November 2016: Valerie Wu
Valerie Wu attends Presentation High School in Northern California, where she currently serves as an Admissions Representative, a Social Media and Public Relations Liaison, and a production member of her school's Broadcast Journalism program. While she writes mainly nonfiction--including both journalism and personal essays--she has recently taken to experimenting with various forms. Her poetry very much embodies "free verse" in that they don't follow a specific format, offering the freedom to experiment. Having previously studied writing at Stanford University's pre-collegiate program and Interlochen Center for the Arts, as well as conducted research for Questioz: The International Journal for High School Research, Valerie recently founded a literary magazine, called BioLiterary Journal, in which she hopes to focus on the intersection of language and the sciences. Her dual experiences with both--in being a writer and living in the heart of Silicon Valley--have inspired her to combine the two in their purest form.
Lessons in Chinese by a Non-Native Speaker
there are four tones to the chinese language,
five when counting the neutral.
the first is flat, a high level,
the way you say mother in english
when you want to know
where she is.
(ma? ma? ma? ma?)
the second is a rising,
the gentle way that your mother scolded you,
when you forgot to take off your shoes
before entering the house, her raising voice
like a melody
the jump from c to c-sharp
when you played your piano for hours--
seems lower, but not really
it’s the linguistic state of being,
just being, this permanent swaying
like how the teapot sways
when the hands of the person holding it
(like yours in the morning)
the fourth looks like a negative slope,
hovering over a letter,
the permanent shape of your father’s eyebrows
you couldn’t make it last, it seemed
because there was nowhere to go but down
the stressed syllable, the pitch
altering its meaning.
the neutral is hard to describe
it’s when you’re sitting at your piano,
remembering the way your mother
used to play “chopsticks”
telling you that you could never stick
upright chopsticks in a bowl of rice
unless someone was dead
and when you touch your hands to the keys
the tones all sound the same.
later, you go to your kitchen,
you take a bowl of rice and chopsticks,
and you watch the right angle they form,
like the angle of the third tone
of the chinese language.
back then your mother used to teach you,
her raising voice like a melody,
the flat, the rising, the being, the falling
the four tones of the Chinese language
But today, when you say them,
they all sound the same.
(ma? ma? ma? ma? )
(where are you?)
A Conversation with Valerie Wu
Richa: Your literary magazine, BioLiterary Journal, sounds so interesting! Could you tell us more about it?
Valerie: BioLiterary Journal is really what it sounds like: a combination of biology and literature. I was inspired to do something with both fields when I attended a summer writing program at Interlochen; it seemed that everyone was always divided between their scientific side or their linguistic one, and as a writer in Silicon Valley, I knew that anyone could do both. Although it's still in the beginning stages of recruitment and publication, BioLiterary offers submissions in fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and visual arts--proof that the observations of the world around us aren't just in science, but in literature as well. I'm excited to see where it goes.
Richa: So, what do you aim to accomplish by the end of a poem?
Valerie: Though writing poetry is fairly new to me, my main goal with writing has always been for readers to realize something that they never knew before--most often about society and culture, but about themselves as well. The freedom that poetry offers--from the punctuation to the verses--is something that I love to take advantage of. Although I'd love it if people walked away from a piece thinking that the writing was brilliant, I'm much more preoccupied with whether they learned something that had never been learned in that particular way before. That's always been what I've found most important.
Richa: That's wonderful! Do you follow any writing rituals while working on your essays, articles, or poems?
Valerie: For me, before I start to write anything, I always try and come up with a message--something that I want others to take away after reading the piece. Then I try and expand it into a theme while writing and experimenting with its form, which works with any kind of genre. With that theme I broaden it out into a certain writing style and unique language, and that's how each piece of work is written.