“she answers, because going is where I was”
Phạm, Thu Uyên
The author describes the process of creating an original poetry collection: “At the beginning, figuring out a structure for a 30-page long project was extremely difficult for me. I kept trying to start somewhere because I knew I had a lot to say, but could not figure out where to begin. In August, I stumbled upon the 7768 form when searching for Vietnamese poetic forms, as I was helping a Singaporean literary journal host a writing challenge for Southeast Asian writers. This became my beginning. For the first half of the project (section I & II), I wrote how I often do, using a very autobiographical style and voice. At the end of section II, I became exhausted because (1) I was tired of writing about myself, and (2) I was bored of my own voice. This state of exhaustion highly motivated me to come up with a totally different approach and structure for section III. At this point, I did not understand why I wanted to write a story about a fish (I only came up with the inspirations I mentioned above way later, as I was writing this preface), so I decided then to just sit down and start writing, not knowing what would happen and where it would take me. Here, I found myself wanting to write fiction instead of poetry, so that was what I did. I listened to some instrumental water-related music, looked at some photos of the sea and fish on Pinterest for inspiration to get myself in the mood. This became one of the most difficult, but also most interesting writing experience that I have ever had. The bird story followed like a counter-argument to the fish story, so I let it happen the same way I let the fish swim where he wants to swim. As I arrived at the final section, I wanted something big, something with echoes. Initially, I was considering the balance of voices in my project. The first half only uses first person, and section III uses third person. So should I use second person for the finale? I tried writing in second person perspective, but it did not work out because I felt like it forced me to make the readers join the story, or I would have to tell readers how they would feel, which is against the philosophy of my project. Finally, I discovered and settled on a better compromise: Instead of writing about a “you,” I could write to a “you,” like a series of letters, so I did that. I also remember that at this point, I was feeling kind of lonely. I wanted someone to talk to about these heavy things I was writing about. Since the plot for section IV is originally an idea for a short story, using a different form to execute it is an interesting challenge. I did fiction-writing exercises first to build my characters, and tried to get in their heads. While writing drafts, I sometimes listened to music (with lyrics), which I never did when writing the other three sections, because I wanted the voice to come out more spontaneously, since these are love letters written between two characters who have known each other inside and out. One big challenge about writing section IV is the necessary switch in language, because fiction requires a very different kind of sensibility from poetry. For examples, metaphors and “poetic”/flowery sentences can easily be a big no-no because they cannot bring out that grounded, casual, realistic and intimate feeling that fiction (specifically letter writing in this case) requires. Therefore, I had to reimagine the use of words and images and find alternatives. Overall, I really enjoyed getting to practise writing both poetry and fiction in this project, because I love writing and reading both. “
xviii, 38 p.
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