The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Jason Wee
By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
I think of what a school administrator once said to a young Elias Canetti; It is a chance to raise my hand, if a little too much. Don’t most writers suffer from a desire to be heard? And there is the frequent assuredness we give ourselves that our words mean something, which is another way of asking someone else to convince us of a notion we did not initially believe. I also think of the mousedeer in Sang Kancil fables, who speaks because it is what an animal would do to be free from a predator.Tell us about your most recent book or writing/editing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
The last poetry book is The Monsters Between Us and the last publication I edited and wrote for is Singapur Unheimlich. The latter is a bilingual reader on the unhomely as I read it in Singapore, as a spatial condition, a disfiguration of space and the antagonisms it produced. It includes German translations of seven authors from Singapore, including Tania De Rozario, Boey Kim Cheng, Cyril Wong and Claire Tham. The Monsters revisits the late 80s, when I was more conscious of growing out of childhood into an adult awareness of the world, through the use of polyphony and redacted source documents. It is also my attempt at ventriloquism, to channel voices that readers might not expect in poetry, like those on parliamentary record, and also to channel the traumatic experiences experienced by a number of individuals who were prevented from being heard, in particular a Catholic layworker Vincent Cheng and the lawyers Tang Fong Har.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
This sounds like what artists hear a lot of, a request for an artist statement. Maybe I’d say a little bit about how I write? I like writing out of home, indoors, which often means I am writing in a cafe, or on a friend’s sofa, or in a library or quiet studio. I read while I write, I usually bring a couple of books with me, or surround myself with more than a few. I do find the ongoing debate in Singapore between free/formal verse tiresome, partly because it is a modernist inheritance that is already overtaxed, and partly because it frequently misidentifies formal verse with traditional forms from the 19th century and before, while eliding any recognition of more recent innovations.
Who are your favorite authors?
I’d say who I return to often. Carl Phillips, for the ways he writes the body at risk, Can Xue, whose stories terrify me, Eduardo Galeano and Joe Sacco for showing me the precarious lives of individuals I will never know, Wislawa Szymborska, for that beautiful, ordinary voice.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
The book I am working on now, which is an extendeed sequence of haikus. I worked on it while I was at the NUS-The Arts House residency a few months back, and I am still not sure if it’s working, we’ll see.
What’s your idea of bliss?
To paraphrase John Barrymore, Sex: what takes the least amount of time but haunts you for the longest.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Bad sex, when I’m responsible for it.
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, because I am still working on them after months.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
My cheap dirty humor and fierce sense of style.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Jason Wee is an artist and a writer. He runs Grey Projects, an artist space, library and residency in Tiong Bahru, Singapore. The Monsters Between Us (2013) was selected by TODAY newspaper as the literary pick of 2013. He wrote for and curated Singapur Unheimlich, now on view in ifa galerie Berlin. He is a co-editor of Softblow, a poetry journal.