Questions for Contributors: Stephanie Niu

Stephanie Niu’s poems “I Drive as My Family Sleeps,” “The Road from the Mountains,” “Lake Lanier,” and “Hummingbirds” appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of The Georgia Review. Niu is a Chinese-American poet from Marietta, Georgia, and the author of She Has Dreamt Again of Water (Diode Editions, 2022), winner of the 2021 Diode Chapbook Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Copper NickelSoutheast ReviewPoets Reading the News, and Storm Cellar, as well as in scientific collaborations including the eleventh annual St. Louis River Summit. Here, she discusses her experience of working with our editors to prepare her poems for publication.

GR: Tell us a little bit about this work. Is it a part of a larger project or practice?

Stephanie Niu (SN): Like much of my work, the poems in this folio contain journeying or a desire to journey. My obsession with journeying comes partly from much time spent crossing large distances (traveling from my home in Georgia to California for college, driving long distances up either coast, visiting family overseas as a child) and partly from the irresistible transformation that movement in a poem can offer.

For me, poems have always been one of the last safe places for transformation to occur. A city changes names. A human grows gills. A hummingbird becomes a star. I love how words can hold unlike things so near to each other (i.e. “prairie wool”) that they transform. This kind of incantation I find intoxicating to summon.

Like with poems, I delight in exploring the transformation that occurs in dreams. My poetry chapbook, She Has Dreamt Again of Water, includes two poems from this folio (“I Drive as my Family Sleeps” and “Lake Lanier”) and explores family through myths and surreal transformation.

GR: Was there a moment in your exchange with editors during which you felt like the work started to do something new?

SN: Absolutely! Soham’s editorial feedback helped me identify the strengths of my work and find moments where the poems pulled back from their full possibility. With “The Road from the Mountains” in particular, we worked on a quite radical revision that flipped the poem on its head. In a literal sense, the last stanza of the current poem used to be the first. But what felt most radical about the revision to me was opening with something already strange (a fact about peeling sheep) and not waiting to reveal that image deeper in the body of the poem. With the strangest card shown upfront, where might the poem lead next? The revised poem interweaves the speaker’s old questions (“How to hold on to the strange names?”) with images from the road and ends with the strangest thing of all: the names themselves.

GR: Since this publication, what other piece(s) have you enjoyed in The Georgia Review?

SN: I’ve really enjoyed the Summer 2022 issue and its range of visual-text works. The tribute for April Freely’s life and work was especially beautiful; I loved the piece “Starshine in ‘After Vermont, My Hipster Hunter’s Cap’” that Spring Ulmer curated. The glossary of terms gleaned from Ulmer’s correspondence with Freely annotating the original poem made me feel like I was receiving a personal tour through memory (i.e. What could the word gun mean to Freely? In response: “this woman at the museum affair last friday asked about my ‘guns’ . . . i’m stocky, i don’t lift weights”). Seeing phrases from the original poem expanded through Freely’s own words brought up a question that I haven’t been able to put down: what if an archive could dream?