Volume 18 | 2022/2023
Letters from the Editors-in-Chief
Fall 2022 Issue | Daniel Boyko
When it comes to fall, it’s hard not to mention change. The leaves’ colors, obviously. The start of a new school year. The progression from one age to the next. Eighth graders become freshmen learning the ropes of high school. Hard-working juniors turn into, well, college-stressed seniors. I’m no exception to this change. I’ve just started college, living in a thriving city for the first time in my life, living in a dorm with another person for the first time, sharing rackety dryers for the first time. There’s so much change surrounding me that sometimes I stop, breathe for a moment, and think, How the **** am I already in college?
But really, regardless of age or circumstances, I’m sure you could replace “college” with anything else. How am I already a sophomore? How am I already driving?
Fall is, if nothing else, the perfect encapsulation of this very weird experience of aging. This very real experience of change. There’s a lot to talk about here, and there's a lot of Fall Issue-oriented letters out there. But if you closely examine (and, of course, enjoy) so many of the brilliant pieces included in this issue, you’ll notice a common undercurrent swelling through so many stanzas, paragraphs, and pages: home. And that’s really what I want to focus on—the ways homes change as we age, the ways homes age as we change.
Home, firstmost, can be a nostalgic, staunch friend when everything else around you, even yourself, changes. Or, sometimes, it’s the very thing that changes—when you move from one place to another, when your entire surroundings spill into a new environment. Home is a physical space, a space of belonging, and somehow something that eludes both definitions. The lovely pieces present here tackle many of these different forms. In “Migrating,” home is a biting reminder of the past, of before times: before the move to America, before the speaker’s life implodes in the face of a new world. In “Nine Million Sick Californians as Ocean Resuscitation,” home is something victimized, brutalized, under siege. And who could forget the titular “Mrs. Hira’s Daycare,” which provides a window into the lives of a discriminated-against yet hardworking family through—you guessed it—a type of home?
These ideas ring loudly in my ears.
Because this place you, dear reader, are currently visiting is a metaphorical home for so many of the people who made this Volume possible. I am, with the highest praise, speaking about Polyphony Lit. I’ve now been with the organization for almost four years, the near entirety of my high school experience. I’m about to sound very old, but I’ve seen this place change, grow, and evolve over these years as so many residents came in bright-eyed and curious and left just as bright-eyed, curious, but now with the knowledge and experience to better shape their future literary, creative, and just plain-old life experiences. The stories I’ve heard and seen and will soon live through are incredible. Staff editors who had only ever interacted virtually meeting for the first time in-person during a college lit mag meeting. Editors who went into STEM—far more than you might expect—and finding an ability to describe their sciences, their jobs, their passions far, far more succinctly and more beautifully than their peers. Alumni who will look back and only fondly remember the submissions they worked on—maybe even remembering that lucky one that they fought for and got published.
I know that, in many ways, this letter is my final assignment—the cherry on top of my swirling editorial experience here. I will have to step away from a place that helped define my last four years, that has provided me with nothing but immense resources and opportunities for personal growth, that has enabled me to meet some of the smartest, kindest, most-literary-enthused people I will ever meet.
This is a special place, a special home. I could go on and on, but like the fall that all too quickly turns into winter, some things were meant to be short.
To our readers, editors, and people who supersede definition, thank you. You, of course, are the pillars of this place, its sturdy foundation, its furnished interior, the elevator leading to the luxurious rooftop.
Here’s to many more years of this place being called home.
Winter Issue | Jessica Kim
When I tell people that English is my second language, they laugh. Their instinctive response is but Jessica, you’re a writer—a poet. My first poem, a play on “Seoul” as a homonym of “soul,” was created as a response to displacement. I had just moved to America from Asia. In order to survive, I had to prove that the English language could be my art form. Yet, what started as an act of desperation allowed me to appreciate what academics call exophonic writers; “exo” meaning “from outside” and “phonic” relating to speech and voice. Reading Jhumpa Lahiri to Don Mee Choi over the years, I’ve come to marvel at the ways writing can prosper in spite of exile, estrangement, and the often tenuous borders between a mother tongue and a foreign one.
Polyphony Lit’s Winter Issue of Volume 18 approaches exophony better than any other issue, humanizing the bicultural, multilingual, and transnational experience of writing. Andrea Granata's "Las Alas Que te Elevan" is Polyphony’s first non-English piece (though with English translations), and its narrator aptly elucidates the uncertainties of flight together with their grandmother. Emilie Guan’s "CREATION MYTHS IN TRANSPOSITION" unravels daughterhood and motherhood in circular yet evolutionary myths. Matt Hsu’s “茶茶茶” juggles the quotidian with the eccentric, distilling familial rituals and body parts (quite literally) in tea. These pieces, and many others in our Winter Issue, intertwine the interiority of heritage with a global outlook on the world. Identity and language, whether internal or acquired, are synthesized into the pages of our issue.
What makes this issue so expansive is ironically its intimacy: words lost in translation, intergenerational grief, bodies. To me, Polyphony is a simultaneously expansive and intimate space. As Editor-in-Chief, I assumed I would be familiar with every crevice but I find myself constantly surprised by inventive stories, emerging young editors, and nights spent compiling, formatting, emailing, editing, smiling.
Joining Polyphony in my freshman year of high school was my first venture into a boundless nation of stories. I started editing before I started writing; analysis was my way of maneuvering through unfamiliarity, and scrutinizing others’ works allowed me to keep my own vulnerability at bay. I figured editing would remove the emotional and confrontational obligation that came with creative writing. However, after meeting fellow editors who were also writers in their free time and spending hours submerged in an imagined world while formulating specific commentary, I realized that editing, too, is a paradigm for individuality. If the writer’s role is to inject the self into a vast blank page, the editor’s role is to translate—to position others in relation to the self. We editors decipher, transform, and refine.
Polyphony adds personality to the editorial process. Our editors treat each submission as a conversation, a snapshot of another person’s life, and a catalyst for community. Yes, community. This past year, our community has grown stronger than ever. In addition to our annual issues, our Voices Blog and Junior Board teams have continued to reach new heights. New initiatives like the Ukrainian Blog Features, 80 Days Workshop Series, and the Writer's Block Party have also originated from our collective commitment to amplifying diverse voices and alternate perspectives. In our own ways, we are a circle of exophonic editors, each one of us feeling slightly uncomfortable hearing our own voice, but learning to crystalize our identities in a dynamic environment. Here, instead of alienating those who write in a metaphoric language other than one’s own, we embrace multiple perspectives with open arms.
As I conclude this letter, I almost feel like an outsider to Polyphony. I’m a graduating senior light-years away from my freshman-year self. I know there’s not much time left in this universe. I wonder if I’ll continue editorial work in college. Regardless, despite this unsettling sense of separation, I am still an exophony. I write in my second language to transpose my culture, discover new avenues of dialogue, and above else, lend a hand to young writers who want to defy invisibility.
To the young (and aging) poets, authors, essayists, storytellers, submitters, contributors, editors, and readers who wield language with courage, thank you. Let us all step into a new territory we know so well: Polyphony, 18, winter.
Spring Issue | Christine Tsu
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon: one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. A fabled sanctuary from the bustle of city life, mimicking mountainous terrain. Deep green vines spill over gleaming terraces. Flowers and fruit trees sweeten the breeze. Water falls softly down the walls, misting the lush vegetation.
Over the past four years, Polyphony Lit has been my hanging garden — a place of mythical beauty and inspiration. Whenever I find myself overwhelmed with everyday life, I immerse myself in Polyphony’s diverse landscape of stories and rejuvenating wellsprings of creativity. For a lover of words, Polyphony is nothing short of paradise.
In my eyes, the most special and beautiful part of Polyphony is this: it cultivates individual growth. Polyphony is the soil, the terraces, the waterwheels. It supplies every resource and scaffolding that we need to flourish and become more…ourselves. This is not intended to solely be a love letter to Polyphony, but I can’t help gushing a bit. Because it’s impossible to express just how much Polyphony has given me, both tangibly and intangibly. I can honestly say that when I joined Polyphony as a shy, unsure freshman, I never dreamed that I would become an Editor-in-Chief. Polyphony has astronomically improved my writing knowledge and skills, as well as equipped me with the experience and confidence to lead boldly and effectively.
Then there are intangible impacts. Of course, a garden’s plants affect each other — sifting sunlight, creating structure, altering soil chemistry. So too does our Polyphony community. I’ve forged countless connections with teens across the globe, bringing me immense comfort and joy. I have so many people to thank: the editors who have lent me guidance throughout my journey; Junior Board members with whom I had the privilege of collaborating; Julian Riccobon for his endless support and invaluable assistance on anything and everything; our entire amazing adult staff and advisors. And of course, every single editor, for embodying our mission with an open mind, open heart. What never ceases to awe me is the passion, warmth, and all-inclusive camaraderie of Polyphony’s community — despite it being entirely virtual.
Like a garden, Polyphony is dynamic. It reflects the current needs, concerns, and hopes of teens across the world, which transform with every issue and volume. Thus, as this growing season comes to an end, the landscape will renew itself with fresh pieces, projects, leadership. So many recent developments — from workshops to contests to salons — have added vigor and vibrancy as Polyphony continues to expand beyond “just a literary magazine” into a space, an experience, a sanctuary. It’s bittersweet. I know there’s much more to come — and I am both thrilled for it, and saddened to be graduating so soon.
For now, though, I will savor the scenery that surrounds me. And I am dazzled.
More than anything, this spring issue of Polyphony Lit feels alive. It is an experience that is lush, sensory in nature. The pieces sprout and bloom in unexpected directions, innovating in form and structure. They give shape to emotions in the most intimate and searing of ways — from the heady lovesick fever of Yun-Fei Wang’s “iceberg / beautiful,” to the acerbic provocations of Eliza Mahon’s “A Half-Chewed Pew in a Friend’s Apartment,” to the youthfully innocent glow of Taylen Huang’s “Of Pencils & Moon-Breasts.”
It has been an incredible, humbling honor to interact with and bind together such raw talent, emotion, and humanity — distilled into the written word. I could rave about every voice I’ve encountered, how it colors my world. I could watch as the seasons continue to turn, soaking in the new growth, all those sprouts and leaves. I could sit in this garden forever.
Truly, it’s a wonder.