Interview with David Ebenbach

Updated: Oct 14



Tony Huang: Good evening! I'm going to introduce David Ebenbach to you. David is the author of many books. Among them you may find How to Mars, Miss Portland, and The Guy We Didn't Invite to the Orgy. These are some of the very, very interesting books of fiction he has written. And he's also the author of many collections of poetry. The book that we're going to talk about tonight is his latest book, that is, What Is Left to Us by Evening. This book is going to be published next month. We are so happy and honored to become the first readers around the world to read this book. And we are very happy to invite David here to talk about this book tonight.

David Ebenbach: I'm very honored to be here.

Tony Huang: Thank you so much, David.

David Ebenbach: Happy to be talking to an old friend.

Tony Huang: First of all, I would like to say congratulations. Congratulations on the publication of your new book of poetry. We are happy to find that some of the poems in this collection first appeared in The Hong Kong Review. When I was reading this collection of poems, I was actually wondering how long does it take you to write all these poems in this collection. Would you like to tell us a little bit more about the background of this book?

David Ebenbach: Yeah. First of all, I think everybody works differently. But the way I work, I don't tend to set out and say I'm going to write a poetry collection and then I just focus and write a bunch of poems. I don't really do it that way. I just am always writing poems. And then every once in a while I look at this giant pile of poems I have on my desk and I say, "Well, which ones of these could go together and be a book?" So there's a poem in here from 2009, around 13 years ago, and another one from 2010, and still another one from 2011. Most of them are from 2012 onward, but really over the last ten years. And in fact, in the book that I had come out in 2019, that book of poetry, actually the poems overlapped in time. It's just that those ones went together to make that book and these ones came together to make this book, but they're all mixed in together. So I was writing poems for my last book, at the same time as I was writing poems for this book, at the same time that I'm writing poems for, I guess, whatever my next book will be. So I just like to create a big pile of stuff. And then every once in a while I'll pull out the ones that hold together.

Tony Huang: That's amazing. So that means one of the earliest poems in this collection is actually more than one decade back in history. I can see how tough it is to work as a writer.

David Ebenbach: Yeah, it does take a long time for a book to come together. But the nice thing is, if you're writing a lot, maybe a few books can come out of that same long time period. You know, maybe it is more than one book.

Tony Huang: Yeah, definitely so. Well, while I was reading this book, I did discover some of the poems are more reflective of the time when the poems are created. It is obvious that the writing of this collection spanned some of the very, very challenging time, like the pandemic, the 2020 election, and also all the challenging moments in the past few years. So what are some of the things that enable you to keep going?

David Ebenbach: Honestly, writing poetry is very helpful to me. I write mostly out of a place of confusion. If I feel like I really understand something, that doesn't make me want to write a poem. If I feel like I don't understand something, then I start writing. And as you know, these last few years have been full of confusion and uncertainty and who knew why things were happening or how they were going to turn out. And so writing about poetry helps me to get a little bit of a handhold on the world. That's a really helpful thing. But also, the other things reflected in these poems that help me keep going are natural beauty. We're probably going to talk more about cherry trees. Yeah, and community. So there's a number of poems in this collection about coming together in community. Even if it's virtually like this [having this interview on Zoom], you know, this is still meaningful. And I think about there was that terrible flu 110 years ago when people were just stuck in their homes and they couldn't see anybody because the technology didn't exist to bring people together. So. We're at least fortunate that we can have community in this way. I'm thankful for that.

Tony Huang: Yeah, I remember there is a poem in this collection in which you are having a kind of yard sale or something. I'm very curious about that. Would you like to tell us a little bit more about what exactly that is? We don't really have something like that here. No.

David Ebenbach: Yeah. I will tell you that that poem is fictional. That didn't actually happen. But there are a lot of yard sales in my neighborhood. And people, when they have stuff that they don't want anymore, they think that maybe somebody will give them a little bit of money for it. And it's always like a very little bit amount of money. So whatever you bought it for, you're selling it for 5% of the original value or like 1% of the original value, and you just put it all out on your lawn or in your yard and people come by and they give you a tiny amount of money and then they have your shirt or your book or whatever it is. For some reason I just love seeing those because it's sort of a picture of a family or a person. This is what they used to want. Even if they don't want it anymore, it's still sort of who they are or who they have been. I love that.

Tony Huang: Right.

David Ebenbach: You know, the whole neighborhood walks by and sees it, so everybody sort of runs into each other there, too, which is great.

Tony Huang: Oh, that's amazing. We don't really have anything like that here, though. But the thing that runs the closest to that is probably something like a flea market. That year when I was graduating, I had a lot of stuff that I put together. I tended to sell them, but actually I sent them away to people I liked eventually. It was interesting, things like that, you know, didn't happen that often recently. That is the reason why I'm curious about what exactly that is.


David Ebenbach: The two things that have been sort of positive in this time, a really hard time, are that, first of all, virtual community has grown. And second of all, at least in my area, outdoor community has grown. So obviously being indoors with people is really a risky thing, but outdoor areas have developed around restaurants and outdoor performances have happened because those are safer. And while the weather is good, that's been a really nice thing.

Tony Huang: Yeah, exactly. Talking about the place, I was thinking when I was reading through your poems that there are two places that emerge very frequently. One, of course, is D.C., where you live, and the other is Philadelphia, where you're from. These two cities appear frequently in these poems. So I was thinking how these two places may define your feelings and experience of living in our time, a time that is definitely not the best time.

David Ebenbach: Yeah. No, I don't think anybody would call it the best time. Philadelphia is a tough one for me because it's just so deep in me. It's just home. It's part of who I am. I think I'm spending my whole life just figuring out everything that I feel about Philadelphia. I love that city. It's a wonderful place. And so it shows up everywhere. It shows up in my fiction and shows up in my poetry because it's like my air and the blood in my veins and so on. It's just the foundation for everything. So that's always there. And then Washington, D.C.--I've lived there through the last 11 years. It's a strange place to be. It was a very different place when Obama was president, and it was a very different place from that when Donald Trump was president. And all of whatever's going on in the whole country, you can feel it times 100 or times 1000 here in D.C.. Everything is amplified. Everything is bigger and more intense. And so you pointed out the United States' elections over the last few cycles. We had a really tense election in 2020, a really tense election in 2016, or even the elections before that. There are some poems about elections in this collection that are actually from all the way back to 2012.

Tony Huang: I thought they were only about 2020 because it was really intense.

David Ebenbach: Yeah, I included them because I think they attached to that election. It feels like they're part of 2020. There's a poem in there called "City of Sides" where for Halloween a kid dresses up as the president and he's actually dressing up as Obama because it's all the way back in 2012. But the poem reads really differently now because people think, oh, maybe that's Donald Trump, and it's a very different effect. So I like it for that reason. But living in D.C. is hard because everything is so much bigger and more intense. At the same time, the natural beauty of this city is incredible. There are so many green spaces. There are so many cherry trees here in the spring and in the summer. Everything blooms. There are flowers coming out of the ground. There's flowers on the trees, there's flowers in the bushes. They're everywhere. And so even that's more intense also. So it feels like a place where the volume is turned up on everything in the world. The pandemic, which was everywhere in the world, was being talked about so intensely here because this is where the policies were happening, that we're going to decide how our country was going to handle that pandemic. And some of those policies were really stupid and terrible and some of them were helpful. But all of it's happening here. And yeah, this is really a book about D.C. in a lot of ways.

Tony Huang: Yeah. Does it make it a little bit easier for you to live on campus? I know that you're living on campus of Georgetown, right?

David Ebenbach: Well, I live near Georgetown. I live about a half hour walk. So I walk in every day and there's a lot of beautiful trees. The neighborhood is beautiful all along the way, and I love that. I'm glad I don't live right near the White House and all of that stuff. I'm a little bit further out. In fact, our apartment building backs up against a national park. We have the building and then we have the parking lot and then there's a national park right at the edge of the parking lot. It's a forest. There's a poem in the collection about Election Day where deer are in the streets. It was happening on the day of the election here. There were just deer everywhere and deer in the neighborhood. And I love that because they don't even know it's Election Day. They are just trying to find some leaves to eat. And something is reassuring to me, you know.

Tony Huang: Yeah. For me, this appears to be so surrealistic. I can't imagine onElection Day we're going to see deers on street here.

David Ebenbach: It's crazy, right? I went out to vote. This time was actually not Election Day because we can vote early in D.C. Maybe it was a week or so before the election and I was going out to my car in the parking lot to go vote, and there was a giant male deer there with huge horns in between me and the car. This was in 2012. So I thought, is this a deer that hates President Obama? It is trying to stop me from voting for President Obama? Is this a Republican deer? Am I going to be able to vote? And so we just each edged a little bit to the side until we had traded places. Then I was nearer to the car. Then I got in the car and I was able to drive off and go vote. It was quite a strange encounter.

Tony Huang: Yeah. This is such an interesting story, I love it. In the narrative you just had, you mentioned very frequently about the blossoms. Indeed, in this in this collection of poems, I think I counted, or probably I miscounted, the number of times you mentioned the blossoms of cherry trees. I think there are more than ten poems in which you have included the cherry trees, and I was wondering why cherry trees, such a kind of popular, interesting and prevailing image might appear throughout the poems. Why the cherry tree, especially the blossoms, the petals, why they are are so mesmerizing, and, at the same time, why they are so inspiring?

David Ebenbach: Yeah, you see, that's the question. You know, they came to D.C. because of some particular relationships that the United States and Japan had, a lot of cherry trees came here from Japan and were gifts from Japan. And those are not just in this one area of D.C. called the Tidal Basin where they surround it in a ring, but they're also in all of the neighborhoods. They're everywhere in front of my kid's school. So, first of all, it's just a very common tree in Washington, D.C., but the question is, what is so amazing about them? And I've been asking that for 11 years living here in D.C.. Every spring they come out and for some reason I find them, they take my breath away. I find them dazzling. When I get underneath one, the whole sky vanishes and you just have these white or pink petals overhead and maybe they're starting to rain down a little bit. So you have a few of them just floating gently to the ground. I find them stunning, and so I've been spending 11 years writing poems trying to figure out why I'm so affected by them. I think I'm still working on it. I don't think I totally know. They seem to transform the world so completely that--I think that's part of it. I mean, I'm used to dark things in trees. Leaves, you know, leaves are sort of dark green and they are so light up there. All of a sudden they're like clouds, but they're right down with us. And then they're so temporary. I mean, the blooms last just a couple of weeks maybe, which is amazing. And you never know when they're going to be. Every year in Washington, D.C., they have a cherry blossom festival. But it takes a lot of planning, so they have to plan it years in advance and they always get it wrong. The Cherry Blossom Festival always happens when the cherries haven't come yet or they've already gone because you can't predict it.

Tony Huang: I thought they always come out in April.

David Ebenbach: They come out in March; they come out in April. But when exactly In those two months is hard to tell. It depends on a lot of things about the weather, and the weather, of course, is very unpredictable these days. So I've been spending so many years trying to figure out what's so amazing about these trees, but I feel okay about it because the great Japanese poet Basho spent his whole life trying to figure it out. That's one of the other reasons I like cherry trees, because there's this long tradition of poetry around them. Beautiful poems about these beautiful trees. Yeah, I don't have the answer for you, but I'm working on it still.

Tony Huang: Yeah, well, definitely, the cherry trees are just beautiful. And the description of it is beautiful as well.

David Ebenbach: Oh, thank you. I hope so.



Tony Huang: Another thing is that the first time when I come across the word God, you don't really spell it as God. It's like "G hyphen d." The first time I came across that, I couldn't figure out what exactly it was. I was thinking is it good or anything that begins with a G and ends with a D until the second time I come across it in another poem in which you refer to such a g-d. I was thinking, Hey, is it something like the gentleman upstairs or something like that? So I was wondering why you don't really put God directly. So I was thinking if you have some reasons for God to appear like a "G hyphen D."

David Ebenbach: Yeah, it's a Jewish tradition, actually. I'm Jewish, and the Jewish tradition is that no one can really understand G-d fully. No one can really describe or capture G-d fully. So if you use a word like “God,” it's quite inadequate. It can't capture all of what is sacred about the universe. So we put in the hyphen for the "O" just to indicate that we have no chance of using a word that will actually be able to in some way convey what we're talking about here. And I like that. I don't know exactly what my feelings are about G-d or a god. But I like the idea that the way I use language shows that it's out of my grasp. You know, there's so much mystery in the universe. One of the most helpful statements, theological statements, about G-d that I've ever heard is from a friend of mine. I was talking to him about it, as "do you believe? I don't know if I believe. I'm not sure." And he said, "All I know,” and he sort of points around at the world, “is," he said, "I didn't make any of this." And so that's all he knows. And that's all I know really too, i.e. there's this whole world here, some of which was made by people who are not me, some of which was made or happened--and maybe it wasn't made at all, but it exists, and even though I didn't do anything, it's here. That's amazing to be born into a world. You could be born into a world where there's nothing. You know, you could be born into a world where it's just you and a floor and that's it. But we all get born into this world that's full of infinite things. I guess I want to stay in conversation with that and about that, even though I don't have any definite ideas of what is behind all of it.

Tony Huang: Yeah, well, the thing is that, you know, I talked with some writers, actually a lot of them, and many of them may kind of confess that they felt uneasy when they were writing about God. And I'm wondering--I mean, how do you feel when you are actually writing about God? Especially when you dramatize God in all these poems, like "G-d," and "You Can't Be a Jew Alone," and, "Theological Poem." I guess these are three of the poems where you write about God directly. So do you feel comfortable or do you feel at ease when you're writing about something like God?

David Ebenbach: Well, first of all, I typically don't like to feel comfortable while I'm writing. I think if I'm uncomfortable, that's a sign that something good is happening. You know, that means I'm tapping into something rich and powerful. Probably not for the reader, but for me, discomfort is one of my goals. Sometimes for the reader also, but always for me. So I don't think I could say that I'm comfortable writing about G-d. I think I write because I'm uncomfortable with the whole idea, and I'm not even sure what I think or what I feel. That's a great place for a poem to come from: doubt, uncertainty. And it's also a long tradition in Judaism. If you go all the way back to the Hebrew Bible and read the Psalms, there are all these arguments in there with G-d where people are saying, "You know, you take care of us. You save us, but wait, now you're gone. You've abandoned us. What can we do? Will you come and save me? Will we be okay? Are you angry?" There's all this sort of back and forth. And Jewish poets over the centuries have continued that tradition. So there's this poet named Yehuda Amichai, who I love, who is always arguing with G-d. He, even in poems, is basically saying, "I don't believe in you." But he doesn't stop talking about it. Right? He's telling G-d that he doesn't believe in G-d, which I think is hilarious. Who is he talking to then? He sort of can't let go. There's another poet, Nissim Ezekiel from India, a Jewish poet, who also keeps messing with the tradition and talking to G-d, but he can't let go. And that's, I think, where I am, too. I mean, I have all my doubts and all my uncertainties and my rationalism and science, but I also can't let go of something that's beyond my grasp and it's uncomfortable. It's an uncomfortable place to be. That's what I want to write about.

Tony Huang: Yeah. So we can assume that there is a poet self and then there is another self. I know that you actually go to synagogue every Friday night. So do you find sometimes the poetic self and the self who is following the service are more or less conflicting? Sometimes the two selves are not really at ease with one another?

David Ebenbach: There can be tension, though for the most part--there's the non poet self which is usually when I'm like washing dishes and I'm not paying good attention and I'm not finding anything interesting in the world and that's in conflict with the poet self. But when I go to services I find that they're actually often together because, first of all, most Jewish congregations in this country are not dogmatic, not like you have to believe this, or you have to believe that. There's very little emphasis on that. So being in a synagogue and having lots of questions and doubts, that's very normal. In fact, that's probably much more normal than not having questions. So there's a lot of room in a synagogue for a poet, which is, I think, one of the things that I love about it and there's a lot of room. I think you don't see this as much, but in my experience, there's a lot of room for a synagogue in a poem. It goes both ways.

Tony Huang: Yeah, I like that. I mean, I like this idea. You can actually believe in it while doubting it at the same time.

David Ebenbach: I almost think it's the same thing that the way you show that you believe in this enterprise, this community enterprise, to make the world sacred, and to find the sacredness in the world, the way that you do that is by asking questions, by paying attention, asking questions, pushing on things, trying to break them open, not by just listening and obeying.

Tony Huang: Yeah. This is great. Besides this, in many of the poems, especially when the poems actually span some of the most difficult moments probably in history or probably in our life, the thing that really impresses me is that you are sending forth very positive messages. Almost everywhere. So, for example, in this poem "In Flight," you write "there's only one thing/ I ever want from life,/ which is the reminder/ that joy is not passive, /but something/ you move toward,/ however awkward,/ in mosaic of tiny/ bridges and houses/ that wait on the other side/ of all this trembling." In your opinion, why is it so important for people today to be reassured of messages positive?

David Ebenbach: Yeah, I think that's at the heart of what this book is about for me. Like I said, I had this big pile of poems and what holds them together is that I've been wrestling, for certainly the last few years, but even a bit longer than that, with the complicatedness of the world. On the one hand, there are so many terrible things in it. The book talks about the pandemic. It talks about political hatred. It talks about war. It talks about gun violence, which is, I think, not a very big problem in China, but it's a very big problem in the United States, and all of those kind of terrible things. But at the same time, it is such a beautiful world. There's community. There's people caring for each other. Nature is all around and nature is astoundingly--despite everything we're doing to it, nature is so resilient and beautiful. I don't think that we can have a really complete sense of life, unless we have both of those things, unless we are really honest about the things that are not good, and unless we are willing to see that the world is also worth saving and it's beautiful. If we have both of those, then we have life. If you have one of them, you have just a lie. It's not the whole picture. And I think, of course, given how hard things have been lately, we all need an extra boost in noticing that many things are still amazing. Many things are still wonderful. There's that poem "You Can't Be a Jew Alone," where it's all about sort of attending services virtually, and that's still something. It's terrible that we're having to do it that way, but it's still something meaningful. So I think we need both, and right now especially, we need hope.

Tony Huang: Yeah. That poem is super interesting as well. I was actually thinking about a God who is sitting in front of a computer and all these people are praying to him. Yeah. together with the image of the cicada and all this stuff, that is super interesting. I was laughing when I was reading that poem. So the effect of this poem on readers is both comical and reassuring at the same time.

David Ebenbach: Yeah, well, humor to me is very important. I think people think of humor as a small thing, but I think humor is a big thing. I think it helps us get through the day. I have a friend, Dylan Krider, who argues that humor intensifies other emotions. So if you want something to be sad, make it funny. If you want something to be scary, make it funny. It's brilliant, right? He has a brilliant idea there, and I agree with it. I used to keep humor out of my work and I felt like it wasn't important enough, but now I think it's unbelievably important.

Tony Huang: Yeah. I like the idea of humor. Yes. The thing is I still keep some of the videos that we have. I mean, the videos we took when you were here a few years ago, and some of the editors helped to sort out the videos the other day. And then when I was passing their office, I heard they were laughing. I got into their office and I discovered that they were watching the videos that we took. It was really amazing. I mean, they were watching the conversation I had with you on a different campus, and they were all laughing. It feels so good, I mean, especially during this difficult time when Tianjin, since last month, has been affected by an unexpected spike of cases last month. Even today, the cases are still increasing and we have extremely strict protocols. So, yeah, it is a difficult time for most people and well, these young people who were actually sitting in the office were laughing while they were having lunch or dinner and watching our videos. It was good. It was really good.

David Ebenbach: And I'm so glad to hear that. I mean, we do need to laugh these days if we can.

Tony Huang: I'm going to play this video for them again. I mean, I'm recording this and I'm going put it in the office and probably some of these people can watch it while they are having meal.

David Ebenbach: Wonderful. Hi, folks having a meal!

Tony Huang: So there's another poem in this collection. And I think, well, I haven't read any other poem that you have written about you and your son. I'm not quite certain probably this is a poem that is not about you and your son, but there is this father and son that I assume in my imagination, you and your son just kind of fit into this. I think, well, the name of that poem is "Bird Watching." I assume that you and your son, you are actually standing there watching the birds and probably checking the book to see what exactly the bird is. It is so beautiful a moment. I mean, so how do you normally capture this kind of poetic moment between you and your son?

David Ebenbach: Yeah. I love this question. The truth is that I usually don't. I'm very cautious about wanting to guard his privacy, that he didn't ask to be born with a writer father. You know, he just got born, and now he has this writer father. I want to be careful not to give away his secrets or put him in a spotlight that he doesn't want to be in. But occasionally what I'll do is I'll write--so that really is a true story entirely. And what I'll sometimes do is I'll write a story or a poem that's not about him, but about our relationship, which feels a little bit less like it's his secrets, and a little bit safer that I'm not violating his privacy. Sometimes it'll be a fictional story and the things never actually happened exactly like that, but it felt like that and that I feel okay about doing. I just wouldn't want to write a poem that he tells me something that he wants only me to hear, and then I go tell everybody about it in a book. It would be awful. Luckily he read this poem and said that he loved it. So we're okay.

Tony Huang: So he gives you the permission?

David Ebenbach: Yeah, well, he should. He should have. I mean, I didn't ask until very recently when the book was already made because I thought it was probably safe. Luckily, I turned out to be right. I should have asked earlier. But yeah, for the most part, I actually try and keep him off the page.

Tony Huang: Yeah. This poem is really beautiful. When I was reading this poem, I was thinking about my son as well. You know, we don't watch birds often. We do sometimes, but we spend more time capturing insects to feed mantis and, well, capturing kind of jellyfish, shrimp, crab, and, you know, this kind of wildlife. We keep them in tanks. It is interesting anyway. I don't think many parents right now living in the city are able to do so, but we do spend quite a lot of time out there capturing all of this stuff.

David Ebenbach: So you bring home jellyfish and put them in a tank?

Tony Huang: Yeah, we do.

David Ebenbach: You must have really good tanks. That's amazing.

Tony Huang: Well, some big ones and small ones and different kind of jellyfish. Basically the most common kind will be moon jellyfish. We don't really capture those extremely poisonous ones. I don't think we have those kind of poisonous ones here. They are probably in Australia.

David Ebenbach: I'm glad that you don't.

Tony Huang: Yeah, but you know, the poem is so inspiring. And when I was reading that, I was imagining myself into your position and then Simon is into your son's position, and I was thinking, well, probably the same thing is actually going to happen between my son and I. And it was pretty beautiful.

David Ebenbach: Yeah. One of the things I like about when we've gone birdwatching is that we're not very good at it. You know, there are birdwatchers who are experts and they have a checklist of all the birds they haven't seen yet. They travel and they go and wait for hours in a bush for a bird to come by and then they sort it. We just walk around in our neighborhood and it's usually the same birds most of the time. So we just see the same things over and over again. I think there's a lot of beauty in ordinary moments. It's likely that anybody can write a poem about seeing the rarest bird in the world and make that amazing, but if you can find something beautiful in seeing a sparrow, then you've got something, because a sparrow is so boring really, except not if you pay really good attention. It's not boring in that moment with your kid where the two of you are seeing it at the same time, then it's not just about the sparrow. It's about you and your kid and that relationship. And that's never ordinary, but always a beautiful thing.

Tony Huang: I love the idea. It's that moment.

David Ebenbach: Yeah.

Tony Huang: Yeah, it is sad because the pandemic is still going on. I haven't brought Simon to a lot of cities here in China, but we actually had plan one, probably the end of this year back to Xiamen.

David Ebenbach: Oh, nice. I hope so.

Tony Huang: I will send you photos when we get there.

David Ebenbach: Yes, please. I know that there are many more people living in the cities than there are in the United States, so it's obviously a pretty difficult place to be right now.

Tony Huang: Right. Yeah. Hopefully things will get better. Hope. Yes. The thing is, though, I still think quite often about your last visit. I think it was the year 2018. During that visit, we did talk about a very interesting poetry program. It was a secret poetry program that you have. So is that program's still there? Are you still involved in that in some way? Or are you having a replica of that?

David Ebenbach: I haven't been doing anything quite like that. I'll explain for the folks watching or listening. A long time ago--how long ago? Maybe 2001 or 2000? A long time ago when I was living in Philadelphia, I would print out poems and scatter them around the city. I would put them on the windshields of cars or I'd go to the department store and put them between shirts in a stack. Or one thing I love to do is I would go to a library or a bookstore and I'd fold up the paper and put it inside a book and then put the book back on the shelf. So if anybody borrowed that book or bought that book, they would get an extra free bonus poem, which I loved. I did that for a long time, and then a newspaper reporter actually bought one of the books in the bookstore and came home and opened it up. And there it was. It was a poem by me. I'd been scattering poems by me and by other people, but I was worried that people were going to steal my poems. I don't know why. I was very naive about that. But in order to protect the poems, I said that David Ebenbach was the person who had won the Philadelphia Poetry Provider Poet of the Year Award for that year, even though I was the Philadelphia poetry provider and there was no award. It was all made up, but I thought nobody would steal it if it had already won an award. Anyway, this reporter gets it and sees that I had won some award and she reaches out to me and says, "Can you tell me more about this process and how you were selected?" And I had to admit to her, "Well, I made it all up, and I've just been putting poems all over the city." But she thought that was actually a really good story. So she ended up writing a whole article about it, and it ended up on the front page of the newspaper, which was really fun. I've done similar things since then. There was a time I lived in a smaller town and I was mailing poems to people randomly. I just picked them randomly from phone listings and sent them poems. I did that for a while. These days? I haven't. I haven't been doing it. And maybe I should get back to it. For a while during the pandemic, it felt like everybody was just in their homes and it was hard to reach them. But maybe--I mean, in the United States, things are opening up a little bit. I know things are harder where you are, but they're opening up a little bit here and maybe there's an opportunity there.

Tony Huang: Wow! So what is going to be the next city?

David Ebenbach: Well, I guess it would have to be Washington, D.C. I mean, here I am, right? I have to do something in D.C., but I don't know.

Tony Huang: Yeah. I hope that there will be enough time for you to tuck a lof of poems away, so that the next time when I visit, I may have the chance of running into some of the poems.

David Ebenbach: That would be great. If that would get you to come, I would do it for sure.

Tony Huang: Oh, wow. A deal.



David Ebenbach is the author of numerous books of fiction (How to Mars, Miss Portland, The Guy We Didn't Invite to the Orgy, Into the Wilderness, Between Camelots), poetry (Some Unimaginable Animal, We Were the People Who Moved, What's Left to Us by Evening), and essays (The Artist's Torah). He lives very happily with his family in Washington, DC., where he teaches creative writing at Georgetown University.


Tony Huang, Ph.D., is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Hong Kong Review. He is also the founder of Metacircle, Metacircle Fellowship Program and Metaedcuation. His poems, translations, and scholarly works have appeared in The Hong Kong Review, Tianjin Daily, Binhai Times, Nankai Journal, Large Ocean Poetry Quarterly, The Smokelong Quarterly, Best Small Fiction 2020 and other venues. He teaches British and American literature and literary theories at Nankai University.


Copy editing: Nancy He