Victoria Chang: Poet Interview

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Please join me in welcoming Victoria Chang to Poetic Asides! It's rare we get a poet with degrees from Harvard University and Stanford Business School, but Victoria has degrees from there, in addition to the University of Michigan and an MFA in Poetry from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

Victoria recently released her third book of poetry, The Boss, as part of the McSweeney's Poetry Series. Her first book, Circle, won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, and her second collection, Salvinia Molesta, was published by the University of Georgia Press. Her work has appeared in magazines like The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, and others. She lives in Southern California. Read her blog here: http://victoriamchang.blogspot.com/

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Here's a link to one of her poems originally published in Poetry. The poem is available for both reading and listening.

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What are you currently up to?

Nothing poetry-related really, except for doing readings! I haven't written a poem since The Boss, and am okay with that. I used to write a lot more but now I simply don't have the time and there's something about the urgent process of writing The Boss that made me want to write if I have that sense of urgency. I know people talk about "process" and enjoying the process of writing, but in my spare time, I like to read and think more than I like to write.

Your most recent collection The Boss is part of the McSweeney's series. How did you go about getting that book placed?

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I had written these poems in a period of two months and wasn't sure if they were even poems so I started sending some out to journals to see how they might be received and people seemed to like them so I sent the collection out to a few editors and McSweeney's called me to take the manuscript.

I didn't know the editors there but I had a poem in The Believer before that. It's a great match, because I believe in everything McSweeney's does and they have been the best to work with. I had sent to their open submissions.

The Boss is your third collection. Do you have a certain methodology to assembling your collections?

No methodology whatsoever. I used to write single poems and then try to assemble them together.

This third book was made out of a sense of urgency and stress. Then I looked at what I had and put them in an order that I felt made sense so that the reader could make sense of the collection. I also spaced out the Edward Hopper poems throughout the book to give the other poems some space.

Do you have a writing routine?

I have no writing routines. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a routine-oriented person. I like trying new things, experiencing new things, rarely liking to do the same things again and again. I get bored. I guess my routine is a lack of routine!

Although I do love this gingerbread tasting breakfast bread that I have made 10 times in the last few months.

From your website, it appears you read a bit. Do you have any specific reading tips for poets new to reading their poems?

McSweeney's set up most of those readings and I set up just a handful. Their promotions person there is awesome. He's positive, energetic, full of great energy. They throw good parties, communal experiences where people from different walks of life can come together to experience great art, whether being poetry, fiction, cookbooks, music, comedy, etc.

What I love about McSweeney's is their mission to change the world through their work--they seem to want to bring great things to people who wouldn't normally experience things like poetry. I'm so glad they started a poetry series because it feels different to me than what anyone else is doing--most of the other publishers seem to be bringing poetry to poets. McSweeney's seems like they are trying to bring poetry to others--fiction writers, musicians, art-lovers, and even business people (I had a great tour just yesterday in San Francisco of Poetry in Conference Rooms at Twitter, IDEO, and SPUR) and my tour was so unusual and so different, yet so liberating to not be reading to just poets!

Do you have any favorite revision tricks?

There is no such trick to revision.

Revision is actually torture to me. But the worst torture is writing. Revision (to me, at least) is easier than writing. I simply sit down with the thing that's nagging me (not working) and try to get into that mental space of really trying to make it better. If I actually come up with something interesting, I feel satisfied and happy momentarily and then make those changes in the computer, print it out, and look at it again and again and again and again...

I think it's important to take revision as seriously as writing. It seems like a lot of poets write a lot of poems but don't spend a lot of time on revisions (this is something we were just talking about yesterday with Matthew Zapruder who read with me, and my editor). What I learned from McSweeney's is that a good editor can really make your book go from good to great, or at least better. I always think less is more too--I, as a reader, don't need to see everything you've written in the last 4 years. I want to see only the best pieces in a tight welcoming collection.

What (or who) are you currently reading?

I read whatever comes out if I can. I also am constantly asking other poets for recommendations. I'm finishing up Mary Ruefles' great book of essays, Madness, Rack, and Honey. I'm also reading A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. I post what I am reading on my pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/fattery/boards/.

If you could pass on only one piece of advice to other poets, what would it be?

I don't like to give advice because everyone else is different from me, and boy that is the truth!

I guess I would say to be kind to other people and poets and don't spend all your time schmoozing because it doesn't matter that much in the end. Try and write something that the world hasn't seen before because I, as a reader, want to read it.

What else? Enjoy your life and your family, life's short and fast. If you live your life, read a lot, and think a lot, you might have something interesting to say.

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Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor for the Writer's Digest Writing Community. He edits Writer's Market and Poet's Market, writes a poetry column for Writer's Digest, and does a bunch of other fun stuff (like this blog!). He curates an insta-poetry series for Virginia Quarterly Review and is the author of the forthcoming collection Solving the World's Problems (Press 53). He's married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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