Stephanie Niu

“Why not visit the moon to visit the woman defined by her distance from the earth?”

She Has Dreamt Again of Water (Diode Editions, 2022)

How do you decorate or arrange your writing space?

I’m a believer in the power of a little chaos, and this extends to my writing space. Maybe this is my own excuse for keeping a messy desk, but I find that a bit of disarray encourages me to be creative. As I write this, my desk contains three different notebooks (open, or bookmarked with pencils), two different beverages, and one book of poems that is working part-time as a coaster, part-time as muse (Dancing on the Tarmac by Tarik Dobbs; the visual and hybrid poems are cracking my brain open). Sometimes I feel like a DJ at a turntable deciding which thought goes onto which piece of paper; perhaps I prefer it that way.

Could you share a representative poem from your book? Perhaps something that that invites the reader into the world of the book?

The title poem of my chapbook, “She Has Dreamt Again of Water,” refers not to me but to Chang E’, a goddess from Chinese mythology who flew to the moon after consuming a forbidden elixir. In short, I wrote this poem out of the unexplainable jealousy I felt toward Chang E’ upon hearing this myth as a child; that she got to disappear, be remembered.

Why did you choose this poem?

Many poems in my chapbook explore the tension between distance and intimacy, especially within family. Chang E’ is a character I feel both distanced from and drawn to, and I wanted to explore this tension in a more personal way. I love the possibilities poetry offers for different ways of engaging with ideas that defy traditional narrative, plot, reality. Why not visit the moon to visit the woman defined by her distance from the earth? In a similar way, many of the other poems in my collection transport the reader directly into a place or emotion that is otherwise faraway: the benthic zone of the deep sea, the bottom of a dammed lake that contains a drowned town, inside the consciousness of a pelican.

What’s the oldest poem in your book? What do you remember about writing it?

The oldest poem in my collection is “Freeway.” I began it at the start of 2018. Although it’s further in time from some of the other poems in this collection, the poem felt like a natural fit with the images of physical geographical distance, silent sea creatures, and diving.

Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it? 

When I was working on manuscript order and individual poem edits, I kept getting stuck making the same revisions, doubting them, undoing them, doubting, redoing, etc. Around this time, I saw an image on Twitter that freed me by allowing me to look at revision in a different light. The image contains a slightly rusty sign, likely in a diner or some other food establishment, with red text in all-caps that says:

IS IT HOT ?

DOES IT LOOK GOOD ?

ARE YOU PROUD

TO SERVE IT ?

After seeing this image, I asked myself these three questions about each poem, and it became obvious what I needed to do. One poem needed to be more hot. Another needed to look better. A third, I was already proud to serve.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Write, write, write. (Are we surprised?) One of the most helpful things I was told by my first poetry mentor, when I kept asking about publishing, prizes, etc., was this: the young poet should be in their studio. Meaning: nothing else really matters, yet. Though I fail often, I strive to keep this in mind.

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Stephanie Niu is the author of She Has Dreamt Again of Water, winner of the 2021 Diode Chapbook Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, The Georgia Review, Southeast Review, and Storm Cellar, as well as scientific collaborations including the 11th Annual St. Louis River Summit. She lives in New York City. Find her online at https://stephanieniu.com/poetry or on Twitter as @niusteph.

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