Past contributor Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang talks with the fall issue #224 poetry contributor about her newly-released chapbook, the need for variety in a cycle of poems, and how we are creatures of repetition and return.
SYMT: The poems you have in The Malahat Review all feature two voices, represented spatially on the page. Can you tell us about the process in creating two voices without confusion, one written in third person, present tense, and the other one in first person commenting on the story told about her? Why was it important to you to have these voices separated in time, space, and typographical emphasis?
The second voice, the one in the right-hand column, has been with me my entire life, and I’ll continue to hear it long after that person has died. It was hard to imagine the poems without that second voice talking back, scolding me—and that initially made me reluctant to write about this person at all.
I was also extremely wary of writing revenge poems, with a clear victim and villain. It seemed fairer to me to allow this kind of augmentation, interpolation, disagreement, and I modelled the layout on the gloss in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” I’ve always liked the tension it creates with the main speaker’s narrative, and how it’s represented on the page.
Finally, I love dialogue—it might be my favourite thing to write (I also work in fiction)—and I really enjoy how much you can reveal of a secondary speaker/character with your choices in diction, rhythm, timing. I think my experience in fiction made it seem like a necessary element, and gave me practice in keeping the voices distinct.
Read the rest of Y. S. Lee's interview as well as one of her poems.
Eleanor Fuller, Far Horizons Award for Fiction winner
Managing Editor L'Amour Lisik talks with the Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction winner about finishing her degree, first draft flops, and crafting an ending that feels true to the story.
LL: You’ve just finished your MFA at UBC and you volunteer on PRISM’s editorial board. How do these two communities influence your craft and editorial eye? What advice would you give to writers thinking of pursuing an MFA or wanting to volunteer with a literary journal?
I went into the MFA loving words but not really understanding story structure, so I’d say the degree was transformational. Volunteering at Prism teaches me how critical the first page of anything is. Readers aren’t the most forgiving crowd. If we don’t give them a problem worth solving on the first page, they’re likely to hit the snooze button and sleep through the rest. This is a hard lesson for me because I’m all about the preamble, or I was. The other thing volunteering on an ed board forces you to do is to articulate your reactions in craft terms. When a story comes through the queue, you can’t just tell the editor “Oh, loved that,” or “Meh, not for me.” You have to say why, and that invariably brings you back to craft.
On the MFA or any literary project, my advice is: go for it. Don’t wait like I did. In my twenties, I figured I had nothing worth saying. Then I decided academia was more practical. Ha ha! Then, I figured I was too old. Finally, I figured out that I was just being a coward and got on with it. Best decision ever. Also, you’ll get a whole new set of friends who are all as crazy (about literature) as you are!
Read the rest of Eleanor Fuller's interview as well as an excerpt from her story.