Conversation between Chen Chen & Lora Supandi (excerpt from State of Play)

State of play anthology book cover

This conversation between poets Chen Chen and Lora Supandi is an excerpt from State of Play  shared with kind permission of Out-Spoken Press. State of Play brings together conversations between an international line-up of poets, taking place over the course of a year. 

Dear Chen Chen,
When I reflect on friendships, as well as platonic breakups (which, for me, are sometimes more painful than romantic ones), I remember that platonic joy is a core element of life. Of course, the heartbreak of such losses will be immense. Human bonds allow us to endure: we are fuelled by that capital-L ‘LOVE’ that defies the boxes and labels tied to the spectacle of relationships. Quite silly, but have you seen Ponyo? When I think of love, I think of Ponyo, Sosuke, and a child’s approach to friendship and intimacy. When grieving a human connection, leaning into the ache is so important to me. We are letting go of something that was once beautiful. Thus, there is a human madness to this loss. There is also immense joy to be ‘all in’ or else what is living for? 

In holding onto tenderness and hope, I am also yearning to take my time. When confronted with looming goodbyes, I fixate on time’s infinite eclipse—its anxious ticking. I’m reminding myself that we all have a lifetime to explore tenderness with one another. There is no rush. Nonetheless, I will continue carving out moments of sweetness: chopping basil and cilantro with my housemates, taking long drives into the Redwoods, sitting in silence with those I love.

Dear Lora
Another happiness: your phrase ‘leaning into the ache’. Why is it that running away from ache just leads to more right around the corner? Ache knows how to find us. Maybe because ache is life, too, alongside non-ache. They are neighbours. I say that reading your phrase, ‘leaning into the ache’ is a happiness because it articulates so clearly something I’ve been mulling over but didn’t have the words for… or rather, my words for my own experience weren’t as clear nor succinct. This reminds me of high school, when I was obsessed with Aimee Mann’s songwriting for how it could articulate exactly what I was feeling when I didn’t even know what those feelings were. I mean, I’m still obsessed with Mann’s lyrics, though in some ways they’re less close to my interiority now; I continue to admire her craft. Anyway, I’m thinking about how I’ve avoided leaning into the ache at particular moments this year… and how I’ve avoided leaning into the joy, sometimes, because I became overly focused 
on the ache. 

But that break can look like many different things. And maybe it’s the ‘many different’ part that’s important. There’s rest that involves literally lying down and shutting your eyes, your conscious mind. Then there’s rest that involves reading a book that opens up deep reflection. There’s rest that involves company, good company with lots of good food and loud laughter. There’s rest that takes the form of a long walk in a favourite park. There’s rest that takes the form of a totally new experience, one that allows you to lean into joy without pretending all the ache is gone. There’s rest that takes the form of rewatching Ponyo. There’s rest that takes the form of journaling or, say, letter-writing. 



Chen Chen is the author of two books of poetry, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency (BOA Editions, 2022) and When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017), which was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the Thom Gunn Award, among other honors. A 2022 United States Artists Fellow, he currently teaches for the low-residency MFA programs at New England College and Stonecoast. 

Lora Supandi (they/she) is a writer of Hakka-Indonesian descent and student at Stanford University. They are interested in the experimental possibilities of postcolonial poetry, land justice, and radical futurism. In their writing, they explore what it means to grieve and dream during the apocalypse. Outside of their personal art practice, they assist with programs at Stanford’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts. They also work as a prison abolitionist alongside formerly incarcerated folks.