The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Christine Chia

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Christine Chia PhotoLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I’m most inspired to write when I’m arrested by a cinematic dream. My dreams inspire many of my poems; I take them down verbatim, word for word, image for image. My dreams are pitiless and deadly like Ingmar Bergman films. My waking self would flinch at saying the things my dream self says. It’s the things my dream self says that move my readers and the child I was and will always be.

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

I am starting to work on editing the follow-up volume to A Luxury We Cannot Afford (Math Paper Press, 2014) with Joshua Ip and Cheryl Julia Lee and our working title for now is A Luxury We Must Afford – the final title is still subject to change. We are compiling a collection that looks into the future, into the next 50 years of Singapore’s journey as a nation.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I’m drawn to what Baldwin once stated, “You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.” It is important to me that the writing is not false or flabby; that it looks at things as they are and could be without whitewashing or pessimism.

Who are your favorite authors?

I’ll redefine the question to which books have changed my mind. I find it constricting and perilous to think of favorite authors as the publishing process may reconfigure them into a different writer like Harper Lee’s “new book” which is actually an old draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m blown away by Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition, What the Living Do by Marie Howe and Poems New and Collected by Wislawa Szymborska.

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

My first book of poetry, The Law of Second Marriages. My family history is like a locked room that you locked so that your guests won’t think you are an incurable, infectious mess and shun you forever but writing the book forced me to drag a lot of it out.

What’s your idea of bliss?

A good book, cool weather, tea or coffee, a happy dog dozing by my side.

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

Oppressors who blithely ignore the people they hurt and destroy.

What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

The collected writings of Rumi, the Koran, the Bible and a Kindle stocked full of poetry and non-fiction books.

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

My dog, if I were to have one. My friend Nora’s apartment was completely burned down in the famous Second Avenue East Village fire in 2015 and her lovely cat Sylvie didn’t survive because her roommate tried to grab Sylvie but Sylvie ran away from the roommate.

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.

To make myself and the world better – through actions and words.

Author Biography:

Christine Chia is the author of The Law of Second Marriages (Math Paper Press) and Separation: a history (Ethos Books). She is the co-editor of the groundbreaking poetry anthology A Luxury We Cannot Afford (Math Paper Press).

Alfian Sa’at praised The Law of Second Marriages as “This has to be one of my favourite poetry collections in recent times” and Philip Holden said of Separation: a history that “Chia produces the kind of moment that Yeats wrote of, a moment that results from the convergence of two stories, but is ultimately bound by neither.”