Here at Capilano, Rita Wong’s 2007 collection forage is our final book in English 103-05 and 06 | Introduction to Contemporary Literature for the Spring term. Rita has generously participated in an at-a-distance Q/A session with the English 103 students.
The students’ questions were collected on Wednesday, March 30th. In the process of answering the questions, Rita grouped them questions thematically. Here are Rita’s responses.
For responses to the following questions, please see the comments at Litter-a-terre:
- Why include Chinese characters in a book of English language poetry?
- How did you come to explore these topics? Language? Capitalism? Environment? Crises?
- What do you hope to achieve by bringing up questionable environmental and bio-tech practices?
- Your pieces often read like essays in the form of poetry. Why poetry? Note: Scroll down to the very bottom of the litter-a-terre site for this response.
- What is the logic behind the slashes and jumbled words in “nervous organism”?
- Are “fluorine” and the “the girl who ate rice almost every day” based on personal experience? Answer: Yes—both personal experience and imagination—I’ve never managed to go underground to explore sewers, but maybe someday.
Addendum: For me, poetry creatively engages with our daily lives, with the moments that might otherwise be overlooked, what is both hidden yet within plain view, if we take the time to dwell with the quiet, the embedded, the already present (which could include our cultural inheritances, our socio-economic structures, environmental factors like pollution and resilience, and much more).
Grouping 2 | Writing, Research, Influence
- What was the inspiration or idea behind the “annotations” that accompany many of the poems?
- To what extent have your past experiences influenced your poetry? Who has influenced your development as a poet? Were there any artists/poets/writers, in particular, influencing you while working on forage?
- Do you engage in research before writing your poems? Or do the poems themselves suggest the need for further research on specific topics?
- What kind of personal and/or educational experience do you have with the topics and materials about which you are writing? Or do you primarily rely on research?
- Did you set out specifically to write a book with an explicit political/environmental agenda or did the focus of the book evolve more organically than that?
I’m interested in looking at my everyday life and unpacking some of the things that get overlooked or taken for granted, such as the pollution that is increasingly common in our lives. Today, the experience and concept of pollution is shifting so that it is not merely something out there (smog, huge amounts of plastic trash floating in the ocean) but also something that is inside each and every one of us, human and nonhuman, spread by our shared experience of air, water and food. This is humorously but also effectively shown in books like Slow Death by Rubber Duck, which show how common objects like rubber ducks, sofas, canned food and more, carry with them unintended, cumulative side-effects because of the chemicals they introduce into our daily lives. The term “body burden” refers to the hundreds of chemicals that are now found in the average citizen, chemicals that did not exist in our bodies before World War II. These chemicals have also been found everywhere from Inuit children to polar bears, salmon, and sperm whales. This brings home the point that there is no escape from pollution—that we share a responsibility to keep the planet clean for ourselves and all other living creatures. The pollution manifests itself in everything from allergies to cancers, and various illnesses which have affected my family and friends. [I would also add that we are made of the water, air, and earth in and around us; when they are polluted, so are we. The water, air, and earth continue to sustain our lives, and there is more we can do to help them help us by reducing or eliminating pollution.] While there are many factors to consider, the environmental one needs much more serious attention. The book arose organically from my examination of daily life.
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