Poetry News

Obsessed With Wendy Xu Forever

By Harriet Staff


At Divedapper, a conversation with Wendy Xu, author of the forthcoming Phrasis (Fence Books Ottoline Prize, 2017) and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Press, 2013) (shown above). "I ... like the idea that one of the superpowers of the poet is to offer an alternative to reality that is superior in some way," says Kaveh Akbar to Xu. "And how do you test a poem?" Xu asks herself. More:

[WX:] ...The poem tries to offer a kinder reality, and the reader has the good fortune of testing that reality out for themselves. Living out various proposals for empathy.

[KA:] That makes total sense. Poems as little science experiments. I think the way you amended the original quote points to the direction that your poems have moved from You Are Not Dead to Naturalism, which contains the poem "Phrasis." And that poem seems like an exploration of language and desire the way that a scientists explores an experiments with the scientific method. There’s second person you being spoken to, but it’s sort of this catalog of actions or observations.

I guess I’m still trying to figure out how the capital Y "You" is evolving in my life and in my poetry. So whenever people have comments or thoughts, I’m always particularly interested in that. One of the pleasures when I read poems is to guess at what kind of You is going on. Does the You exist narratively? It is posited or hypothetical? Does it sound like an “assembled by desire” You?

Ah, that’s so good, “assembled by desire.”

In Naturalism, I’m aware that I know who or what the “you” is a little less often, which is scary and also generative for me. Less often than in You Are Not Dead.

One thing that does tether the two is an obsession with negative construction—the title of the first book, You Are Not Dead. And then all throughout Naturalism, “In morning asking others / how not to die and bury—”, “from Sunday I set out early and bright wanting nothing you get nothing nobody can judge you nobody shall.” There are tons more in both books, but I thought maybe you could talk a little about that obsession in negation.

Negation is one of these ideas that I hope to be obsessed with forever. It’s good that it comes through, that I remain very excited by it. It’s compelling for a fairly simple, or even obvious, reason—to say that something is, or for something to be, is fixed and determined. To not be leaves space open for everything that is still possible...

Read more from this generous mind at Divedapper.

Originally Published: May 3rd, 2016