Ang Shuang's debut collection, How To Live With Yourself, will be released in March 2022.
Hello Shuang! How To Live With Yourself, your debut poetry collection, will be released this March. We are curious on how you decided on this title?
While I was putting the collection together, I realised that a central theme or obsession in a lot of my poems is the idea of “living with yourself”. I was also intrigued by the multiple ways you could read into the phrase: (a) metaphorically i.e. be able to retain one's self-respect as a consequence of one's actions, per Oxford Dictionary; (b) literally i.e. spending time alone; and (c) metaphysically i.e. being together with a self that is both you and other. And since these three themes recur a lot throughout the collection, I thought How To Live With Yourself was a nice summary of what the book sets out to explore.
As the late Joan Didion wrote, "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means." Why do you write?
I write for many reasons, depending on what I’m writing about. Sometimes it’s sort of like bloodletting, where I’m just getting my feelings out and clearing some space inside me. Other times it’s a way of shouting into the void and reaching for connection, where I’m saying, “This is how I feel — can anyone else out there understand?” And sometimes I write because I enjoy feeling like I’ve made something.
When writing the poems in this collection, was there an instance where you felt like you truly understood yourself (even if it was momentary)? How did that feel?
I think looking back on a lot of these poems, there’s a certain amount of self-deprecation in them that’s being used as a defense mechanism, like, “You can’t hurt me or criticise me because guess what? I’ve already done it to myself.” I definitely dug a lot into myself and my thoughts, especially the darker ones, but I’m not sure if the process really helped me to understand myself? There’s often still a conflict between rationality and emotionality, but I think I’ve learned to be a bit more compassionate with myself.
What do you hope your readers can take away from How To Live With Yourself?
I hope that anyone who has ever felt the way I have can feel a little more known and a little less alone. And I hope that those who haven’t can get some sense of what it’s like to struggle with stuff like self-identity and mental health.
What are some poetry collections that have helped you to "live with yourself"?
There are so many from various stages of my life. Off the top of my head: Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds; Crush by Richard Siken; We Were Always Eating Expired Things by Cheryl Julia Lee; and What The Living Do by Marie Howe. Also, not a poetry collection, but The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.
Thank you for doing this interview with us! We also wanted to know what you've been really into lately (other than writing, of course)?
Painting by numbers — it’s super soothing because you don’t really have to think or worry about how your painting will turn out. You don’t have to be creative or a great artist. All you have to do is match each color to a tiny numbered space and it’ll just magically turn into this beautiful thing at the end. I highly recommend it, although you’ll end up with more paintings than wall space.