Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang

1. I understand you have done a lot of your writing in short spurts, a lot of times in a train or commuting to or back from work, could you talk a bit more about the process? Are you mostly writing new drafts or revising?

I never seem to have a lot of time to write and that can serve me well – it means I use the time I have to write in a panic because something is due. I almost always write new things in short spurts (on the train, in the 10 minutes I find squeezed between other things). My draft writing is then taken to my writing group so most of my revision is done by committee. It helps me to step back and see how others see the writing. I find it’s often easier for others to see the weak spots.

2. You have said somewhere (I am paraphrasing) your favourite time as an author is when you are presenting to children? What is your process when you write for children as opposed to writing for adults?

I find writing for children (picture books) tends to be either a homerun or a swing and a miss. So much more of it depends on the initial idea. For adults you can usually massage a poem into something that will work, even if the initial idea is a little wonky.

3. Your second book of poetry “Status Update” was published in 2013, since then you have worked mainly with children’s books. What new questions are you addressing in your third (prospective) collection “Grappling Hook”? Since this title comes presumably at a different stage in your life, are the questions completely different from the ones you addressed in “Status Update” or are you writing on similar subjects but with a different perspective?

Grappling Hook is coming out with Palimpsest in the fall of 2022. This book is a really personal one, it deals a lot with my family, patriarchy, and the violence of the state. “Status Update” was fun to write because it was imaginative leaps based on what other people wrote on Facebook. I think Grappling Hook is quite a bit closer to the bone.

4. How do other people contribute to your writing practice?

I’m a big believer in writing as a team sport. My writing group, the Vilanelles, is indispensable to my writing practice. I’m a fundamentally lazy person so I’ll never write without a deadline. Being accountable to the group keeps me on track and provides the extra incentive of having several brilliant and sympathetic pairs of eyes available to make me a better writer.

5. What is new in the world that you need to capture in your writing?

There’s nothing fundamentally new in the world. But there are new ways of seeing the world and I think it’s important to try and expand your perception as much as possible. This can come through the practice of writing, but it can also come through sports, or meditation, or carpentry – anything that requires concentration and passion.

6. How do you deal with aspects of writing that might provoke frustration, doubt, disappointment, etc.? How do you talk to yourself when things are hard?

I try to remember that poetry doesn’t really matter. If I get a book published, if I get an award – I’ll still likely be totally forgotten 20 years after I die. And that’s okay. It’s more important to write in order to appreciate the craft. To write because it’s important to me as a person, not because it’s important to others. The other stuff, the awards, the publications, the occasional nice letter from someone who has read your book – that stuff is icing on the cake.

7. How do you know as a writer if a piece of work that you have been labouring on, is finally completed?

I’m pretty quick to declare something done. I think you can start to get diminishing returns if you fiddle too long with a piece. Write it, edit it, edit it again, let it lie fallow for a bit and then edit it one more time. Usually if you do this your piece is ready. And if it’s not ready then let it lie fallow for quite a bit longer.

8. What was the most satisfying aspect of your recently completed work?

I think it was seeing that all these disparate poems kind of came together naturally. It was nice to see all the little pieces falling into place like it was meant to be.

9. What emotions do you associate with writing? Or, differently put, how does writing impact your emotional state?

I often don’t know how I’m feeling. Writing helps me figure out what’s going on – sometimes I’ll write a surreal poem and realize after reading oh I’m sad.

Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of the poetry books Status Update (2013), which was nominated for the Pat Lowther Award and the Gerald Lampert award winning Sweet Devilry (2011). Her new book, Grappling Hook, is forthcoming with Palimpsest Press. She has been widely anthologized in such collections as Best Canadian Poetry 2013Poet-to-Poet (2013), and the Newborn Anthology (2014). She is the editor of the poetry collection, Desperately Seeking Susans (2013) and the Poetry Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine. Sarah currently works as the Creative Director for Poetry In Voice and teaches in UBC’s optional residency MFA.

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