By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
The ability to write well is a gift, much like the ability to hold a tune, draw, shoot hoops or execute a perfect roundhouse kick. And like a muscle writing is something that demands practice, experimentation and reflection in order to improve. This drive to better my craft is why I write.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
Bitter Punch is my second book of poems. This collection extends and expands on themes in my first book Transparent Strangers, such as the experience of urban living and the breakdown of human and spatial relationships. Bitter Punch is a collection hardened by age and well aware of what it seeks to accomplish through writing.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
Accessibility. Poetry, as with any art form, is artifice. Let’s not kid ourselves: poetry is difficult, pointless even, to most readers due to its abstract, technical nature. Poetry puts people off because that pretty pile of words they see/hear is hard to get into, not to mention the misinformed notion that poets are weirdoes. But we are not—not all of us, at least. Poetry can be relatable without obtuse technicality getting in the way of conveying experience.
Who are your favorite authors?
Raymond Carver’s short stories and novels by Jonathan Coe and Tash Aw. Poetry-wise I like Philip Larkin and Felix Cheong. Do songwriters count? If so, Dan Fogelberg and Adele.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
I once wrote a sonnet with alternating lines of English and Chinese in university. Spat it out like bad cud. To me shepherding words into rhyme and meter is restrictive, yet in recent years I am beginning to discover that it trains an ear for rhythm, something I intend to work on.
What’s your idea of bliss?
Falling asleep beside a loved one after intense martial arts training.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
It is not so much what as it is who. You sure you want to know?
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
Three months is a substantial amount of time. Why would I be reading when I could be meditating, exploring the landscape and honing martial arts moves?
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
A wet blanket.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Breathe in, breathe out, dig deep, fight on.
Loh Guan Liang is the author of two poetry collections: Transparent Strangers (Math Paper Press, 2012) and Bitter Punch (Ethos Books, 2016). He also co-translated Art Studio (Math Paper Press, 2014), a Chinese novel by Singapore Cultural Medallion recipient Yeng Pway Ngon. Winner of the 2011 Moving Words poetry competition organised by SMRT and The Literary Centre, he updates at http://lohguanliang.weebly.com
Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé is the Poetry Editor of Kitaab