by Kandace Kohr
In the age of text messaging, emojis and memes, poetry may seem like a waning art, but Dickinson College Poet-in-Residence and Professor of Creative Writing Adrienne Su is still optimistic about the craft. And she's got good reason to be—her poem “Substitutions” was recently selected for inclusion in the 2018 volume of Best American Poetry, marking the fourth time she's earned this honor.
For Su, writing poetry is not only a reflection of daily life but also representative of a paradoxical principle that inspires her work. "Substitutions" is part of a series of poems in which she deftly connects the ordinary to the legendary or, as she puts it, “the daily to the exotic."
“I’m working on a collection about Chinese-American immigrants in the South, particularly during the time when there were very few [of them]," she explains. "Food has become my main metaphor for exploring that, and that’s very daily. Sometimes, I follow the thread of an ordinary dish that is just food, but it may be attached to a legend, and that legend may shed light on how we live today."
For Su, who called being selected “amazing,” poetry must continue to embrace the ordinary, which is why the growth of digital communication in recent years—which has also helped extend poetry's reach through numerous online journals—can be a blessing as much as a curse. "The wider reach has mixed consequences, but I hope that it brings poetry to a place that’s less specialized," she says. "I hope that the internet has opened up the way that poets think about their readers.”
Although she is reassured that the internet can benefit poets in new ways, Su still relishes the opportunity to unplug from digital distraction in the classroom. “I find that the class period is a time when all of us disconnect from our devices and just dwell in poems," she explains. "I don’t get that kind of focus in day-to-day life, and the classroom has become the place of communion with poems that’s special and different.”
Su will continue to explore themes combining culture and cuisine through National Poetry Month (April), during which Poetry Daily will feature her thoughts on Claude McKay’s poem “The Tropics in New York.” In addition to being named to the 2018 Best American Poetry anthology, Su’s awards include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Pushcart Prize and residencies at artists' colonies such as MacDowell, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Frost Place.
Best American Poetry 2018, which will be published in September, is an annual publication that scours literary journals to collect and publish the best 75 poems of the year. This year's poems were chosen by guest editor Dana Gioia, who has published five books of poetry, served as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and is currently California's poet laureate. Past guest editors have included Rita Dove, a former Stellfox Visiting Writer at Dickinson, Robert Pinsky and Natasha Trethewey.
Published March 1, 2018