What does poetry mean to you and how did you start writing poetry?
To me, poetry is a ceaseless asking. I usually come to the page with a question in search of answers, or perhaps more precisely, seeking articulation to an experience I haven’t yet had the time or heart to fully interrogate.
I began writing poetry in college after encountering the poem “Persimmons” by Li Young Lee that perfectly articulated the experience of being straddled between cultures, the grief of losing your first language in lieu of another. It really resonated with me. It changed my future.
Would you like to share with us one of your poems for our ongoing campaign: #ForTheLoveOfPoetry?
For #ForTheLoveOfPoetry campaign, I would like to share a tender poem, so here is one in praise of my mother, to whom all my poems are dedicated.
Praise By Jihyun Yun
On 135th and Broadway, a thumb of light reached for me through Harlem’s milk froth sky. The warmth on my cheek held me like a body I’ve missed. I heard mother’s voice in the tired rumble of trains below as I hear her in all things
weathered. Not a clear bell, but work-worn when she rises in the coldest swell of night to ready for her twelve-hour days: hands wrapped around the hot iron eyes closed, half dreaming of the barley fields of her youth, sugar buns spilling their molten cores of hodu and spice. Be good she’d say each morning, though I seldom answered.
I remember how once I found her wringing dollars in the basement stringing them up like egg-fattened fish drying on a laundry line. A patron had thrown them in the oil slicked sink water; Here is a tip for the little assistant.
I don’t understand what a mother is, what toothen thing lives inside for her to take my hand, smile proudly, say Daughter, this is the richest we have been.
Can you share with us a few details about your upcoming publication “Some are Always Hungry”?
Some Are Always Hungry is a love song to my mother and my grandmother and all the women before who I passed through to arrive in this world as I am. Because the collection is dedicated to them, I wrote through the lens of my family’s dominant love language: food. I never imagined that my first book would be entering the world in the throes of a pandemic, but perhaps it’s the right time. I hope that amidst everything, the collection fortifies and carries whoever may read it briefly elsewhere.
How are you coping with the present situation due to the pandemic? Are you writing more or less these days?
To be completely transparent, it does not always feel like I am coping or at least coping well with the pandemic. I spend hours glued to my phone, read more news than is healthy and follow my partner from room to room like a barnacle. I am trying to remember to forgive myself for losing weeks to despair. Gentleness to the self feels like the first real step towards coping healthily, and I am striving to get there. I am not writing these days at all, but I have been reading a great deal. Lucky for me there are so many great books coming out now, and this is the perfect time to support these authors and small presses!
Who are your favorite contemporary writers and poets? What are some of their works you’ve read or re-read lately?
Li Young Lee, Yusef Komunyakaa and Suji Kwok Kim have always been my favorite poets. Lately I’ve found myself returning often to Ross Gay and Ada Limon.
Tell us something more about your process or writing: do you have a routine? Do you like to revise several times? Do you have a dedicated nook where you sit and write? My routine is a bit irregular. I often go for months without writing a thing. Instead I’ll read, collect generative energy and then sit down one day for hours and complete several poems at once. I tend to edit poems the same day I write them so as not to forget the initial impulse from which they sprouted. I think this is helpful to me because I have a very bad tendency to edit my poems until they go limp if I return to them too many times. I do want to eventually incorporate some more discipline into my writing practice though. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that a writer must write every day in order to be productive, but I do feel that my current process lends itself to my worst tendencies. Sometimes it’s hard for me to differentiate when I’m collecting space and time for my next writing bout and when I’m just dragging my feet or letting imposter symptom keep me away from my work. I have a small office set up for writing and doing other related work, and it is my absolute favorite part of my home. It is full of photographs and candles. Only my very favorite books are in it. I make it a point to not enter the room unless I intend to be generative, to keep the space full of intent.
How do you feel about the impact of social media on any dimension of our lives? Does it affect your creative process or is it more something you factor in when planning promotion of your work?
My favorite thing about social media is its role in mitigating loneliness, especially now when we are more physically isolated than ever. That said, I don’t believe social media affects my writing process in any way that is obvious. If it does, perhaps it is just in a way that has not yet become clear to me. I do definitely factor it in heavily when it comes into promotions though. Naturally, I promote my own forthcoming book and individual poems on my socials, but I take equal joy in promoting work that I love! I particularly find it important to uplift fellow late 2019/ 2020 authors who have had their book tours disrupted by the pandemic. In this time when I personally have so little I can give or contribute, signal boosting other writers feels like the least I can do.
#BeatTheBlues is another campaign for which we’d like your comments – what do you do to beat the blues? What’s your advice to our audience on this subject that is relevant now more than ever? In this time, I’m gleaning small joys wherever I can find them. Growing food scraps has been an unexpected source of comfort. To have something to tend to and see daily growth in has helped me retain a small sense of agency in this time where I feel I have none. I’m regrowing celery and green onions, but I’d also like to start a little herb garden in my kitchen eventually. When the weather is nice, I take long walks around the neighborhood or open my windows wide to let in the sun. I stand besides my mailbox to watch the cherry-tree’s brief blossoms duck in the wind. I spray my favorite rosewater perfume in my hair for an extra layer of somatic pleasure as I go about my day. I facetime my mother. I embrace catharsis by crying whenever I need to, which is often. I eat lots of sweets. My advice, I suppose would be that because large joys may be hard to come by right now, collect the small ones. As many as you can. And maybe they, as a combined whole, can allay some sadness.
Is there a message of hope, or a hopeful scene at a moment that you’d like to share? A lot of neighborhood children and parents have taken to making little chalk murals on their driveways. Sometimes funny drawings of animals or stick figures, but often sweet little messages like “Thank you front-line workers” or “have a great day” or “this won’t last forever”. Occasionally I’ll see them waving from their windows. These sweet gestures fortify me.