Name: Sam Herschel Wein & Chen Chen.
Hometown: South Bend, IN, & Amherst, MA.
Current City: Chicago, IL, & Waltham, MA.
Occupation: Writer & Writer.
Age: 27 & 30.
What does poetry mean to you?
We’ve been thinking about something that our friend and incredible poet, Emily Jungmin Yoon, said at an AWP panel on poetry, community, and history for Asian American writers: “Poetry is an act of resistance against the language that governs us.” For us, this statement rings true in a number of ways.
Sam says: Poetry connects me, through elegy, through apology, through handholding and rage-filled stomping, to those I’ve lost, or those who have hurt me, or those who have hurt our world. We are reinventing, building a new home, unlike the ones we already had. I’ve been writing poems about the conversations I haven’t been able to have, wondering, is there a space this can be said? This can be a form of healing, a grasp of elbows, a sprint together through so many Spring days, in the rain? Poetry, for me, is the bridge to these places, my first imaginations and my earliest selves, fighting for the space to be heard, to be understood, as we are often not. And, in this way, my poems become loose doorknobs, falling off the doors that swing open and won’t shut, that expand the amount of rooms in the house indefinitely, always, for guests, visitors, chosen family, biological family, as a place of return, as a place of peacemaking, resistance building, as a place for us to clasp each other’s legs, sitting on the floor, and say, we are here for each other.
Chen says: Poetry allows me to explore and also continually reimagine my selves, my pasts, my ways of knowing and not-knowing. Poetry is that unruly realm, where the preconceived must be shed, where the trees offer oolong boba tea, and I am falling in feverish love—but with whom, toward what? Poetry reminds me to stay restless in my questioning, including the question, “Can a poem be a place to rest?” I’ve been working and working these past two years, since my first full-length book came out. And I’ve been thinking about how the publishing and promoting side of poetry can be so draining. I’ve been feeling drained.
At the same time, I’ve felt so moved, meeting people, especially young queer people of color, queer Asian Americans, who’ve connected with my poems, who’ve found in my words nourishment and solace and, it seems, a form of relief, of rest. So I wonder, why haven’t my poems been like that for me? Reading others’ poems, I find relief and rest; I feel cared for and held. I think I need to return—or find some new way into writing where I’m giving back to myself a place to attend, to slow, to drink from those unexpected, strange sources.
What is your favorite poem?
Why do you like this poem?
We love the humor and the kingfisher, the blunt ache and the gleaming blue necklace. When the poem says, “He might plan to take us on a picnic. // We must be ready. We must be hungry,” we nod, understanding something about fathers and families that we didn’t know we needed to understand. We love how Sarah manages, again and again in her work, to excavate truths in a way at once absurd, delicious, and sharp. Sarah Gambito is co-founder of Kundiman, an organization dedicated to supporting readers and writers of Asian American literature. She is the author of three poetry collections; “Toro” comes from her second collection, Delivered (Persea Books, 2009).
Chen says: I started reading Sarah’s work after my first Kundiman Writers Retreat in 2014—that same summer, Sam and I met at Tent: Creative Writing, and I just had to share these blongy-beautiful poems with him. I’d read passages to him over the phone and we would laugh and laugh, connecting, “shivery, full of V-8.” Sarah’s work was essential to the beginning of our friendship and it continues to shape us as writers, as people.
Sam says: Sarah’s poems, mostly from Delivered, were the foundation for the friendship that Chen and I built together, which also hugely impacted my work as a writer, Chen being a friend and mentor simultaneously. Hearing Sarah’s poems over the phone, I felt permission to write the deep traumas of my life, as well as the joy, and humor, and silliness of the day-to-day, of its sincerity, of the way I hunch over, in heartbreak, in laughter. “I’m wicked lonely,” Sarah writes. And I call Chen, and say, so am I.
We wrote this poem in Portland, Oregon, during the 2019 AWP conference. This was our first AWP together and it was also the first time Sam met Sarah Gambito! “Hibiscus Knowledge” was inspired by Sarah’s newest book, Loves You (Persea Books, 2019), which Chen bought for Sam as a present, and also by Sarah’s effervescent presence.
To oogle-gay apps-may the nearest
park while finishing a bowl
of chicken livers, I asked
for the 14th time, is this green? Is this
hibiscus? I was getting very full. I was
confused by the handsome
helicopter overhead. & you, slurping
thick ice cream through a narrow
straw, the sound like two cars stopping,
not quite stopping, stopping, not
stopping. On the verge of love
or healing or brightest ancestral
burp. The apps-may couldn’t show me
so I had to show it:
My body by the water
like a dropped frisbee, waiting for
me to notice it, to attend a ceremony
of the first trees to startle,
not yet April.
Not even nameable. You, me,
elsewhomst, quite possibly your favorite
in jogging shorts, but not jogging. Sitting
by the water. Holding
each other. Circulating a bushel
of how to heal in reverse.
A bushel of tea tongs.