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(Not Quite) 10 Questions for Nicholas Wong

Winter was standing behind him.
It imitated his shadow
And considered itself a tree.
It was getting skinny.
It felt cold.
You’re like a wooden coat hanger prepared to move home.
The hat and the four assembled seasons
Wouldn’t follow you.
They would remain in paper boxes, deep
In their sleep, dreamless and naked.
The cat would stay to guard the home.
from "Coat Hanger," Volume 65, Issue 1 (Spring 2024)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
They should be poems from Sun Tzu-ping’s collection named 善遞饅頭. Our friendship started when Taipei City invited me to attend their amazing annual International Poetry Festival in 2018. But it wasn’t until a year later that I started translating his poems intensively. I enjoyed the process a lot, despite my lack of formal translation training. The leap of imagery in his poems surprised me, and translation oftentimes made me believe that it was an intimate act of penetration into the poet’s memory and history. That’s why I usually do it for my poet friends. There has to be some sort of emotional bond between a poet and translator before the translation takes place. The first translated pieces have appeared in Asymptote, and The Georgia Review.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Dean Young. And what do we actually mean when we say “influence?” In my early writing days, I would focus on diction and style. As I grew older, I was more interested in the poet’s mind at work. Can I observe a pattern of how the writer thinks? Lately, I’m more intrigued by visual artists who have made things with the written texts, or who tend to ground their works on literary texts. My recent favorite is Roni Horn’s Island Zombie: Iceland Writings (2020). 

What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
As a gay poet myself, I am interested in how gayness (or queerness) develops in a poem. It shouldn’t be just a line or two about same-sex desire. It has to be in the making. Chen Poyu’s “Coat Hanger” has a complication that fascinates me. I like the way the poem focuses on a cluster of images at the beginning, and slowly allows the personal history to seep in.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Hard to say. Sometimes, I need absolute silence. Sometimes, I find the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto (“Aqua” and “Self-Portrait” in particular) helpful in smoothing my writing and editing process.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Not really. But when I draw in my studio, I would burn some incense.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Photography. It is the medium that is the most sensitive and transparent to the working of light.

What are you working on currently?
For over a year, Chen Po-Yu and I have been working closely together in translating my own poems into Chinese. I’m happy that the first version of a complete manuscript is ready.

What are you reading right now?
John Yau’s Tell it Slant (Omnidawn, 2023); Jenny Hozler: FOR YOU, Lee Hyunju (ed.) (MMCA Korea, 2020); Tatsuhiko Ishii’s Bathhouse and Other Tanka, Hiroaki Sato (transl.) (New Directions, 2023); Anne Carson’s Wrong Norma (New Directions, 2024).


NICHOLAS WONG is a poet, translator and visual artist from Hong Kong. He is the author of Crevasse, winner of the Lambda Literary Awards in Gay Poetry, and Besiege Me, also a Lammy finalist. His recent work can be found in Georgia Review, Cincinnati Review, Black Warrior Review and The Rialto.

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