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10 Questions for Chen Po-Yu

You were a wooden coat hanger.
Your body, half-clothed. No hat could alter your looks.
No gentleman’s hat that tipped to highlight
Your smile. You were an exquisite gentleman’s
Coat hanger, with pale skinny arms growing upward.

The wood grain was fading, paler and paler.
The winter, too, was half-clothed. No gentleman’s hat
Could disguise the looks of the past.
No gentleman could. No black gentleman’s hat could.
The gentleman who kept a cat
Could wait at a station in winter.
Like a tree that grew paler and paler, leaves falling.
from "Coat Hanger," Volume 65, Issue 1 (Spring 2024)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
One of the first poems I wrote was about losing a volleyball game, while the other was about bottlenose dolphins, which can be spotted in the eastern coast of Taiwan. I wrote these only because my high school teacher encouraged me to send something to a writing contest back in the day. A blue ballpoint pen and some A4 paper. I was too focused, and I wrote too fast, not noticing the ink created a mess on the paper. It’s like oil stains on eyeglasses, or little bugs flying around in the evening. I can’t imagine not being able to write with my computer now. 

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Based on my writing progress this week, I would say it’s the short fiction of Don DeLillo and the oil paintings of Lucian Freud. I’m perhaps past the stage of not noticing what my influences are. Once I start a new writing project now, I would consciously open a book, or a browser, and let it sit side by side with my writing. I like the feeling of actively inviting an influence, or even letting it interfere with my progress.

What other professions have you worked in?
I’m a tenor in Müller Chamber Choir in Taipei City, for which I sometimes play the piano too.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I can’t really remember.

What inspired you to write this piece?
The weather suddenly changed that day, hence the decisiveness to end an affair.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Tokyo is full of various types of sonic and visual stimulations, like a medical beauty treatment every six months.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Like most musicians, I don’t listen to music when I work. But I do have a few recommendations for lifting the mood when I don’t have to work: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Orphée, Hélène Grimaud & Konstantin Krimmel’s Silvestrov: Silent Songs, and LOVE, AND YET by Panai, a Taiwanese aboriginal female singer.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I made my own hand-drip coffee. I need that to wake me up. It’s rather difficult for me to name something that activates my writing process. Translating something that interests you, I guess. You can pretend you’re the one writing it. Well, to a certain extent, you’re indeed writing it. Diction, syntax, meaning—the same few old writing tricks.

What are you working on currently?
My next book is called The Basement Tapes, which is a collaboration with the artist Kuo Chien Yu. Each “recording” has two paragraphs, and each attempts to depict a certain sound with words. The two paragraphs may or may not be related. But each recording is echoed with a drawing. I’m curious to know how the words and drawings can “preserve the sounds,” so to speak, and what exactly are the “sounds” that are left inside.

What are you reading right now?
Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, Chinese translations of Han Kang’s I Do Not Bid Farewell, and Dominique Païni’s Le Cinéma, Un Art Plastique, as well as Tony Kushner’s Angels In America.


Born in 1993, CHEN PO-YU chen has won numerous literary prizes in Taiwan, including the Lin Rong San Poetry Award and China Times Literary Award. He is the author of The Bubbles Maker (essays), and two poetry collections, mini me, and recently, The Art of Rivalry. His Chinese translation of Robert Hass’ Summer Snow was published in 2022. He currently lives in Taipei.

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