FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: 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.
SARAH TSIANG: It took a long time to feel like a poet, it seemed like such a silly thing to call myself. It also seemed like a weighted, pretentious word and I wondered if I could still be a poet during my fallow times when I wasn’t writing? Eventually I realised that the act of reading and writing poetry was enough – to be a poet is similar to other trades (though with less pay) in that much of it is putting your head down and getting to work.
FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
ST: Honestly, there’s something deeply wonderful and rewarding knowing that of all the superb poetry out there the judges looked at my work and felt a twinge of recognition, that fantastic feeling of understanding that sometimes happens between writer and reader.
FAF: 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?
ST: ‘Dick pics’ is part of my new manuscript, tentatively titled Grappling Hook, which I’ve just completed. My other books, Status Update and Sweet Devilry also deal with issues of contemporary culture, feminism, and parenting.
FAF: At this moment, the world has been turned upside down by Covid-19. How do you think these extraordinary times will affect your readers’ response to your work?
ST: Well if anything I would imagine that there are more dick pics being sent out into the world now than ever before.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
ST: I love Sheri Benning’s work for her lyricism and imagery, Sadiqa de Meijer is a genius with the sound of poetry (everything she writes is music), Jason Heroux is one of my favourite surrealist poets, and Ellen Bass’s work makes me swoon and go all mushy inside. There are about a million others, and favourites change from day to day.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
ST: Read and write. Also, it’s incredibly helpful to find a community of poets who can help you think critically about your own work but also provide support and understanding.