1. Why did you start writing?
"I started writing when I was really young, too young to remember a clear reason for doing it. I also read a lot. Voraciously, as kids do, in plenty of genres. I think I started because I wanted to imitate what my favourite authors could do for me, which was to create a world that felt not only like a place you could live in, but a place you wanted to live in. So I started writing prose. I actually spent a long, long time only writing prose, mostly fanfiction and a couple of novels. I unearthed some middle school attempts at poetry last year, which were laughably bad, as you can probably imagine, but that wasn’t really the focus for me back then. I rediscovered my motivation to write poetry in the summer of 2020 and I started it again as a way to express my feelings and work through the mess of my mind. I used to do that in fiction too, but more obliquely; it’s weird to think of poetry as more direct, but in fiction I often projected and muddled through my issues more subtly. With poetry I want to take my pain and joy and confusion and make it...if not pretty, then at least worth looking at."
2. What is your method of writing? Notebooks, computer?
"I used to only write on my computer but I’ve actually been branching out lately! I do also write on my phone, but not really full poems, just ideas for lines or titles in a huge note that’s been with me for ages. For a long time I would do everything on my computer, from a doc with (more) ideas for lines to the actual poem draft. It’s easier to get the initial ideas onto a computer document for me than onto physical paper, mostly because I’ve learned to type really quickly and so I’m kind of ahead of my conscious brain when I do it. Drafting on paper doesn’t do that for me. It slows me down, makes me think, to the point where the writing gets impacted. But that makes physical notepads really useful for revising. These days I use legal pads to revise. I copy out the draft in blue pen first, which lets me start to think about word choice or clunky phrases. If there’s an issue with flow, writing it out by hand often warns you about it. Then I use a black pen to reread and make edits or comments, usually while reading it out loud to myself, which is partly because I’m dramatic but also because hearing it helps me think about the rhythm. This is what works best for me right now, but I used to write a lot of prose drafts on paper, so maybe I’ll change my process in the future."
3. How do you know when a poem is done?
"I’ve heard a lot of people say you don’t really know when it’s done, and I agree that completion is a nebulous concept when it comes to creative work. But I also do have a gut feeling when I’m drafting or revising that this is where the piece ends, you know? A lot of the time there’s a little volta or a rhetorical question. The rhetorical question is a device that I’ve loved ever since I was a kid, so I find I end on them a lot. While writing, I can feel the end as I approach it. Sometimes I know that it has to have a specific rhythm, or that it has to end on a certain sound. I once spent a while trying to find a word that ended in '-one' for the penultimate line of a piece because I just felt like the sound was needed there and my initial version, which had 'bone', didn’t make sense. I ended up swapping it for a phrase ending on 'stone'. I’m not really sure why I decided on that specific sound, but once I fixed that second-last line the whole piece fell into place for me. And then sometimes there are pieces that I know could be extended or different but I also want to leave the way they are. So they’re done, in that I’m not working on it anymore, but they don’t have to be done."
4. You mentioned on your author page that you love a good prose poem. What got you interested in prose poetry?
"I think I got hooked on prose poetry because of how approachable it felt. I know prose. I write in prose at school, to friends, in my daily journal. While I love and appreciate many poets who work with unconventional forms or write lineated poetry, actually using those forms intimidated me when I started transitioning from prose to poetry. The prose poem, which I think I discovered through another young poet’s work on Tumblr (I am so sorry to this person – I can’t remember who it was!), sort of blew my mind. It was poetry, with poetic devices and a poem’s complicated relationship with the truth, but it was also a lot less scary. It fit the work I was producing at the time too, these breathless, confessional, almost epistolary pieces. A lot of my prose poems are essentially love letters or rants or journal entries, forms that are pretty prose-based. I write lineated pieces too these days, and I’ve been slowly experimenting a little more with form, but I still appreciate the prose poem’s ability to riff on other genres and convey this sense of breathless urgency, which the line break, with its imperative to pause, can sometimes hinder."
5. Would you like to share what current writing project(s) you are working on?
"I’ve got a chapbook out on submission right now that I’m really excited about! It’s called 'how to construct a breakup poem' and I touch on themes of love as a form of self-destruction, love as performance, and a lot of the sad stuff that you might have seen in the work that I’ve published so far. While I was putting that chapbook together I had to cut a handful of poems that I really loved because they were about a different kind of toxicity; about wanting someone to break you, about both loving and hating someone for being too comfortable, too easy. Those poems (and a few others!) are now being collected into what I think will be a microchap, but it’s still up in the air."
6. Where do you draw inspiration?
"I draw inspiration from anything I encounter, but I do have some things that prove to be more fruitful for me. I think music is really useful; it sets the mood for a piece and I’ve thought of plenty of poems thanks to a good playlist and a long walk. Other people’s poetry is also really inspiring. When I’ve been struggling to find a way into a new piece, I like to take a break and read some poems I love and it gets me back into the right headspace. But other than music and existing poetry, I’m most inspired by conversations. I have two younger brothers who fight and shoot the breeze all the time while I’m in my room reading or texting or doing something alone, and the things they say to each other often become kernels of a later line. This is also true of random people talking or my friends chatting or social media posts; it’s just that my brothers are around me all the time so I hear more from them. There’s a playfulness and willingness to innovate with language when children are speaking to each other, especially children who grow up multilingual, that I think is great to have in the background when you’re a poet."
7. What do you hope people take away from your work?
"I guess it varies from poem to poem, but generally I want someone to finish reading the piece and have to take a moment before they go on with the rest of their day. I want a line to hit them in the chest, or for there to be something unexpected at the end that makes them think, or for them to realize that I’ve expressed a feeling they’ve had for a long time. The worst thing a poem can do is fail to make any kind of impact on you. Whether it’s to make you cry, laugh, think, or just admire the beauty of the language, I want my poems to have an emotional effect on the reader. A good one, not 'wow this poem was bad'. I want the poem to be meaningful to someone other than me."
8. What else do you hope to take on someday?
"Honestly, I don’t really know. I feel really new to the world of poetry and I’m definitely exploring myself as a writer right now. Maybe I’ll try prose again and write some short stories, or even attempt some CNF, but for now I just want to enjoy myself and work on my poems. I wrote my first tanka a little while ago and I want to try a few traditional forms. It would also be really cool to curate a special issue of a journal – if anyone wants to do a Formula One pop-up or a Chinese historical drama themed issue or like...an issue about teenage angst for some reason, hit me up. Mags in need of a guest editor, I would be down."
9. What writing advice do you find totally useless?
"I’ve been lucky enough so far to have only encountered advice that was at least partly useful! Or if it wasn’t useful to me then I’ve just forgotten about it by now, but I think most things you hear have some merit to them. Admonitions to avoid certain subjects or placing line breaks in certain places are generally helpful, although even tricky things can be done well. But on the topic of advice, I find that it works best when you’re not overly attached to following it. I’ve taken people’s advice and ignored it if it didn’t work for me, and that’s probably the best way to go about it."
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"I do talk about this a little bit (and I have a poem about this coming in November!) but I’m an avid Formula One fan. One of my friends introduced F1 to me when lockdown started in Canada and now I watch the races every weekend, except for the ones that are at impossible times because of the time difference (sorry, Japan and Australia). The vagaries of F1 are too much for this interview, but suffice to say that all you need to know is that there are 20 drivers, that Drive to Survive is a horrifyingly inaccurate depiction of the actual season, that Alex Albon deserved better, and that Nikita Mazepin shouldn’t be on the grid. I’m a huge Alex Albon fan and I’m still holding out for him to have a seat next season. Please pray for me."
Hear Joyce read her poem "and somehow i still do."
Joyce Liu is a young poet from Canada. She got her driver's license last fall but is still scared of the highway. More of her work can be found in released and forthcoming issues of perhappened mag, Gone Lawn, and Vagabond City.