For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.
Sally Wen Mao asks, Poetic windfalls are the best. Has there been a moment in your researching, drafting, writing, or revising stage where you found something (an experience, a new obsession, a curiosity, a discovery) that swept you toward renewing or invigorating your work or poetic practice? Describe for me what your poetic windfall is, and the adventure you had with it — if you can’t think of anything, then describe what your ideal poetic windfall would be!
Jane Wong responds,
My understanding of a windfall is something that knocks you off your feet, in such a way that you’re unable to see the world the way you did before. I have been windfalling for a while! I remember reading persona poems like Thomas James’s “Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh XXI Dynasty” and thinking: what if you could write from the position of someone close to you? Does the line between yourself and the person become blurry? I’ve always been curious about the lives of others, particularly my parents. Sometimes, I feel like I know nothing about them - especially my father, who’s absent from my life. I started writing poems as if I were my father (as in “The Good Work”) and my mother (I just started a series of poems that embodies a year in her life). This windfall feels energizing and a bit risky. The gap between the familiar and the unfamiliar is much harder to bridge.
THE GOOD WORK
I left the light on in the kitchen again.
A spider burned in the bulb. It was a morning
owl who joined me in the song of its burning.
To raise children with good legs and arms.
Isn’t this all we want? I worry about my daughter.
To be a good man. To be good?
Across the street, a family clears logs from their front yard.
Cedar smoke fills the air. My breath splinters, I hold
a rest note too long. Arrested, always. The sky
is an ice pattern I could break open. I could
have been a mathematician. I could have loved my daughter.
Saddle up to me, I’d say. Let this horse do the work.
(Previously published in The Journal)
The recipient of fellowships and scholarships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, Kundiman, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center, Jane Wong’s poems can be found in places such as Hayden’s Ferry Review, Salt Hill, Linebreak, The Volta, Best New Poets 2012, and others.