The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Toh Hsien Min

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Toh Hsien MinLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

To pin something down.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

If I’m honest, Means to an End was a bit of an extended inside joke. But it’s pleasantly surprising to see how many people read how many different things into it.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Restless. It’s like Tiger Woods and his golf stroke. Whenever I feel like I’ve got the hang of a stroke I’ve got to break it.

Who are your favorite authors?

Ooh where does one start?

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

Probably a formal experiment. I’ve got something open for fifteen years now that attempts to make sense both across and down.

What’s your idea of bliss?

Maybe a house in Finnish Lakeland, an exquisite glass of wine, and silence, all at once. The latter especially. Silence is hugely underrated in a world full of noise.

What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?

The only time I’ve been that angry was after being mugged in Madrid, almost two decades ago now. I get angry with myself for getting angry, which doesn’t really make anger viable. So instead I get annoyed and bite my lip.

What book/s would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

Probably Ulysses. I’m still on page 684. Although it’s one of the books I turn to whenever insomnia strikes, so I’m not sure if being on page 684 is a good or bad thing. If pleasure has to be involved, perhaps a collected Yeats.

Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?

A sense of equanimity.

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.

How can I do this better?

Author Biography:

Toh Hsien Min has written three collections of poetry. His work has been published internationally in the likes of the London Review of Books, Poetry Salzburg Review and Oxford Poets 2013, and has been described by the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry as that of “an observant traveller and inventive formalist, adept at casual rhyme, colloquial phrasing and poignant structural returns”. He also edits the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore.