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‘There’s always a tension in trying to understand’: get to know student poet Zihan Zhang ’25.5

In open verse poems, Zhang writes about dreams, nature, displacement

<p>Zhang described her style as dreamy and filled with images of nature.</p>

Zhang described her style as dreamy and filled with images of nature.

This article is part of a National Poetry Month series featuring student poets at Brown.

Zhang started writing classical Chinese poetry in elementary school. Since then, she has been experimenting with different forms and themes within the genre. 

“In high school, I started to do English and bilingual poetry where I have different personas: I’m a bit redundant and use big words in Chinese, but I’m more attentive to instant feelings in English,” she told The Herald. 

Now, Zhang mostly writes English open-verse poems. She described her style as dreamy and filled with natural imagery.


“Since last semester, I have written a lot about the landscape and my body, which I think is very central yet subtle to me,” she said. “Like a sort of fidelity to my experiences and feelings.”

Zhang’s craft process begins with ten-minute free-writes when she records unfiltered thoughts. “I usually have a vision for what I want to do, but sometimes after re-reading the free writing, I (realize) I should wait a little more and invite more experiences to come in,” she said. 

Inspired mostly by personal experiences, Zhang often turns to a “clump of memories” when writing.

“I think a lot of my poetry is about coming from China to the States, not only the physical transition but also the psychological language, how I understand displacement, how the idea of home changes and how now I don’t regard anywhere as a physical home,” she explained. 

In other poems, Zhang tries to capture emotions like sadness or nostalgia by translating such sentiments into words. She also writes about people as if they exist as part of a story.

“My favorite poem of mine, ‘dear, dive,’ is about my ex (partner),” Zhang said. “I really like that poem not because I’m thinking about him — he’s no longer there — but I like that the idea of him is entering poetry as a translation of (love) and (a translation of) the figure of this person into language.”  

In ‘dear, dive,’ Zhang uses “the imagery of a silkworm” that wraps her up and “the idea of (being inside a) soft ceramic — where it is gentle around you but you can’t break it,” she said.

“The small and tangible becomes a pinpoint of focus in (Zhang’s) prose,” Madeline Wachsmuth ’25, a friend of Zhang, wrote in a message to The Herald. “Whether painting a soft picture of her cat or graceful imagery of embodied dance, (she) draws her readers into contemplation of raw realities and tender emotions.”

Zhang currently publishes her poetry on WeChat, where she posts English poetry with accompanying explanations in Chinese.

“I like the idea of using my native language to explain something distant and abstract in English,” she said. “There’s always a tension in trying to understand.”


Moving forward, Zhang aims to engage with poetry associations and publications. “I don’t think it will be a profession … but I think I will just keep writing and see how it goes,” she told The Herald.

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Rebecca Weng

Rebecca Weng is a Senior Staff Writer for Arts and Culture. She is a freshman from Guangzhou, China studying English and CS-Econ.

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