I'm quite envious of your delicate touch with words. You conjure evocative imagery with just a stanza. What brought you to poetry as a way of expressing yourself? In your writing, how do you feel about the economy of poetry versus the expansiveness of prose?
The art of economy is a discipline I learned at university. Up until then, I had been a fairly indulgent prose and poetry writer. My composition of language was often deeply emotive, highly subjective and heavy with the influence of romance and Keatsian turns of phrase. Often, but not always. There has also been a trend in my writing, since childhood, towards describing a snapshot visual, and towards epiphany. I began university with the shadow of a complex illness already threatening to obscure me, so I was determined to excel.
This proved difficult for two reasons - I liked to answer questions in my own merry, meandering way, and I did not know how to edit myself. My Professor, Simon Featherstone, taught me this: "The line that you are most attached to, is the line that has to go!" In learning precision, I learned economy. And I think, perhaps, my poetry has begun to adapt to my rather fragile body. These quick brushstrokes of poems serve me well in and out of hospital.
Delicacy aside, though, sometimes I yearn to write a tome in the style of Tolstoy; an epic blockbuster of a novel packed with 108 Dickensian characters. Yearning is what we artists and writers do best!
When you begin writing a poem, do you focus on an image? A phrase? A song? What inspires the act of picking up the pen?
A line comes to me. I focus on a few words, a phrase, that forms the first line of the poem-to-be. Blog posts require titles, which I often enjoy for their brevity, but my poems never used to have titles. Do poets think of titles first? When do the titles come? I prefer the idea of that first line being the clue to the poem. My inspiration as a poet is simultaneously influenced by the subtle and the obvious. Hospitals are waiting rooms filled with both.
Two artists who have influenced my work are my parents; they paint their lives in very different ways. Father's watercolours are mysterious, floating worlds, echoes of Turner and Monet, impressionistic; my Mother's work is magnified detail, bright, strong, clear - O'Keefe comes to mind. Father talks in riddles, Mother is incredibly literal - I flit between worlds in my life, and make sense of it all when I write.
I love 'The Year of Yes'; it's deeply inspirational. It speaks of great positivity, despite the challenges you face with lupus. How has keeping your positive energy and happiness been instrumental to your life and your writing?
Have you read Victor E. Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning'? He says, "Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it." I marry this idea with the engaged Buddhism teachings of mindfulness, and try to achieve 'Happen-ness'. Living in the now, the here and now, is not easy with a sneaky systemic illness like Lupus. Lupus is an embodiment of many human fears: the What-Ifs and the If-Onlys. So the secret to happiness is being present for the happen-ness, the saying Yes! in gratitude for our ability as humans to be present.
My friend Dr. Ho tells me to embrace pain, particularly the physical manifestations of it, because feeling pain means you are alive! And he is right - physical pain does not exclude twinkling eyes, sparkly smiles and the playful impulse to tease and be teased. The act of writing is instant happen-ness for me. Just holding the pen, the feel of my book of poems, the moment of connection between the physical materials and my soul, my thoughts, my sight... yes! yes! yes! It is the best of me.
Imagery: Kitagawa Utamaro, Dr Tayabali, Perveen Tayabali