My flash piece, “A Girl Is Grown Like a Poem Is Grown,” is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress. This project is my attempt to explore girlhood, the stages one goes through in the process of becoming, how a girl is made and unmade.
This particular piece spotlights a moment in many people’s childhoods—their first encounter with porn. Movies, books, and other media tend to show this abrasive confrontation as almost a right-of-passage, something to laugh at. Contemporary society treats porn with casual indifference, presuming it to be a part of our sexual life, yet the power and influence of porn deserves critical consideration. Porn isn’t a mere accessory to our existing sexual palates, but an active participant in shaping our preferences, how we choose our partners, what we allow to be done to our body.
When I was ten, I read my first erotica, My Teacher Thảo (Cô Giáo Thảo), a popular story circulating among Vietnamese teens in the nineties, about—what else—the sexual relationship between a female teacher and her student. This narrative haunted me for years, making me vie for the erotic attention of teachers. I won’t go into details about the numerous stories, followed by images and videos, that I devoured afterward, each with their own implication of trespassing. Though I don’t particularly regret my curiosity, my sexual fantasies are, regrettably, not only my own. I wasn’t born a girl, I was made into one. Before I ever knew what love was, I’d wanted to be assaulted.
I was able to formally experiment more with the structure and layout of “A Girl Is Grown Like a Poem Is Grown” as a standalone piece of prose than I could have in the novel. Flash fiction is the perfect medium to carry both a traditional narrative and poetic gestures and spacing. I find it to be a wonderful playground, whereas in a longer project like a novel, I might be beholden to the existing narrative structure. It is also more difficult to maintain poetic techniques in longer works without risking them becoming gimmicky and ineffective. My goal for the flash piece is different than that of the novel. In the novel, I’m interested in flow, and don’t necessarily want the images to draw too much attention to themselves, whereas in the self-contained story, it is worth lingering on certain images, moods, sounds.
As a writer and a reader, I enjoy both scenes that ground the narrative as well as philosophical digressions and insights that are deliberately authorial. Though the traditional adage is to show rather than tell, many literary authors including Elena Ferrante, Alasdair Gray, Robert Musil, Koko Abe, and Clarice Lispector employ a good amount of direct telling. Perhaps such instinct is transnational, as I’ve come to know all of these authors through translations. I am, too, a writer from the diaspora. Though I write exclusively in English, my understanding of storytelling is binary and crosses borders.
ABBIGAIL N. ROSEWOOD was born in Vietnam, where she lived until the age of twelve. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her debut novel, If I Had Two Lives, has been hailed as “a tale of staggering artistry” by the Los Angeles Review of Books and “a lyrical, exquisitely written novel” by the New York Journal of Books. The New Yorker called it “a dangerous fantasy world” that “double haunts the novel.” Her short fiction and essays can be found at Lit Hub, Electric Lit, Catapult, The Southampton Review, The Brooklyn Review, Columbia Journal, The Adroit Journal, BOMB, among others. In 2019, her hybrid writing was featured in a multimedia art and poetry exhibit at Eccles Gallery. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and The Best American Short Stories 2020.
An excerpt from If I Had Two Lives won first place in The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville Literary Fiction Contest, and an excerpt from Abbigail’s second novel Constellations of Eve, forthcoming in 2022, was a finalist in the 49th New Millennium Writings Award, and the Sunspot Lit Culmination Award.