Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week we’ve chatted with poet Arhm Choi Wild about the beauty of Mary Jean Chan’s poems, what is means to survive, and how they discovered Chan’s work. Thank you for tuning in!
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: You’ve chosen to read such rich, luscious poems—the entire collection they’re from, Flèche, is so wonderful. What resonates the most for you in these poems?
Arhm Choi Wild: I’m so struck by the rare mirror that these poems provide. Because of the history of erasure and curation of single stories such as the model myth minority, it’s only through intentional and pointed searching that I’ve been able to to find other queer Asian writers. There is such relief in finding that I am not alone in my experiences, that there is a commonality I can fall back on when faced with what feels like impossible questions. Discovering these mirrors makes the questions less daunting, knowing there are others to journey besides.
AH: In “Names,” Chan writes: “You do know / how much I want you — us — to survive?” There is so much power in these last couple of lines, when combined with the forced distance between both the speaker and their relationships. I’m actually thinking about your writing right now. Would you say that as a writer yourself you dwell on similar themes of survival in particular situations?
ACW: Absolutely. In Korean culture there is such an emphasis on family. Since I was a child, I have been engrained with the sense that you do whatever is necessary for family and that they in turn will do anything for you. To think I might lose that support system, especially when my immediate family is small and all of our relatives are across an ocean, made it seem that being my full and authentic self meant choosing between survival and queerness. Only when it became clear that in order to survive, I have to come out to my family did I gather the courage to do so.
AH: We all have an origin story when it comes to reading our favorite poets. What is the origin story of you discovering Mary Jean Chan’s work?
ACW: I was introduced to Chan’s work in a workshop class I was auditing with R.A. Villanueva, an incredible poet and teacher. After attending many workshops where most of the texts we read were by white, cisgender, and straight people, it was such a joy to be introduced to R.A’s syllabus and Chan’s work.
AH: What have you been up to? Got any good news (about life, writing, anything!) you’d like to share?
ACW: I am so excited and honored to receive fellowships to the Sewanee Writers Conference and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing this summer. I’m working on a 2nd book of poems around coming out as non-binary, the death of my father, and navigating a divorce during the pandemic, and I’m grateful to have time to work on this manuscript!
Mary Jean Chan is a poet, lecturer, and critic based out of England. She is the author of the poetry collection Fleché, which won the 2019 Costa Book Award for Poetry and was a 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, among receiving other awards.
Find Chan’s website here.
Listen to Chan’s interview about her full-length collection here.
Read her poem “Fully Human” at New Republic.
Arhm Choi Wild is the author of CUT TO BLOOM, the winner of the 2019 Write Bloody Prize. Arhm received a MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and their work appears in Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, Split this Rock, and other publications. They have received fellowships from Kundiman, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing. They work as the Director of the Progressive Teaching Institute and Diversity Coordinator at a school in New York City. For more information, visit arhmchoiwild.com.
Purchase their full-length collection, Cut to Bloom, here.
Read a portion their work here.
Read their poem “The Story of My Name” at Two Hawks Quarterly.
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for EX/POST Magazine, is the Managing Editor of Mud Season Review, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com