1. I remember our interview from last year when you talked about one of your writing projects, and that writing project is your debut chapbook coming very soon from fifth wheel press. Huge congrats! How did how to construct a breakup poem come about? When did you realize you had material for a book?
"First of all, thank you!! I’m super excited and still kind of baffled that I get to release a chapbook at all. Although I only started really thinking about and putting this together in the spring of 2021, I’d say BREAKUP POEM is a culmination of a lot of themes I’ve been exploring since I started publishing poetry in 2020. I knew I had recurring themes in my work from the beginning, but I didn’t start thinking about making a chapbook out of those themes until March of 2021. I had, at that point, just written the title poem and something about it made my past work click for me. It was that sense of angst, of toxicity, but also of intention. Gently poking fun at myself for all the heartbreak poetry, how I’d become an expert at writing it, how I sometimes made myself sit in the pain to write. I liked the sadness and the narration of it, the way some of my work could jump outside the frame and point out the performance of it. I did Escapril last year, which was a 30-day prompt challenge that I somehow managed to complete, and many of the poems in my chap are from that burst of poetic output in April 2021. After that, I quickly started putting work together, paring down, and reordering it (many, many times) to create the final manuscript."
2. Do you feel like you need to suffer in order to make great art? What are your thoughts on pain and writing, especially as it relates to your forthcoming collection?
"Scary question. I said something quippy about this on Twitter already (along the lines of 'I really hope not!') but this is something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time on my own too. I write a lot of sad stuff. Breakup poetry, if you will. And I’m not still sad about my breakups, but sometimes I do worry that I’m mining old pain for poetry in a way that’s almost lazy. I don’t think you need to suffer to make great art. I’ve read tender, joyful, uplifting poetry that I love as much as my favourite angry, frustrated, melancholy poems. I do think sometimes it’s easier to see suffering as poetic. I think of Richard Siken’s words, 'maybe a mouth sounds idiotic when it blathers on about joy', and I’ve honestly thought the same thing about my work. When I am happy, enjoying a packed social calendar, in the honeymoon stage of a new relationship – I don’t write nearly as much. It’s harder for me to write a loving poem, a hopeful poem about the future, than it is for me to write something melancholy or sad or angry. It feels embarrassing, and that’s saying something because in many ways the emotional vulnerability of poetry is in itself embarrassing already. One poem I drafted a while ago while in a relationship ended on a cutesy note that I found cringe even while writing it. After we broke up, I revised that poem to end on a more melancholy note and found it truer to the emotional core of the piece. I don’t want that anecdote to mean that my poetry is better when it’s less happy. But I do think it means I’ve found it easy to settle into a pattern of melancholy, uncertainty, and sadness in my work. I’m working on it. I write occasional funny poems, pop culture poems, irreverent poems – think 'grand prix' or 'love poem for my dying phone battery' or 'what’s in a mouth' – but I just default to a certain tone and so I am better at it, because I practice it. This is all a very longwinded way of saying I don’t feel like the general writing population needs to suffer to make art, but sometimes I worry that I do. As a self-proclaimed creator of breakup poems, what do you do when you run out of breakups? If I end up in a stable, loving, long-term relationship, what then? Maybe I’ll write a different collection, one with a happier throughline. Maybe I’ll write poems about something else entirely. Rocks. Skyscrapers. Peach milk tea in the morning. We’ll have to see if this chapbook gets it out of my system."
3. Tell me a story behind one of your favourite poems in this collection. Where were you when you wrote it? What you were thinking? Why is this one of your favourite poems?
"You can’t ask a parent to pick a favourite!! So I’ll just pick one of the many poems that I like in this collection. The final poem in the collection is called 'pink moon', and I wrote it on April 26 2021. I can remember this because a pink moon is a full moon in April, and last year it was a 'super pink moon', meaning it was a very large full moon in the night sky. I had just learned some bad news – not news for me, but for an old friend. And I was in a melancholy sort of mood, sitting at my desk in my childhood bedroom and looking out the window while trying to figure out what my response to the prompt should be. My windows face south and I occasionally have this problem in the night where I forget to close my blinds and the moonlight, if it’s a particularly bright full moon, will wake me in the middle of the night. So I’m trying to think poetic thoughts and I see a full moon. What more can I say? More seriously, I love this piece because it’s hopeful. Because despite all the sadness it grows out of, it heads towards peace. It’s more mature, more reflective. It acknowledges the unfairness of wallowing in your own victimhood and pinning mistakes on one person. It’s a good ending to the collection, a slow culmination of moving away from this rollercoaster of a relationship and towards something happier. I like the idea of a collection of breakup poems ending on this line: 'tomorrow morning i will roll over to meet the moon, not your face, and wave goodbye as i pull on my jeans.' I like the idea of waving goodbye."
4. What’s your favourite writing advice you’ve been told, or what writing advice would you offer?
"Honestly, I don’t feel qualified to offer much advice. I think beyond the very general, everyone’s writing practice is specific to themselves. I’ve heard all kinds of wacky things that people do that are helpful for them. I listen to music while I write, and I know some people think that’s crazy. I also can’t remember most of the writing advice I’ve gotten! If it was useful I’ve since internalized it and if it wasn’t then I’ve probably forgotten about it. I’d say the best advice I can give is firstly, to respect yourself and your writing. If you want to write, if you like to write, commit to it. Make the time for it. Don’t dismiss it as something unimportant or extraneous. Whether time to write is jotting down scraps on the subway as you think of lines or blocking time in the evening, treat it as something that’s valuable to you, because it is. Finally, dismiss advice that doesn’t work for you. What is life-changing for someone else’s poetry might be meh for you. It’s not necessarily reflective of you, your validity as a writer, or the quality of your work."
5. And finally, tell me what’s going on in june’s world. Books you’re reading, what writing projects you’d like to share, or something else going on in your life that interests/excites you. I’m all ears :D
"Thanks for asking! I don’t have a chapbook to announce like I did last time, unfortunately, but I have still been writing! Lately I’ve slowed down the terrifying pace I had originally kept up of writing, submitting, and publishing as other areas of my life have gotten more hectic. I hope the pieces I publish are, on average, better quality to make up for it. I used to read 70-something books a year, but that’s also slowed down lately. I started reading an essay collection recently called 'Some of My Best Friends' by Tajja Isen that I’m really enjoying! I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction and personal essays over the last few years (and of course poetry) and not as many novels. I did finally read the Poppy War series and thoroughly enjoyed that! Can’t wait to find some time to read Babel. And I passed by my local used book store the other day and picked up three books on craft, so we’ll see how that goes. As for something exciting in my life right now, I’ve started rock climbing regularly this summer and unexpectedly loving it. I used to boulder, which is more arm-heavy, but since I discovered top rope this summer I’ve been very good about going once or twice every week. I like the intentionality of it. The thoughtfulness. It’s a very poet thing to say, that I enjoy this full-body workout because I can stop to think about it halfway up the wall. But I appreciate being given that chance to consider my solution while I’m working on it, the way every poem iterates through revisions. It’s also much easier on me, a person who does not have a lot of arm strength, haha. I never thought I’d become a rock climber but here we are. Hopefully I can keep it up as we enter the fall!"
June Lin is a young poet. She loves practical fruits, like clementines and bananas. She tweets sometimes @junelinwrites.
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June Lin (mini)
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