© 2016 Karissa Chen all rights reserved.

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listens to while writing.

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[ c o u n t i n g  w o r d s ]

February 24

2012

My story "Long-Distance Lover" is up at Monkeybicycle.  It's very short (under 500 words), so check it out when you have a free moment.  I also recently read this piece at the Asian American Writers Workshop open mic, if you'd like to hear it (also on the Videos page).  But first...

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In 2009, I arrived at Sarah Lawrence College with little understanding or knowledge of contemporary poetry.  I found a lot of poetry too hard to pin down.  Friends who loved poetry told me I just needed a gateway poet, that I wrote like someone who would love poetry.  I didn't know where I might find that, I said.  Luckily for me, Sarah Lawrence is an institution overflowing with poetic goodness.

A poet friend of mine (Eugenia Leigh) introduced me to the poem, "The Quiet World" written by Jeffrey McDaniel, who happens to be a faculty member at the college.  You would love this, she said.

I read it.  I sighed when I got to the end.  The world did feel quieter.  Everything unsaid in that poem echoed large.

Over the past several years, I have learned not only to understand and appreciate poetry (thanks in part to Jeff's classes, which I've taken several of), but also to love it fiercely.  I've accumulated knowledge of a breadth of poets and their works, including many other McDaniel poems.  But this one remains close to my heart, because it was the gateway.  It was when I saw that poetry could tell a story in its own way.

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This story explores the very large world that Jeff has created in his very compact poem.  A world of limited words and limitless silence means a world in which assumptions must be made, and intimacy must be maintained and/or created through other means.  I think there is enormous fictive possibility in this poem.  For whatever reason though, I decided to focus in on the voice we don't hear in Jeff's poem.  The voice that we know nothing about because we literally never hear from her.  What would she say?  What is she feeling?  What if his assumptions about her life are incorrect?

What is it like to have so many important things to say but so little space to do it?

Coincidentally, this story arose from a challenge to write something in under 500 words.  So I literally was working with my own word constraints even as I wrote of somebody else's.

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While I was Googling today for Jeff's poem online, I came across this wonderful student adaptation of the poem.  What's interesting to me is that I've bought into my own story, and that's all I could think about at the very end.  Take a look.

Thanks to the editors at Monkeybicycle for publishing a piece I've long hoped to share.  And thank you to Jeffrey McDaniel for his poetry.  A man who knows how to choose his words carefully for the fullest impact.

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