Let’s begin by knitting
   The haiku is like cutting fabric

How fake is your haiku? To what degree of fakeness? And, did you measure? You make pretty extraordinary leaps with your line breaks? Tell me about your process – was it like “cutting potatoes” or as you say like “cutting fabric”?

I didn’t measure anything, which contributes to its fakeness. Haiku is a surprising form. Counting syllables is not. My process with Fake Haiku was an industrial machine that sews garments, but also the scene of Jeanne Dielman peeling potatoes.These fragments were held together by what I could reach for outside my window.

Who is a better chef? Your mother or your father? Or perhaps it is you.

My parents collaborate when it comes to cooking. My father is a tastemaker; my mother is a magician. My mother cooks more, so by virtue of that, she’s more of a cook (in quantity). She makes all of my favorite meals. My favorite thing she makes is bún bò Huế. I love the food my father makes. He taught me how to scramble eggs and how to wash lettuce. He would buy chicken livers, or chicken hearts, or pig’s blood, xào với rau răm. My father has a few specialties that my mother won’t mess with, like bún thịt nướng. He likes to grill on his homemade outdoor charcoal stove.

And, what is an armpit journal? Is it a journal that you keep under the armpit at all times? Or is it more like a journal in which you write about armpits?

My doctor prescribed journaling. She said, “Keep a journal about your armpits.” Today she said “Keep a journal about your muscle spasms.”

Why is she giving you these imperatives?

I wanted a second opinion.

I used to think white people smell like butter. What do you think white people smell like? Especially in a bibliography full of white people?

   Hotel soap
Lavender and roses pressed
   In old library books

What do you think Asian smell like? Would you write a fake haiku about their smell?

   Cherry blossoms printed on silk
Soaking in kwan loong oil
   Dry shrimp under the tongue

How would you describe the smell of a mother of pearl black lacquer box with the red felt lining?

Before this interview, I scooped out two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Then I realized that I could not speed eat it so I threw the glass bowl into the refrigerator. I wonder if this interview will go badly because I didn’t eat those two scoops of ice cream.

   You can be doing both.
I am not at home.
   And, I would need to time travel.

   Bowl in the fridge
Upside down
   Snow globe

Speaking of snow globe, are you photogenic? What inspires you to correlate photogenicity with an elevator? Or to juxtapose them in your $20-bill haiku?

Photogenic? Perhaps only in black/white photobooths. I get photobooths and elevators mixed up sometimes. These inventions share a similar constraint of dimensionality – silver modes of time travel. $20 bills feel like a complete experience – coming and going like a breath, a flash, a bell.

What is your favorite sound in the world? This is a nod to your sensibility or perception of the worse sound.

Mulatu Astatke – Tezeta (Nostalgia)

What is your most visited real haiku? Is there one from another poet you love

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

What kind of soap do you use?

Aesop’s body cleansing slab. You need a hot knife to cut it into pieces – something I didn’t know before.

And, would you cross a river for someone whom you do not love? And, cannot love?

This feeling is familiar. I’d rather watch the water from a bridge. I would like to become a stronger swimmer.

Have you berate a haiku before? If not, how would you berate it?

I’m thinking of a serrated knife going through a ripe tomato.

If you could see into the future, what kind of writer/poet would you like to be known for?

I hope to write the book(s) people would want to read on the bus.

Do you like drawstring pants? Have you ever worn them and write a haiku? I love drawstring pants – I always think it’s a fancy version of a garbage bag that can’t be thrown away. That I could not be thrown away so readily.

One day I’ll be as brave as Christine Shan Shan Hou and throw away my pants that don’t have elastic waistbands.

Are you happy with this chapbook? How long did it take you to compose it?

Wendy’s Subway did an amazing job at turning these poems into a beautiful chapbook. I have a very fast morning routine and can get ready to leave the house in about 30 minutes. That’s how I wrote these poems.

Have you been to Đà Lạt before? This chapbook, your fake haikus, made me think of the waterfalls there. You could feel water dropping/flowing before a splash. Your last line in most of your haikus behave like this mermaid splash.

My mother has mentioned it rains very lightly, like mist, in Đà Lạt. Mưa phù. I think I may have been on a small rowboat in Đà Lạt the last time I went to Vietnam (2005). I remember there were many banana trees.

What is a poet to you? Meaning…how do you define it? Do you think, other than a different form, a poet is different than a writer? Someone told me once or perhaps it was me that once thought a poet has direct access to God and a writer meanders a bit, takes a long detour before accessing God. What do you think?

A poet eats ramen while walking. Poetry sits with me in sweats on a couch eating a handful of robin’s egg-colored malt milk chocolates until my bottom lip turns blue. A poet reads about the history of shea butter and the healing properties of turmeric. I’m not sure where God is, but my boyfriend dug up my sweet tooth. My favorite poets are very romantic.

What do you think should be the national fruit of Vietnam, if you had to choose one fruit in the world?

Longan. As a child, my mother would make rings out of the seeds. I love that image of my resourceful mother, at a young age, so small yet so strong that she could carve a ring out of the seed and fit her finger into the center of the fruit.

What are you reading right now? Would you recommend them?

We Were Meant To Be A Gentle People, Dao Strom (“You cannot call yourself a gentle person without simultaneously knowing your own capacity to brutally miss the mark.”)

Dura, Myung Mi Kim (“Call what we eat temporary.”)

If you were to make a meal for Marina Abramovic, what is that meal? And, what do you think of her response to your dish would be?

Cháo with salted duck egg garnished with chopped green onion.

Why cháo? When I think of Marina Abramovic, I think of fish and bánh bao and fermented rice.

Cháo is a durational piece: cooking rice in water over time and heat. We take turns stirring the pot. I will ask Marina to cut the salted egg in half.

If I had children, I would name one, Green Onion, and the other, Red Onion. Would you name your children after a fruit/vegetable if you had any?

My mother’s neighbors in Vietnam would give their children beautiful names at birth, but never call them by those names. They would have nicknames like Cam or Nhãn so evil spirits wouldn’t take their children away.

If you were to make me a five course dinner…..?

Hột vịt lộn & rau răm as an appetizer

Bánh ít trần

Bánh hỏi

Green onion tofu (w/ salt & pepper of course)

Sâm bổ lượng for dessert

I believe I would enjoy this elaborate course. Whenever I see this “hột vịt lộn” – I always think that the ducks are having a chicken fight. Why sâm bổ lượng for dessert?

My parents made sâm bổ lượng with seaweed they harvested from the Pacific ocean last summer. It’s the only Vietnamese dessert I am excited about. I associate all of the ingredients with Asian grocery stores – canned longan, canned lychee, tiny dehydrated apples, barley swimming in a simple syrup made from gold rock sugar. The dessert resembles brown glass, which I love. My parents had these glasses to serve desserts in:

Unrelated, but I just found this photo of rau câu – I like the possibility that poetry could feel this way:

Is there a poet/writer/philosopher (dead or alive) that you would love to take a shower with nonsexually? Would you wash his/her hair or kneecaps?

Clarice Lispector. I wouldn’t dare get in the middle of Clarice and her hair.

What dead poet would you take a shower with sexually? And, why?

Clarice Lispector. See above.

If you could come up with a pen name, what name would you want it to be….

Thủy Tinh

I think flossing someone’s teeth is really tender (going to the dentists isn’t tender and dentists in general are not tender), would you floss Hồ Xuân Hương’s teeth? What kind of remnants would you pull out of her mouth?

   The smell of incense
Burning beside a lake

What is the most clever way for one writer to insult another writer? Didn’t Thoreau do that in his opening of Walden? He insulted the readers, I believe, in the most respectable way.

Cut up the book and rearrange it with fewer words. That’s a kind of compliment.

If you were to do a performance art from a literary standpoint, what would that performance look like in words?

Stacey Tran in conversation with Vi Khi Nao.

What was the best performance art you have seen? What happened in it?

Okwui Okpokwasili’s Bronx Gothic. She performed this piece in the corner of a building where I took an art history class in college. She was moving the whole time. When she used her voice I felt like I was very small, like I feel in mountains or caves. She sweat through her purple dress.



Stacey Tran was born in Portland, OR. She is the host of Tender Table. Her chapbook, Fake Haiku, was published by Wendy’s Subway in 2017. She is working on her first book, Soap for the Dogs. www.staceytran.com
VI KHI NAO is the author of a novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and The Old Philosopher (Nightboat Books, 2016), a poetry collection. Vi’s work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She was the winner of 2014 Nightboat Poetry Prize and the 2016 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest.