We’ve come together under an old tree, We’ll walk for a while together alone, Into the far distance until we come to a lonely seashore, We’ll hop on our canoe and row for a while alone...
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is a editor, translator, and poet From Hongkong . She is the founding co-editor of the first Hong Kong–based literary publication, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and an editor of the academic journal Victorian Network.
The art has become a commodity; why is your voice any better (or different) than that writer’s? How do you get heard amid the roar? How do you keep your spirits up when everything tells you it doesn’t really matter if you keep on or quit writing?
We took it from the phrase “Make no bones about it.” We like the idea of encouraging honesty, straightforwardness-- but since we’re literally talking about the bones of poems, we wanted the “no” in parentheses. As a poet you have to make bones while making no bones, ya know?
I can’t help it. Writing is a compulsion. I might go a few days without writing but if I do more than two or three, I start to get anxious. Writing helps me organize my thoughts. Without it, I become easily confused and scattered. I become short tempered and unpleasant. If I don’t write, writing becomes all I think about.
So editing it just the worst thing. Ever. I want to just write a story, have it come out perfect, and be loved by the entire world overnight. Is that too much to ask? Yes, yes it is.
Here’s the thing: if you have to keep yourself doing something, than you probably shouldn’t be doing whatever it is. Writing, painting, driving a bus, teaching, practicing law, being a stay at home mother, if you have to keep yourself doing that ‘thing’—and by keep I mean force—than a change needs to happen. I always want to write.
See, I didn’t grow up reading. Books, words, punctuation; no thank you. English was my least favorite subject, Language Arts nothing short of a torture session. All through grade school, junior high, and high school, English annoyed me. I am a man of math and science (still am). Numbers, equations, variables and graphs, calculus . . . I loved it all. By my Senior year, I was taking Physics, AP Chemistry, and had already completed AP Calculus. I also had only read three books: Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, and The Things They Carried. As a man and an English major, I can with pride say that I loathed Of Mice and Men and Catcher in the Rye.
When I was five or six, my best friend’s mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up; I answered, without thinking, “a writer.” There is some deep compulsion in me to write, some need that exceeds all practical considerations (about money, for instance, or talent). Freud says that every dream has its navel: a point beyond which interpretation simply cannot pass. This compulsion is the navel of my life: something so fundamental that I can’t think through it.
My approach to writing very short prose is varied. Sometimes it’s a matter of distilling a much longer story into one substantially shorter in length than the original, through a process of culling and refinement again and again until I’m satisfied that the story can’t be any further pared away at without consequence. I enjoy that challenge of crystallization, which involves thinking deeply about the reader, imagining what she may fill in with her intelligence, intuition, and empathic imagination and invention.