Asian American Press September 4, 20
By Bryan Thao Worra
Sandy Tseng is a Colorado-based Asian American poet living in Colorado. This October, her new book, Sediment, will be released by Four Way Books, collecting her work for the very first time. Tseng’s poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Fugue, Hunger Mountain, The Nation, Third Coast, and other magazines. She has also been anthologized in Yellow as Turmeric, Fragrant as Cloves (Deep Bowl Press, 2008). An award-winning poet, Sandy Tseng received The Nation’s 2006 Discovery Award, and scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Vira I. Heinz Foundation. Tseng has held residencies from the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She teaches writing at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Asian American Press caught up with her to discuss her writing. You can visit her online at www.sandytseng.com.
Asian American Press: How did you get started?
Sandy Tseng: That’s an interesting question because I definitely took the detour route. I began writing poetry as early as second grade, when I was constantly getting caught for staying up after bedtime – lying on the floor with a pad of paper under a dim night light. Most of my life has been spent trying to avoid becoming a poet. My parents were no different than the numerous immigrants who came with the hope that their children would find a career leading to financial prosperity. Writing poetry was not something they had ever envisioned for me, and I struggled for many years between what I enjoyed and what I thought would please them. The turning point in my life came after various jobs in publishing, website development, PR and marketing. An Asian American friend ,someone I called dà ge, who had just completed his fellowship in orthopedic surgery, told me to give it up and pursue poetry. I saw him as someone who had lead his life exactly as immigrant parents would have hoped, and for him to tell me to pursue poetry after the path he took was kind of liberating.
AAP: Who do you see as the most direct influences on Sediment?
ST: I don’t think specific people can actually claim to have a direct influence on Sediment. I read widely in both poetry and fiction, and I rely on numerous contemporary visual artists for imagery. I’m part of the generation that grew up reading what Victoria Chang, in Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, defines as the first generation Asian American poets, but I ’m sure that everything I’ve read has influenced my writing in some way.
AAP: Are you working on any new projects?
ST: I’m working on a second collection of poems that is concerned with intrinsic and extrinsic movement. It’s a project that was initially inspired by the live transmissions of the artist Morgan O’Hara – whose pencil drawings document the visual aspect of movement from a bystander’s point of view. The latest portion of the project involves a series of overseas letters exchanged over a period of ten years.
AAP: What was the most difficult piece for you to write for Sediment?
ST: Without a doubt, the poem “Sediment” was the most challenging to write. The poem started out as three different poems, in drastically different forms, written over a period of four years. When I wrote the last part, I could tell that the poems were speaking to each other. While I wanted them to be grouped together in the manuscript, I couldn’t figure out how to do it in an interesting way. It just didn’t feel right having the poems come one after the other, and I even tried putting them in the same section of the book with other poems in between. Finally, through some kind of divine intervention, I had a dream in which I saw these poems as a series poem in four parts. That was the first time I ever dreamed about my work, and it hasn’t happened since. The revision process was challenging because the poems had been written over four years – and wrestling the language and form into consistency took some time, but I’m glad I decided to do it.
AAP: Where in your new work are you really trying to push yourself, challenge yourself, risk something?
ST: In my new collection, I’ve challenged myself to enter a conversation with a specific body of art, which I’ve never done so directly before. I think it’s always a risk when we join any conversation – but that’s what art is – a contribution to the conversations that are taking place all around us.
AAP: How would you describe your writing process?
ST: I like going through the entire day, listening to all the voices and conversations around me, usually jotting things down throughout the day, and then sitting down to write at night. I write in a journal consistently, and then when I think I have a poem, I block out a 4-5 hour period of uninterrupted time to work on it. I always allow new work to sit for at least a month before starting revision. Revisions can take anywhere from a few weeks to five years, and of course, sometimes things just never work out at all. [