When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?

I started writing poems on and off since I was sixteen, and for three years I didn’t tell anyone that I was writing them, except for maybe one or two close friends. It was an extension of the need to express myself in a way that permitted ambiguity. Because English wasn’t the language I used with family and friends, writing in it gave me a remoteness that I found freeing. I think poetry entices us the way football or music does: it’s a world of strange rules and heightened emotions, and you never quite know what the result will be until you reach it.


Please talk about your development as a writer of poems. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.

I still haven’t fully gotten around the idea of being a ‘poet’, because for some time it was a secret that I felt embarrassed about. For me, poetry was and still is a private ritual, and I had to adjust to the fact that there would be other people reading and reacting to my work. I’m indebted to the poets I’ve met for their kindness and advice. Everyone being so nice really helped make the public side of poetry feel a lot less nerve-wracking. I’m also glad that for quite a while, I got to write without anyone knowing or caring, because it solidified poetry as a non-careerist, non-capitalistic pursuit. I think this loyalty to oneself is sacrosanct.


What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?

It’s a great honour, and I can’t express enough how lucky I feel. One of the first books I read in the UK was the Forward Book of Poetry, so this is especially meaningful for me. I’m happy and grateful that the judges saw something in my poem that they thought was worthy of celebration.


Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?

I wrote ‘Fricatives’ after having arrived in the UK to begin my university studies. I hadn’t been to the UK or Europe before, and I was being exposed to ideological tugs-of-war that I hadn’t reckoned with. I was also reading a lot of articles on the wave of Hongkongers immigrating to the UK, which made me sad and worsened my homesickness. The poem was born out of a sense of estrangement, a frustration at being misunderstood and being expected to submit, the guilt of benefitting from or seeking pleasure in that submission, and the paradox of writing in a language that, despite all of its unsavoury connotations and colonial baggage, lent me a communicable vessel for my thoughts. I think coming to the UK also gave me the courage to write about queerness more candidly, so this poem is important to me in that sense as well.


Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?

I think there’s always different things to learn from different poets. I would say I’m most interested in poems where thinking and feeling happen concurrently, where language is put to the test and isn’t taken for granted, where images carry an effortless elegance and luminosity.

For contemporary poets, some names on my mind recently include Solmaz Sharif, Will Harris, Henri Cole, Stephen Sexton, Diane Seuss, Kayo Chingonyi, Matthea Harvey, Timothy Liu, Armen Davoudian, Padraig Regan, Jenny Xie, Sarah Howe, and many, many others – sorry I can’t name everyone! Tomas Tranströmer, W. S. Merwin, and Bei Dao are some poets that continually astonish me in ways I can’t articulate. One of the first poems I ever fell in love with was Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’. I also love drawing inspiration from filmmakers, who I believe are poets in their own right.



What is next for you as a poet?

To read more, to keep improving, to preserve that sense of wonder that first led me to write.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?

I wouldn’t presume that I’m in any position to give advice, but if I could talk to myself from two or three years ago, I’d tell him to read adventurously, to be curious and empathetic, and to always have a beginner’s heart. Nothing is unimportant.