Contributor Spotlight: Jane Wong
“Familiar Stranger” is from a larger series with seven poems of the same title. My poem in HFR is the first one I wrote; while writing, I was thinking about the thin line between certainty and uncertainty, moving from the certainty of “to break a bottle” and “must fill it with chemicals” to the doubt-filled “Had I spent all/day driving? It’s hard to say.”
Isn’t it always hard to say? I constantly feel like I’m on a wavering line of knowing and not knowing (how quickly confidence can spoil). I keep coming back to Freud’s idea of the uncanny. The movement from the heimlich (familiar, belonging to home) to unheimlich (unfamiliar, alien) can be applied to language and how we come to language. Repetition is also uncanny: “A jacket falls out of a car/and it is my jacket.” Shouldn’t I have known it was my jacket? Writing something down – to record – is uncanny. There’s that awful workshop dictum: write what you know. But what if you don’t know?
At the time, I was reading H.D.’s earlier poems. I’ve always been struck by H.D.’s force– her ability to destroy and hold, even in the imagination. From “Garden”:
“If I could stir
I could break a tree-
I could break you”
Strangely enough, uncertainty (“If” and “could”) reads as certainty (as in, she will break you). I love how she’s able to hold this line with ferocity and fragility. There’s a confidence in her endings too, as in “Oread”: “Hurl your green over us-/Cover us with your pools of fir.” I remember reading this poem years ago, struck by that magnificent turn of the imagination – how can green hurl? With endings, I wanted to surprise myself. My poem ends with a kind of synesthetic turn: “leveled/out as a wall sound enough/to punch.”
Jane Wong is the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center. Poems have appeared in journals and anthologies such as CutBank, Salt Hill, ZYZZYVA, Mid-American Review, The Volta, The Journal, Best New Poets 2012, and The Arcadia Project. Her most recent chapbook is Kudzu Does Not Stop. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and teaches literature at the University of Washington. Her poem “Familiar Stranger” can be found in HFR 54.