This past Thursday, the Good Thunder program hosted recently published but widely awarded poet Su Hwang for their bi-semester reading series. Hwang, author of the lauded poem collection “Bodega,” led writing exercises, a talk on structuring a manuscript, and read excerpts from her book at different points throughout the day.
Hwang, who was born in Seoul and grew up in NYC and San Francisco, moved to the Twin Cities to receive her MFA in poetry at the University of Minnesota. Now, Hwang teaches with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, and works as co-founder of Poetry Asylum with fellow poet and educator Sun Yung Shin
Hwang’s Good Thunder events drew quite the crowd, with the workshop and craft talk being particularly popular. At the workshop, Hwang led the attendees through an exercise in blackout poetry, where one takes an existing piece of writing, and blacks words out until only specific ones are left, creating a poem.
At the craft talk, Hwang revelled in the crowd for a moment before asking if she could take a picture of them. “At the beginning of [my writing career], I said I would never give a craft talk, but here I am. Never say never,” she commented.
Hwang’s presentation was entitled ‘Order and Chaos: Ways to Maybe Structure a Poetry Manuscript.’ “Its approximations, suggestions, and imitations- I am by no means an expert, none of this is fixed… Writing is an endless quest.”
“Writing a poetry manuscript is a combination of craft, hard work, trial and error, chance, intuition, a dose of magic, blood-sweat-tears, and a bit of dumb luck,” Hwang said. “Even after publishing I am still learning and in the process of figuring things out.”
She talked some about the process of getting published as a poet which, unless you choose to self publish, involves submitting your works to contests and magazines, which was a struggle for Hwang when she was in the process of finalizing her manuscript, as she went through a series of rejections. “Art is subjective, we all know this,” she said. “It’s about going through the motions again and again until you find someone who resonates.”
The main thing to consider when formatting and finalizing your manuscript, Hwang said, was the question of; what is your book about? You have to be able to sell the idea of your book to someone. What is it’s goal? If you cannot pinpoint that, and if it is not solid, then you may need to revisit your manuscript. “Focus on core values and be your own best advocate- some people will love your work, some won’t; you can’t please everyone,” noted the poet.
Hwang then discussed the synergy between the poems themselves. “You want the poems to be in conversation with each other- but what kind of conversation?” she said. “Be capacious- in that emptiness between two poems, there is still something there. You’re breaking the fourth wall by creating this other emptiness. Trust your reader to make the leaps.”
“Poems are living and breathing both individually and collectively- they are never static… It’s a human thing to tell stories. It’s how humans communicate. With poetry it’s important to understand that it’s never a straight linear narrative,” Hwang noted on the life and interaction of poems.
The reading event, which occurred later in the evening, was attended by audience members both in person and viewing the program’s Facebook live screening. Hwang was preceded by MFA student Robyn Katona, winner of the Robert C. Wright award.
Hwang read excerpts from “Bodega,” many of which detailed her experience growing up as a Korean immigrant in the laundromat her parents owned. One in particular, called “Five Sonnets,” is part of the Waxwing Literary Journal’s “Fresh Off The Boat” collection, and speaks, in five parts, about the process of the journey to America, racism Hwang and her family faced, language barriers, crime, and the want to assimilate. This one in particular seemed to touch the crowd.
The Good Thunder reading series resumes on Feb. 3 of next year, with author Brett Biebel. Information can be found on the Good Thunder website.