Tich Interviews: Artist Kim Engelen

For his latest interview, Tich has a change of pace by interviewing an international artist: Kim Engelen. Kim recently completed her book titled “The Little Bridge”.

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  1. Qn: It’s 1994, you are a freshman at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Netherlands. Did you always envision yourself taking this route or did it “just happen”?

Tammy Rae Carland one of my teachers at CCA in San Francisco told us that an artist’s career has many winding roads. I think I agree with her on this. And maybe that is also a good thing – art is not completely predictable and so it opens up for new things to develop.

2. Qn: You describe yourself as a contemporary artist, please explain what that is for the layman.

Contemporary Art is said to be an art expression or art form which takes place in the present time – Art from today. It works with images, situations, questions showing the possible tension and contradictions rooted in everyday life. Contemporary artists can make use of a multitude of media, such as video, performance, photography, technology, drawing and painting. Contemporary Art can be any material, method, concept, and subject. According to Wikipedia to which I concur: “Contemporary art is part of a cultural dialogue that concerns larger contextual frameworks such as personal and cultural identity, family, community, and nationality”.
The cool thing to me about Contemporary Art is that it can’t be really pinned down which makes it fluid and thus continuously interesting.

In my own art practice, Contemporary Art means a very personal but on the same hand conceptual and perhaps a more technical approach. For example in 2003 I did a performance called “The Life of Jogger” This I organized as if a regular sport event. I created a vast website (where people could find all sorts of information, read my joggers diary and signup for the 10k run and such). The run was announced on the radio. I had interviews about it, I had made an art video and all the joggers who had signed up received via post a cobalt blue T-shirts with in white text I SPORT on it. On the day itself the joggers jogged together 10 kilometers – as a blue breathing and living organism through the streets of Rotterdam. From the photographs made of the performance I created a photo-book with the name: The Face of Jogger.

  1. Qn: Fine art in China and in Europe. What are the similarities and differences you have observed?

It has only been months since I came to China so that might be too short to say anything really. But I think fine arts in China and fine arts in the West have a very different timeline. Chinese fine art comes from such a vast and deep artistic culture of which I hardly know anything about. Western art has gone through many developments and changes and styles and movements and periods. Chinese art probably also went through a lot of transformations but my western eye is not trained to see these nuances. In general, Chinese fine art to me feels possibly more rooted and traditional. Maybe a little bit like what I said about Contemporary Art. To me, painting is a more traditional medium, so is let’s say for example calligraphy. Additionally, I would maybe nevertheless also like to add that the art market can be perhaps a little bit homogenous. What works are selected and where are they shown, so in that regard are Chinese Fine Arts and European or Western Fine art really that different? Yes. Of course. But then again in what way? Or in what topics? Thinking of material, method, concept, and subject. Under the huge umbrella of Fine Arts also falls Contemporary Art. Among my longtime favorite Performance artists are, the Taiwanese-American artist Teching Hsieh. In his “One Year Performance 1980-1981”, he punched a card in a time clock on the hour for twenty-four hours a day. Freedom can also mean the freedom to suffer and endure at one’s own beckoning. In an extreme fashion he blended art and life. As a true genius he made the thinking about art an artwork in itself. Another impressive artist to me is Zhang Huan. In his work “12 Square Meters” (1994) he sits in a public toilet smeared in oil and honey and endures flies all over on his body. He sits with shaven head in a meditative kind of pose. With his masochistic performance he seems to show how strong the mind can be and makes it look appalling and sexy at the same time. He managed his body as more than an aesthetic object. He used his own body as if to express individual autonomy and agency. Another great work by him is “To raise the Water Level in a Fish Pond” (1997) in which you see several people waist high standing in a pond. This is documented by photographer Rong Rong and raises the question of authorship. Is the performance the artwork or are the images of the performance the art work? Are the photographs taken of the performance artist or of the photographer? Which makes me think also about the complexity of collaborations.

 

  1. Qn: Still Photography versus Video. Which do you think allows for more artistic expression?

Since I graduated in 1999 up to maybe 2012 I considered myself a video-artist. During these 13 years, I would have probably answered video. I would have said video adds time to the mix, expression over time, and additional layers such as music and or sound. But now I think there is not one best solution which fits all circumstances. Since it depends on what you want to express. Sometimes photography might be more suitable, at other times video. And I think that it also matters what medium you are comfortable with. My custom is still video since I feel so relaxed with it. I love the medium: How it looks. How it works. How my body gets involved in the making. The possible interaction with the person in front of the camera. And how you are able with video to demand somehow from the viewer the time to experience your video. Since time is often a necessary element in video. The viewer has to look longer in order to be able to see more (or to possibly understand the artwork). In video time is an additional material that can affect the self-awareness state of mind of the viewer. On top of this I like how you can transform video into an installation and envelope the visitor in it.

 

  1. Qn: As a visual artist, how much does the saying “A picture says a thousand words” influence your artistic process?

Although I am a visual artist I actually don’t totally agree. Maybe I would if the word “can” had been added. I’m thinking of a short poem by Ernest Hemingway. Which consists of only 6 words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Yes perhaps it takes more time to think. But what I want to say is that words can be incredibly powerful. Also, I love text: I love to make art-books. I love to write about my work. With words, you can be deliciously precise. But I am not a trained writer and English is not my mother language. Therefore as a medium to work with, it takes me much more time and effort. My specialty lies in social oriented performances, video and iPhone photography. But my topics of interest rotate around communication and self-development. So I am happy that, as an artist I am free to use whatever medium I see fit. In short: No, that particular saying doesn’t influence my artistic process.

 

6. Qn: You have an ongoing art project called “Sun-penetrations”. How do you think the casual observer relates to the concept behind this project?
People (or the absence of them) play the central role in my art. I work and play with the individual as work in progress, with the focus on the intrinsic thinking world and the inner strength of the individual. In the (absence of) meeting with another through conscious reflection, development (or deterioration) can take place. More positively speaking or ideally, my works are about self-development, critical thinking and humanity.

I know sex and violence draw attention. But this work penetrates to a deeper level. It’s a different sort of violence: loneliness. And the visual beauty that lies in the respect for this raw emotion. In my ongoing series “Sun-Penetrations” I show photographs and 1-minute videos. Most works are half dark, calm and quasi abstract images. The focus is or seems to be on the bright sunbeam and mostly no humans are visible (besides occasionally maybe legs or a hand). And yet it’s so much about the body. The only deep penetrating that is taking place is from the sun piercing from outside inwards.

In “Sun-Penetrations” the (female) body is inside the home, the private space when experiencing the sun’s passage in time. “Sun-Penetrations” move around the perceiving (self) domesticated body and its interpretation of the penetrating sun. These artworks come into existence by my own body traveling and thus living and staying in hotels, motels, residencies, and new homes.
When I was living in Berlin I had a solo exhibition at Burnrate. The art space was divided into 3 rooms (which I called experience rooms). And in the 3rd room in the back, I had the space filled with ticking clocks from the ’80s. Making it acutely perceptible that time is and has been passing. My 1-minute videos showed beams of the sun, penetrating through windows, curtains, doors, burned glass and holes, into the inner space. When sitting in that space people said they felt they were coming under some sort of spell, or trance and said they felt calm and comforted.

 

  1. Qn: Your first solo exhibition: How nerve-racking was it? What was the inspiration behind its title: “In Between Cars”?
    The exhibition itself was not nerve-racking to me, I was just too busy with my schoolwork and side jobs to get everything organized and ready. But the social implications of having a solo show whilst still being a student at art school was a disturbing experience. Without my knowledge, a fellow student out of spite or jealousy, had created a (fake?) political campaign between herself and me and had the (fake?) results up on posters with our names and faces, throughout the school. I also had to hear that some art teachers supposedly had said that they didn’t believe I had organized it all by myself. But I had, and the exhibition was a success: It was opened by the minister of culture. The show was well visited. With the exhibition came a black paged catalog of my artworks. I had sold a work and the exhibition made the newspapers.

The title of the exhibition had a double connotation. On one hand, it pointed out literally: (Art) in between cars. On the other hand, I wanted to imply some sort of intimacy. I think in my art there is always some sort of intimacy involved or making the private, public. Since it is real and personal: It deals with inner thoughts, the body, and social interactions. It can be exposing and thus vulnerable. So I created a sort of space within a public space. And the exhibition name “in between cars” has the same sort of particular private/public feeling to it. Also, I strongly felt and feel that art is about life and should be accessible to everybody, back then I didn’t like the idea of the artificial white art cube (which is created for the sole purpose of showing art). So doing an exhibition in a car showroom was for me very fitting.

 

  1. Qn: Having lived in 6 different countries, which would you say has been a greatest source of artistic inspiration the most?

I think all countries have had their effect on me and thus my art.
The Netherlands is where I originally come from and where I had my initial training at the art academy as an artist. Spain is where I did my first artist in residence abroad and where I felt the first love for the earth, the people and the language and where I experienced women actually supporting each other. Then in 2010 I studied at CCA in San Francisco where I was surrounded by so many different people of race, creed and social background. I was surrounded by super intelligent and open-minded characters by which I felt mentally stimulated, I felt I could grow. Here my theoretical side as an artist got nourished. It is also here where I started to write weekly tumblr posts. Which I still do (kimengelen.tumblr.com). Sweden is where I completed my masters in Critical and Pedagogical Studies and where I fully emerged in my studies and where my work broke free from only using video as a medium. Berlin, the city of Sodom and Gomorrah, is where I lived for 4 years and had personal experiments which shaped me even further, into who I am today. Here I took a curating degree and also had my Private-Mini-Exhibitions. And now here in China although feeling quite exposed as the foreigner and yet, strangely enough, feeling totally safe. As an artist I feel free to be personal and poetic without feeling it to be downgraded. People, here I feel support personal growth. As instead of the western feeling I have in Western cultures, of being only acknowledged when being critical, academic and serious. Although I come here as me. I think I am a bit of both, very serious in my work and also very personal. I think this is where I have to be with my art. For me being in China is nurturing and I think it does my art good.

  1. Qn: Have you exhibited in China yet? How was the experience? If not, why?
    Yes. It was a mixed group-exhibition in Hangzhou called “Unstruct”. It was held in the exhibition space of Chen Haiping and his wife JunJun. From them I felt generosity, freedom, tenderness and warmth. In this group exhibition I became very aware of my own extreme diligence and drive to have my work look perfect in every single aspect. I presented a large-scale light-box with in it a video still frame from my bridge-performance called “Empathetic Walking Panel” on the Broken Bridge.The performance was captured using a drone video camera and shows The Broken Bridgefrom above.
    The “Bridge-Performances” are one of my ongoing art projects. I coined these temporary encounters of co-creating the “Bridge-Performances”. To me the bridge is a wonderful tool to work with, it stands as a metaphor symbolizing connection, process and transition. And during the bridge-performance “Empathetic Walking Panel” I asked three thought-provoking questions about the expat community living in Hangzhou. The transcript of this conversation is presented in the first art-book I made in China called “Empathetic Walking Panel” and was placed on a pedestal next to the lightbox.10. Qn: What is the next step for you as an artist?
    At the moment I have several books lined up. The art-book “The Little Bridge” from my last artist in residence in Jiaxing is into print. I lived and worked for six days at the Meihuazhou Scenic Spot in Jiaxing. Every day I made one new artwork and exhibited the new work the same day while continuing to make new works of art. The exhibition space was presented as an artist studio where people could walk in to see the artworks in progress.
    Furthermore,I want to complete my art-book “Private-Mini-Exhibitions”. While living in Berlin I inaugurated six mini-exhibitions at my home. By opening up my private space to the public I continued to initiate a setting for a temporary intimacy, similar to the “Bridge-Performances” themselves. This art book is now being translated into German and I’m thinking whether or not I want to make it trilingual and also have it translated into Chinese.
    Then I have another book in the pipeline which is something completely different from what I would normally do – namely an art-book for kids. In here are art lesson-scripts with images from actual student works. The art classes are oriented around Western modern art.
    Moreover, I want to do many exhibitions. I have a group-exhibition in December coming up. Gallery Ram and Bin Art Center told me that they want to exhibit my work. Then next year I will have an art show in Shanghai near the Bund.
    Also, I was thinking that for more than 20 years I have operated as a freelance artist. Now I want to see if I can have gallery representation here in China in order to enjoy the push and support of professionals. My intention is to be to be a high-ranking artist and, in that sense, my next step is always to make great art and show it.

 

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Questions: Ticahona, Hangzhou Writers Association
Answers: Kim Engelen, December 5, 2018

 

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New Captain(s) at the Helm

As September draws to a close HZ Writers Association is undergoing some changes. Perhaps the biggest of these is the new administration, myself. Both of the founders Hannah Lund and Katie Sill still currently live in China and remain a source of contact for consultation. However, the website and events planning are currently getting an overhaul. With this new start we hope to have more frequent and regularly scheduled events/activities for contributors new and old. We will also be accepting monthly submissions for our site and maybe we will put out another anthology in the coming year.

I am only as good as the people I work with. I would be remiss not to mention all of the help and work done by longtime group contributors Hasina Rajaonarivelo and Tich Sagonda. Both Hasina and Tich have been instrumental in getting events planned, generating interest for the group, and contributing. Tich is from Zimbabwe and has been our point man for events at Libre and conducting poet interviews. Hasina from Madagascar has also helped with event planning, has been an energetic promoter for the group, and prolific contributor. Together, we three are working hard to expand our outreach and our base of writers and contributors. This group has only been around for less than two years, so let’s work to keep it going for many years to come! Spread the word, join the WeChat group (HZ Writers Association), or submit for our monthly publication.

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Interested in submitting? Check out our Submissions page for more info.

Tich Interviews: Kyle W. Porter

Tich is back with a new round of interviews. This time with the newly appointed administrator of HZ Writers Association, event host, and home cooking enthusiast Kyle W. Porter.

Interviewer: Tich Sagonda

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Can you give us a brief self-introduction?

            My name is Kyle W. Porter. I’m from small-town America (Uxbridge, Massachusetts). I am an English and Drama teacher at Ningbo Lan Qing Primary School in Ningbo, China. I have been living and working in China for a total of two and a half  years in various places. First, I started down south in Pingguo, Guangxi Province, then to Hangzhou after a year in the States, and now Ningbo.

When did you start writing and what do you think attracted you to poetry?

            I started writing in the 7thgrade. My English teacher taught a unit on poetry and as an assignment we had to write original poems in the different styles or using different poetic devices we learned about. Something just clicked inside. Since then I wrote off and on, sometimes months or a year would go by before writing something down. It wasn’t until I joined the Hangzhou Writers Association for the 30 Day Poetry Challenge last summer that I started to write consistently. Now I write as part of my daily creative habit.

How did you end up in China?

            The first time I came to China was right after I graduated college. I was approached by a professor of mine a month before graduation and he told me about this opportunity to work as an English teacher in this new school built and financed by a former alum. The second time I came to China was for a new job with EF (English First) and a girl. Long story short, neither of them worked out. However, working in Ningbo has been wonderful, so at least it lead to something better.

And how has living in China influenced your writing?

            That is a great question. Living in China and especially living in both rural and urban places has really broaden my perspective on a lot of things: daily life, customs, and culture for example. It has also allowed me to pursue my dream of traveling the world and my current work draws on the different history and culture of places I’ve traveled to. I’ve also started experimenting in writing in my second language (Chinese). But most of all finding and joining the Hangzhou Writers Association has just given me major impetus to write and develop a creative habit.

You have just published your debut book. Tell us more about it?

          Ah, yes, the book. Well, I have had this dream of writing a book for years. In fact, this book has a lot of my earlier poetry and my most recent stuff. So, it’s really interesting, for me at least, to see the evolution of my poetry and my voice to what it is today. It explores just about everything: race, history, culture, travel, love, loss, identity, current events, politics, and almost every form of poetry from limericks to Shakespearean sonnets. It’s titled Over the One-Half World and is currently available in ebook format on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07B8MC16W. I hope to put out another book next year with my newer poems, including a series exploring the seven deadly sins. 

“Over the One-Half World”. Why this title?

        This is a tribute to my love of Shakespeare. This is from Macbeth, Act II, Scene 1 towards the end of his ‘dagger of the mind’ soliloquy (of course he elided it to ‘o’er the one-half world’). All throughout my work there are countless allusions to Shakespeare. Studying and acting in Shakespeare’s plays really showed me that even a few lines can be rich and have more than one meaning.

One book down already, what do you see/hope for in your future as a writer?

            Well, I hope to just keep writing and getting stuff out there. I write in several different forms i.e. poetry, music, plays, and fiction. I have been working on a story that I’ve been trying to complete for like several years now. Kind of a modern take on the Prometheus myth from Ancient Greece. So, that might become a novella or book. And I just completed a screenplay based around the songs of Tom Lehrer. 

I really hope that I can not only express myself through my work, but to also try to effect change or at the very least get reader to think about the issues and questions I explore in my work.

One poet that more people should know: Who is it?

            That’s a tough question for me. I honestly want people to take poetry a little more seriously. I feel like there is a stigma that poetry should be nice and about love and not take on real issues like racism or politics or can effect change. I mean, when is that last time someone got their income from just poetry and was respected for it? I read a lot of classical poetry and stuff from the last century so I feel most of that is well known already. But, perhaps Edna St. Vincent Millay.

What are you reading at the moment?

            The National Geographic Magazine, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, and a play by Rajiv Joseph called Animals Out of Paper.

What words of advice would you give aspiring poets/writers?

            Develop your creative habit. I once read a book called The Creative Habit by the choreographer Twyla Tharp and it changed how I think about the creative process. I don’t really believe in talent per say, but in hard work and dedication. Write every day, set goals for yourself, cultivate your creative process and your voice, and just keep at it until you get your technique down.

 

 

Interested in submitting? Check out our Submissions page for more info.

Tich Interviews: Katie Sill

Happy New Year! The first writer interview of 2018 is with the other co-founder of the Hangzhou Writer’s Association Intl: Katie Sill!

Interviewer: Tich Sagonda

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Can you give us a brief self introduction?

Well, I’m from Dallas, Texas in the United States of America. I came to China in 2013 to teach English and have remained in Hangzhou ever since. I now teach literature at Hangzhou High School’s International Department.

When did you start writing and what do you think attracted you to poetry?

 To be honest, I only started writing poetry because I was required to take a poetry writing class in college as part of my English Writing major. Until that point, I always saw myself as a ‘fiction’ person. Turns out, my poetry was way more popular with my peers and professors than my fiction ever was.

My university also had an active poetry community. We would have visiting poets come and present their work, we’d do poetry slams among the students, and we even had an undergraduate publication. Over time I became more and more involved in all facets of the writing community on campus: writing, editing, performing, etc. I think this experience really helped when it came time to establish HZWA Intl.

Moving to China: How did that impact your life as a poet?

 It wasn’t until my third year in China that poetry returned to my life. After I graduated from college, I started a master’s program for international education. My first two years were dedicated to my courses and thesis as well as my teaching. During this time, I was honestly too busy trying to find my footing as a teacher to worry about creative writing.

So, I guess you could say moving to China actually stifled my creativity (in terms of poetry). Instead, I was writing more and more non-fiction and creative non-fiction. I’ve kept a fairly regular blog about my life in China for friends and family back in America. That’s about as creative as I got with my writing for the first few years.

 Hangzhou Writers Association International, what was the inspiration behind it?

 Hannah and I co-founded the HZWA Intl on a whim. Even though we went to different universities in America, we were able to bond over our shared memories of college poetry events. That got me thinking: How hard would it be to have a slam in China? Which is how we realized: It’s not hard at all! All you need is a venue and an interested audience.

Our first slam was a gamble because we didn’t have a group on wechat, we didn’t know many other writers in the city, we just wanted to see what would happen. I remember joking: Even if no one else shows up, we’ll still have fun reading poems to each other! Fortunately for us, we had a good turn-out for that first slam. It was so much fun; we asked the audience if they would like a repeat event the next month. They said yes! Thus the tradition began.

 How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer over the years?

 I think my blog has made my writing style veer towards creative non-fiction and prose poetry. The poetry events we have give me inspiration and often motivate me to write something just for fun.

 What do you think good poetry ought to do?

 I don’t think I’m qualified to judge what constitutes ‘good poetry.’ I only know what I like: 1) poems that elicit an emotion from me, 2) poems that evoke an image described in a new and exciting way, and 3) poems that make me think.

 What’s the best experience you’ve gained through your writing?

 I’ve met a lot of really cool people through writing (especially Hannah). I think that’s got to be the best part.

 Do you have a set routine (place, process) when you write?

 No, but I should get one.

Writers block. How do you deal with it?

 I alternate mediums. If I can’t get anything using the computer, I’ll switch to a pad of paper and vice versa.

 Where do you see yourself as a poet in the near future?

 I can only hope that HZWA Intl. continues to grow and serve the writing community of Hangzhou. Right now, my role is to facilitate this group, website, and publications as outlet for other aspiring writers. It’s not as self-sacrificing as it sounds. I’m reading, listening, and learning from my peers. The things I take away from this experience will no doubt help me in my future writing.

 One poet that more people should know: Who is it?

 Dylan Garity or Neil Hilborn (I couldn’t just choose one) – you can find their stuff on YouTube.

 What are you reading at the moment?

 Well, since I teach literature, I’m reading what my students are reading: “In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson”, “Holes”, and “The Outsiders”.

 What words of advice would you give aspiring poets?

 There’s no such thing as a bad poem, only an unpolished draft. Don’t give up!

 

Interested in submitting? Check out our Submissions page for more info.

Tich Interviews: Hannah Lund

This is the first of a series of interviews. This month, the interview focuses on one of the founders of the HZWA Intl.: Hannah Lund!

Interviewer: Tich Sagonda

1787400306Can you give us a brief self introduction?

Of course! I’m a graduate student in Comparative Literature and World Literature at Zhejiang University. If you’re not sure what that means, you wouldn’t be alone. I’ve been in China on and off for five years now, first as a university teacher, now as a student. I’ve been obsessed with China for a long time. I mean, all of my journals in middle school and on were China-themed, which is pretty wild. I went back home one year and found one, only to see that I could actually read the characters on the cover. Luckily it said “Imagination” and not “Fried rice” or something like that. I also do a ton of travel, and have made it to every Chinese province in my time here.

When did you start writing and what do you think attracted you to poetry?

Well, as a kid I was always creating something, even if it was a stupid song about imaginary witches. I think I really started to consider writing seriously once I got to college and met others who liked to write. Ever since then, I’ve made a point to write pretty regularly, even now as I’m working on my thesis. I got into poetry because of a poetry slam I joined while in college. I loved the economy of language, but also how in such a short space, the writer could still pack a punch. I also liked how spoken word involves the audience more and creates a sort of communal work of art, even though it’s typically just one person speaking. Poetry for me can be many things, but in the end it’s how it draws people together that makes it special, while also manipulating language in a way that longer works often can’t.

Moving to China: How did that impact your life as a poet?

In some ways it’s hard to say that because I’m still in China, but I noticed that as a student learning in a Chinese-speaking environment, I would often have such a back-log of things I wanted to say but just didn’t know how to express. You know how lots of pressure will either make dust or a diamond? That’s sort of what happened I think in terms of my creativity. With the pressure to express myself in a limited context, it made me ravenous for English writing and for chances to fully express myself. Rather than getting discouraged, I leaned into it and just tried harder and harder to say it better each time. Of course, it also goes without saying that being in China is to be surrounded by inspiration all over, especially when it comes to travel. I find people most inspiring, though, and so as my Chinese has improved, I’ve been able to meet a wide variety of locals and expats alike.

Hangzhou Writers International, what was the inspiration behind it?

The seed of the idea really began after I’d gone to a poetry night through Zhejiang University. The whole situation made me really nostalgic for poetry nights back in America, especially in terms of how laid-back and welcoming they were. I mean, the event I’d joined in Hangzhou wasn’t bad, it was just very different from how I thought poetry ought to be enjoyed. I remember walking back to my dorm room, calling Katie and talking about how much I wanted a more open and relaxed space for poetry, and she just said “We could start that.” And here we are.

How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer over the years?

In leaps and bounds. I mean, I’m far from considering myself to be a great writer, but I’ve definitely made progress, which has come from sheer persistence. Just making it a habit takes away a lot of the anxiety or fear that comes from creation, and after a while a blank page looks more like a playground, less like a yawning abyss of failure. It’s hard for me to gauge specifically what’s gotten better, but sometimes when I look back on old writing, I can tell that something’s changed. 

What do you think good poetry ought to do?

Well, poetry can come in all forms, but I think one thing that all good poetry ought to do is move and be able to move others. For me, good poetry is the stuff that subverts your expectations, offers surprises, and basically takes you on a journey that you didn’t even know you wanted or needed to take.

What’s the best experience you’ve gained through your writing?

Probably some of the best writing experiences I’ve had are the ones when I’ve been able to connect with other writers. This includes our own poetry functions, but also book readings by authors, poetry-related parties (yes they exist) and more. Once you find out that someone else writes, it’s like you’ve joined a secret club. One of the coolest things that has happened to me was when I made my first poetry translation attempt for the Shanghai Literary Review last spring, and it got accepted and by sheer domino-effect of connections, I ended up in an amazing weekend-long writing retreat on Chongming Island. Just goes to show that it never hurts to try, and that it can lead you to very unexpected places.

Do you have a set routine (place, process) when you write?

It’s funny because I think there’s this myth of writers lounging in dark attics, writing only when inspiration comes, but I can honestly write just about anywhere. I tend to do it in my room, but if I want the extra pressure of people around me, I might go to a library or a coffee shop (or in more extreme cases, places without Wifi to distract me). I definitely prefer writing with pen on paper first, because my thoughts tend to flow better and be more concise. After that, I’ll transfer it to my computer and then edit. I also try to write in the morning, because in the evening I’m usually worn out, or have a lot of scattered, hectic thoughts from the day.

Writers block. How do you deal with it?

I actually have the opposite problem: too many ideas vying for my attention. But, when I feel myself getting stuck with how I want to proceed, I’ll try writing something unrelated for a bit, and usually that change of perspective is all I need to keep going. That, and going for longish walks also helps clear the mind. And coffee. Too much coffee.

Where do you see yourself as a poet in the near future?

I definitely see myself in a poetry community, hopefully still involved in readings and slams and the like. Hopefully at some point in the future, I’ll have submitted some of my stuff to magazines and published more, but I’ll take it one step at a time.

One poet that more people should know: Who is it?

I’ll bet a decent number of people already know him, but I really do love Wendell Berry. He writes mostly about nature, but he does it in such a wonderful way, and I find it to be both poignant and a nice escape from frustrating things happening in the world, though he of course still points out those things, too.

What are you reading at the moment?

Right now, I’m reading the English version of “The Three Body Problem.” I just finished reading the original Chinese and was able to understand about 80% of it, and so wanted to check out the English version for that other 20%. Turns out that since the book is chock-full of scientific jargon, I’m still not quite at 100%, but I’m enjoying it nonetheless. That being said, I’m antsy to dive into the next books on my list: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, and “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead.

What words of advice would you give aspiring poets?

It’s like Ms. Frizzle says in The Magic School Bus: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!” Write your heart out, and when the time comes, share it!

Howling at the Moon

written by Katie Sill

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On December 15, the Hangzhou Writer’s Association Intl (that’s us, by the way) launched its first ever poetry anthology! Here’s a little background information, in case you were wondering:

In August, the HZWA Intl editorial team issued a poem-a-day challenge to the members. To participate, members were required to write a new poem a day for 30 days straight. Anyone who completed the challenge would receive a congratulatory prize. Only eight of our writers were able to complete the challenge successfully: Elena Claydon, Hasina Rajaonarivelo, Kyle W. Porter, Brine “Taz” Mukombachoto, Unica Suanque, Hannah Lund, Tich Sagonda, and Jude Ajaegbu. Click the links to see the writers’ work online! We (the editors) then asked them to choose their five favorite poems from the challenge to include in an anthology. Thus “Howling at the Moon” was born!

This was the very first time we at the HZWA Intl had ever attempted publication. Together, Hannah, Je-nae, and I worked hard putting everything together. Finally, after months of preparation, we were ready to release our first zine!

The night of the launch was full of excitement and everyone was so happy to see the finished product. All of the contributors received a free copy – of course – as their prize for finishing the challenge. To further honor their achievement, we dedicated the evening’s main event to the writers. It was so wonderful to hear the poets read their poems aloud. Everyone was able to enjoy the poems together, and, really, that’s what we’re all about.

Physical copies went on sale (in limited quantities) through our wechat group as well as at the event, itself. If you’re interested in reading what our writers produced, don’t worry! The ebook is available on amazon.com! You can buy it here.

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With the success of this writing project, we are already looking forward to our next publication. If you’re interested in learning more, follow us on wordpress or wechat to get the most updated information. As always, you can submit your work to be featured on this website to our editorial team at: hzwaeditor@outlook.com. Monthly submission deadlines are the 25th of each month. For more information, check out our home page.

Kaitlin Solimine — An Interview

By: Hannah Lund
(This interview is also published on Hannah’s blog)

For writers based in China, the question of how to digest and articulate experiences is daunting to say the least. In my own blog, I sometimes include conversations I’ve had with locals, but I’d be hard-pressed to say that I’ve accurately “captured” China.

Kaitlin Solimine tackles this very dilemma in her debut novel, Empire of Glass, which is a fictionalized account of her experience living with a Chinese host family in the mid-1990s. She began work on this novel as a U.S. Department of State Fulbright Creative Arts Fellow in 2006-2007, and has received numerous awards for her brilliant prose (which you can read more about in her bio here). Empire of Glass is presented as a translation of a diary given to “Lao K” from her Chinese mother, Li-Ming. This diary chronicles the tumultuous lives of Li-Ming and Lao K’s host father, “Baba,” while also raising questions about Lao K herself as she becomes a central character in this narrative. With the translator’s story told in footnotes, the novel challenges how we understand perspective, while also offering a nuanced look into Chinese life.

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Empire of Glass has been short-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and has already received critical acclaim. You can learn more about it on Solimine’s website and purchase it on amazon.

For now, join me as I chat with Solimine about her novel, writing, China, and more.

As a writer, you can’t help but feel that once you’re published, you’ve “arrived.” How does it feel for you writing this first book?
The path there is challenging and the fun part there is that, unless you just plan to publish one book, there’s no end to it really. It’s definitely more of a literary experimental book, so my goals around it were never really commercial success. So you know, my parents are always like, “How are the book sales?” That’s not how it works with literature! I’m not writing a spy thriller, so that piece of it wasn’t the point for me. What I really wanted was to have it published by a press I really respected, and for it to reach readers and start conversations.

Why did you choose this experimental and complex structure?
I was never really attracted to books in which the structure wasn’t critical to the book. I was always really attracted to narrative frames, diverse voices and different perspectives in a work that had some sort of structure that explained scenes of the book. There’s more nuance to it. In my MFA program, I thought about what it meant as a writer to approach a Chinese story when I’m not Chinese, and how I could show that I was aware of that. I was playing with that notion in the text itself.

Writers are often told to “Write what you know.” How did you approach a story like this, and would you have approached it differently if it had been set in American culture?
The weird thing for me is that what I “knew” was this relationship that I had with the family I lived with. It started with this question: “What do those relationships mean? Where were they productive, and where can they be really disjointed, problematic, or dangerous?” The fact that it took place in China and that I was not Chinese is such a critical part of the piece in general. There are questions of allowance and cultural appropriation. I think at the end of the day, when you say “Write what you know,” Well, you know things, but you also don’t know much even about your own identity, because identity is so layered and fluid. There’s a really important act of literature that happens when you write what you don’t know.

How would you compare those three different identities: Lao K as the teen in the book, Lao K the narrator, and then you the writer once known as Lao K?
I think that was something I was questioning. I didn’t want to get too biographical in this book or in this work. People that know me wonder “How much of this is you and how much of it isn’t?” My brother even said “You had a red bathing suit in high school! Did you have those relations with Baba then?” I wanted it to have a kernel of truth in terms of who she was and who I am, but there are many differences. You take yourself, and then you put yourself into a fictional situation, and then see what happens. Any experience I think of examining one’s history, whether that’s personal or collective, is layered in that way, and we have to recognize that when we hold onto any things that we think of as being Truth, just how malleable they actually are.

Is there something that drew you China specifically?
I actually had a very ‘happenstance’ road to China. I wanted to learn Japanese, but Japanese class was full. So, they recommended I take Chinese. These home-stay programs were unique at that time, just living with a family for an extended amount of time. I don’t think it was necessarily China specifically at that point for me. I was so pure. I had never left the US. It’s kind of this terrible analogy, it’s like losing my virginity. It was so formative, and you’ll always remember it, and I’ll always remember China, the place where I first was a foreigner.

I can tell just from your writing in “Becoming Li-Ming’s Daughter” that the family left a big impact on you, especially with your relationship with Li-Ming. Do you think she lives on with you and your own daughter? How does she influence your life as a mother?
I think that was something I was investigating in that essay for sure. I think she was this worldly person, and confident woman who has never really lived that out in the way that a global woman today would. So there was something really beautiful, but also poignant in that. She didn’t have the same opportunities that I had, or her daughter has. She lost that. And so I think this was something I was exploring in the book: what would it be like to be as independent, as inquisitive as Li Ming was, or even as I am, or you are, or anyone who is going to China to do a different thing, but yet not have those opportunities, or to have history not on your side? I certainly learned a lot from her, or at least from my version of her.

So I meet other travelers and other writers, and they’re always trying to understand or portray what they like to call “Real China.” How would you interpret “Real China,” and is there such a thing?
Well, no. There’s not. I mean, what is real? I think about my early romance with China and feeling like I needed to know the real China, and that the way to do that was by learning the language, or marrying a Chinese person, or you know all of these different ways of doing that. It was this little breaking down, realizing it’s a young, naive notion. You have all of these histories within these regions as well as cultural practices. You have all of the ethnic minorities. And this diversity of experiences is really what China truly is. That, to me, would be more representative than any one thing. You’ll never have one specific definitive version, but I think that’s what’s so beautiful about that journey, too. As you pursue that path, whether as an individual or as a writer, it will continue to challenge your understanding of not just China but of place, and of history, and of individual and of identity. It starts to ask bigger questions about yourself, too. But I think that’s why it’s so important to be outside of your comfortable places. I empathize with that journey, because I’m still on it in some ways.

Thanks to Kaitlin Solimine for her interview! Be sure to check out her novel, Empire of Glass.

Hot off the press!

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It’s nearing the end of September 2017 and to say that it’s been hella hot in Hangzhou would be the understatement of the year! While the sun beat down on Chinese streets, the poetry scene was on fire with our first month-long poetry contest that ran from August 10th to September 10th 2017. All round, temperatures have been rising as anticipation builds for the first private anthology publication of the Hangzhou Writers Association International community.

The poetry competition’s end coincided with a post-summer poetry slam at Underline Café in Hangzhou, with readings and Spoken word from a fist-full of appreciators and performers of the poetic arts. Underline, as a venue, adds a lot to the experience of any slam, thanks to the brilliant design by the folks over at LYCS. Paired with soft lighting, an array of book-shelved walls and an abundance of coffee, Underline and HZWA’s meet cute was obvious and we can’t wait for the next opportunity to show off the happy couple!

In other news: Ever wondered how you could become a true Wordsworthian poet? How did the Romantics have such an eye for nature to be able to transpose plants to prose, and grow willowy sonnets from a single, linguistic root? Well,  The Griffin Trust offers the answer in what may seem an all too literal sense, but is presented here in the form of an online poetry course. Curious? Check it out and, if you feel inspired, submit whatever poems grow from the experience!

We are falling back into the rhythm of monthly submissions, but with a surprise or two up our blogging sleeves! Keep an eye here for more on what’s cooking or become a follower of HZWA to stay in the loop.

Until next time,
-JC Freel

 

 

Interested in submitting? Check out our Submissions page for more info.