Jenny Zhang: Don’t Be Afraid to Talk Explicitly About the Body
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
This week on The Maris Review, Jenny Zhang joins Maris Kreizman to discuss her new poetry collection, My Baby First Birthday, out now from Tin House Books.
On being comfortable talking about our bodies:
Maris Kreizman: This collection features many different bodily fluids. Why do you think people get so uncomfortable talking about the things that happen inside everyone’s bodies?
Jenny Zhang: My inverted question is why am I so comfortable with that? I was never taught that it was okay to talk explicitly about the body and I was often chastised for being too explicit. I don’t think we live in a society that likes bodies, to be honest.
Maris Kreizman: Unless it’s a very certain body.
Jenny Zhang: Unless it’s a very certain body that has punished itself and hurt itself to look that way, and cannot look that way for very long. That’s also a form of hatred because to put those bodies on pedestals, the very white very thin very toned bodies or whatever that is. That’s a way of hating a body because the amount you have to go through to achieve perfection is killer. Look at how much we hate bodies that we’re now reckoning with the institutions that are supposed to help all bodies are actively targeting and harming and killing Black bodies, actively neglecting Indigenous bodies, hurting trans bodies. I’m disgusted by the disgust of bodies in this culture.
On how not to be complicit:
Jenny Zhang: I write in a poem something like “admit that you want me to have a function.” It comes from the feeling of don’t just be interested in me because the world and all of its media is saying that we’ve harmed this group of people so badly. And you belong to the group of people who’s complicit in harming this other group of people. Be interested in me, and be interested in everything before then. As a person. Always be interested in knowing more about people who don’t get to have fun because they’re dealing with harm. Always be interested in why you get to have fun. Is it because you’re not dealing with harm?
Jenny Zhang was born in Shanghai and grew up in New York. She is the author of the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, and the story collection Sour Heart. Her latest poetry collection is called My Baby First Birthday.
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