Katerina Jeng

On Writing as a Portal to the Divine, Dismantling Self-Limiting Beliefs in Writing, Failure as Redirection, and Their Debut Poetry Collection, ‘Gospel of a Whole Sun’

Cover of Katerina Jeng: On Writing as a Portal to the Divine, Dismantling Self-Limiting Beliefs in Writing, Failure as Redirection, and Their Debut Poetry Collection, ‘Gospel of a Whole Sun’

I think we can all use some gospel these days. While there are many different definitions of the word ‘gospel,’ one that resonates most with me is that of a song performed for spiritual purposes aimed toward celebrating freedom. 

Katerina Jeng’s debut poetry collection, Gospel of a Whole Sun, is a tribute to living life as a celebration. It is a book that encourages readers to look up, outside of the self, in order to heal. In ancient times, people perceived the sun not only as a supplier of heat and light, but a giver of life, the effulgent force of the feminine– life, energy, spirituality. Katerina defines themself as someone who is “committed to creating a world where all life is centered, revered, and liberated. They commit to creativity as a portal to healing themselves and the world.”

I simply cannot wait to talk to Katerina about portals and spells and rituals and magic and love and light. Reading Gospel of a Whole Sun felt like going on a vision quest or a hero’s journey. When I closed the book, I was different than when I’d started.


Brittany Ackerman: Gospel of a Whole Sun begins with an incantation, which is defined as a series of words said as a magic spell or charm. All throughout the collection, there are rituals, songs, chants, prayers—many divinations. The very opening of the book is a sort of calling to action, a chant that aims to “let the portal be open.”

What do you think writing is a portal for, or to?

Katerina Jeng: Writing is a portal to the divine, the universe, God—whatever it is you call it; it opens up a connection to something grander than yourself. 

I started writing this book as I was moving through a traumatic breakup, as a way to make sense of what I was experiencing during a time that felt disorienting & groundless. By putting language to it and exploring these moments inside & out, writing these poems became a crucial tool for my healing and thus, my self-actualization—by the end of the book, I uncover a liberated & honest version of myself. 

Looking back, it almost feels like this writing doesn’t belong to me. Most of these poems flowed out of me, as if I was merely the vessel for higher wisdom to come through. I come from a lineage of matriarchs who were silenced due to colonization & patriarchy, and I truly believe this book is my ancestors speaking through me. This is our duty as artists & writers—to create the conditions that allow for divine expression to freely emerge through this portal. 

BA: One of my favorite poems, “Compose Message,” is full of short-form phrases one might type into their phones or use to write up a quick email. It’s got informal greetings and excessive apologies mixed in with some deep inner questioning.

“…is my note / wow! so amazing!! or is it melting my agency / into a translucent ceiling?”

“typing and deleting, typing and deleting / until language is left lifeless / programmed within / without our will.”

Ugh! So good. And I wonder for you personally, as a writer, how do you reckon with technology in terms of your poetry? Are you an old fart like me who wants it to implode on itself, or do you see any value in it? If so, how can writers get with the times while keeping our consciousness and autonomy intact? 

KJ: I think there’s value in both. I’m writing more with pen & paper than I used to. It prevents me from editing myself and allows for a more pure expression of what my soul actually wants to say. I’m also looking forward to unplugging from the internet this summer, and getting back to writing after the marketing blitz of my book debut. It’s important to take breaks from the matrix—and social media especially, which can be toxic to the sustenance, originality, and freedom we require to generate good writing.

On the other hand, I am curious about the ways we can leverage AI in our writing. I’m gathering the courage to write a novel, and AI is an incredible tool for research that authors would typically conduct on their own. I’m interested in leveraging AI to write a novel with more detail, more scintillating, sensory information than I could write within the limits of my own time & energy—and in the ways we can use technology to enhance our divine creations, rather than replace or diminish them.

BA: There’s a page in the book that quotes a fortune cookie: “Failure is the mother of success.” I saw on your Instagram that you often talk about manifesting success and bringing positive things into your life. Can you tell our readers about this process?

KJ: As a creative coach, I’ve noticed a red throughline among every client I’ve worked with: the biggest, stickiest thing holding them back is the limit of their own beliefs. This is the crux of manifestation—you must build an unshakeable sense of self-worth and the genuine belief that you are worthy of what it is you’re calling in. The manifestation itself also has to be a soul desire, which can be hard to parse out in a society that is hyper-focused on outward achievement & superficial markers of success.

Once the clear intention & belief are there, the practice is to spend time in an elevated state that attracts the vibrational matches between your energy and the potential energy you’ve chosen—which exists, alongside every version of yourself, in the quantum field. How will you feel, in your bones, when your manifestation is your reality? Feeling gratitude, inspiration, and compassion—as if it’s already true—is the most powerful way to attract the experiences, opportunities, and people that help it become so. 

BA: But…let’s also talk about failure!  Us writers have to trudge through a lot of failure; it’s just a part of the literary game. Some people print our rejections and tape them above their desks. Some people submit their work to five magazines for every single one that turns them down. Some people get so used to rejection it doesn’t even bother them anymore (me!). How do you navigate failure in your own writing life?

KJ: I see failure more as a redirection, as the universe saying, “nope, this isn’t for you.” Or, “this isn’t for you, yet.” I really do believe in divine timing; that the universe is efficient—it will give you what you need, when you need it. And many times, “failures” teach us something valuable, or show us that we should be focusing our time & energy on something else instead. 

In my own writing life, I don’t take it personally. It’s easier and more joyful to give into the plan that is divinely unfolding for me instead. For example, I’m in search of both a literary agent and a speaking agent, which I wasn’t able to secure for my first book—but I see it as information; an indication that the right people haven’t been magnetized into my orbit just yet. Securing the publishing deal (without an agent!) has taught me that what’s meant to be mine, will be mine—no extraneous effort required on my end. 

BA: Back to rituals–there’s even a poem called “Ritual” in the book that speaks toward worship and feels like a sort of prayer in the way the speaker describes the body and language unravels.

And a lot of Gospel of a Whole Sun deals in breaking away from systems, freeing oneself from the oppressive confines of understood social structures. Where, for you, is the intersection between tradition and freedom?

KJ: In order to answer this question, I need to define what tradition means to me. As a Filipina-Taiwanese-American person, my traditions have been stripped from me due to colonization. So, coming back to these indigenous traditions—the celebrations, knowledge, and spiritual practices of pre-colonial Philippines, in particular, is the quest I’m currently on now.

Learning about and re-integrating these traditional practices into my life—that, to me, is freedom. It’s freedom from the systems of oppression that have erased my culture, language, and ancestry. It is a homecoming, a returning back to ways of being my lineage has known for centuries. 

BA: In “Home Has Never Been a Place,” you write about different cities you’ve traversed and what each space held for you. Places hold memories, and as someone who has lived in a myriad of places all over the map, I often find it hard to write about a location if I’m currently living there. 

In “Morning Coffee as a Portal,” a cup of coffee transports you to Turkey and Colorado and beyond—the flavors bleeding into scenery and memory. How do you access a place from another period of your life, and is it easier to get there in your mind without being there or when you are physically in its presence?

KJ: Daydreaming is the easiest way for me to access another space. For me, a place from a particular period of time only exists in my memory. When I’m physically present somewhere, I’m then creating new memories on a new timeline. 

Luckily, daydreaming comes easily to me—I’m a Cancer sun & moon, so nostalgia is one of my favorite states to swim in. I can enter a place just by listening to an old playlist, going through old photos or journals, or staring out the window as I’m having my cup of coffee.

BA: Andrews McMeel Publishing “…serves as stewards of creativity, actively seeking and curating the work of distinctive, diverse, and exceptional creators which we have the privilege and honor to share with the world. We strive to ensure that the voices we represent are promoted as well as protected, to entertain, inform, enlighten and delight readers.”

How has your experience been with AMP? What’s been the biggest “yay” moment for you so far?

KJ: Working with AMP has been everything I could’ve asked for as a debut author. When I was looking for a publishing deal, I intentionally looked for a publishing house with a wide, commercial-oriented reach (over traditional literary presses that publish incredible work, but typically have less resources). I’m setting up my creative career for long-term sustainability, so it was a strategic business decision to aim for reach, rather than traditional literary prestige, with my first book. 

With AMP, my book can be stocked worldwide, wherever books are sold—attaining this global reach was probably my biggest “yay” moment, out of many; and they have ample marketing resources to promote my book, my career as an author, and even support a small book tour. I’ve also had full creative control of my book from start-to-finish, which has been beautifully affirming for me as an emerging artist.

BA: Let’s end with my favorite poem in the book, “Dreamstate.” The way that chanting and prayer and song can put us in the proper mindset to hear a gospel, to receive a message from above, a dreamstate can allow us to access some shadowed part of our psyche we weren’t aware of and allow us to bring deeply rooted issues to light.

Does any of your writing come from dreams? Are dreams a portal to the self, to something beyond ourselves?

KJ: Absolutely. All of my poems come from a dreamstate—a space that doesn’t exist in our three-dimensional world. A dreamstate is a place where we can feel & experience the existence—and promise—of a better world. This is important, because this is a crucial tool for building the world we want to live in, here, on our physical plane. The more we can access this dreamstate, the more we can infuse it into our everyday lives. In this sense, dreaming is a portal to our liberation. 

Freedom dreaming, a tradition rooted in queer & trans Black activism, calls us to envision not what we are fighting against—but what we are fighting for. This particular type of liberatory dreaming shows up in my poems “Freedom Dreaming” and “Meet You There?”. These pieces illustrate that the world I wish to live in is, in many ways, already alive & breathing.



Katerina Jeng (they/she) is an author, speaker, and creative coach. They are here to help guide humanity into a new paradigm world through humble service that is abundantly joyful, pleasurable, and free. Katerina’s writing explores love and power, and is inspired by their identity as a queer, neurodivergent, Filipina-Taiwanese-American femme as well as the work of artists and activists of color who have come before them.

Katerina’s debut poetry collection, Gospel of a Whole Sun (Andrews McMeel, 2024) chronicles their journey of self-discovery over the course of three pivotal years, and is a poignant look at the relationship of art-making to personal & collective liberation. Born and raised in New York, Katerina holds degrees in English and music from Cornell University.

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