“Ultimately you have to know what makes your writing uniquely yours.”
What’s your chapbook about?
Sparknotes version: A couple goes on vacation. Longer version: No matter how old or new, relationships will have disappointment and doubts. These manifest in different ways, some quieter than others. This particular couple has fallen out of love in some ways, but remains together in other ways—it’s both upsetting and admirable.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
My second chapbook is called The GL.A.DE. (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming 2016). It’s about—wait for it—another unhappy couple!* I like the idea of The Aquarium and The GL.A.DE being in a similar, if not the same universe.
*For the record, I am very happily in love! Haha.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The image of a fish tank dumped on a lawn was floating around my head for awhile. I remember writing the poem “The Aquarium” so quickly in the summer. I noticed it fit with an idea I had for a film, about a couple on vacation who decide to divorce. I liked it as a chapbook instead of a script, because I could freely write flowery prose and internal thoughts.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
After writing the poem “The Aquarium,” I wrote the rest of the chapbook in less than an hour. It was exhilarating to write again; I still haven’t written anything that fast since! Then I let it sit for a day or two, as I often do when working, so I can edit with fresh eyes. Most of my revision consists of tightening up my lines.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
The gorgeous cover and photographs inside are by my dearest friend and creator-in-crime, Victoria Long. My next chapbook also features her photographs. They breathe life into my words; I love how she makes colours and moods. Her aesthetic’s always been amazing (we’ve been pals since we were 12)! We went to film school together, and continue to collaborate.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been cooped up with my cat, working on my thesis. It’s on gendered robot design in mainstream media and technology, so completely different stuff from my creative writing! Though I’d love to write a sci-fi chapbook….
I also co-edit and contribute regularly to a film/ TV/ video journal, The Fuck of the Century. It’s pop culture criticism with a creative and personal edge. I’m working on a few pieces for our Oscars roundup, and we’re planning a launch party soon.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
When you get an idea for a poem, an image, a line: write it down! On your phone, a napkin, your hand, wherever! You’ll kick yourself if you don’t and forget it later.
Less is more. I still have trouble with this—my first drafts of poems, essays, e-mails, even texts to friends are so wordy. My replies to this interview are too wordy, ha! The Aquarium originally had 10-12 poems before my friend helped me cut it down to eight. The omitted poems were more “filler” for a higher page count; it reads more smoothly now.
Feedback is important, but you also have to find that balance between taking feedback and knowing when to stick with your gut, because ultimately you have to know what makes your writing uniquely yours. You can’t please everybody, and if you’re writing only with that goal in mind, your work won’t feel as genuine to you as it can be.
What questions would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What is your favourite piece you’ve written? Why? Feel free to provide an excerpt.
What are your favourite presses?
How has your writing and writing practiced evolved?
My writing’s evolved closer to creative non-fiction, focusing on racism and sexism. I used to be too shy to write about myself. Now I see value in narrativizing life events, even and perhaps especially the ones that make me feel weak and/ or ugly. Being openly vulnerable can feel very brave and strong. I feel like my writing’s become a more accurate reflection of my identity. I was terrified at first to share my short piece for Poor Claudia’s 10 Sources series about micro-aggressions and anxieties as a Chinese-Canadian woman, but the response was touching and validating. It made me want to write pieces that are more powerful and political in their honesty and anger. I want my writing to wake people up.
If you could re-title your chapbook, what would the new title be?
What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?
Keep Tomorrow Free.
What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?
The brevity of a chapbook definitely amplifies themes and images. It wasn’t until writing chapbooks that I was able to detect patterns: the sky, nighttime, car rides, jealousy, vanity. Water especially, whether it’s a bath, a pool, a lake, or the seaside.
What inspires you? What gets you to the page?
Pretty and/or peculiar sights on long commutes. Unnoticed pain and ugly worries. I never write when I’m happy. I’m sure that’s normal, using writing as an outlet and for working through tricky emotions or topics. I like the idea of writing as a creative archive/ inventory for certain patterns emerging in my life.
Sennah Yee is from Toronto, Canada. She is the author of The Aquarium (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and The GL.A.DE (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming). Her work is in Whole Beast Rag, The Found Poetry Review, The Fuck of the Century, Hobart, and Poor Claudia. She is currently completing her Cinema & Media Studies MA thesis on gendered robot design. Though named after a race car driver, she has yet to get behind the wheel. Find her @sennahaha.
from The Aquarium