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Arts & Life

Poet Jennifer Chang Reads 'Again A Solstice'


We have been asking poets to tell us about their summers by reading us poems. And our next writer, Jennifer Chang, was once asked to submit a summertime poem to The New York Times, but it was rejected. They said it was too dark.

JENNIFER CHANG: I think summer is bleaker than most. It's not the same when you're an adult. You can't play.


And for Chang, there is an edge of guilt to summertime. As a college professor, she feels she should be using her time off from teaching to write, not go to the beach.

CHANG: I'm, personally, very hard on myself. And I think that leisure is hard for me to commit to without thinking about all the things I should be doing instead.

GREENE: And that tension between responsibility and play is captured in Chang's poem, "Again A Solstice." Here it is.

CHANG: (Reading) "Again A Solstice." It is not good to think of everything as a mistake. I asked for bacon in my sandwich, and then I asked for more - mistake. I told you the truth about my scar. I did not use a knife. I lied about what he did to my faith in loneliness - both mistakes. That there is always a you - mistake. Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed, is faith in self. My instinct - a poor polaris. Not a mistake is the blue boredom of a summer lake - oh, sun, mud and algae. We swim in glittering murk. I tread, you tread. There are children testing the deep end - shriek and stroke. The lifeguard perilously close to diving. I tried diving once. I dove like a brick. It was a mistake to ask the $30 profit for a $20 prophecy, a mistake to believe. I was young and broke. I swam in the stolen reservoir then, not even a lake. Her prophecy - for my vagrant exertion, I'll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake, kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread. What does it even mean to write a poem? It means today I'm correcting my mistakes. It means I don't want to be lonely.

INSKEEP: OK. Yeah, dark - but you've got to like a poem that doubles the bacon. That was Jennifer Chang, a professor of English at the George Washington University reading her poem, "Again A Solstice." Her latest collection of poetry is "The History Of Anonymity." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.