Shelley Wong is the author of As She Appears (YesYes Books, 2022), winner of the 2019 Pamet River Prize, and the chapbook RARE BIRDS (Diode Editions). She is an affiliate artist at Headlands Center for the Arts and has received fellowships from MacDowell, Kundiman, and Vermont Studio Center.
Why do you write? What compels you to write?
I write to learn what I know and rethink, going further and taking off. Stanza is Italian for room, so poems have doors, entrances and exits, and can be houses to build, dwell in, or move on from. As a young person, I felt lonely searching for poets and poems with the power to affirm who I was and wanted to become. Now, it is a joy to be part of a beautiful queer POC community of poets and discover our lineage. I write to recognize myself in my speakers and center queer women on their own terms, being of and not merely against.
What upcoming writing projects are you working on?
Due to the pandemic and its related stressors, my press is pushing my book publication to 2022, which gives me some time to breathe and self-care before going through the editorial process next year. For the remainder of 2020, I am focusing on a family history project in relation to the Bay Area, including site-specific meditations and explorations in the Headlands, where I have a precious writing studio at Headlands Center of the Arts.
Describe your work in five words
Gathering, leaping, breaking the silence.
For the Living in the New World
(originally published in The New Republic, July 9, 2019)
There are so many ways to walk through a forest--
through clover clusters, along a boardwalk
lined with skunk cabbages—to a field where we listen
to a ghost of song. The hypergreen we step through
is the opposite of Los Angeles on fire.
Any tree can become a ladder. These trees
have too many branches, but it is not my place
to revise them. I may be happiest
improvising the language a body can make
on a dancefloor. We are just learning
how female birds sing in the tropics.
Spring insists we can build the world
around us again. How has love brought you here?
My head is heavy from the crown.
We dream or don’t dream and sing
in different keys. Don’t go down the river
without looking back. There is ocean in that tree.
The Summer Forecast
(originally published in Gulf Coast, summer/fall 2019)
Is it too late to go off-
The mint pants wave
crashed over me
as I cut pastel flowers
off Highway 1:
whisper pink, lavender,
I wore a long, striped dress,
a sailor ashore
with no budget
Too chill and distracted--
a mess of growing
a garden, renegade
weeds snaking away,
tiny branch claws
raising their fists,
like a sea
of failures. I always
wanted to be
I take a page and sew
then rip out and realign,
which brings me to think
of Penelope, but I am
no man’s woman-
in-waiting. I gather
myself. Don’t sleep
on peonies, their
the cold weight
in my hand
as I approached
softness with shears.
I was among
in the flower field.
As She Appears
(originally published in Kenyon Review, July/August 2019)
& who asks after a woman alone in the forest
& to bring the origins of language & set them on the table, cleared of dishes
& to become heavy with the accumulation of texts
& who listens when she speaks
& what is her color story
& how many shades of red does a woman bleed each month
the uses of passion & her arrival as a blade
& what is the indigenous history of the land & its names
she sits in the field at dusk as fireflies flare & rise
& will the witches let her in
& by what means of initiation
& how to correct & how to reinvent
a woman in the wild & a wild woman
she sets her hands in the river & walks into the open water
& how much anger can a woman keep
& if her song is off-key
the trees become caryatids, the women lift their leaves
as she brings fire & smoke, after years of care