Poets Should Have Lots of Feelings: Jeff Nagy Interviews Feng Sun Chen at BOMBLOG

By Harriet Staff

We are heartfelt and nonmortified by BOMBLOG's edition #19 of Phoned-In, i.e., this super gchat interview between poets Jeff Nagy and Feng Sun Chen. Right off, Nagy and Chen shed a little light on particular blurbage--how it might come about and eventually affect the work it describes:

[JN:] ...Let’s start maybe by pulling this tree out by the roots. Or on the other hand, the same one, to start totally superficially: Butcher’s Tree is backed by blurbs from Lara Glenum and Ariana Reines, the former associated with Gurlesque, as the latter once more forcefully was, although she now trafficks more in some singular ghost that shimmered out of its lame’ corpse. But after having read the book, I was wondering about how you see your work in relation to those very recent foremothers, which relationship doesn’t seem, to me at least, at all straightforward. Your tactical distortion of fables and general avoidance of pop culture namechecks put me in mind more often of Elizabeth Bishop, say, than Chelsea Minnis.

2:08 PM Feng: i definitely agree

i think that the reason why they ended up writing those blurbs was because Janaka (editor) asked me about what poets I liked, and I listed them

2:09 PM actually I was mortified that they ended up reading the book

me: ha!

Feng: but I personally appreciate different types of writing so maybe it wasn’t that bad

I like Bishop, for example

2:10 PM I think when I wrote the book, I was in that stage of my writing infancy

me: i was thinking as i was reading it that it was in conversation with a much deeper tradition than i’d been expecting from the back

which was interesting

2:11 PM can i ask you, without meaning to be leading, if you associate that with a kind of authorial infancy?

2:12 PM Feng: to me, yes, because I was an undergraduate taking workshop classes and reading stuff like Plath

and Anne Carson

if being a writer is a “life” then that was how I was born

I don’t think I’m an adult now or anything. I’m a teenager

2:13 PM me: that’s a fast ascent to adolescence

hormones in the cow-millk

We thought we'd find the blurbs in question. Here they are:

Praise for Butcher's Tree:

“Like a thousand tiny teeth gnawing through language’s tender membranes, Butcher’s Tree eats through the gloom of the visible world. Nocturnal, feral, and foraging, Chen’s is a poetry whose ‘purity strips the meat from inside.’ Inside these mesmeric vaults, skins fuse and ‘the cored body’ grows rhizomes, burrowing into everything. The echolocating clicks and pops of Chen’s alchemical practice make audible the astounding sound of our own ‘hearts… growing teeth.’”
Lara Glenum

Butcher’s Tree is animal, foody, and thick with the materials of local and ancient and visionary worlds. My favorite parts feel ripped from the myths and tales and fables I might have known once upon a time, waving like strange numinous laundry on the line of Feng Sun Chen.”
Ariana Reines

Going further--there's talk of American earnestness, Deleuze's rhizomatic subjectivity, potatoes, bombs, Kim Hyesoon ("everything i do is like a diluted version of her density"), and hybrid tactics! Good reading:

[FSC:] 2:21 PM I have this irrational belief or fear that I don’t have enough feelings

or that I don’t feel things

but I only write feelings

2:23 PM me: well, if you can feel in all these different ways, all these different, incoherent ways of having incoherent feelings, the idea of “really” feeling some “real” feeling seems sort of absurd

2:24 PM Feng: yes, i agree with that

me: and i was thinking it went something like that for writing: if you can write in all of these histories and styles, really write, what is “real” writing?

me: but that even though people might now pay a lot of lip service to that, actually doing it can be a pretty aggressive gesture

Feng: haha yes. i sometimes think about being in America and how expressive people expect you to be

me: right: people here are very earnest

2:25 PM even the poets

Feng: yes, poets should have lots of “feelings”

and they do

me: poets should have lots of “feelings” or lots of feelings?

Feng: both

me: since you said you only have the former…

2:26 PM Feng: i think earnestness is weird.

i don’t have that many “feelings” so i feel like the girl who sits by herself in the cafeteria

me: perfect segue

i was just going to ask, what’s up with potatoes?

2:27 PM Feng: hehehe

potatoes are awesome

i think it began as a joke with lucas de lima

Feng: and after the tony hoagland thing—he was trying to talk about talking about race as a poet

Feng: and he said something like hey look i dug up a dirty potato

and that was his metaphor for this racist tennis poem

2:28 PM me: wow

Feng: but lucas and I were talking a lot about vulnerability, shame, and having to be powerful or seem powerful

2:29 PM and we like how Zurita writes about his cheek

and I think potatoes are like the perfect cheek

it’s all cheek

me: that’s really interesting

Feng: and they sit in the ground while all this shit happens above and leaks down

me: so red potatoes are all blush

Feng: yes

2:30 PM if you turn the potato cheek it’s like, infinite cheek

me: i had some idea it was connected to deleuze and rhizomatic subjectivity, but a much darker version, like the blind tuberous subject instead of the rhizomatic, emancipated schizosubject

”My true face is that of a potato. I have many eyes, but see nothing.” (“Terminal Conversation”)

Feng: right. the Mr potato head

me: without the swappable parts

If you'd like to know how "the idea of being part of everything is horrifying," AND, well, what these two are/were wearing, go to page here.

Originally Published: July 12th, 2012