The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Eddie Tay

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

eddie-tay-pixLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Like most people (I suppose), my mind jumps insanely from one thing to another, moving from distraction to distraction. Therefore I write so as to distract myself from distractions, to be able to think. Writing is sanity. Everything else is madness.

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

It’s a book featuring street photography and poetry – I am trying to make the two artistic forms talk to each other. There’s a natural interaction between poetry and street photography in that they both work through images. In the case of street photography, the scenes are found rather than staged, so I’m learning to be more serendipitous with my writing as well.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I suppose it’s a balance between discipline and chaos. It is discipline (the understanding of literary traditions, working with the limits of language, etc.) that brings order to that which is fleeting and amorphous (ideas, images, emotions). At the same time, it is the fleeting and amorphous which in turn enlarge one’s discipline.

Who are your favorite authors?

Authors – I’m afraid I’m quite eclectic. Lee Child, Jo Nesbo, Jim Butcher, Nassim Taleb, Neal Stephenson, Iain M. Banks, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, plus the usual diet of poetry (Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, Allen Ginsberg, etc.)

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

It’s always the next piece of writing. Mostly, I’m trying to write without any precedence.

What’s your idea of bliss?

To have time alone to read, write and take photographs, and to have time with my family. Oh and a few pints of Hoegaarden, repeatedly.

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

A few pints of Hoegaarden, repeatedly denied.

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

The Bible, which I would read from front to back at one go for the third time in my life. That would be enough as I plan to do a lot of walking and camping out.

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

Err … insurance documents?

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.

A few pints of Hoegaarden, repeatedly.


Born in Singapore, Eddie Tay teaches courses on creative writing and poetry at the Department of English, Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is the author of three volumes of poetry. His first book of poetry, Remnants, consists of renditions of mythic and colonial history of Malaya as well as a homage to the Tang Dynasty poets Li Bai, Du Fu and Li He. His second volume of poetry, A Lover’s Soliloquy, extends his interests in Tang Dynasty poetry through renditions of the erotic poetry of Li Shang-yin. It also explores the language of eroticism in the modern city life. His most recent collection is The Mental Life of Cities, a winner of the 2012 Singapore Literature Prize. In it, he experiments with bilingual (English-Chinese) poetry. He has also written a scholarly book entitled Colony, Nation, and Globalisation: Not at Home in Singaporean and Malaysian Literature. He is the Reviews Editor of Cha. His recent experiments with poetry alongside his own photography can be found at Asiatic. He is currently working on a street photography and poetry manuscript.