Grace Zhang is a seventeen year old from Princeton High serving on her school’s literary magazine and hoping to study computer science and creative writing in college. Her work has been nationally commended by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Live Poets Society, and appears in Polyphony Lit.
The Spaces We Hold
in the driveway of summer,
daughters descending from helios
dance off of car doors, their lantern
bodies illuminating our cracks.
dusk crawls along the boundary
line in hushed, star-soft
gravity. shadows lisp from the
corners, dip in deep sweeps.
you run your fingers across
the corrugated curves of the
chasm between us. cup something
in me in you that’s already full.
the sky bleeds into your swollen
flesh. thick heart, heavy hands drowning
in watercolor. melting, like cotton candy,
our shared lucid dream
A Conversation between Grace Zhang and Courtney Felle
1. Hi, Grace! We love the imagery in “The Spaces We Hold,” the blurry, hazy, and hot atmosphere that feels like “the driveway of summer.” How did you develop this tone, in individual lines and in the poem overall? How does poetry create meaning beyond its literal text?
“The Spaces We Hold” is about the process of facing the fact that the sun has set on this summer love. It starts off with longer sentences and more repetition, but transitions to shorter, distinct ones as the stanzas goes on, reflecting that slow realization, the waking up from a dream to reality to acceptance.
2. You use a lot of alliteration here, as in “daughters descending… / dance off of car doors” or in “corrugated curves of the / chasm.” What role do sound, repetition, and alliteration play in this poem?
I think the alliteration goes toward the hazy, dream-like quality where all of the words just slur over each other until they sound the same, creating a kind of repetitive lull. The sounds of “d” and “s,” which show up a lot in the first two stanzas, are actually some of the physically longest letters to say, so time is literally slowed down as you read them. The repetition also reflects being stuck in the “dream” of summer love, where you know it’s not real but you’re not ready to stop pretending because it’s perfect and, in that way, comforting.
3. This poem shifts towards a specific “you” in the third stanza, relatively late in the piece. The transition into this address feels seamless, though, a natural extension of the earlier imagery. Can you speak to crafting successful transitions like this, moving into new perspectives and places?
I didn’t even realize I did this, but a couple sounds in the first line of that stanza, “you run your fingers across,” are repeated in the stanza right before it. For example, the proximity of the “uh” sound in “run” and “aw” sound in “across” is almost paralleled in “hushed, star-soft.” Then there’s the continuation of “ih” sound in “fingers” from “dip,” “lisp,” and “gravity” as well as the “s” sound in “across” from “sweeps,” “shadows,” and “star-soft.” So I guess establish a pattern and make it lingering throughout the transition.
4. Each stanza in this poem ends with a period except the last one, which makes the poem feel softer and more open, as if it itself is “melting.” How did this develop?
Summer romance is artificial, sweet and sugary on the outside but not very substantial on the inside. But part of you wants to keep living that fairytale, even though you know underneath the bond isn’t sustainable, it doesn’t run deep. And even though you do let it go in the end, because you know have to, you sort of just sit there and silently watch it happen… him melting into the sky… like he was never really there… forever in the transition. It’s a conflicted moment in slo-mo that never really ends, hence leaving off the period. That’s what things look like for me when reaching the stage of acceptance, but having very ambivalent feelings about it.
5. The line “heavy hands drowning / in watercolor” speaks to the creation of art, as do the dancers in the first stanza. How does this poem reflect on art and the artistic temperament, especially in context of its own existence as art?
Something I’ve realized about poetry, painting, music, film, dance, and other forms of art is that they all break down the same way: the methods you use to construct the piece reflect the meaning it implies, and that subtle conveyance opens your mind to new ways of seeing things. So in that way, if you envision the imagery as an actual watercolor painting, you see it under both lenses—poetically and artistically—which could add another dimension to your understanding of the piece.
6. I love the line “cup something / in me in you that’s already full,” the desperate saturation of summer and sticky love like this. In this vein, if you could cup this poem in your hands and tangibly hold it, what would it look or feel like? What is it full of?
There’s an interesting duality with the word “cup,” because on one hand, like it says in the poem, “you.. cup something / in me in you that’s already full,” as in we both, as individuals, are already complete without each other. At the same time, cupping or trying to hold onto the other person is futile because really, the spaces between us are intimate, but empty. You grab for it and it’s not there.
If it had to take a physical form, it’d be something soft, fleeting, and fragile. Maybe like sand. You scoop it and it slides right out of the cracks between your fingers.
7. What lies ahead for you, in poetry and in life?
I’m not sure where poetry lies in my life long-term, but it’ll always serve as a way of lightening the load for me. I like to write (and read) poetry that focuses on a small moment, and uses that moment as a window into the writer’s world. Putting the intangible experiences that have shaped me into tangible words in small bits helps me make sense out of them. Most people keep a journal or diary to do that, but I find poetry is able to capture many more dimensions than prose can.