The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with David Wong Hsien Ming
By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
To testify to the beauty and truth in moments, feelings, persons.
Tell us about your most recent book project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
My debut collection, For the End Comes Reaching, just had its launch at the Singapore Writers Festival. It’s a dossier of elegies; I wanted to explore what I see as the paradox of possession, the sense of loss that pervades each having, the sense that to live or to love is to simultaneously partake in the eventual loss of it all.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
The idea of the volta in sonnets is something I use a lot; I’m preoccupied with turns of phrases, dualities and contradictions. I also draw from the lyric tradition, and am fond of half-rhymes, hyphens, and creating portmanteau words.
Who are your favourite authors?
- e. Cummings, Elizabeth Bishop, and Jack Gilbert are my picks for poetry. Of these, Gilbert is the one poet I have been returning to for the past three years; his work is a monument to human emotion.
Moving on from poetry, I’d pick Isaac Asimov, for the Foundation series; it is an absolutely ambitious conceptualization of the evolution of human society, if a little beholden to the scientific trends of its time. I mean, the saga spans millennia!
My last two picks are Simone Weil, whose writings on compassion I find indispensable, and Friedrich Niezsche, opponent and companion to every student of philosophy.
Bonus pick: Wong Kar Wai.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
A poem that can be read as two discrete columns or read across, as you would normally. It’s my interpretation of what the poet Yeow Kai Chai calls the ‘twin cinema’.
I use the form to examine the same idea or theme from three angles, resulting in a poem comprised of parts that are at odds with each other. It’s a house of mirrors! Fun, but hard to make coherent, and any use of the form must follow the poem’s function or the poet risks being pretentious.
I’ve only really done this once or twice, and my most (and perhaps only) successful twin cinema became the title poem of my debut collection.
What’s your idea of bliss?
Reading next to the girlfriend, or a long hangout with friends at a kopitiam accompanied by a copious amount of teh-o kosong.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Stubborn resistance to change and, conversely, an unwillingness to resist change when necessary. Though that wouldn’t draw out anger from me as much as sadness or frustration. I’m guilty of it as much as the next person.
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
Don Quixote, Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works, and the Bible, specifically the book of Revelation. Stuff that benefits the reader with time and space to spare.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
If I’m to take a thing and not persons, undigitised photographs and polaroids of family and friends.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Simul Justus et Peccator; latin for ‘simultaneously righteous and wicked’.
David Wong Hsien Ming discovered poetry as a child at a Sunday lunch. His work recently won the second prize in Singapore’s Golden Point Award, and has appeared in publications like Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Ceriph, and Mascara Literary Review. He read philosophy at the University of Melbourne, graduating with honours, and is a high school teacher. He is the text editor of www.poetry.sg, and For the End Comes Reaching (Math Paper Press, 2015) is his first collection. For more on David, please visit: davidwonghsienming.wordpress.com