May 2017: Joyce Zhou
Joyce Zhou is a student of Neuqua Valley High School’s class of 2018 in Naperville, Illinois. Her work has been nationally recognized by the Hippocrates Poetry and Medicine Awards, Princeton University, National Poetry Quarterly, Penguin Random House, NCTE, Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, The Adroit Journal, 3Elements Review, Rookie Magazine, and others. She currently serves as a genre editor for Polyphony HS, senior editor-in-chief of The Essence, and website manager for Textploit. In the past, Joyce has also participated in the Kenyon Young Writers’ Workshop and the Glass Kite Anthology Writing Studio. Apart from writing and editing, she is strongly committed to volunteering in her community and is passionate about captaining her school’s Science Olympiad team.
The fields are crusting over like weak knuckles
Against flesh. It’s November, and I am learning
That this is how the land begins to chaff and digest
Like a form of cartilage in the essence of what it
Means to deform. I remember that day: my father’s
Spit sinking into the earth more like animal fat
Than bone, me imagining our footsteps as both a
Vulgar heartbeat and a floodlight. With only a
Match, the fields became a pulsing sea. Yet nothing
Burned brighter than the dead hare we found
Afterwards, limbs charred beyond tendon or root.
My father and I dug a hole for its remains before
We left. No different, he said, from burning the
Ruined dirt of the fields. So we shoveled past
Sunset, not a word about the limp harvest or why
My mother wouldn’t ever come back home.
This is how we must learn to share with the land,
He repeated, still with meanings he wasn’t brave
Enough to say. Not a burial, not a burial, he echoes,
But a reopening, the earth’s truest confession.
Richa: Your poem 'Prescribed Burning' is visceral and striking. How do you usually use language to convey your message in a poem?
Joyce: In my poems, I often use language to create a sense of narrative movement and emotional gravity through tension, which helps me to shape a story from a collection of loosely connected moments or images. Even words with similar meanings can present alternate versions of the truth, so the overarching messages in my poems are very much influenced by how I experiment with description and emphasis.
Richa: Who are your favorite poets? Why?
Joyce: A few of my favorite poets are Tarfia Faizullah, Mary Oliver, and Sharon Olds. Deeply rooted in reclaiming the intersections between culture, gender, and identity, their poems are powerful in subtle ways: the fluidity of their imagery, the unashamed narratives, and the stunning emotions they evoke with both tenderness and grit to create new conscious landscapes of the world within their works.
Richa: How do you try to infuse poetry into the more day-to-day aspects of your life?
Joyce: Amidst a busy schedule, I try to integrate poetry into my everyday life by setting aside time to read and write on a routine. Many of my poems are also inspired by how I reinterpret my surroundings with a shifting day-to-day context. In a way, poetry is directly infused into my life as a passion and as a habit, but its influences are also present in how I interact with and internalize ideas that are greater than myself.
A Conversation with Joyce Zhou