Interview by John Wisniewski
When did you begin writing, Victoria?
The earliest record of my writing poems is in elementary school. I also used to write short stories then too as part of our school writing contests (they made us all do it and everyone won something). I really think that started me writing. At the University of Michigan, I took a poetry class every semester which means I must have enjoyed it.
When did you publish your first poem?
My first poem was “published” in the elementary school anthologies. In terms of literary journals, I want to say my first poem maybe was published in the Lullwater Review or Cream City Review. I started sending out poems in college very lightly. I think winning the Hopwood Award as an undergraduate at Michigan gave me encouragement to keep writing. But honestly, I think for me, I could never stop writing poetry. It’s something I’ve always liked to do.
Any favorite poets and authors that may inspire you?
All poets inspire me to some extent. I’m always reading a lot of contemporary poetry. I also like reading older poems here and there. I went to a talk by Marjorie Perloff about TS Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and loved it. My favorite book of poems I read last year was William Brewer’s “I Know Your Kind.” I’m always a huge Shane McCrae fan. I love Ben Lerner’s poems, Richard Siken’s poems, Natalie Diaz, Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, Mark Wunderlich, Rick Barot, so many younger poets writing phenomenally–Kaveh Akbar, Danez Smith, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Jenny Xie, Chloe Honum, Ruth Madievsky, etc. My good friends, Dana Levin, John Gallaher, and GC Waldrep are phenomenal poets and thinkers. You know I could go on for a while here.
Do you do any translation work, Victoria?
I don’t do any translation work. I can speak Mandarin, but I have a hard enough time dealing with poems in English!!
What are you doing when not writing, Victoria?
Most of the time I’m not writing and most of the time I haven’t been writing. I am raising two daughters and two furry wiener dogs. I’m usually working, previously in a different field and now at Antioch’s MFA program in LA. My mom was sick for a long time so the last decade is a blur. My dad has dementia so I deal with his affairs and him. Otherwise you can find me walking my two dogs with my head in the clouds. Basically surviving like everyone else. I read a lot too. And am always thinking. My brain never seems to want to rest. It can be a problem.
Any advice for young poets?
I have too much advice for younger poets. I’m always available to give free unwanted advice. In fact, the joke at AWP was that I’m always giving advice—advice that no one listens to, but they realize much much later that I am right!! See? I am visionary in that way. In all seriousness, my mind looks far ahead and that can be a problem too. In real life. I would tell younger poets to be ambitious for the writing not for the writer. To separate the writer from the writing. To not worry about what other young writers are doing but to try as much as possible to do your own thing. To focus on all that is good in the poetry world, not all that is bad. To focus on why you started writing when you’re down about something. To never ever give up on writing. You can give up on publishing but not writing. To glue community with writing because they are one and the same. To allow yourself to feel bad—feeling bad is a great motivator. To be okay with having enemies in the poetry world. To find your tribe within the tribe, meaning find people who want to live poetry in the same way you do. I could go on but I really shouldn’t.