This was my view

Lobster boats coming into the harbour

Lobster boats coming into the harbour

This was the view during two weeks in December I spent on holiday in Dipper Harbour, a small fishing community on the Bay of Fundy east of Saint John, New Brunswick. I’d watch the lobster boats come in on early afternoons while editing, and a few hours later darkness would catch the sky in its big, embracing net. More than once my hosts would boil up lobster over a propane-fueled stove on the patio for an early dinner. More than once we drove along the highway to visit a vast, interlocking web of family– uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. We were offered home-brewed wine and a seat by the wood-burning stove, and I saw firsthand how news travels amongst the clan, from person to person, so everyone knows everyone else’s business.

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I got this hashtag stuck on my back by Ryan Pratt of deadletterbirds, whom I met after several months of online back-and-forth for Puritan Magazine and after a very short GO bus ride to  Hamilton.

What am I working on?

Revisions to my first manuscript of poems, in part submitted as my MA in Creative Writing thesis. Some of the poems are the age of young children. There is a publisher that has shown a needle waver’s of interest, so there’s a bit of a deadline to my finishing up this draft, and I write best with a sense of real or imagined urgency. Last summer, I finished a chapbook of poems about emergencies and economies, and it’ll be part of another MS that I have mapped out in an orange Moleskine. So I have enough work for the next 2-3 years, which feels wonderful.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Impossible question. I don’t think originality is necessarily my main concern. Mat Laporte once said that what he finds notable of my poems is how much care I take. And this is true: I care about my reader, I want to carry them. Denise Duhamel has noted the “almost cruel lack of finality” of my poems. This is also true. If I’m going to put a knife in my readers I don’t want them to feel it going in.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I do because of my very presence in history and in space is circumstantial– because my parents are painters and showed me there’s another parallel life of colour and dreams, because they  spoke idiosyncratic yet fluent English, because I grew up in Ottawa beside a brownfield that was covered in wildflowers every summer that was mowed down every summer, because I have tropical skin and a heart raised in a winter country, because I’m a colonial, because I’m a commuter, because how strange is it that there’s a Japanese garden in the middle of a Pacific Northwest rainforest in the middle of a university in the middle of first nations territory, because I feel at home in Lisbon, because none of this ever made any sense to me, and even when I write it still doesn’t make any sense, but then at least I’m written it.

How does my writing process work?

I circle, circle and circle the poem going crazy aiming for its centre, that feeling when I’ve sunken into it like a big cushion, but it’s that circling that is the actual writing. It’ll never look like I’m writing because this can last for hours, half the day, the whole day. I’ll be watching documentaries, looking at photographs, reading Wikipedia until I’m in a half-trance and there’s a kind of unconscious sifting at work and something will draw out an image like a poultice over a sting.

And it’s physically circling too– long walks on trails, tracks, alleyways, bus rides and train trips and boat races and bike rides. This posed some issues as a young Asian female, but as I get older I’m less embarrassed and more fiercely protective of my solitude, because I can absorb other people’s voices and rhythms in a very eerie way. Then as I let my guard down and go and wash my hands or to cut a pear, half a line or a stanza or a whole poem will drop down, and I’ll run as fast as possible, and then I’m immensely happy to have something to refine the next day. And it begins all over again.

When I’m searching for a word, the dictionary and not the thesaurus is crucial. Other languages– French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Latin, are valuable to shake a cadence or a tired meaning loose. For revisions, I write out the poem by memory– what I can’t remember usually wasn’t worth keeping. If things freeze up, my writing group is brought in for major reconstructive surgery.

I’d like for some of writing group to answer these questions but they’re new/old school and don’t have blogs! So I’ll wait until Bardia Sinaee, Laura Clarke, Catriona Wright, Ted Nolan, Matt Loney and new addition Vincent Colistro have had a bit too much good cheer, surprise them with these questions them and record the results.

On the making of chapbooks and other spare change

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Last night, I put on my oxford heels to read with four poets at the Odourless Press fall launch. With nearly every fiction writer in town at the Writers’ Trust gala, the evening felt like a tiny cushioned drawer, intimate as a library of rare tobaccos. Occasional Emergencies is a 12 poem series of mostly-ekphrastic poems, published in a first edition of 5o copies with Bardia Sinaee‘s Odourless Press. Bardia only gives me one at a time; ridiculous to think that he’s sold out already. If you want a copy, best to pester him at bardia at odourless dot ca. I trust that he’ll do a better job of packaging and mailing out than I could, and at the same time, you can also order the crisp pamphets by Spencer Gordon, Stevie Howell and Jeramy Dodds, and the longish chapbook by Mat Laporte (who runs the chapbook press Ferno House with his compadre Spencer.)

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