Breaking Into the Silence with Sally Wen Mao, Hieu Minh Nguyen, and Tarfia Faizullah

Three contributors to The Journal, Sally Wen Mao, Hieu Minh Nguyen, and Tarfia Faizullah, are featured among Poets & Writers best new poets of 2014. They had some fabulous things to say about the challenges and inspirations of the writing process that I’d like to share with you. Writing isn’t easy, but why struggle alone when you could work alongside such a thriving community?

Sally Wen Mao on her first book, Mad Honey Symposium
“The earliest incarnation of this manuscript was a thesis project I titled ‘A Field Guide to Trapped Animals.’ In this manuscript, I sought trapped animals: the honey badger, Laika the space dog, endangered flightless birds such as the kakapo, taxidermists’ specimens, disgruntled pandas in captivity, a flock of doomed pigeons. I admired the honey badger for its inane yet marvelous tenacity to sate its appetites for dangerous animals. From that obsession I found bees, and the magical honeys that they can make, including mad honey (meli chloron), a noxious honey made from rhododendrons or azaleas or oleanders that causes drunkenness, hallucinations, and heart palpitations in humans. There I was able to find the manuscript’s spine—humans who poison themselves for the sake of their desires.”

Read Sally Wen Mao’s poem Haibun for Thawing in The Journal

Hieu Minh Nguyen on his first book, This Way to the Sugar
For a long time, I didn’t know how to write about my traumas. I found myself writing the same poems over and over again, even if they didn’t make any sense to the world, even if I was the only person who would understand the significance of something as basic as a peach. I guess the hope was that if I could write the poems, if I could speak about my trauma in a way that didn’t seem careless, I could stop trying to explain myself. It is stupid to feel the need to explain yourself at all, but I spent a lot of time being ashamed of my experiences as a son, a body, a survivor, and I believe in the importance of confession as a tool to combat shame.”

Read Hieu Minh Nguyen’s poem Diffuse in The Journal

Tarfia Faizullah, author of Seam, on writer’s block remedies
“I try to get into the physicality of what the vastness inside and around me looks like. I listen to the train going past our house and wonder at the science and magic that collided to cre­ate its vibrations. I wonder who decided to write the informational signs at the top of a mountain during a hike, and what that person looks like. The world isn’t material for my poems; it’s its own fabric and when I’m not writing, I’m disconnected from it. For me, what keeps me going is mindfully rolling around in the world and feeling it in my whole body.”

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