Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We love the prose poem form of “Firecrackers,” which feels very precise in its storytelling. Can you tell us about how you decide when to write a poem in prose and some of the challenges and pleasures of writing in this form?

QM: Thanks for thinking highly of my poem! Initially, I wrote this poem with lineation, but it soon felt like a mistake. Line breaks and stanza breaks don’t give the momentum this poem desires. I write poems in prose when the narrative appears formal and less fragmented. It makes me happy when I found that an unexpected turn can coexist with the seemingly predictive form. One challenge for me is controlling the lengths of sentences, as I believe that a good prose poem has to have powerful short sentences along with longer ones. I cut some sentences shorter deliberately for the overall rhythm. 

RR: We’re shown the Spring Festival through a child’s perspective with a lens of innocence and impressionability. Did the experiences in this poem come from your own life, and if so how do you approach writing through memory?

QM: Yes! The material comes from my own life. Sometimes people feel that writing about memories is hard because they don’t sound dramatic or exciting enough. For me, the most evocative emotion/quality in writing is ‘absurdity.’ So when I approach a past event, I tend to focus on how absurd it was! 

RR: The poem immerses us in detail through the senses, and there’s an intensity to experience that leaves us feeling both stark and nostalgic. How do you approach writing images and tone to create contrasting effects?

QM: As for the images, I want to represent as truthfully as possible what the speaker feels about the tradition of setting off firecrackers, its paradox of being both ‘important/necessary’ and unpleasant. The tone was decided after the first two sentences were done. I tried to go back to it in the final line.

RR: What originally drew you to write poetry and when did you start writing it?

QM: When I was a teenager, I enjoyed reading love poems (in Chinese at first). Naturally, I started to write some myself. Writing poetry also brought joy to me by making me different from other kids!

RR: You write in your bio that you’re from China and now live in Atlanta, Georgia. Can you tell us about your experiences with the culture change, and what effect you think it’s had on your writing, if there is one?

QM: I lived in China for eighteen years before coming to the USA for college. The cultural shock was huge to me. A large portion of my poems now deals with the theme of displacement. I believe that one effect my international experience has on my writing is it informs me that people don’t always look at things in the same way, so I put in much effort to balance what I try to express and what the readers may perceive.

Q.M.’s work in Issue 8.1: