Arts & Entertainment Editor
Dreamy, evocative, and detailed are the three words fourth-year Cat Tang would use to describe her writing. Tang is finishing up her English major with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Chinese, and she is itching to get back to writing. Poetry has been Tang’s primary focus since high school, but she wrote songs, short stories, and novellas before that. Recently, she’s had a desire to go back to writing prose as she’s been looking over her old short stories and thinking about possibly revising them. “In short, I’d say that I write poetry and prose, but poetry is my main love and accordingly ends up hogging most of my attention,” said Tang. If you’ve ever read any of her poetry, you’d definitely see that it is her main love.
“I think the general “essence” of my poetry is characterized by a dreamy, metaphysical quality, which is really just a reflection of who I am as a person. I’m a deeply spiritual hopeless romantic, always daydreaming and musing over whatever philosophical question is occupying my mind on any given day, and I usually use my poetry as a way to try to articulate the myriad of thoughts I have,” said Tang when I asked her to describe her style. Often in her works, you can find the theme of reincarnation, which plays into her hopeless romanticness.
Some of Tang’s favorite poems have been published in the College’s Greenleaf Review. In this year’s edition, Tang’s poems “the secret life of napkins,” “ears best blind,” and “timelapse” all made it in, with “ears best blind” being one of her favorite poems (and mine too, it’s just so beautiful). In addition, her poems “flower” and “never gone” made it into last year’s edition. “I can’t share it because I’m currently rewriting it for the billionth time right now, but I’m also particularly fond of my poem ‘searching for China,’ which is an intimate exploration of my struggles with my ethnic identity,” Tang said. She went on to share an excerpt of another love poem that she’s doing:
meeting you has been like falling back to fourteen,
standing in the deliciously green field under blindingly blue skies
in my P.E. shorts and shirt, daydreaming when I should be
fielding balls and defending goals, my head instead
swelling with a symphony of pípás and gǔzhēngs.
you are the blocks of gēcí doodled
in the margins of my notebook when I should be
transcribing lǎoshī’s lecture and zhōngwén yǔfǎ notes,
the tune I repeatedly hum on the walk home from school
every day for six months, body and brain buzzing with làngmàn fājiào.
you are huíjiā when I never even realized I’d left.
you’re like nectar-scented spring sunshine on a drinkable
pure-blue-sky day, smell like Wǔyí Shān’s ancient wind
whistling through a placid people-less bamboo forest,
sound like a faulty fountain in a Buddhist meditation garden,
sporadically burbling into laughter then flowing back into silence
like nothing ever happened. you’ve slipped into the crevices of myself
I’ve never noticed and enhanced the saturation of my soul
with your warm honey glow, enveloping me in a perpetual
sweater-soft hug. it’s ridiculous how I smile until my cheeks cramp
and emit joy from every pore at the mere sight of you.
“Every moment of my life is colored by my identity, so it never goes away; it’s an inseparable part of my existence,” Tang explained. Her identity simply exists in her work because she never wants to feel forced to add in a reference to Chinese culture to “prove” that she’s Chinese-American. Being Chinese-American shapes Tang’s lived experiences, which in turn shapes her writing. She’s heavily influenced by ancient Chinese poetry through its wistful and dreamy mood, and that mood is incorporated into her work. She’s recently thought a lot about the pressures artists of color have to face and the fact that they are forced to display performative ethnicity, “By this, I mean that we’re subject to prejudice and discrimination and are barred from opportunities to publish and perform simply because we’re not white, but in order to gain those opportunities, we’re expected to play up our ethnic identities so we can be used as “ethnic representatives” and fill diversity quotas.” The problem with this performative ethnicity, however, is that it just reinforces stereotypes. No one culture is marked simply by a type of food or one piece of recognizable clothing; therefore, people shouldn’t expect artists of color to create with that in mind.
Right now, Tang feels very in tune with her identity, “Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Chinese poetry and listening to Chinese music—I’m currently reading My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree, an anthology of poems by the contemporary Chinese poet 伊蕾 (Yī Lěi), and for the past month, I’ve been obsessed with 威神V (WayV)’s discography, particularly their song 《夢盡》(“All For Love”).” As a result of this, she wants to incorporate more Chinese language into her current projects and write more poems in Chinese in the future.
Tang believes in writing for yourself, which may seem like tiring and repetitive advice, but you have to be satisfied with what you write at the end of the day. This has been a struggle for her, “I’ve gone through so many periods where I struggled to reconcile what I want to do with my art versus what I feel other people want from me or what is expected of me, and I know I’ll still have to grapple with those feelings in the future.” However, to deal with that, she asks herself what she wants to do with her life and her art. And don’t feel pressured to have to incorporate your identity into your work! As Tang says, “We all have a unique voice that stems from the intersection of our various identities, so resist the pressure to be an “ethnic representative” and just express yourself in the way that feels right for you.”
So, what’s Tang up to now? Since the pandemic created chaos and uncertainty that no one expected, she will take a year off after she graduates. “After endlessly going to school for the past 16+ years, I want to take a breather before I dive into working for the rest of my life,” said Tang. She’s planning on writing more for herself; she has many unfinished poems and unexplored poem ideas that she’d like to flesh out. She wants to form or join a poetry critique or book club group with other readers and writers. While she may have had more clear-cut goals and ambitions in the past, she’s just going with the flow of things now. She’s discovered that community and connection matter more to her than publication does, “I’ve always wanted to use my art to connect to other people, and I used to think of publication as the only avenue to do so.” Now, if she can just share her poetry with one person (who’s usually me), it brings her joy. She wants her art to create resonance, and if she can do that with one person, then she’s reached her goal.