Can you walk me through your writing process?
William Wordsworth defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, and that’s how I approach writing. I let the words come organically, and when I’m done, I’ll tweak the words and lines until I think I’ve adequately conveyed the idea that I came to me. More recently, I’ve tried to build a more intentional and consistent practice with utilizing prompts and trying out different forms.
Can you discuss your experience with writing poetry?
Initially I didn’t like poetry. I wrote my first poem in 4th grade during a unit on poetry, and my teacher had to cajole me into adding more than one poem to the collection she was making of our class’ work. Then in high school, my English teacher encouraged the class to submit to the school literary magazine. I was more interested in fiction but didn’t have a finished story so I submitted a poem about my insomnia and anxiety. I was the only freshman published that year, which gave me confidence in my writing.
Poetry became a way to express feelings I had trouble processing or could not share without being dismissed as melodramatic or negative. I also discovered I could connect with people, which motivated me to write more and submit my pieces. However, poetry took a backseat in my attempts to be a novelist and later a blogger. It wasn’t until my thirties that I noticed the writing process for poetry wasn’t so arduous. Even when I struggled with completing a poem, I didn’t feel as upset so I realized that maybe my destiny lied in mainly poetry.
Who are some poets or writers that have influenced your work?
I love Byron, Shelley, and Keats—and pretty much all of Romantic poetry. That’s partly where the “punk rock pretty boi poet” aspect of my bio comes from because most people only see me as the logical, orderly scientist, but really I’m overflowing with emotion inside. Romantic poetry embraces that, the chaos of the natural world (and beyond), and the solitary existence of an artist. I love all of that and how they express it so eloquently.
On the flipside, I admire Dorothy Parker’s wit and brevity because it’s the opposite of my style. She helped me work on developing punchy endings. More recently I’ve been inspired by performance poets like Andrea Gibson and Alex Dang. Although I don’t consider myself a performance poet, I dance and do drag so the possibility of bringing my poetry to a stage excites me. I’ve started to write with that in mind.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention S.E. Hinton and Linkin Park. The Outsiders got me through a really dark period. It made me realize that I wasn’t alone and I could tell my story in case someone else was feeling the same. Mimicking Linkin Park lyrics also helped me deal with depression and anxiety and led to me exploring poetry.
The concept of seeing a blank canvas and realizing it’s a mirror is intriguing. What inspired this unique perspective, and how did you approach translating it into poetic language? Can you discuss the symbolism behind the blank canvas and mirror, and how they contribute to the overall theme or message of the poem?
Actually this was a literal wall. The image came from a prompt to write about our earliest childhood memory. I don’t actually know if it was my earliest memory, but I remember having a bed against the wall and staring at the white space while trying to nap. I’d look for recognizable shapes in the bumps. As I got older, blank walls made me really uncomfortable. I needed artwork and posters on them to feel like the space is mine.
This made me think of another prompt: write a poem based on a Jungian archetype, which my overachieving brain interpreted that I needed a poem for every archetype. The Innocent made me consider that children are not blank canvases but more like the walls because they are not homogenous or flat. We might place our own ideas and expectations on them, similar to how parents will decorate their kids’ bedroom walls. At some point though, the kids end up wanting to decorate themselves, and that goes along with developing their own identity. Each of us is a wall that we are free to adorn or leave alone, and I think that’s why my apartment is still covered with posters and photos like I did with my teenage bedroom because those items reflect who I am.
The poem about the euthanization of a dog named Valor at an animal shelter is emotionally charged. What motivated you to explore this theme, and how did you navigate the delicate balance between empathy and the harsh reality depicted in the poem?
(Valor was actually a cat although the poem does apply to dogs too, especially where I’m at in Dallas.) I have two cats, regularly volunteer at a small no-kill shelter, and was doing TNR (trap, neuter, return) of strays and ferals. Lack of resources started making TNR difficult so I figured I could help promote animals in need of homes through social media. That made me aware of how dire the situation in municipal and county shelters who cannot turn away animals and thus end up euthanizing for space.
Valor’s story stood out because not only does the county he’s in not have a TNR program (leading to many ferals being turned in and euthanized), but he had been surrendered with two friendlier cats so maybe he was an abandoned pet lashing out in fear. I was also dealing with a complicated chain of events that almost led to my favorite stray cat, who I was going to adopt when I moved, getting euthanized (thankfully I found enough help and sent him to Austin Pets Alive! where he’s living with a foster). I channeled my frustration at the many roadblocks I encountered in trying to save this cat, the rise of “pandemic pet” surrenders, and lack of funding for TNR and low cost spay/neuter programs into this eulogy.
The notion that the cat doesn’t need to forgive us is poignant. Can you discuss the implications of this statement in the context of the poem and its broader commentary on human actions?
It’s the sad reality I’ve had to learn while getting into animal rescue. We as humans have created the situation that Valor found himself in, but until there is systemic and societal change, individuals can only do so much. That line is an acceptance that we will fail animals like Valor (but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying).
How did you approach writing about the euthanization process in a way that conveys both the tragedy and the sense of release for the innocent cat?
There is a complicated conversation around the no-kill movement and even around TNR because feral cats are exposed to so much danger. Maybe Valor could have been adopted if he had more time, but maybe he would have suffered at the shelter. Euthanasia is a sad fate, but until more people can help reduce the overcrowding issue at shelters through fostering and getting their pets fixed, it may actually be the more humane option.
Can you delve into the creative process of giving voice to a mythological figure like Nyx and the emotions or themes you aimed to convey through her story?
I’m Wiccan, but since I wasn’t really allowed to practice it when I was younger, poetry is my way to honor the gods. Nyx is not part of my main pantheon, but I saw a painting of her and was struck by how she looked like the images of the “dark” goddesses I do worship: Hecate, Hel, and The Morrigan. They’re all connected with death and the underworld, and Nyx is too as Thanatos’ mother. The night ends up becoming connected to death and thus a source of fear so I decided to honor Nyx’s power and mystery.
Were there specific aspects of Nyx’s mythology that you found particularly resonant or challenging to incorporate into the poem?
When I wrote this poem, I actually didn’t know much about her mythology. I’ve wondered if I should revise it to more accurately reflect her relationship with other celestial bodies. However, I am content to leave this as a response to night as a source of fear, mystery, beauty, and the sublime.
The theme of separation and missing a loved one is a universal experience. What inspired you to write about this, and how did you approach conveying the emotions of longing and absence in your poem? Were there personal experiences or reflections that influenced the writing of this poem, and how do you navigate the balance between the personal and the universal in your work?
Being autistic and greyromantic, I struggle with defining love and expressing it authentically. Poetry is one way I can do so, and I’ve found that I often connect love with longing. You never know how much you love someone or something until they are gone, right?
More specifically, “July 6” and “Otsukimi” are both connected to the year I spent living in Japan as an assistant English teacher. I call Japan my “first love and heartbreak” because I arrived caught up in the romance and country and determined to live there forever, but due to mental health issues and discovering that I didn’t want to teach, I made the painful decision to leave after a year.
I wrote “July 6” when I first started dating my partner, a year after I moved home so anything related to Japan was fresh on my mind. My partner worked very different hours so I would have to wait for our schedules to line up to see him. My impatience felt silly compared to my fellow expats in Japan who did long distance for a year or the myth of Hikoboshi and Orihime (a.k.a. Altair and Vega), who must be separated until July 7 when they can meet via a bridge of magpies. The holiday celebrating their union, Tanabata, bookended my year in Japan so I evoked the joy I felt in arriving and also in creating some good memories before departing.
This year, 14 years after my departure, I finally made a return visit to my Japanese hometown. I also went to see one of my favorite bands, Alice Nine, for their final concert (for now). I wrote “Otsukimi” when I came home and was feeling melancholy in having to say goodbye to Japan all over again and losing a band that had been a major tether to my time there. Fortunately some of Alice Nine remained active on social media, and I caught their lead guitarist on Instagram Live on a very bad morning. Hiroto talked about having returned from a gig in Italy and creating more music so we fans wouldn’t feel lonely. I realized that even though he’s a rock star, he just came back from traveling alone for the first time and is going through a major life change—things I’ve experienced. At one point, he waxed poetically about the full moon since it was the moon viewing festival (otsukimi) and sang one of their lyrics mentioning moon. I utilized the contrapunctal form to reflect both our different lives and our connectedness as humans under the same sky. This was such a specific moment, but I think many people know what it’s like to be inspired by fellow creatives and to be uplifted by art so I opted to focus on the universal elements.
Your poems cover a diverse range of themes. Are there common threads or connections you see among the poems, and how do you approach exploring different themes in your poetry?
A lot of my poems respond to a creative work, a person, or an event. They’re how I interact with the world around me, and I want to share the emotion I felt with others. Sometimes I see it as a way to “pay forward” the art I experienced, and other times I want to make people aware of a current event or a struggle by a marginalized group. The latter leads me to write about identity often because I find myself in a lot of in-between spaces: Taiwanese-American, genderqueer, grey-asexual, greyromantic, someone who went undiagnosed for ADHD and autism for most of their life. I know people can be bogged down by labels and definitions so the figurative language is a way to convey my experiences. It also helps shatter stereotypes because I’ll either twist those images or come from a different perspective that makes people reconsider their beliefs.
In your creative process, do you find that certain themes or emotions naturally emerge in your work, or do you intentionally seek out a variety of topics for exploration? What role do you believe poetry plays in allowing readers to connect with and reflect on diverse human experiences, emotions, and perspectives, as showcased in your various poems?
Lately I’ve been thinking about poetry as less an act of creation and more manipulation of words and emotions. We take language that is common to at least a group of people, but we present it in a way that most are not familiar with. In that way, we can evoke emotions in unexpected ways. Regardless of whether you are neurodivergent or not, communication can be tricky so poetry is another path when the direct one isn’t working.