Too Much Of A Good Thing Is Wonderful:
A Conversation with Dorothy Chan
Interview by Brian Clifton
Dorothy Chan is the author of Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, Forthcoming March 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Academy of American Poets, The Cincinnati Review, The Common, Diode Poetry Journal, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. Chan is the Editor of The Southeast Review and Poetry Editor of Hobart. Beginning in Fall 2019, she will be Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com.
As Dorothy Chan’s bio implies, she’s quite busy. But splitting time between writing, editing, teaching, and all things poetic is something Chan sees as a dream life, a fantasy come true. This idea–the true life fantasy–is something that often surfaces in her poetry whether that is creating the perfect array of dishes for a meal or the fetishization of strangers and celebrities, whether it is Liberace wearing Victoria Secret or a grocery clerk clouded in Chanel. I was lucky enough to talk to Chan about her process, poetic form, and how love and immediacy are at the center of her poetry.
Brian Clifton: Even with your busy schedule, you’re still a prolific writer. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Where do you get inspiration? How does a poem start?
Dorothy Chan: I love this question! I riff on things a lot, because I’m all about that hook. I love immediacy, and I love excess, and I love Liberace’s/Mae West’s quote, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” I like to pile and pile and pile things on: cataloging descriptions of food. I think a lot about my dream menus. It’s like that scene from one of my favorite childhood books, The Phantom Tollbooth, when the characters are at a royal feast, and they create their own dinners by listing their favorite foods. If that’s a game, well, here’s my lineup right now: Lobster Wellington, a dozen raw oysters (no mignonette required), caviar, chef’s choice sushi and sashimi arranged in a nice pattern (let’s hope there’s extra uni), ahi tuna, some rare steak, garlic mashed potatoes, wash it down with a bellini, then some green apple macarons, throw in some lavender and rose macarons as well, sesame ice cream, pistachio gelato…I could go on and on. Oh, and I’d probably take a Bourbon neat to top it all off. And then a slice of grapefruit cake. See? Many times my writing process starts out with a listing of all of my favorite things. I like creating my own universe. And this cataloging doesn’t just apply to food — it might apply to celebrity crushes or underrated films or Japanese paintings or whatever’s walking down the runway this season. It’s all about excess–let’s enjoy everything.
Sometimes I’ll get my ideas by listening to these two dreamboat British guys on Youtube (because as we know, everything sounds sexier and more articulate in a British accent). Sometimes I’ll be reading a magazine, like Vogue or Elle and I’ll pick out a line and think more about it. Sometimes I’ll just hear something interesting and write it down immediately on the Notes app on my iPhone. And I love how most of the time, I don’t know where I’ll end up. It’s all about feeling and instinct.
BC: What about the triple sonnets? How did you come to that form? It’s so constrained yet overflowing, sort of a middle ground between the s