Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
is a multidisciplinary artist and poet. He resides in Singapore with his family and cat, Leo. He has a strange love for all things poetical and Sci-Fi. A winner of the Montblanc X Esquire Six-word Story prize 2017. He is the creator of House Haiku, an experimental music series combining poetry and house music elements. Andromeda’s Alien, his first album is now represented by Red Claw Records (Germany).
His latest publications are Superatomicluminal (Hesterglock Press, UK), Gods of The Gonzo (Analog Submission Press,UK), Sleeping with Wildflowers (Alien Buddha Press, Arizona/New York), The Cosmonaut Manifesto (UndergroundBooks, New York), Monochromatique (Queer Ink, India), Deviant Flames and Dark Revolver (Roman Books, UK/India). His poetry has been published worldwide, on various international print and online platforms. His books and performances have been featured at the New York City Poetry Festival, Rantai Arts Festival (Kuala Lumpur), Singapore International Festival of the Arts, Singapore Writers Festival, Poetry Festival Singapore, All In! Young Writers Festival Singapore and was a guest performer at the Travel Poetry Slam (Singapore).
He writes on Twitter: @elancharang and medium.com/@elancharang . He is also editor of proletaria.org, an online journal devoted to one-line poems and statements inspired by politics, philosophy and phenomena.
When and why did you start writing poetry?
I started writing poetry in 2011, after serving two years of mandatory National Service. Singaporean males, 18 years of age and above are conscripted into the army, police force or civil defence (rescue divisions). After serving my time in the police force, i came out lost, aimless and without direction. While most of my peers went on to pursue their university education and other “normal” activities, I drowned myself in books and odd jobs. I did not want to be known as a salaryman all my life. I wanted to make a name for myself. I found myself reading poetry and experimental works that most people would shy from. I was inspired. I was inspired by socio-political issues, the environment, the human psyche, culture and customs. I wanted to explore the expanded universe that was beyond human understanding, the occult. I wanted to put my thoughts to paper, and so i did.
The books I read opened up my mind. I’ve been a bookworm all my life, but this was altogether something else. I was curious. I was a hungry creative. I felt the need to express and experiment. I started exploring the literary scene in Singapore and found that writing and poetry was a very niche area, it still is. There was a lack of local content, and globally we were not known to many. Within a few months I started to write, working on my first collection- Supernatural Haiku, while submitting to literary journals. It’s been eight years now, my writing has taken me places, even to countries where i’ve never stepped foot in. I’ve met all kinds of people at both ends of the spectrum- often sincere souls and sometimes, deviant characters who want nothing more than to exploit you for ill gains.
Poetry and writing, has given me purpose in life. Maybe, even made a wiser and stronger person.
1.1. What poetry and experimental works did you read and why?
I started off with haiku collections, and within haiku collections there were plenty of modern and experimental stuff. An example would be Zombie Haiku and Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum. People around the world were breaking traditional literary forms to create something new and that really piqued my interest. I went on to read full-length collections by more established poets, poet laureates and even award winning writers when I started to write to journals and seek publication with overseas presses. Poets such as Carol Ann Duffy, Angela Carter, Bukowski, Leonard Cohen, Adrian Henri, Ron Whitehead and many more. I also enjoy classics and poetry written by Anon, Sappho, Cavafy and Basho. And finally contemporary poets such as Divya Victor, Alexandra Teague, Hazel Smith, Michael Farrell, Robert Gal, Kerouac, Ginsberg and Kazuko Shiraishi.
On reading experimental works, I began with manifestos of the Dadaist, Futurist and Surrealist movements. There are plenty of versions and translations of these works on online resources. Experimental works often take on the form of chapbooks, pamphlets, zines and online publications. These are not commonly found in mainstream bookstores or publishers. Some publishers working in the area of the experimental are- Hesterglock, Analog Submission, UndergroundBooks, Alien Buddha, Iron Lung and Onslaught. These presses are devoted to the underground scene, the alternative and path less taken by mainstream poets. These publications are often cross-disciplinary, taking the form of writing with art, writing with photography and vice versa. There is no one poet or publication that i would like to mention here, this is best experienced individually.
As to why I read experimental works- diversity of thoughts. There is originality in experimental. A radical or laid-back perspective to a view or issue. Boundaries erased, taboos broken, such is the nature of experimental literature.
2. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
I was and still very aware of the reality that these older poets have come, conquered and left behind a legacy. And I respect that. The ones still living, are blessed to watch their legacy grow. But there are the few who persistently insist that rules should be followed, things should be done in a specific way, traditions and customs should be upheld. Yes, I respect those views. But to them I also say that their thought trains no longer run on the same tracks as the ones thirty or fifty years back.
The rise of the Internet and social media platforms has given a new lease of life to older and even ancient poets. They’ve been digitally resurrected. Bukowski is considered the poet-god of booze and heterosexual desires to social media poets. Plath and Woolf died a long time back, but feminist genes are more woke than ever in this current age. More than ever, people are reading Rumi, investigating stone slabs of Gilgamesh, preaching the words of Buddha and performing the epics of Valmiki. Revived? Yes. Revered? Yes. Dominating? I don’t think so.
Times have changed. People are changing. Art is evolving. Writing has and will continue to evolve with or without you. I look up to the older poets for inspiration. I admire them for their perseverance and courage. Though i wouldn’t call their presence dominating, it’s like a lingering feeling, it is there and it is not. More like a hungry ghost following you around, of not having enjoyed the luxuries of life, envious of the living, lamenting about what more they could’ve accomplished if only they had the time.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
My writing routine is rather normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. Consistency here is the key. I write whenever inspiration strikes. I take down notes and themes on my smartphone. I tweet haiku daily. I have a day job, when time permits or during breaks i try to write and read either a physical book, an ebook or online article.
When I am back home in the evenings or later on during the night, i work on my collections. I usually work on two or more projects at one time. That way, my mind is constantly creating and pushing myself to go beyond what i’ve written. I look out for competitions and open calls both local and international. I do my best to keep abreast of the literary world by seeking new publishers or publications.
Most importantly, I try to fit in a 45 minute or an hour walk/run in my daily schedule. Exercise helps me to relax and not be overwhelmed by my writing or work activities. I get to clear my head during a walk or gently ease my writers block when faced with one. And it is also during my walks or runs that I am inspired by the things happening around me. Writing is not only creating from imagination but to relate one’s senses to his or her surroundings. The emotions felt. The interactions observed. The tastes defined. The scents perceived. Take a walk. You’ll understand what I mean.
4. What motivates you to write?
I am motivated by local or global socio-political issues, culture and taboos. I start to write a piece- fiction or non-fiction, based on something i’ve read, seen or experienced personally. Sometimes it is based on a narrative told by a stranger or acquaintance.
As an Indian, Tamil- speaking minority, in a multiracial country (Singapore) vastly populated by the Chinese majority, there is much inequality, discrimination and oppression faced by my people and other minority races. I believe that poetry and the arts can connect people. Art brings people together regardless of race, language or religion. Poetry speaks to people on a deeper level, there is something soulful about it. Poetry, is my voice.
I am motivated to write by the primal nature of poetry; its ability to be gentle and nurturing when needed, full of rage and wrath in the blink of an eye. The need to send a message to the world regarding an issue or the need to tell a story in poetry, this motivates me to write. As wordsmiths, poets and artists we feel the urge to express our thoughts through words or some art form.
Also, praise, recognition and rejection is in some way motivating. The people behind the words, family friends, strangers who have become well-wishers. Rejection, spurs me on to write, motivates me to write better. Recognising that my work has made someone’s day, that is above all the most beautiful thing. Inspiring someone, raising the fallen from the ashes, changing the psychological landscape of the masses. The possibilities are limitless with the arts and poetry.
5. What is your work ethic?
Work ethics differ when it comes to fiction and non-fiction writing. I’ll explain more of that in a bit. Above all, I believe in equality, the freedom to respect individuals and their spaces, cultures and beliefs.
In non-fiction writing, I firmly believe in integrity. That research is the basis of all non-fiction pieces. The facts and numbers have to make sense, they have to speak for themselves. That truth of the experience is conveyed to the readers. It is almost a form of journalism but with a twist of creativity. Gonzo yet factual. Words bridge reality and the readers.
In fiction, i assume different writing personas, characters in thought. Attitude is the key. it can take the form of negative or positive attitudes. I try to stick to a persona or attitude when writing fiction, demure in some pieces, dominating in others. Some pieces require multiple personas and to stick with them throughout the work. Discipline here, plays a critical role. Maintaining the voice of the work is of utmost importance.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I read authors such as Terry Pratchett, Enid Blyton, R.L. Stine and Stephen King at a young age. I had a deep interest in works and stories that were heavily influenced by Greek, Norse, Hindu and Japanese mythology. In my younger days, I lived for fantasy, horror and science fiction works. These were highly imaginative, the stories often introduced readers to new worlds, diverse characters and strange situations that would include otherworldly politics, fantasy cultures and conflicts on a galactic scale.
As a writer today, in this age, my fictional poetry and works are still influenced by fantasy, horror and science fiction themes. The mythological works that i read during my younger days included elements of poetry, either in the form of an epic or short stanzas. Unknowingly, I was drawn to poems and books that had elements of the themes described above. In my writing, I produce strange verse, forms and experiment with science-fantasy subjects. My reading list has now evolved to include authors such, Neil Gaiman, Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson, Jeff VanderMeer, Peter V. Brett and many more.
7. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I’m a huge fan of Frank and Brian Herbert for their Dune series. Even though Frank Herbert is dead, Brian is carrying on his father’s legacy. The worlds they have created are massively beyond that of any other author i’ve ever read. It’s almost as if Frank had a prophetic vision and direction for the human race.
Countless films, scripts, books, art, think tanks and minds have been inspired by Dune. The political chaos and psycho-social dilemma that we are in right now has already taken place in Dune 40-50 years back. Space travel, we once thought was fantasy has become real, commercialised as we speak. New galaxies found, new planets found, another home for future generations. I admire these two for their detail, technicality in writing and storytelling ability.
Two other authors that I admire would be Neil Gaiman and Jeff VanderMeer. Neil’s fantasy is lyrical, amusing and cynical at times. Did you know he writes poetry? Some of his works include poems and that’s amazing! Jeff’s works are hybrid masterpieces that combine science fiction with horror and/or fantasy. He writes his books in a manner so seamless that you will be left wondering about the themes behind his works. These two are legends in their own fields. I admire them for taking the step away from the mainstream and telling the stories that are often or rarely not old.
In poetry, I admire Simon Armitage. This man, has a way with words like no other. He plays with words, dissects them down to the atom and puts them back together. Poetry is his language. Poetry is his soul. He lives and breathes poetry. He often writes on themes related to war and conflict. He wants to tell the world a different side of the conflict or problem. What more can I say about him? He’s a hero in his own right. His poems speak to me and are re-readable time after time. I admire him for saying what others fear.
8. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
Art is magic. Do you believe in magic, have you seen it? Do you believe in miracles, the divine? Do you believe in wonders, have you felt it? Writing is that. Magic. Words are magic. Passed down from the ancients, the mad gods. What else would I need? Writing satiates my soul. Writing speaks to the collective consciousness that is the human race on a subconscious level.
Writing comes naturally to me unlike other art forms. Also, other art forms require intensive spending on education, equipment and paraphernalia. In writing, the pen, paper and your imagination is all that is required. It’s easy on your mind and our wallets. Do you have something to tell the world? Write it down. A story, a poem? Write. Do you need to relax and relieve your stress? Write it down. Today we write on tablets, cellphones whenever and wherever inspiration strikes us.
I’ve dabbled in fine art, photography, the performing arts. I understand and respect the artistic process, the magic of art as an artist. But it is not the same as writing. There is something more, something primal about writing. Unexplainable. Raw. At the end of the day, i still come home to writing. Writing is my soul’s voice. I write because I need to. I work the magic that is writing and there is nothing else I would rather do.
9. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
You just do. You can’t really tell. It happens without warning, sometimes for a reason. If you’re really lucky, the spirit of a dead writer or dead poet takes over your body and BOOM! You’re a writer! If you’ve experienced any of the following you might be destined to be a writer: Desperation, love, failure, desolation, revolution, war, suffering, boredom, joblessness, mental illness and imaginary friends. The writer becomes you.
10. Tell me about a writing project(s) you’re involved in at the moment.
I am currently working on a collection of conceptual poetry. I have a conceptual fiction work- Superatomicluminal, in the pipeline that will be published soon, this year, by Hesterglock Press. As of recent, I’ve been heavily involved in experimental works, mostly conceptual stuff. The conceptual craze just hit me and i’m mind blown by all the experimental stuff out there and those waiting to be discovered. In my head, I’ve decided to dedicate this year and maybe the next to exploring and building up a body of conceptual work.
I’ve also started an online journal, proletaria.org, dedicated and devoted to the art of one-line poems and philosophical statements. These often come in the form of a monostich or monoku (a single-line haiku). The poems and statements are inspired by politics, philosophy and phenomena. One line or one sentence works in the experimental field are welcomed as well. It’s been more than a month and submissions are coming in fast from all over the world. I’ve published close to 10 poets so far, and that’s an amazing start for a journal with such a niche area.