Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Christina Xiong

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Christina Xiong

According to Amazon, “has been published numerous times, including Slipstream and Wild Goose Poetry Review. Christina holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University and a BA in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She is a certified Story Medicine facilitator and a certified North Carolina peer support specialist. She lives in the foothills of Western North Carolina with her husband and daughter.”

The Interview

1. When and why did you begin to write poetry?

I began writing poetry as a small child. I started out writing short stories first. I always entered the Young Authors programs in elementary school. But I really began writing, poems almost exclusively, in middle school, where I dealt with horrific bullying. I feel like poetry saved my life (even though that sounds like such a cliché). I had a place to express my frustrations with being an outcast. I used poetry as a confidante partly because I lived in a space where figures of authority rarely intervened in my bullying.
There were times I read my poetry to the class, because a teacher would allow me to do this. The response I got from the other students was some of the only positive feedback I ever received from peers. My seventh grade English teacher also helped me during a particularly bad time. She made the class project a novel, put me in charge of it, and pulled me out of my other classes to work on it.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mother introduced me to poetry and literature. We always had books in our house, and I learned how to read, from my older sister, by the time I was four. One of my aunts was a poet, and she gifted me with Emily Dickinson’s collected poems, which was a formative text for me. My mother gave me an anthology of poems when I was ten-years-old, and that is where I first read Muriel Rukeyser who made me want to be a poet. The poem was “Effort at Speech Between Two People.”

3. How aware were and are you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I had a huge gap between undergraduate and graduate school where I barely wrote, and did not publish. I still feel like a baby poet in some ways, even at thirty-nine. I dropped out of high school at fifteen and have struggled with addiction for much of my life. When I went back to community college, I was twenty-five, and it took me three years to transfer to a university, and three more years to get my BA in Literature and Creative Writing. I worked as a housekeeper at a hotel. I was the first person in my family to receive a college degree.

I started out my education with a preference for reading outside of the white male canon of writers. Poets like Sharon Olds, Rita Dove, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, and Ellen Bryant Voigt definitely influenced me poetically. I went through a rigorous literature program at The University of North Carolina at Asheville but I still had a self-directed path to some extent.
I rarely think of older poets as having a dominating presence. There are so many poets I admire who are a decade younger than me, or even younger. I don’t pay that much attention to who other people say “dominates” the poetry scene. I just enjoy what I like and respect people who do the work.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I generally don’t write daily. I am a stay-at-home parent to a three-year-old, and my partner works long shifts, twelve or more hours a day, on the days he works. I don’t burn the candle at both ends and sacrifice sleep for my writing because by the end of the day, my brain is depleted from parenting. I also have chronic health conditions I manage, so rest is a priority that I can’t shirk for productivity’s sake.
When I have the opportunity to write, it’s usually because my partner has taken our daughter out of the house for several hours. I usually have a plan in my head for which ideas or pieces I will tackle. I go from one draft to another. Sometimes I revise while my daughter naps or watches a movie, but mostly I just squeeze in writing and editing any time I can. I also like to go to a coffee shop and spend several hours working.

I was able to complete graduate school and write my first chapbook at home because my daughter was very young at the time. She took long naps and spent hours inventing her own games. Now that she is older, I am constantly interacting with her.

5. What motivates you to write?

I don’t feel like I have much of a choice. Writing is just how I survive. I love language and the ways we can manipulate it, especially in poetry. Mostly, I want to connect with readers. I sometimes feel misunderstood by the world, as a highly sensitive person, and in my work, I convey something of my perception to readers. Even when my work is misunderstood, I suppose that, to me, the sense of connection, to be seen/heard is still present.

6. What is your work ethic?

Much of my writing happens off the page. One of my earlier mentors always said we had to live in order to write poems. Parenting, community-building, meditation, and experiencing nature are all ways that I work on my writing off of the page and are an important aspect of my work ethic.

My work ethic, at its best, is also gentleness and tenderness toward myself. I don’t try to force my writing. I am a slow writer. I process events slowly, and I approach them when I am inspired rather than when they first occur, or even when I want to write about them. I have my own voice, but I always want to push myself to explore different techniques and form. I am fascinated with the narrative structure in poems and with using sonic effects in subtle, unpatterned, but trackable, ways. My work ethic is to do what I can with what resources I have. I try not to deplete myself or beat myself up for lack of productivity.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Muriel Rukeyser’s absolute fire is something I return to again and again when my words are looking a bit dim and washed out to me. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, the way they wrote about women’s bodies, motherhood, and domestic life—it just fills me with the certainty that these are topics that I will continue to write about.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I have a deep admiration for so many writers. I recently became obsessed with the work of C. A. Conrad. Their work is clean, associative, sharp, and yet deep, angry— often enraged. C.A. is magic to me, really. I admire their generosity because they are willing to share the (Soma)tic rituals used to create their poems. I am fascinated. I have spent a lot of my life studying, practicing, and creating various rituals.

I also really admire Vanessa Angélica Villareal’s work. Her book, Beast Meridian, made me fall in love with form all over again. Her versatility and willingness to experiment both inspire me and almost give me permission to do the same in my work.

There are so many more poets I admire. For supporting me, showing me how to be a better literary citizen, and their talent—their wonderful poetry, Hannah VanderHart, Heather Derr Smith, and Emily Blair are like my poetry siblings.

9. Why do you write?

For survival, like I stated earlier. Honestly, it is also one of the only things I am good at, besides being an excellent cooker of stews and soups, and good at navigating emotions, but even those skills translate well into poetry.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read widely. Write. Don’t stop. As someone who stopped writing for long periods due to my struggles with mental health and substances, that’s the most important writing advice I have ever heard. Most people will stop; do not be one who stops!

Find your own voice. Being derivative is how many of us learn, but finding our own voice is how we create memorable and compelling writing.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I am working with Liz Howard on editing an anthology of work called It Will Not Be Simple: Motherhood, Mental Illness, and Trauma. This project has been a long-term work of the heart.

I recently completed and submitted a micro-chapbook of poems about relationships called Ghost Monogamies. Working on the micro-chapbook made me remember how amazing it feels to give myself permission to experiment and play in my work; some of the pieces are hybrid, prose, or more experimental than my usual poems. I also did the artwork, cover design, and layout myself. I hope it gets published, but the joy I felt doing the entire book on my own was so satisfying.

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