Chromala, Louie Van Patten //The best part of getting an apartmentis not to live in it, as newlyweds know,but persuading curtainsto complement bedspreads, thenentering that strategic harmony,aria of migratory birds,windows patiently eyeinghow long it will last. Grandmawould sleep away television chatterin the afternoon, a breezeparting curtains to invite sunlighton her skin, her bodyanother surface to conquer, anothershelf of want. Cuppingher hands in mine the waya nest hoards its tenants, I can beso deliberate as to fillspaces she has emptied with herself.
Tell us about the conception of this poem.
I’ve been exploring the different manifestations of dependency for some time in my writing, and this poem is written shortly after attending a wedding last summer. In particular, I am struck by how the pursuit and process of carving out a family (from dating, to marriage, to childbirth) seems at times tediously administrative and desensitised, which is fundamentally at odds with the spontaneity of love (or, at least,the normative question of how it should be). Is love merely a social construct that romanticises dependency in favour of self-preservation? Consequently, are the spaces we collectively occupy defined more by their capacity to be emptied than filled? These are the questions I attempt to address in “Blueprint”.You are also in law school. Does this affect your writing of poetry in any way?
Initially, I – like everyone else – thought that law school would spell the end of my creative writing impulses. Having now just entered my final year, I realise that studying the law has opened many dimensions to poetry. On a normative level, the law is fundamentally about regulating relationships, while poetry is about understanding relationships. I don’t think a good lawyer can understand legislation without appreciating the relationships they are intended to protect, more than a good poet can understand relationships without appreciating the moral, cultural, social, political and economic contexts in which these relationships are forged and regulated. On a formative level, legal analysis prides brevity over uninhibited imagery. This economy of language is crucial to poetry.How has the idea of homeland(s) changed for you through the years?
This is an interestingly apposite question, as my third poetry collection – Intruder (Ethos Books, 2014) – which was published in August, exactly addresses this question. The collection was entirely written during and inspired by my first year of university in London, and explores the tensions between familiarity and foreignism. Home, as a concept, has increasingly become more an emotional ideal than a geographical one for me, having spent the last two years in London, UK, where I feel perfectly at home. Strictly speaking, my homeland will incontrovertibly be Singapore as a birthplace, but I may feel at home in a variety of situations and climates without exclusivity. Furthermore, places are defined by the people for whom they provide habitation. I think I’ll feel at home in any country that my family chooses to inhabit, should they move in the future. Also, one may feel at home in certain areas, but not others, in the same country. This is true for me both in Singapore and London. I raise eyebrows at the prospect of travelling outside Central London.What or who has transformed your work?
Stylistically, I’ve always looked to an ideal middle point or balance between the works of Sharon Olds and Louise Gluck. I love Olds’ fanciful imagery, which to me is a perfect antidote to Gluck’s austerity (and vice versa). In that sense, my ideal poem is one that balances imagery with aphorism, and is painstakingly calibrated and measured. New favourites are English writers John Burnside and Jon Stone.What are you currently working on?
I’ve decided to go easy on the writing itself, having unexpectedly published one collection in each of the last three years. My involvement at the moment is more event-based: talks at schools, panel discussions and literary festivals such as the Southeast Asian Arts Festival in London this October, and the Singapore Writers Festival 2014 this November. I am also working on some isolated sequences of poems, such as one inspired by my recent trip to Seoul, South Korea. Nonetheless, I am and have always been up for more collaborations, exhibitions and events!
//Jerrold Yam is a law undergraduate at University College London and the author of three poetry collections, Intruder (Ethos Books, 2014), Scattered Vertebrae (Math Paper Press, 2013) and Chasing Curtained Suns (Math Paper Press, 2012). His poems have been published in Prairie Schooner, Third Coast, Wasafiri and Washington Square Review. He has been awarded poetry prizes from the British Council, Poetry Book Society and National University of Singapore, and is the youngest Singaporean to be nominated for the Pushcart Prize at twenty years old in 2012. He has been featured at the Interrobang Book Fair, Ledbury Poetry Festival, London Book Fair and Singapore Writers Festival. His poems have been translated to Spanish.