Maina Chen on Nostalgia and Revising Old Work

Maina Chen is a nerd masquerading as an editor and writer in some cavernous corner of Brooklyn. A half-nocturnal night dweller, she writes short stories and poems. When she’s not creating monsters, she’s battling them in video games. Her work has appeared in Ape-X, Catan Stories: Legend of the Sea Robbers, Youth-for-Youth: Mental Health Guidebook, NextShark, and more.

Her poems “An Old Photo,” “Summers on Repeat,” and “Platonic Beach” are published in Capsule Stories Summer 2020 Edition. The poems explore nostalgia and engage all the senses with the crash of the ocean and the buzz of silence, the sweet smell of jasmine, the sight of an old, precious photograph.

Capsule Stories: Where did the ideas for these poems come from?

Maina Chen: All three encompassed some form of movement—mostly in an emotional sense. A lot of my poems are largely personal and cover some form of loss, but in these cases, remaining stationary isn’t ideal and isn’t optional.

Capsule Stories: Your poems “An Old Photo” and “Summers on Repeat” bask in nostalgia for past summers and past relationships—yet they speak to our theme of going forward. How do you see the themes of nostalgia and going forward interplaying and overlapping in these poems?

Maina Chen: It may have something to do with my personality. I’m a straightforward person, and it’s not in my nature to stay put. Growth is beautiful, but growth can be slow. Both of these poems are from times of reflection.

When I recall dear moments, like the one summer I spent under a porch swing with my grandmother in the Guangdong countryside, or summers back home in my childhood room, there is a specific feeling that comes with it. Nostalgia gives me a fair dose of sadness, but I take it and get the strength to move forward.

Capsule Stories: In “Summers on Repeat,” you write: “A bittersweet honey / spent pining for days of wasted freedom when I was younger / to the days when I was so free I was wracked with boredom.” We are so rarely bored these days; we’re always on our phones or multitasking. Do you seek out boredom in your life or as part of your creative process?

Maina Chen: Not at all! I’ve been so busy as of late and making more adult-like decisions that this particular poem is timeless to me. I find myself thinking back to all the summers from elementary school to high school where, as a child, it felt like I had all the time in the world. There were no major obligations or dire decisions to be made—it was just a time when it felt like I could do anything but didn’t need to.

My creative process is a mess. I have stray thoughts that bubble into outlandish ideas and then pop into nothing. I chase one idea, and then I start another and can’t ever seem to finish it. It’s a batch of unfinished iPhone Notes, random lines and scribbles on scraps of paper, or Word drafts sitting on my computer. The goal is to jot down whatever lines are remotely interesting and then save them for later. It’s either that or I have a very specific image or scene that I want to portray, and it branches out from there.

It’s silly, but there was an episode of The Simpsons on this, where Moe published a poem called “Howling at a Concrete Moon.” Lisa edited and arranged the fragmented notes on his wall (what he called his “brain goo”) into a finished work. I haven’t successfully arranged one yet, but it’s just fun to do and a decent writing prompt.

Capsule Stories: What writers have influenced you and your poetry?

Maina Chen: I still consider myself relatively new to poetry, but it was my eccentric, hippie, angry pacifist of a poetry professor, Jim, who opened me up to it. His unorthodox teaching methods broke me out of my previous prejudices.

Button Poetry’s spoken word and performance poets also inspired me to experiment more.

Capsule Stories: How do you balance writing for your day job and writing creatively for yourself without getting burned out?

Maina Chen: That’s something I’m actually struggling with. All of those poems are older ones that I’d written years ago but continued to make edits to until now. I haven’t written creatively or for myself in a long time because the fatigue of writing for my job saps me otherwise. I try not to think of it as “I have to write today or tomorrow,” since it’ll start to feel like a chore, and I don’t want to kill my passion because of it. Sometimes going back to old work is just as fulfilling as starting a new piece. You get to see how much you’ve progressed, how your mindset has changed, or maybe even how it hasn’t, but that’s ok. There’s no shame in submitting old works because sometimes they aren’t ready yet.

It’s amusing to say, but I try to find a “good home” for my poems. Most of them have been personal or relating to a snapshot of my life, so I want to share them with people who might feel the same way or reminisce about something else and make it their own.

You can follow Maina Chen on Instagram and Twitter at @mainachen, and you can find her work on her website at mainachen.com.

You can read Maina Chen’s poetry in Capsule Stories Summer 2020 Edition, now available in paperback and ebook everywhere books are sold.

Maina Chen
Maina Chen