___________________________________

“Nothing is good save the new. If a thing have novelty it stands intrinsically beside every other work of artistic excellence.”

                                                                                                                                                    Kora in Hell: Improvisations

                                                                                                                                                      -William Carlos Williams

Diana Poon doesn’t like old things. Her poems make this clear. She writes with intention. She has an idea and a place in her mind, and she sets her pen and paper in motion and toward that place. Except there is no pen. And there is no paper. When people give her a print out, she asks why. Send her an e-mail. She works as a copywriter, and spends her days using language to get the point ––– quickly:  “Act now,” she said, “Try it today,” she offered, as she described the ad announcer’s voice that runs through her head as she works. 

Originally from College Point, she’s been reppin’ Queens since day one. And back when I first met her in July of 2015, after exchanging a few e-mails, a few of which included a semicolon or two that I had written in order to break up two related clauses that I felt need not be separated by a period, she decided that she’d hire me to help her with buying her first apartment. 

 We started looking in Astoria, then saw a few places in Jackson Heights ––– one of which she fell in love with, save that the windows within its living room looked the tracks of the 7 train dead in the eye. She said she was a light sleeper, and even though she had tried to talk herself out of that truth, we kept looking.

 

As I was helping her find a place we bonded over our mutual adoration and appreciation for William Carlos Williams. The doctor who wrote poems, quickly and efficiently –– between visits with patients, or early in the morning before work, or late in the evenings, just before rest.

Like Diana’s, Williams’ work is practical: “If a thing have not [newness], no loveliness or heroic or grand manner will save it,” he writes in Kora in Hell: Improvisations. If a thing must have newness, then that newness must not come from abstract concepts and vague ideas that have no connection to reality. “Say it, no idea but in things –––” Williams so famously wrote in Patterson.  

So when Diana turns off the ad announcer’s voice, and dives into the process of writing poems, the idea that she most often works with is one that Williams must have agreed with. “Everything people do is about putting things into patterns and not letting it all destruct. We’re constantly in a cycle of resisting destruction.”     

       

                                                                                                                                                                                     - Isaac Myers III.

___________________________________

Alex: What do you usually do on Saturdays?
 

Diana: I usually clean, which I did this morning. Or I go out and see people. 
 

Alex: Brunch?
 

Diana: Sometimes. Sometimes I just stay in and play video games.
 

Alex: That sounds great.

Diana: It’s pretty relaxing.

Alex: Well, you mentioned that you love this apartment, and since you have it . . .

Diana: Exactly. I want to spend as much time as I can in here.

Alex: Exactly. What’s that, near the plant? [Points at a plant in the hallway in Diana’s apartment, between the

living room and kitchen]

Diana: It’s a plant care tip. My last roommate left it for me because she used to take care of our plants, and I had no idea what to do with them. But they’re still alive, so it’s a good guide.

Alex: Yeah, these Koala crackers are great. Isaac, have you have one of these before?

Isaac: I’ve never heard of them. 

Alex: They’re crazy. 

Diana: They’re amazing. 

Alex: Have you had strawberry milk? Think of strawberry milk.

Diana: Koalas are the best. I like to show them to my mom while I’m eating them. I always show her every single one. Look at this Koala, mom. This one is playing the trombone! And people think this is a story about me that happened when I was a kid. But really it was last week.

Alex: Does your mom come and hang out here a lot, or does she live nearby?

Diana: She lives about fifteen minutes away by car. She doesn’t come to hang out, but I do visit them every weekend just because they’re so close by. My mom actually wouldn’t let me move out unless it was because I married someone, or if I bought my own apartment.

Alex: Wow. Well, that’s a stability conscious parent right there.

Diana: It’s true. Even though I feel like people in our generation aren’t really buying property anymore.

Alex: No, that’s a good point.

Diana: But I don’t know. I feel like there’s an appeal to being able to just up and move whenever.

Alex: That’s true.

Isaac: Right, it’s nice to just say, “I’m out.” 

Alex: Yeah.

Isaac: It’s been good, you know.

Diana: It’s been good, yeah.

Diana: Change it up.

 [We move into the living room.]

Isaac: What’s the name of that couch again, is that the Joke Couch?

Diana: Right. That one at the end of the room is called the Joke Couch.

Alex: Why?

Diana: Because my old roommates sent [an online link of it] to me, as a joke. And I thought, wow, this is a beautiful couch, I’m going to buy it. And then I did, and she was like, “I sent you that couch as a joke. It’s a pink suede couch!” And I was like, “I like it!”

Alex: That’s hilarious. Because it’s great!

Diana: Right!

Alex: Best joke ever. 

Diana: Yeah! So even with your joke, you were helpful, so the joke’s on you, Mel.

Alex: [Referring to a desk in the corner of the living room] Do you do work over here, or is it just your holding area for things?

Diana: That’s funny. My roommate usually works there.

Diana: I’m usually not home enough to work from home, and when I do, I do work in my favorite chair, which is in my bedroom.  

[We move from the living room to Diana’s bedroom, where her favorite chair sits near the window at the back of the room, which looks out over a courtyard between the nearby buildings within the block.]

Isaac: Would you want to start by reading one of your poems?

Diana: I didn’t know I’d be reading one of these. 

Isaac: I can read it, if you’d like. 

Diana: Okay, we’ll watch you read it. 

Isaac: This one is titled “vs. Gravity”  by Diana Poon. 

Diana: Wooooo!

vs. gravity

/ Two slopes dip between 108th St andthe illustrious Queens Boulevard,a merge-converging-on the curved

 

Yellowstone road. You don’t need red shoes to find your path home,

 

there at the top of the next hill. \

and\ down is what’s natural. It’s what the flesh \wants: to tumble graceless,

 

unworryingly, and true

to its own faults. Down is instinct- ual \ a baby’s closed fist

 

fastened to wads of wet hair \ the swung-feel

 

good time of a drink every nowand now again \ a black-hearted stare erupt

 

with the gush of hot intent \ the pull of timeagainst aged skin this thin—silken and trembling.

 

It is Down that hits us steadily:with the Law of What’s Always Been:

 

We Are Things.irresistant\ compliant\ dwarfed.

 

by Forces beyond our own Good

 

or Evil.

 

/ Unnaturally, redemption inclines towards the climb. An order for Order. A poem for a rhyme. A wit for a wail, a

 

head for a heart, a platitude for experience, in time spent apart. With every Push backward, every Pull takes its toll.

 

You practice in pain to attain lofty goals.

 

\ Two slopes dip between 108th St and the illustrious Queens Boulevard, a merge-converging-on the curved

Yellowstone road. You don’t need red shoes to walk it but you must see it through. \

 

Isaac: How did you get into that one, do you remember?

 

Diana: I know that when I write, I like to come up with a concept first. So with that one, I knew that I would be writing something for your magazine, and it’s all about a sense of place, and I wanted to do something very personal, but also something very specific about Forrest Hills. So I thought about that, and then about those two slopes outside of my building. Did you guys go up them?

 

Alex: We saw them.

 

Diana: I feel like I see them every morning, and every night, and they’re a major part of my daily trek to work and back home again. And I thought about how meaningful that was, and how it could resonate with a lot of people. So I felt like I just wanted to capture that in a poem. So it’s a lot about the ups and downs of life, and also about balancing your desires versus the things that you want to make, as a creator. The universe tends naturally towards entropy, but as humans our duty is to make order from all of that. So that’s kind of what I had in mind for this poem.

 

Isaac: Duty is an interesting word, right? 

 

Diana: We have an obligation to humanity, I think.

 

Alex: As artists or as people?

 

Diana: As artists, I think, and as people. I think morality would be the non-artist interpretation of that idea.

 

Isaac: The non-artist interpretation of . . . 

 

Diana: The idea of creating order from chaos. If you’re not an artist, there’s morality. If you’re a scientist, then there’s the pursuit of new knowledge. I feel like everything people do is about putting things into patterns and not letting it all destruct. We’re constantly in a cycle of resisting destruction. And that’s the downhill part of the poem. But also that part of life is necessary to experience those things. There has to be room for fun, you can’t be creating order all of the time. 

 

Isaac: Do you always take the hills down and then up, or do you ever walk around them?

 

Diana: I do take that route, because if you walk around them, then you come upon bigger, steeper hills.

 

Isaac: Really?

 

Diana: Yes, actually.

 

Alex: Is that not a life metaphor right there?

 

Diana: Isn’t it though? These hills are tough, but I know the other ones are tougher. 

 

Alex: Exactly.

 

Diana: But it’s interesting, if you want to take the express train, you just walk straight down to Austin Street,

which is a very level way, and there are no hills whatsoever. But I don’t take that way because it’s farther, and I like the metaphor of going up and down the hills better.

 

Isaac: I hear that. So which one is the local stop then?

 

Diana: The 67th Avenue stop. Did you guys take that one to get here?

 

Isaac: No, we got off at 71st Avenue. We got to look at the hills, but we didn’t actually take them on. 

 

Diana: That’s cool. That’s a nice walk too. 

 

Alex: It was great. We got to walk by all of the regally-named apartment buildings. 

 

Diana: Yeah! The Grover Cleveland . . .

 

Isaac: The George Washington. 

 

Alex: I never knew our forefathers had such taste in apartment buildings. 

 

Diana: They definitely had a huge hand in constructing these. 

 

Alex: They did. Exactly. 

 

Diana: That’s funny. There’s actually a building next door called The Grover Cleveland that looks exactly like the George Washington. And a lot of people who try to come here end up there instead. I’m like, it’s the better president! 

 

Isaac: So what color is this wall?

 

Diana: That’s Piano Concerto. That’s the name of it. It’s like a pale, purplish lavender. I wanted something soothing and calm for my room. 

 

Isaac: Was this one of many contenders, or you just sort of knew?

 

Diana: I kind of knew I kind of wanted a pale-ish lilac-ish color, and purple is my favorite, so it fit. 

 

Isaac: Well, it’s royalty, right? 

 

Diana: My mom named me after Princess Diana, thinking I would be charitable and kind.

 

Alex: Oh my god.

 

Diana: But I only got the princess part!

 

Alex: That’s so sweet of her.

 

Isaac: When did she tell you that, do you remember?

 

Diana: When I was a kid. She would tell me, “I used to just love Princess Diana, because she’s such a sweet person.” And I would just say, “Yeah, cool.” But she would say, “Now your sister, she was named after Wendy’s, the restaurant.” 

 

Alex: What!?

 

Diana: She would say, “That girl was just cute.” The mascot, the redhead. 

 

Isaac: What’s her name, Wendy, right?

 

Diana: Wendy, right. 

 

Isaac: Wendy Thomas. I think that’s Dave Thomas’ daughter, right? I think that’s the story.

 

Alex: Really, wow.

 

Diana: Yeah, apparently!

 

Isaac: Dave Thomas used to actually appear in the commercials, do you remember?

Diana: Is he still alive? 

Isaac: No, he passed. He’s no longer with us. 

 

Alex: R.I.P. 

 

Diana: R.I.P. He made excellent burgers. 

 

Isaac: So should we hear the other poem? 

 

Diana: I can read this one actually. I like it. I feel self-conscious when I have to read flowery poetry. And I know

that “vs. Gravity” wasn’t flowery, but it was kind of more highfalutin.

 

Isaac: This one’s more like, “Listen up, y’all! I got something to say!”

 

Diana: Yeah, it starts with “You don’t gotta be born here, but you gotta respect that!”

_____________

 

How To Be A Native New Yorker


You don’t gotta be born here.
But you gotta respect that
You don’t gotta be born here.


At the local Hot Bagels & Bialys
(& heroes & lox & blintzes & pizza & potato
knishes), a boombox chants
A genial Columbian cashier
calls out amid the amiable yammering
of Polish-American retirees.
Miss Nowicki! You look beautiful today!
She answers with silence
and a smile, demure and self-respecting.
The owner and manager, a grandfatherly Russo-Orthodox Jew with an iconic monobrow
just shakes his head and continues to wipe
the icebox stocked with yoohoos and fraps.
Don’t listen to him! yells Edna, thoroughly envious.
“He says that to everyone!” (he said it to her,
earlier). “Doesn’t matter who or where
or even if you look like a gutter rat after Sandy! He says we’re all beautiful!”

______________

Isaac: And when was that, do you remember? 

 

Diana: It was a few weekends ago. 

 

Isaac: I didn’t realize it was that recently. 

 

Diana: Or maybe it was longer. Time passes so quickly these days. 

 

Alex: I know, right? The older we get. 

 

Diana: The older we get. 

 

Alex: You absolutely look like a princess while sitting in your chair by the window.

 

Diana: Oh, thank you. That was the vision. 

 

Alex: The reindeer fur is the perfect touch. 

 

Diana: My mom actually got this for me. She was like, “You like dead animals.”

 

Alex: Really?

 

Diana: I guess I do like faux fur things. 

 

Isaac: So when people ask where you’re from, what do you tell them?

 

Diana: I always say Queens. Reppin’ Queens. 

 

Isaac: Got it. 

 

Diana: Right. So I’m from Flushing, well, I’m technically from this neighborhood called College Point, which is adjacent to Flushing, but no one has heard of it, so I just say Flushing. And I was born there and I grew up there. And I went to high school in the city, which was my first exposure to New York at large. But from the ages of five through around fourteen, I was like, Queens is my world! 

 

Isaac: So what was it like, growing up in Queens, what happened? 

 

Diana: It was an interesting neighborhood. It was very working class. And most of the school district I was in was made up of Colombian immigrants, and there were definitely Latinos and Caucasians, and also Indians and Asians. It was just a very diverse group of people to grow up with. And I think it influenced my world view a lot, coming from a background where I was exposed to so many different cultures. But growing up in Queens, it was alright. Sometimes it was scary. I think my old neighborhood used to be a hot spot for where the Crips used to do some gang activity.

 

Isaac: You think that?

 

Diana: Actually I read it on Wikipedia. And so I thought, that explains a lot. At times it was like that, but all in all, it was pretty nice to grow up in the suburbs. I went outside and rode bikes with my friends. And did all of the things you do in suburbia. Went to 7/11, ate Koala crackers. 

Isaac: And then Amherst, right? 

 

Diana: Yeah. Well, before Amherst there was Stuyvesant High School, which I think influenced me more. That was in Tribeca, and the school was about seventy percent Asian, which was kind of crazy. But I loved Stuyvesant so much. I remember being a poor high school student and hanging around Tribeca, which was impossible. My friends and I would just be at Barnes & Noble or Taco Bell all the time, as broke ass high school students. But Stuyvesant was really awesome. All of my friends are still from high school. My roommate is a friend from high school. My roommate before her was also a friend from high school. We all know each other from Stuyvesant. They called us “That multicultural group of hipsters who thought they were too cool for school.”

 

Isaac: Who called you that?

 

Alex: Is there an acronym for that?

 

Diana: I wish. The student body president actually called us that. But hanging out with a diverse group of friends at high school definitely reinforced and influenced my love and pride for Queens, and how different everyone is, and how awesome. 

Isaac: They say it’s the most diverse county in the United States. 

Alex: Really?

Diana: Yeah, it’s pretty dope. If you go further down Queens boulevard toward Jackson Heights, you really start seeing the diversity there, because there are Pakistani restaurants, Thai restaurants, Chinese restaurants ––– it’s just a whole jumble of things, it’s great. Queens is great for food.

Isaac: So I think when we first met, when you were first looking for an apartment, you were looking in Astoria, right?

Diana: Right. 

Isaac: Did you always know that you wanted to start by looking in Astoria, or had you thought of a few other places as well? 

Diana: I was mostly looking at Astoria because it was so close to the city, and I was just tired of commuting from my parents’ house, which is about an hour commute to Manhattan, a full hour. You have to take a bus and a train, and so I was sick of that. But I wasn’t dead set on Astoria, as you know.

Isaac: I recall. 

Diana: We looked at a few neighborhoods. Mostly along the train lines, and we settled here, and got lucky because this is a sponsor unit. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have met the criteria to buy here.

Isaac: The debt-to-income ratio. The ratios. 

Diana: Yeah, the ratios. 

Isaac: Whose ratios?

Alex: Who says?

Continue Reading: Issue No. 3 - Winter 2017-18

© 2017-2019 by Curlew Quarterly. 

Curlew Quarterly - 333 Hudson Street, Suite 303, New York, NY 10013 - 212-804-8655 - Info@CurlewQuarterly.com.

________________________