June 2017: Jasmine Cui
Jasmine Cui is 18 years old, and is majoring in Political Science, Economics, and Violin Performance at SUNY Geneseo. She is the founder and co-Editor in Chief of The Ellis Review. Jasmine aspires to be like her parents who are first-generation Americans that fought an extraordinary battle for their place in this country. She found the courage to pursue writing when she was 17. She is not a mentee, not a Foyle Young Poet, not a Presidential Scholar (and this is not to say you can't be those things), but she is still every bit a writer. And you are too.
OUT OF WATER
A man is not a fish, but we fled
in a boat better suited for fishing.
Its hull reeked of salt
rot and desperation. There,
I learned to mistake nausea
for excitement. My mother is not
a fish, but the immigration officer
looks at her as if she were a trout—
weak and oafish. His lips are a study
in slow motion, words crawling
forth like an infant. He is trying
to speak fish. My father is not a fish,
but his father was a carpenter. I watch
him slit soapstone and the skin on his neck
as he learns to breathe foreign
air through the gaps in his throat.
I am not a fish, but on land I forget
how to breathe when I see police officers.
They wear rain slickers during the wet season
and look like fishermen. A man is not a fish,
but the harbor is our mecca
where fishmongers sell skate and salmon
for pennies and white men expose
their greedy bellies asking for more.
first published at The Shallow Ends
A Conversation with Jasmine Cui
Richa: You're the co editor-in-chief of Ellis Review, a literary magazine! Could you tell us more about why you started it, and what you look for in submissions?
Jasmine: Accessibility. On a practical level, what we are trying to do is build a community. We want to be a journal at which connection extends beyond rejection. That is why I tell everyone how to contact me — I want people to reach out. In the near future, we plan on developing more programs in an effort to work towards that goal of being accessible. I can’t say much more other than that big things are forthcoming. To explain our mission in broad strokes: I wanted a platform to help emerging writers, young and old, find the opportunities they’ve been deprived of. Sometimes, there are financial problems or information barriers. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck. Whatever it is, we want to be that metaphorical hand, outstretched, reaching to help you back up.
Richa: Who are your favorite authors/poets? Why?
Jasmine: Honestly, I don’t have a definitive favorite. Often, I’ll say that writing is not a zero sum game. And I believe this wholeheartedly. I know I tend to come off as an idealist, but I really do think that when someone writes with conviction, there is validity in that alone. In this community, in our community, there are chronologies, soft oceans, bleeding hearts. There are no winners and losers — despite what contests, rankings, or “authoritative figures” will tell you.
With this in mind, I’d love to share a few writers whose work I find myself returning to time and time again. Eloisa Amezcua, Editor-in-Chief of The Shallow Ends, is one of these writers. Her use of identity and language as thematic elements in her work is always thoughtful and novel. In her poem “Long Distance, ” Eloisa explores the difficulty of teaching Spanish to a non-native speaker and the phenomenon of language barriers. She writes, “but / Toronja is grapefruit not / Toronto and Flema / does not / mean flame.” And in the closing lines adds, “panocha / is not Pandora / though both are woman.”
As the daughter of immigrants, linguistic hiccups like these were and are a part of my everyday, my lived experiences. My Mandarin is too facile to carry on anything more than a superficial conversation. My mother once said that we are constantly, "grasping at surfaces." This is my saddest truth. Eloisa explores this truth in an absolutely gorgeous manner.
Steven Chung is only eighteen, but he writes as if he were much, much older. In “Exception to Snow,” Steven says, “Half of the world is always on fire / but we wanted to be the exception.” This kind of bravery cannot be taught — the future of poetry is so wonderfully bright.
Paige Lewis whose brilliance is unfathomable. In her poem “Eager,” Paige invents and reinvents the truth. “all I’ve ever wanted was to be the pomegranate seeds / pulped between your teeth. No that isn’t exactly true, / when I was a kid, I wanted so often I kept a list under / my pillow for God to read nightly: moon shoes, harder / bones, emeralds, no fire.” All of this culminates in an experience which is incredibly disorienting, but in the best kind of way.
Richa: Do you believe that writing and music are separate entities, or do you find them complementing each other?
Jasmine: In Protagoras, the following is said: “White is in a certain way like black, and hard is like soft, and the most extreme opposites have some qualities in common.”
Similarly, I think everything is, to varying degrees, interrelated. Here, I think that music absolutely informs writing. As a violinist, I've dedicated a significant portion of my life to music. It is my belief that music can be translated into and take on many forms: visual art, dance, writing. One writer that I love dearly, Haruki Murakami, often talks about the importance of music and his love for it. In his work, Murakami often incorporates music explicitly. For instance, in the opening chapter of 1Q84 he introduces Janacek's Sinfonietta; however, this thematic element of music also translates more subtly in the syntax of Murakami's sentences. Often, he will phrase things in specific, unorthodox ways. The end product is writing which reads with the fluidity and ingenuity of a musical composition. This too is what I look for in writing — the qualities of music.