The Landing: An Interview Series seeks to gain insight into the diverse creative processes of some of our favorite writers with the hopes that we can inspire others through this sharing. Each quarter we will highlight one previously published poem in a short interview.
Yuxi Lin is a Chinese American poet and winner of the Breakout 8 Writers Prize. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Washington Post, Spilled Milk, Cosmonauts Avenue, Epiphany, The Electric Literature, The Southern Review, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She is an MFA candidate at New York University, where she received the Lillian Vernon Fellowship.
"Erotica Americana"'s complex layering is palpable as the result appears to have both everything and nothing to do with sex. It isn't quite so tongue-in-cheek as it is an obvious jab at Americaness and the "American Dream." Why did you decide to use the concept of lust as a means to get to this end?
The personal is political. Even after 15 years in the U.S., the hunger to belong gnaws at me more fiercely than any other desire. My writing been strongly influenced by June Jordan’s work, which addresses personal topics in the context of national movements. I wrote “Erotica Americana” last year at a time of romantic and political frustration. I was dating an all-American boy from the Midwest amidst the implementation of anti-immigrant policies, and it pained me to realize how little he understood about people of color and immigrants, me included, and that his family most likely would not have accepted me. There was a direct correlation between his attitude toward me and the rejection of immigrants from America — that I, and people like me, would be accepted only halfway, upon condition.
This summer your essay "An 18th-Century Erotic Novel Taught Me All the Wrong Lessons About Desire" appeared in Electric Lit. In it you wrote: "When I write, I am building a room I can go in, where I am simultaneously present and absent, touched but also untouchable. After all, desire is a form of play without temporal constraint. In language, we can build it a house to come and go, a timeless mansion for it to dance and smash around, breaking the bed." How does this thought process relate to how you approached "Erotica Americana"? How does your poetry in particular house desire?
Desire is like a child in many ways, insistent and insatiable, and a healthy desire requires nurture and security. Poetry is a great medium for the erotic because there is so much room to play, whether it’s through sound, form, or other elements of craft. Even when there are constraints, such as the form of a sonnet or a self-imposed rule, the constraint opens up new possibilities. Writing “Erotica Americana” allowed me to manifest desire by transforming longing into language. It felt freeing because we recognize ourselves in our desires. Much of my poetry stems from desire, whether it’s for love, home, or God. The page is the vehicle through which I call out to what I long for. I believe that the things we want can tell us who we are, but sometimes I don’t even know what I want until I’m writing, and then, if the work is good, I can see myself clearly.
Playful use of language with a not-so-subtle nod to the reader are found throughout this poem--"Take me to, nay, at your father’s dairy farm / the good ol’ squeeze & squirt". Can you walk us through your somatic experience while you composed and edited this poem? How often did you keep your reader in mind?
Writing the poem made me both chuckle and cringe. Sometimes I use humor for vulnerable topics the same way some women laugh when they are uncomfortable. The graphic imagery bordering on absurdity makes fun of the performativity of sexual acts, while the performativity of the speaker, of course, deflects real and experienced pain. The nod to the dairy farm in the poem is also an allusion to the treatment of women’s bodies like those of animals. Although the “you” began personal, it soon became political. Meanwhile, the playful tone of the poem allowed me to treat the reader as a confidante, the way a girl might describe her night to her girlfriends.
What advice would you give to writers who are foraying with erotic language and the concepts of desire and lust? Should there be limitations on what to reveal/exclude? How does one write a successful poem involving desire?
I find that it’s much easier to write about anything if I pretend that I won’t show it to anyone. We censor ourselves all the time, but it’s important that we write about our desires. It takes me to unexpected places because desire is multifaceted, and it wanders outside the sexual realm. Perhaps hunger is easier to conceptualize — imagine what you long for, whether it’s a person, place, or object, and speak to it. As with any poem, every word has to earn its place. A good check for what to reveal and exclude is to question why you use each word or each line. Did you include something just to shock or provoke? That only works once. A successful poem holds back and yields meaning through multiple readings. It invites readers to revisit and seek fulfillment.