might pique the reader’s interest?

Most of the poems in the book are persona poems. That is, I’m often writing from the perspectives of the women whose voices I’m exploring, in the first person.

I was also privileged to have had a talented artist friend, Killeen Hanson, design the cover of the chapbook. Killeen read through the manuscript and was inspired by the cyanotype prints that figure in the poems about Anna Atkins (a british botanist, who’s also thought to be the first woman photographer). Killeen went out and created her own cyanotypes of a variety of botanical forms; the final image that we chose for the cover features one of her prints of a lilac. I love the lush blues and ghostly whites of cyanotypes, and Anna Atkins’ poem was one of the most personally resonant for me to work on, so I feel very grateful indeed to be able to have Killeen’s gorgeous print for my cover.

* * *

I am not very good at memes, and I’m afraid that I did not plan far enough in advance to inform anybody that I was interested in tagging them. So instead of explicitly tagging anyone, I think I’ll just list five poets who blog and whose recent books and/or chaps I think you should check out (and if you’re one of those poets and you happen to stumble across this, feel free to pick up the meme thread yourself on your personal blog!)

Timothy Yu15 Chinese Silences

Rachelle Cruz, Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood

Barbara Jane ReyesFor the City that Nearly Broke Me

Kristen EliasonYours,

Henry W. Leung, Paradise Hunger [n.b., Henry blogs at LR]

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First, the project that I’ve been secretly working on for months has, as of Tuesday, finally gone public.  Introducing:

Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry

Yes, it’s a literary magazine.  An online journal of Asian American poetry.  My collaborator Mia and I are super passionate and excited about this project.  The full site, blog, and submissions/reading period will launch in October, but at the moment we’re celebrating that we have a place to live on the web!  We also have a Facebook Fan Page, and a brand-spanking-new Twitter account.  Please follow us, add us, blog about us — do whatever you can to help spread the word!

Second, I turned 24 today.  In celebration of which, my most-stupendously-wonderful boyfriend bought me the BEST. GIFT. EVER:

Big Sister, Little Sister
Big Sister, Little Sister. (And a very messy desk).

It’s a new netbook computer – and I cannot get over how CUTE it is — so tiny and so light! It’s like carrying a standard sized hardcover book, and it fits perfectly in my bag. Now I can travel and work in cafe’s without having to lug my larger (heavier) laptop out and about.  Or I can tuck it in a tote to reference online readings in class, or use it to multitask: one screen for LR accounts, one screen for personal stuff.  Thank you, D!

I am so freaking excited – new magazine, new twitter account, new facebook fan page, new computer, all in the course of a week.  It’s almost too much to take in.  24 has been awesome so far.  And I can’t wait for it to get even better. 🙂

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[Edit: I was going to embed a YouTube video of the last few minutes of my reading, but it appears that neither wordpress nor youtube is happy about that, so here’s a link instead.  Warning – you may have to crank up the volume to hear what I’ m saying; the sound quality isn’t the best]

My Sunday baking project for the week is spicy cheese crackers (based on this recipe), and as the dough is currently chilling in the refrigerator, I thought it might be a good opportunity to blog.

It’s been nice to have a calm, restful weekend after the last two weeks.  My reading on Wednesday went really well, the broken things in my apartment got fixed (a total of 6 things – including a water heater that needed to be replaced – went “kaput” over the course of the last week and it felt like we were calling maintenance every other day…but at least everything is working now), my project got finished, as did some other logistics with regards to my summer job search.  After all of that craziness, it was nice to relax and do some fun things.  My weekend actually began kind of early, since I was hosting a prospective student who got into my program for next year.  On Friday night, at the end of her visit, I took her downtown and we went to Saigon Market, had dinner at a sports bar, and then drinks with some of my classmates (ENABS for me and her) at the local Irish pub.  After she left the next morning, I headed out to the Farmer’s Market with some friends, and came home bearing tulips and daffodils for my roommates (as a thank-you for their hospitality during my visitor’s stay), and a jug of fresh apple cider.  I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the Market (we hadn’t been since late Autumn).  I worked a little and phoned my bf and my parents in the afternoon, and then rounded off the evening with a wonderful homemade crepe dinner, made by my awesome roommate M. Today, it’s snowing again (argh!), but I’ve been able to spend most of the day indoors, resting and cleaning my house, so it’s been all right in the end.

Easter is approaching quite fast. Next week is Palm Sunday, in fact. In honor of that fact, I thought I’d link back to the palm cross tutorials I posted last year:

Palm Cross 1

Palm Cross 2

This year’s the first year I’m going to have time off from school to celebrate Good Friday and Easter Monday. Unfortunately, I also cannot fly home during those days (too much schoolwork), so it’ll likely be just me and one of my roommates for Easter. I thought it might be nice to invite some people over and try my hand at my dad’s roasted leg of lamb recipe this year. We’ll see how it works out.

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Last week was ridiculously busy, and this week doesn’t look to be any better.  I’ve been preparing for my big department-sponsored reading (which takes place this upcoming Wednesday), taking care of household and financial logistics post-Spring Break (among other things, it appears that my tetanus immunization has expired, so I need to go have it renewed this week), doing regular classwork (I have a big project for one of my classes due this Thursday, the day after my reading), doing church (I got to read one of my poems during the offertory today) and volunteer related stuff (Riley readings are supposed to start again soon, and I’m taking over for next year) and running on an insane sleep schedule – my body having refused, point-blank, to readjust to EST after returning from the West Coast.  (I think I’m still a little  jet lagged, even now).

In the midst of all this, getting to hear last week’s guest poet read was a welcome respite. Fabulous Filipina American poet Luisa Igloria (the winner of this year’s Sandeen Prize) came to campus to read from her book Juan Luna’s Revolver last week, and I was privileged to have the chance to converse with her afterwards, and to eat breakfast with her the next day.  Prof. Igloria was very encouraging to me about my work, and really lovely to speak with.  She also proved to be quite gracious, even though there were several logistical snafoo’s among us MFA students that resulted in our being 20+ minutes late to pick her up for breakfast the morning after her reading.   I always love a good, long conversation about craft and vision, and it was great to hear some of Prof. Igloria’s thoughts about teaching and writing, which she punctuated with colorful anecdotes.  Her stories about home and family reminded me of the importance of story and narrative to my vision for my own work.  All through these projects – both Cannery Row and the Women Scientists (which might tentatively be called “Physics at the Dinner Table” – I’m hesitant to slap a title on it yet, though, before I finish the work as a whole and see how it all fits together), it’s been the stories I’ve been looking for.  Voices, and ghosts, and ghosts of voices that tell stories with ghosts of other stories hiding beneath them.  I’ve just recently started to add the layer of my own personal and family stories to my work with the Women Scientists, and it’s been really interesting to me to see how everything  kind of bleeds together at the edges and piles up in unexpected layers.  Prof. Igloria also does a lot of historical work in Juan Luna’s Revolver, and had a lot of good advice to give to me about process and resources.  I’ve started reading a little of the book, and it’s been very interesting to contemplate how some of what she’s doing there can serve as a model for what I’ve been trying to do.  Her visit actually came at a really appropriate time for me, as I’m just now beginning to see the faint outline of a shape emerge for both of these works, and now it’s about continuing to collect information along the way as I follow those thin chalkmarks, and doing the work of sitting and writing, to try out different ways to flesh out what will eventually appear inside the outlines.

* * *

Last Sunday night, the experimental dinner I concocted from the very random leftovers in our fridge (we do our grocery shopping on Mondays) kind of bombed.  So in order to make myself feel better, and to try out the new mini food cutters I bought at Daiso when I was in California for Spring Break, I made Linzer Cookies using King Arthur Flour’s recipe.  I halved the recipe, except for the egg (because the dough seemed too dry without it).  Unfortunately, I think the other half of the egg ended up being a little too much, because the resulting dough was slightly more sticky than it ought to have been, even after flouring and refrigeration.  I filled the cookies with half raspberry preserves (heart cutouts) and half apricot jam (star cutouts).  I ended up being pretty happy with the results.  They were more work than I had expected, but they were tasty, and anyway I love rolling out and cutting dough (I find it relaxing).  And for once, our house actually finished them all within the week.

Linzer Cookies (heavily based on King Arthur Flour’s Linzer Cookies)
Makes about 16 cookies, depending on the size of your cutters.

1/1 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup confectioners’ or glazing sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup Trader Joe’s almond meal
1 1/8 all-purpose flour
1/2 of a beaten egg
raspberry jam and apricot jam
confectioners’ or glazing sugar, for dusting

Beat together the butter, sugars, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and flavor. Mix in the almond meal, flour, and egg. Divide dough in half and wrap well. Refrigerate for 60 minutes, for easiest rolling.

Roll the dough 1/8-inch thick. Cut the dough into rounds with a large (2 inch) daisy cutter. Transfer the cookies to a foil-lined baking sheet. Cut windows into the centers of half of the daisy rounds using a mini-cutter and remove the inside shapes (you can either roll them back into the rest of the dough for recutting, or bake them as little mini cookies). Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned on the edges. Cool on a rack. Dust the cookies with cutout tops lightly with confectioners’ sugar.

Spread the solid cookies with jam. Place a cutout cookie on top. Let stand for several hours, until the filling is set.

* * *

It’s late now; actually past midnight already (I waited till the last minute to start writing this blog entry – not the greatest of ideas when you’re trying not to stretch the limits of your Lenten disciplines), so I’ll stop here.

Wish me luck on Wednesday.  ::Crosses fingers for a good reading::

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I’m afraid I don’t have much of in the way of a photo update this week. I’ve been slaving away over various midterm projects for school, and have been sick and unable to do very much this weekend, so my life has not been particularly photo-worthy of late. Here’s a bento dinner I took with me to a group project prep session on Wednesday, when I was running around all day with no time to come home between meetings (I also brought a thermal bento with chicken soup for lunch on Thursday, but didn’t take pictures because it wasn’t particularly remarkable looking and I was in a hurry to get out the door):

Main container: Mediterranean wrap (tortilla halves containing yogurt, mint leaves, ham, cucumber, and tomato), carrot sticks, cucumber flowers, broken boiled egg (I didn’t boil it quite enough and it turned out somewhere between soft and hard boiled – definitely cooked through, but rather fragile), spoon for the kiwi in the sidecar.
Sidecar: half a kiwi, pistachio nuts

* * *

Onto the real subject of this post, though.  I’ve been playing around with Audacity again for the first time since sophomore year of college. I’ve decided to do a short audio essay about my grandfather (who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, possibly terminal) as a midterm project for one of my classes, and will expand it to a longer multimedia piece for the final. Last night I dusted off my very rusty editing skills and did a practice run by mixing some music in with a recording of me reading a poem (we were required to write love poems earlier in the semester).  I sent the results of the practice session to my bf as a happy-fourth-dating-anniversary gift.  Tonight D helped me practice recording over Skype.  Tomorrow morning I am going to do my actual phone interview with my grandpa.  It’s nice to feel that I am helping to record stories and words that my family will treasure for years, long after he is gone, and it’s good for my soul, as well, to have something to do that helps me to engage with the pain of the prospect of losing him. It’s also been stressful, however, trying to negotiate things so that everyone will be comfortable with the interview setup and he will not be overly taxed or tired by it – and trying to get enough material to meet the requirements of my course (which is about experimental poetics) at the same time. I also feel a lot of pressure to produce a something that will both satisfy the aesthetic of the project guidelines and please my family and honor my grandfather in particular. My mother and I agreed today that I should make two different versions: one for the class, and one for the family. She also wants me to focus on both my grandmother and grandfather and their life together for the final product rather than just creating an individual audio portrait of my grandfather.  It’s going to be a challenge to use the same raw material to come up with both a documentary piece (for family) and an anti-documentary piece (for the class).  But God willing, it will happen one way or another. I know that having input in the final product is important to my family, just as much as the making of it is important to me.

If you believe in God, please pray for my family during this time. For my grandpa, that he wouldn’t suffer greatly. For my grandma, that she would not be overwhelmed with grief. For my mom, that she wouldn’t entirely burn out with the emotional toll of her sadness and the physical stress of taking my grandpa around to many many appointments and working out all the logistics of his treatment. For my family, that this would be something that draws us closer to God, and to each other, rather than apart.

I’ll be traveling to California at the end of this coming week for Spring Break. I think it will be a much needed time for rest and reflection.

Till next week,
s.

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Someone from the program sent me an email today informing me that I’ve got a mention on the Sycamore Review’s Blog.

Pretty awesome.  I actually think Katie gave me more credit than I’m due – she also spoke to my friend Steph, who was the one who filled her in about our program’s work with the kids at the Juvenile Detention Center.  I simply provided info. about our work at the Center for the Homeless and Riley HS and sent her a couple of contact emails later (I’m not in charge of the Center for the Homeless program, though I participate, and I am just starting to transition into responsibility for the Riley HS readings).

At any rate, I’m excited to hear that there’s buzz being generated about my program’s involvement in the community and am hopeful that Purdue’s program and ours will be able to collaborate and share more resources with one another as our various outreach activities grow.  I hadn’t gotten the chance to mention it earlier, but aside from plunging me a little more deeply into the Asian American poetry community, AWP was a really awesome opportunity for me to connect with other writers who were interested in community service and service teaching.  The panel that Purdue presented at was just one of many awesome sessions that I attended throughout the weekend, and I left feeling really encouraged, and excited to continue to pursue service while I’m at ND, but also to seriously pursue a teaching job with a program like WITS (Writers in the Schools) or WritersCorps post-graduation.

So, Katie – if you’re reading this – thanks! 🙂

– s.

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I just want to clarify something about what I posted yesterday.  I was hashing my “eureka” moment over with the friend I’m sharing a hotel room with last night, and realized that I forgot to stress the irony of this realization.  I’ve actually known about this whole alienation from the American landscape for a long time, now – studied it in college, wrote papers about it.  But all of that seemed distant and far removed.  I don’t think I ever really applied it to myself till yesterday.  And I’m not sure why I did.  Thinking about it now, it seems like a huge case of “DUH.”  I’m not sure why I somehow thought myself so connected to the landscape of South Jersey.  Perhaps because I’ve always wanted to claim it (though of course I guess I realize now that I’ve never been completely successful in doing so).  I mean – for goodness’ sakes – the speech I gave at my high school graduation even used my sadness at the district’s chopping down of a large grove of trees from in front of the school in order to add on to the building as a metaphor for change.  And of course, afterwards, most people told me they couldn’t understand what I was talking about.  Apparently I used too many big words or something like that.  (Granted, of course, the fact that I was rather given to flowery language in high school – but I’d still like to think that the speech made sense to more than just me, and the teachers who coached me in revising and delivering it).  All that aside, however – I’m finding yesterday’s discovery kind of funny, in its wake.  My friend, when I described it to her, said, “but – you knew this – haven’t you talked about this to me before, many times?”  Which was when I realized (CLUNK!) that yes, I have spent the last 2 years researching, studying, writing about Asian American alienation from the American landscape.  I’ve known this intimately – in the abstract.  And on the page (or rather, on other people’s pages).  But somehow it never struck home in my own heart until yesterday.  I’m so incredibly glad that it did, but I still can’t figure out why it took me that long to “get it” . . .

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