Miranda Sun is a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is the Vice President of the creative writing club and an editor for the student-run literary arts magazine, Montage. An alumna of the NYS Summer Young Writers Institute and the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, her work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Writers Alliance of Gainesville, as well as nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. Recent publications include Body Without Organs, Lammergeier, Red Queen, Blue Marble Review, and more. She is a former editorial assistant for Ninth Letter Online and loves the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can find her procrastinating on Twitter @msunwrites or roaming the streets of Chicago in search of bubble tea.
A Conversation between Miranda Sun and Lily Bechtold
1. Hi, Miranda, thanks so much for talking with us today! We all thought “Bearing” was an incredible piece. How did it begin? Was there a specific initial idea or phrase that sparked the poem?
Hi! Thanks so much for having me; I’m delighted to be here! When I sat down to write this poem, I think I started off with the idea of everyone being united by the common experience of coming into the world through someone’s hips—and then I immediately rejected that, because I was like, Wait, that didn’t happen to me! As the speaker confesses in the second paragraph, I was born premature, removed by Caesarean section. So that was my opening: turning emergence into excision.
2. The links between the natural imagery, like “some mutated apple” or the conflict between a wild horse and a vulture, and the “Hips” theme are really intriguing. How does the poem use these images to adapt and enhance the theme?
I think with these images the poem’s interpretation of the “Hips” theme evolves beyond an understanding of human hips to non-human animal ones as well and asks what purpose they serve, or what purpose they don’t. I briefly included whales in my poem, since they have reduced pelvic (hip) bones from when their ancestors used to walk on land, bones that seem vestigial now that they’ve transitioned to a different world. By looking at evolution, we can start to piece together this history of what’s happened, but on a much greater scale.
3. We noticed the sharp, captivating tone of this piece, one that calls for attention. Cultivating a unique and present voice in a poem is often very difficult. How do you go about building such a strong voice in your works?
Honestly, just a lot of practice! I remember how some of my poems sounded when I first started out—I didn’t quite know what I wanted to say, so oftentimes they ended up sounding very bland. Now when I write a poem, it possesses me, rather than the other way around. I try to let it take me where it wants to go. How do I know it’s reached its “final” destination? I read it over (and out aloud!) and ask myself the very scientific question of “Does it sound right?”
I think it helps, too, when you’re writing about something close to you, something that you care about. It gives you emotion. It gives you honesty. It also gives you credibility, so that when the reader steps into your poem and into your voice, they can trust that listening will lead them somewhere.
4. The line “sets of bones parallel to one another: white gates to walk through” particularly compelled me; especially as women, it can feel that the legacy of our female ancestors weighs on us. What do you think there is to be said about balancing “walking through the gates” of our ancestors while simultaneously trying to move forward in a new direction?
I’m glad to hear that resonated with you! I think one’s ancestors might give an essential frame to one’s path, but they don’t define it. Yes, you’re walking through their hips, but you’re also walking onward, forging a new future whose gates your own descendants might one day move through.
I was also interested in playing with an image drawn from Christian mythology. Being raised Christian with those classic illustrated Bibles for kids (gotta love them), the picture of the iconic pearly gates of heaven was stamped into my brain from a very early age. I wanted to take that and invert it—instead of that image symbolizing the beginning of an afterlife, these gates are now opening for the beginning of a new life, instead.
5. Maheen noted that although this piece often subverts expectations and tropes in a surprising way—the idea of humans being both fruit and tumor, or how animals are commodified for their meat, for example—it “shocks without being gratuitous or unnecessary.” What do you think these ‘shocking’ ideas bring to the poem?
I believe that in writing, every word counts, but especially so in poems, where there’s so little space. You want to use that space wisely, utilizing striking images or verbs that grab a reader’s attention—not for shock value, but rather in service towards whatever abstract boundary of understanding you want to guide their attention towards. To make it so every line is earned.
6. A phrase that resonated with all of us was “turn wild turn feral turn fetal,” in the second-to-last stanza—it carries such an urgent, gripping impact. How does this line connect with and inform the rest of the poem?
Not to get too dark, but we humans are fragile, fragile things, and the more we age, the more bone mass we lose. Fracturing a hip dramatically increases the risk of mortality for older adults—if not bringing about death, then at the very least bringing a greater need for dependence on other human beings. When you’re at the end of your life, you revert back to the beginning of it, in a way. You lose the physical capabilities you gained before and require assistance from others to eat, bathe, and dress, just like you did when you were young. You turn fetal again.
7. Oftentimes, our lives are filled with constructs intended to keep the ‘wildness’ out, but this piece points out that as much as we try to distance ourselves from the nature of our “ape-like” heritage, it persists within us. What do you think is the value in attempting to reconnect with those aspects of ourselves?
I think it keeps us humble. We’re evolved primates on this blue-and-green rock that just so happened to be the perfect distance from the sun—nothing we did to make that happen, just pure astronomical luck. There were humans that came before us, and—if we don’t mess things up too badly—there will be humans that come after us. And yet, we make art. We make song. We try to make something that will live beyond our bodies. And so here I tried to evoke that primal imagery, calling back to where we came from.
8. In addition to your own publications, you’ve been involved in several writing workshops and helped edit both Ninth Letter Online and Montage Arts Journal. What have you enjoyed about the similarities and differences between these experiences? How has the literary community as a whole impacted you?
Ninth Letter Online accepts international submissions, and Montage only takes campus submissions, so while the amount of reading differs, both have taught me a lot about how to see patterns in submissions or put an issue together. I’ve also gained more knowledge about and respect for what goes on behind the scenes when you submit to a lit mag! Editors do a ton of work.
Finding a place in the literary community, both online and off, has been so rewarding. I’d say it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a writer, but there’s a difference between meeting someone who knows you’re a writer and meeting someone who truly understands what that entails. Only other writers will have impassioned discussions about commas! Attending summer writing workshops and working as a reader for Ninth Letter Online and Montage are a few ways that I’ve participated in the literary community.
9. You’re currently majoring in Integrative Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a field not typically associated with poetry. How do you find your scientific work and your poetry interacting with each other?
I believe that poetry and science are two ways of looking at the world—two lenses that aren’t necessarily exclusionary. If you put them together, you get a kind of wonderful kaleidoscope through which to view life.
In both poetry and science, we’re trying to understand something larger than ourselves, the greater forces that are at work. When integrating science into poetry, you might find yourself amazed by how easily metaphors occur, so perfect you can’t believe the basis for a simile already exists in nature. Just today in my physiology lecture, I got inspired to write a love poem when learning about the digestive system of pythons (the connection is clear, I know). I love Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poems about the natural world and the way they’re filled with wonder. And “Introduction to Quantum Theory” by Franny Choi still stuns me every time I read it.
Last year, the Field Museum introduced their first-ever poet-in-residence, Eric Elshtain. I was so excited to see this acknowledgement of the intersection of science and poetry! I still haven’t gotten the chance to visit, but if the opportunity ever arises, I definitely will.
10. What writing advice would you give to your fifteen-year-old self?
Stop waiting for things to happen and stop thinking that you’re not ready—you’re more ready than you know. Be excited for the future: for the stories that will spring into your head, for the lines that will wind through your mind like photo negatives, ready to be developed into something more, for that metaphor that has yet to manifest like a summer storm. One day you’ll call yourself a poet, not just someone who’s trying to write poems, and when the words leave your tongue, you won’t even hesitate.
Oh, and stop procrastinating on the Internet and go write, haha!