What can you reveal about Butcher's Tree (Black Ocean, 2012), your forthcoming poetry collection?
I think about someone like Grendel or the Monkey god the same way I sometimes think of my favorite wild animals. These creatures are so much a part of the way I understand affects, and they come through distorted in so many things that people say and do and create. The vast difference is that we tend to manipulate and use animals for our own ends, and they suffer. Mythological creatures don't suffer, so physics would say, since they "don't exist," but this book is how they do exist. They do suffer, because they have been made our animals, and we are animals, concentric in all things.
"Poetry hurts narrative. It likes the wound body. It is not opposed to wrapping the wound body up in gauze ghosts." This selection from your chapbook, Ugly Fish, has crawled into me. Will not leave me. Do you think this "hurt" is something positive? Does poem have a place within narrative's "wound body?"
It can be mixed with pleasure, and often cannot be extricated. It's hard to think about, because there are many varieties and valences of wounds, physical and not physical. Poetry is what gets translated in loss, Ben Friedlander once said (I think). Another famous poet said that all poetry is an exercise in failure. I don't consider wounds failures, though they do fail, and narratives are not failures, but we as living beings do not like to see the body for its wounds. The image of wound is in the shape of our sensing and speaking orifices, and these are very prone to failure.
There are instances in which the narrator of Ugly Fish acknowledges and refutes her gender. There were moments when I read gender as something parasitic--something suffocating. I also felt your use of brackets effectively reinforced that suffocated condition. There are male writers who seem to inscribe gender into their pages: A WOMAN IS THIS. A GIRL IS THIS. Does your narrator seek to destroy these kinds of inscriptions of gender? What does your narrator want to achieve?
I think the narrator is annoyed that gender is so rhetorically effective and caustic. The narrator doesn't want to achieve anything, but perhaps let the abrasions show, pick at them for the monkey games that they are. I find that playing with binaries, really playing each part against another, is natural and energizing. Reality is more gray than gender norms wish it to be, even for "normal" people.
Do you believe in dangerous poetry/prose? Should we ever ignore poetry/prose?
I'm not sure. I think ideas are dangerous, not poetry or prose. Like firecrackers. Depends on how it's used.
What five books do you recommend most often?
Bluets, With Deer, Black Life, uuuuuum. Elizabeth Grosz stuff. Depends on what I'm reading at the time. Right now I am reading Edmond Jabes, which Carrie Lorig recommended to me. So I recommend him.
What is your favorite animal? Why?
I love the Hovercat. I love all animals. Even the ugly ones, because they are divine.
Feng Sun Chen's first book is Butcher's Tree from Black Ocean (now available for preorder). She is also the author of chapbooks Ugly Fish from Radioactive Moat Press, Arcane Carnal Knowledge from Pangur Ban Party (and Night Vegetable Press), and blud, forthcoming from Spork Press. Recent poems do and will appear on her blog, in Conduit, >Kill Author, Claudius App, and other places. She is currently a graduate assistant and MFA student at the University of Minnesota, and sometimes blogs about potatoes and art for Montevidayo.
Ugly Fish is now available from Radioactive Moat Press as a downloadable PDF:
Could you describe your writing process?
I'm a miner. I go into the dark and throw my claws around. I'm always surprised to find myself clutching. I have also thought of each poem as a building of some kind. I push things together and watch carefully as it goes up. I read and misread for bricks. This morning, I wrote, "I put my ear to the ground / and feel for the moving cement / that was once in my mouth / and in your mouth." That seems right. I never understand what I'm going to say until the end. Even then. It's questionable. I go back and forth between thinking that is a good thing and thinking I'm a writer who is simply not mature enough to see the compass.
Who has influenced you? Have any non-writers influenced your writing?
This also changes a lot for me. I feel very malleable, and there is so much to read. But lately, Raul Zurita and Edmond Jabes in particular. How to move and live inside of holes. To open yourself up so much you must be a hole. Maggie Nelson's book, Bluets, is now an important organ in my body. Jenny Boully. Any writer who writes something that destroys me into hoping. Gertrude Stein, Mike Young, Frank Standford (!), M.G. Martin, James Schiller, Zachary Schomburg. Molly Prentiss is someone I follow. There's something energetic and acrobatic about her. The other writers in the MFA program at the University of Minnesota add light to my cells constantly. I am lucky to write with such a diverse set of promising heads. I also have some poet friends from undergrad who are the only pearls I've ever been allowed to touch.
I see so many poetic tendencies in non-writers. Absolutely. I'm a constant jewel thief. Listen is the most important verb we have access to! I try to do it with my whole body. A guy on the bus told me that he keeps a particular shade of orange in a safe place. What a diamond. Also, the way an ex-boyfriend talked about playing the cello has influenced me. He would talk about how images and colors would well up inside him, push him out and dent him inwards as he moved through a piece. This is very similar to how my thoughts swim, and to how a reader's thoughts move as they ingest my poems. Discussing that at length made me embrace it as a really good part of myself and my writing in a way I definitely could not before.
One of my favorite things about your writing is that it never has the same look. Take for instance your poems "Bone Woman" (decomP), "Let the Record Show" (elimae), and "this is my cybersex. is it ok?" (Pangur Ban Party). Do you think more poets could benefit from versatility or do you think there's something desirable in sameness?
I'm so glad you asked me this, though I fear my answer from its beginning. This is what I wrestle with most as a poet. I feel like many writers are able to create links that are very clear poem to poem to poem. A huge, huge number of books demonstrate their ability to do so. Some of those books rip me to shreds until I cheer! Will all the shards that look out of me ever be able to do that? Do they have to? Will my voice ever not be a spreading herd of red cattle--a stupid puddle scatter? I can't even decide whether or not I want to capitalize or keep it lowercase. But I do trust myself. A lot. (Though that has taken some time. Only very recently, have I made progress.) This is the language I am. There are some wonky mountains in here. Shrugs. Lately, I have been inside of a project that has some strings poem to poem, which has never happened to me before. I feel surprised. However, I definitely would never push myself to stay within any one stomach. That's just not how I can work at all. I look at my fractured face and grin twelve different ways.
Each poet, like each body, is different. We should celebrate that on the dance floor. Doing tons of different colors all the time is not good for everyone. Do I think it's good to kick outside the lines, hard and with your eyes closed? Yes. My god. That foot could end up somewhere. Nebraska, the back of your fridge, your mother's forehead. That feels important, if not as a writer, then as a reader, perhaps.
Book or Nook? Or both?
My dad sent me an email before Christmas asking me what I wanted. I listed about four or five books. He answered in all caps, "DON'T YOU WANT A KINDLE OR AN IPOD?!" It was a legitimate question. However, I'm a book. The book bloods my heart. The sound of page turning is how I say your name. The page is the breath smell. The page is skin collapsing again and again.
Your canine companion has been described as "cute," "adorable," and even "wonderful." How would you describe that darling dog of yours?
My canine companion is yellow. In my dreams, he can be whiter. His favorite food is underwear or mittens or pencils. He just gave me a mournful look.
What five books do you recommend most often?
It depends on the person. But here's a shot?
David Foster Wallace - Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Lydia Davis - Break it Down
Roberto Bolano - The Savage Detectives or 2666
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - 100 Years of Solitude
Haruki Murakami - The Wind Up Bird Chronicles
Carrie Lorig is in the MFA program at the University of Minnesota. She has been a bike messenger, a teacher in Asia, a house painter, and an invasive plant remover, among other things. Her favorite holes are in cups that coffee, form a poem in the desert, and appear often in the very center of records.