Q&A with Poetry Contributor Connie Pan

Connie Pan's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in PRISM international, Rosebud Magazine, Bamboo Ridge, and elsewhere. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in California, where she works as a freelance writer and editor. Pan’s poem “How Was Your Today?” will be published in the Winter 2017 Premium Edition of CarvePreorder or subscribe by Sunday, January 22, for special savings and discounts.

Is there anything you would like the reader to know about the speaker and the “you” in “How Was Your Today?”

The “you” is someone the speaker, in the moment, wants to be closer to. The speaker desires intimacy, looking at a sunset together, but the “you” doesn't satisfy that, creating tension between hope and knowledge, silence and connection, the avoidance of truth and coming to terms with what her mind, heart, and body wants.

Did this poem go through extensive revision before reaching its final form?

Unlike other poems, “How Was Your Today?” did not undergo extensive revision, but I wandered around with it for a while. Typically, the drafting process is quick for me and revision longer. The poem was one of the last I workshopped at West Virginia University, where I earned my MFA in fiction.

While driving a group of writers to the airport for AWP 2013 in Boston, I merged onto the highway toward Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after 40 miles in a daze and said, “Wow, I got here without thinking.” Someone in the backseat piped, “Remember that.” Recognizing a line or a title in everyday conversation became a habit from Mary Ann Samyn’s graduate poetry workshop — and general good practice for writers everywhere. Throughout the trip, I repeated the line to myself.

At the bookfair, during a table-womanning shift for WVU, Mary Ann slid into the chair next to me, and I asked, “How was your today?” (Something I ask my favorites — it feels more personal than “how are you?” I ask it with the hope of learning what someone ate for lunch, what they dreamed, who they encountered, what they listened to or read throughout the day.) She said, “Write that down,” then answered my question.

After returning to Morgantown and witnessing a beautiful, panoramic sunset, I brought the poem to workshop. It lacked something. I think it was too secretive. Mary Ann asked me what had prompted the poem. I said, “I was thinking about the disconnect between thought and action,” and she said, keenly, “Put that in the poem.” After adding those two lines, it felt finished.

What are some of the themes you come back to again and again in your work? What draws you to them?

Virginia Woolf states, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” Themes arise from my obsessions: Hawai’i and archipelagos, folklore, the Pacific and water forms, dreams, justice, and belonging. I keep returning to core questions, and while trying to answer them, I find myself with more questions. The bulk of this happens subconsciously, across genres. I’m so close to my work others might be better at pointing out themes, but I think I can name my intentions: the importance of place, corruption of money and power, wisdom of familial stories, healing power and beauty of the natural world, reinvention for survival, salvation of goodness and love, female empowerment, personal odyssey, and convention versus rebellion.

How important is community in your writing life?

My writing was born out of loneliness. It feels miraculous that writing — which, to me, is an act of survival, a passion, a reflex like breathing — has gained me community. My partner and I relocate frequently, so I am lucky to have several communities. Because of constant uprooting, my interactions with others ebb and flow, evolve. Because of my Army brat upbringing, I’m adaptable and find ways to make things work for me.

Two months ago, we moved from Oahu, where I met with an amazing group of women writers, to California. As we settle, I take advantage of this newness to write, revise, and read. Eventually I hope to meet local writers to share work with, but if I don’t, I’m lucky to have several writer friends I can call, email, or text with anything (creative work, professional questions, to rant during the dark moments) and a supportive partner. Richard Ford insists, “Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer is a good idea.” My partner not only thinks my writing is a good idea, he is my fresh ear, he visits bookstores with me, he puts pens in my Christmas stocking, he doesn’t mind my ritual reading lamp before bed. For someone whose writing began with insisting I exist, I rarely feel alone now, and I am ever-grateful for these blessings. The tricky part of writing, for me, is discovering a proactive balance of solitude and community and finding time to write while working to sustain my dream life.