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your mother shops for fish

a plastic bag for a glove

you untangle the wires with the crew

a boy among men

you choose the photograph for the wake

a finger in your mouth

you tied the string too tight

you were poor but happy then

still, you don’t know what to say

a balloon strung on the sleeping child’s wrist

you watch your mother in the kitchen in the dark

men sag to touch the dancing boys

in the hospital full of Filipina nurses

dry palm trees rustle in the Santa Ana winds

she grips her ankle on the floor

you ask her what to say and how to say it

she takes off her wig and lights a candle

to clear the spirits from the room


What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?

While “emerging poet” is a distinction often given to someone seeking some form of legitimacy, I think we might want to think of “emerging” as an act done, redone, and undone by the poet—not as something ascribed to them.

Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?

A poet emerges through their poems. I am “emerging” when a poem arises from the drafts.

What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?

These days, it is as if the only way to be recognized by the poetry community is to be stamped by one of the many fine institutions: Iowa, Yale Younger, Stegner, or whatnot. Without pedigree or prestige, being recognized happens in different ways. Recognition is incremental. It requires patience—the hungry kind.

How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?

It forces those with less access and power to question the value of meritocracy.

What does community mean to you?

I am suspicious of most groups. A group that calls itself a community before it feels like one is probably up to no good. That said, I might define membership to a community as the active awareness of the many parts of that group of people. Community is the antidote to isolation.


JAN-HENRY GRAY was born in the Philippines and grew up in San Francisco where he worked in kitchens for twelve years. He received his MFA in poetry from Columbia College Chicago. A recipient of the 2014 Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Arts Award and the inaugural Undocupoets Fellowship, Jan's work is published in The Rumpus, Tupelo Quarterly, Colorado Review, Fourteen Hills, Puerto del Sol, Southern Humanities Review, Ano Ba Zine and Assaracus. He is working on his first book.


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