Sweet Poetry: Q&A with Yim Tan Wong

Today’s Q&A is with Yim Tan Wong, a contributor of poetry to the inaugural issue of Sugared Water.

Yim Tan Wong holds an MFA from Hollins University and is a Kundiman Emerging Asian American Poets Fellow. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from over thirty print and online journals, including The Cortland Review, Little Patuxent Review, Tahoma Literary Review, A capella Zoo, Phoebe, RATTLE, and Crab Orchard Review.

a little taste of “Angelfishfrom SW#001:

Do they believe the world
undulates beyond artificial
vegetation, fins, and algae?
Do they trust bite-sized food
drifts from a Greater Above?

Ahoy from Upper Here,
I say, and tap the glass.
Fogging their view,
I introduce myself, as
God, water, weather.

SW: What are you currently reading?
YTW: I recently finished reading Oliver de la Paz’s Requiem for the Orchard (University of Akron Press, 2010), a brilliant and very personal poetry collection, written in a flurry after he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and just as he was on the verge of fatherhood.  These are his most personal poems yet, and I admire how much of himself he gifts to the page as he reflects upon boyhood, growing up in a small Oregon town, emerging from surgery, and becoming a parent.  Next on the docket: 1) Both Flesh and Not (Hamish Hamilton, 2012), a collection of David Foster Wallace essays; 2) Richard Hoffman’s poetry collection, Emblem (Barrow Street Press, 2011); and Letters Between Friends (Abrams, 1994), letters between painter René Magritte and his confidant, friend, and attorney, Harry Torczyner.

SW: What are you working on now?
YTW: I patiently await a publisher to pick up my first full-length poetry manuscript, which has been a finalist for Four Way Books’ Levis Prize and the Alice James Books/Kundiman Poetry Prize.  Meanwhile, I have three other manuscripts in progress, and the bulk of my energy goes into what I refer to as “Book 2,” which interacts with the paintings and language philosophy of René Magritte, the work of logician Ludwig Wittgenstein, the pessimist philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, and the troublesome views of the irate but at times quite lucid and brilliant Friedrich Nietzsche.  Interest in their world views stems from my attempt to comprehend the level of violence that humans inflict upon one other, timeless cycles of rage and oppression, and although I know there are so many factors (psychological, social, economic, political, and the list goes on) which can lead to violent acts, I have this great hope that if language could be perfected to translate sufficiently one’s sense of injustice, disappointments, fears and needs, that physical and weapon-driven aggression would diminish.  I know this simplifies a complex matter, but we must start somewhere.

SW: What writers/works have inspired you?
YTW: My favorite writers are actually fiction writers: namely, Salman Rushdie, for his literary and historical erudition, his love of language and fanciful play with words, his quick wit, and his ability to convey his love of storytelling and respect for the permanent connections made between parent and child when stories are shared, as conveyed in his book Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  Also, I adore F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The Great Gatsby moves at such an elegant clip, and not a word is out of place or used frivolously.  Must add to the list: Tao Lin–for his brazenness.

As for poets who rank high in a long list of admired poets: Anne Sexton; Walt Whitman; Christian Hawkey; Ai; Matthew Zapruder, Thomas Lux; Natasha Trethewey; Wendy Xu; Tomaž Šalamun; Jee Leong Koh; Tamiko Beyer; Tony Hoagland; Franz Wright…I could go on for quite a while!

SW: Where do you seek inspiration?
YTW: From observation, listening, and discovering connections between seemingly disparate things. Music, lots music, from The Velvet Underground to techno to Philip Glass.  Paintings, photographs, and installation art. Contemporary artists on radar: Tara Donovan; Kara Walker; Tessa Farmer; Cindy Sherman; and Shepard Fairey.  Lots of films, too, since I am a highly visual person.  The writers/directors who engage my imagination most are David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, and Jean-Luc Godard; and the films I can watch over and over are Diva, La Jetée, Metropolis, and Eraserhead.

SW: Would you talk a bit about your writing process?
YTW: Just sit down and do it, stand up, pace, or start thinking and see where those thoughts and language intersect.  Oftentimes, if I cannot generate a new poem, I either read (prose, poetry, newspapers, etc.) or tinker with a piece that is undergoing revision, and that usually leads to new ideas and eventually a new poem.  To make writing happen, I take action, but seldom wait for inspiration.  You have to chase it.  Sometimes, as I am reading a book or listening to an album, I will start composing new work, or get an idea about how to edit a piece that is under revision.  The trigger does not necessarily even have to have anything to do with the idea generated, which is rather fascinating.

SW: With what are you obsessed?
YTW: Running and spinning.  Regular exercise is such a wonderful way to develop discipline, and this will hopefully affect one’s writing regimen as well as fortify the spirit against what every writer must deal with and accept: obstacles, rejection, failure, and the requisite development of the ability to work repeatedly, single-mindedly, and vigorously toward a goal.

Yim Tan Wong | SW#001

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