Berkeley, CA

How Powerful Poet Giovanna Lomanto Tackles Identity, Grief, a Bruised Heart in New Work

Karin K Jensen
Giovanna Lomanto performing her poetry at a #BlackLivesMatter/#StopAsianHate Solidarity Event at the Oakland Peace CenterGiovanna Lomanto

It’s Asian Heritage Month and Indonesian Chinese American poet and UC Berkeley senior, Giovanna Lomanto, is excited to release her second collection of poetry. A native Californian and former staff member of UC Press and the Berkeley Student Cooperative, Giovanna pens poetry by night after full days of classes and homework.

Her newest collection, jupiter fell out the sky last night, is dedicated to identifying what’s deep within. Her writing evokes a haunting rawness of unspoken truths and the experiences of youth. In it, she tackles identity crisis, reconciling with grief and a bruised heart, and coming to terms with fractured familial bonds.

can’t find out just where two diverged in the branches of a/ tree rooted in a soil stuffed with/ uncertainty/ there’s a forest/ between & it sprouted/ from the seeds sowed. tree doesn’t flower or blossom it/ just grows & cannot track its age without chopping it down – from "there is a freedom i have yet to find" in "jupiter fell out the sky last night" by Giovanna Lomanto

NB: What first attracted you to poetry?

Giovanna: Poetry is, for me, a way to express myself succinctly. For a long time, I considered myself to be a fiction writer and a fiction writer only—but in my senior year of high school, I was overcome with anxiety and had trouble reading heavy prose. The spacing and the amount of blank page in poetry made it much more digestible, and eventually, I started writing it myself. I think a lot of poets stumbled upon poetry as a catharsis, and that’s what it was to me for a long time, too.
Giovanna Lomanto

NB: Who are your inspirations?

Giovanna: I’d say that my current inspirations are rooted in family. As a daughter of immigrants and a sister to a brilliant pharmacist, the resilience that they have shared with me has really stuck. When it comes to poets, I’ve recently been admiring Louise Glück, one of the two poets I analyze in my senior honors thesis. She, too, battled with anorexia in her youth—and was a published poet at a pretty young age! I love her dedication to the integrity of a line and determination to write how she felt was necessary and powerful.

and nothing is as precious as it is when it’s about to be stolen. – from "somethingness (a poem with borrowed parts)" in "jupiter fell out the sky last night" by Giovanna Lomanto

NB: Youth Poet Amanda Gorman recently riveted the nation with her poetry both at the inaugural ceremony and at the Super Bowl. What do you feel is the power of poetry?

Giovanna: I think poetry has this incredible power of possibility. There’s room for so much interpretation, and the wealth that comes from re-reading or re-speaking poetry means that every new page turn is a new opportunity. This opportunity/possibility can manifest in so many ways, whether it's in close reading and interpreting what authors might have meant or not caring what the author meant and listening to how the speaker of the poem makes you feel.

i cannot see anything past the/ brown of your eyes,/ the curve of your parted lips/ physicality is not a marker of beauty/ i remind myself,/ reimaging and reconsidering what constitutes/ a flaw/ you are an addiction i must break – from "fabula and syuzhet" in "jupiter fell out the sky last night" by Giovanna Lomanto

NB: Do you have a goal for your poetry? Or what effect do you hope it has on the reader or listener?

Giovanna: Goals in poetry are a bit confounding and—try as I might to make them—they’re elusive, in the same way that I stutter a little bit when someone asks what success means to me. In a beautiful way, it’s always changing!

Ultimately, I’d love to have the opportunity to write poetry and make a living off simply doing what I love. But right now I am a teaching artist at a few Bay Area organizations, and that ultimate goal is quickly changing as I discover how much I love workshopping and working with youth who are wide-eyed and eager to write. I think that that’s the effect I hope my poetry has: being able to inspire people to satiate their inner hunger for words they never knew they wanted.

breathe into the lungs, find a boa constrictor wrapped/ around my torso,/ decide that it needs a hug, too./ maybe a little pet on the head,/ once attended, once held in finger’s grasp,/ loosens – from "pedagogy" in "jupiter fell out the sky last night" by Giovanna Lomanto

NB: How do you feel that your heritage has influenced your writing?

Giovanna: My heritage has only come into poetry as of recently—strictly speaking. My heritage makes up who I am, and who I am makes my poetry, but I’m only realizing now that I have become proud enough to claim my Chinese Indonesian roots.

dad came back from singapore with a dancing dragon/ lion, and i sobbed after he left for jakarta the next/ week (missed him yelling across the dinner table/ about how i eat too slowly). – from the "isochrone map" in "jupiter fell out the sky last night" by Giovanna Lomanto

NB: Can you tell a story about the impact your poetry has had?

Giovanna: Definitely going to say that a #BlackLivesMatter and #StopAsianHate rally that I participated in was one of my favorite poetry moments ever. [The organizer asked me] to read a poem prayer, and I wrote the entire poem in a flurry in one night (edits, of course, happened later).

I think that that crowd was the most generous I’ve experienced—I dropped a line, and they all cheered me on until I could pick it back up. And the roar after I finished was incredible. I was shaking a little. I’d never read something that so solidly talked about my being Asian, and to see Black people and Asian people clapping it up for me was exactly what the solidarity event was for.

The reception on social media was overwhelming, too—hearing so many people say they resonated with the poetry was mind-boggling. Maybe it impacted them, but I know for a fact that their response impacted the ways that I see myself and the ways that I see the power of my poetry.
Giovanna Lomanto

NB: How old were you when you published your first book?

Giovanna: I was 19 when my first manuscript was accepted, and 20 when it was published. I’m now 22, and my second collection comes out in July of 2021.

NB: You’re young to be traditionally publishing your second book!

Giovanna: Relatively yes! I am so blessed to have had opportunities that other poets don’t—time to write, stable internet connection, a laptop of my own, etc. It feels great to think about the accomplishments, but it’s also super important to recognize that they partly came from a place of privilege.

smooth and steady wild and willfull you told me you failed your math class / to be truthful: i only remember the barista telling me you should pay / you listened, so thought i was yours (isn’t that what a credit card swipe means?) from "what’s your sign" in "jupiter fell out the sky last night" by Giovanna Lomanto

NB: What advice do you have for aspiring poets?

Giovanna: I really wish that someone had told me that—even more important than becoming a published poet—the most fulfilling part of being a poet (for me) is finding a community. Randomly finding connections and overlaps is so rewarding, especially when it becomes a fruitful connection that turns into something like an AAPI & BLM photoshoot and there’s nothing like being supported at a reading with friends who are also in awe of linguistic power.

In a similar vein: for a long time, I would not show my poetry to anyone, and that was still comforting, therapeutic, and vastly helpful for introspection. But the more I thought about writing as a career, I realized that I hadn’t used a pen name, and then my publishers told me that marketing myself would be a smart move.

At first, it felt weird and foreign, but with the random people at gigs I would run into, save on Instagram, and love hearing updates from—I suddenly had a thought that they might love to hear updates from me. And like I mentioned earlier, I love using my poetry and my platform to communicate. And sometimes “networking” really means “finding people who want to hear from you, and finding people who want you to hear them.” Doing both has been so rewarding for me.

When it comes to the publishing industry, I also think it’s super important to advocate for yourself, whether it's getting the courage to submit or sending a reminder email. Your work is important, and you absolutely deserve to be treated as though you and your words are valued!

I’ve been very lucky with my two publishers, Bound to Brew and Scrambler Books, to have such a responsive and attentive team, but there are some queries I’ve sent that have just gone into the ether. That's never a very good feeling. At first, I was resigned, but I think keeping track of them (on platforms like Submittable, my lifesaver) has helped with humbling (when I look at rejections) and lets me know how long ago I submitted it and when they responded.

Lastly, I also think that setting boundaries is important when considering sharing work. I recently wrote a poem, and it dawned on me that, for the first time in a long time, I wrote it for myself and no one else. It’s a poem I don’t want to publish or read anywhere—I just want to have it. And that’s okay, too. Poetry is meant to be had, and sometimes the only person who will have it is you.

NB: You’re about to graduate with honors as an English major and Creative Writing minor. What are your future plans?

Giovanna: I plan on getting my Master of Fine Arts and work towards becoming a professor, so I can represent a diverse community of poets on the scholarly level.

NB: How can those interested follow your work?

Giovanna: My website is Twitter: @littlelomanto. Instagram: Giovanna_lomanto

#GiovannaLomanto #Poet #Poetry #JupiterFellOutTheSkyLastNight #UCBerkeley #BoundToBrew

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Writing About Asian American history, arts, and culture. Author: The Strength of Water, an Asian American memoir due out 2022.

Alameda, CA

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