In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Eva Song Margolis
The illustration credit belongs to Dain Suh, courtesy of NPR. Dain Suh is a New York-based art director, illustrator, and digital content creator. You can learn more about Suh’s work via their website.
Your poem “A Pantoum for Family” that was published in Volume 25 examines how we talk about transnational adoptions of children. What was the impetus behind your poem? How did it come to be?
While participating in the Loft Mentorship Series last year, I learned about pantoums from one of our mentors, Chris Santiago. I had not worked in form much or fully understood how they can be used, so that experience was especially important.
“A Pantoum for Family” is the first pantoum I wrote. It started as a very different poem. I was exploring the possibilities of who my Korean mother, my first mother might be; I was holding these different and sometimes divergent things that have been revealed to me over the decades. I thought the pantoum was perfect for telling a story about fragmentation, for creating something whole from bits and pieces, woven across time, space, speakers. Those bits and pieces about my mother have been revealed in part by assumption and part reality, part in dream and desire, and part in record (however fabricated) that justify the reason for all of this unknowing in the first place.
As I worked on the poem, it seemed there was a lot of space to get creative with all the fragments and present them in an unconstrained way. Realizing this, at the time, a pantoum didn’t feel like the right form to explore my mother. Instead, I felt inclined to use pantoum for a topic that requires some rigidity, structure, something that conveys a need for control and process. The mainstream adoption narrative then seemed to be a more fitting topic. The adoption narrative requires certain assumptions-made-reality to be told repeatedly, to make everyone involved believe without question, lest the whole house of cards come crashing down.
By the end of the poem, by letting go of the pantoum form, I wanted to convey an unraveling and eventual abandonment of that narrative. I hoped to imply a sort of chaos that brings deeper understanding and creates space for questions. Although we might be led to believe otherwise, mainstream discourse about adoption is not opposite or unrelated to mainstream narratives about immigration, colonization, or capitalism for example.
If we know that memories can be altered by how we tell our stories, how do you think we can write our own stories authentically if what we’ve been told is only shared from one perspective? Do you have advice to share with aspiring writers who are working to tell their own origin stories?
When what we’ve been told about ourselves is shared only from a single perspective, and when we sense an investment in maintaining that perspective, then we can begin to see the cracks. I think my advice would be to allow yourself to seep into the crevices. (If you’ve already been taught to be malleable, perhaps this seeping will flow with ease.) Get to know how the cracks feel, sound, and taste. Sit with what they desire and fear, and question how that has or hasn’t shaped you. Is this my origin story or someone else’s? Question if the speaker of those stories still believes their own words—is there any internal conflict? How have you been asked to hold this conflict for them? Has this holding decentered your own desires, fears, senses?
Can you share with us a little bit about your process for incorporating lines from Fleur Conkling Heyliger’s “Poem for the Adopted Child” into your poem? What was your process for folding Heyliger’s lines into your own so it would feel seamless to the reader? Sometimes using another’s words among our own can create a type of scenario where the writing feels rigid or forced. Did you run into something like this, and if so, how did you continue moving forward? How did you know that using Heyliger’s work would further your own?
I decided to insert Fleur Conkling Heyliger’s poem after I finished the first draft. I wanted to create another layer and reinforce the speaker’s voice. “Poem for the Adopted Child” is true to the traditional adoption narrative; it speaks for the child and speaks from the adoptive parents’ perspective. I was curious about how that poem would perform differently when its lines were taken from their original context and placed somewhere new—an adoption of sorts. Even though Fleur Conkling Heyliger’s poem and the speaker in “A Pantoum for Family” come from the same perspective, I wanted to create conflict and discordance when the two voices are mashed together.
Who are some writers that you’re currently enjoying? Do you have writers or books that you return to for any reasons?
I’m currently reading Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho, which feels like an ancestral gift. I’m also slowing reading Concealed Words (숨겨둔 말) by Sin Yong-Mok and translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé, whose works are also in Volume 25! Two books that I’ve recently been coming back to are Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya Hartman.
What projects are you working on now?
My current goal is to prepare a manuscript for publication. I have themes and ideas in place in terms of how I’d like to structure it. I need to write more and then I’d love to work with a mentor who can provide feedback and guidance on how to refine and select poems to ensure they are presented adequately for a collection.
Eva Song Margolis’s poems frequently explore identity, kinship, and loss. She is interested in deconstructing ideologies and structures to question what liberation and justice could look like. Margolis’s accomplishments include being named a Loft Literary Center Mentor Series fellow, an Inroads Mentor fellow, and an Intermedia Arts Beyond the Pure recipient. Her work appears in Moonroutes, MOONFRUIT, and Unmargin.