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  • Writer's pictureMarías at Sampaguitas

Interview with Natalie Lim

Hi! I’m Natalie. I’m a writer, occasional musician, unashamed nerd, and soon-to-be graduate of the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. More than anything, I love telling stories. From social media and marketing copy to poetry and beyond, I write with empathy, an eye for narrative, and the occasional bad (good) pun. I’m Natalie, and I want to write stories that change the world. Is that cheesy? Maybe a little. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

We read these lines: “when i started school/i stopped speaking Chinese/i still know a little these days/can manage phrases like/doh je/and/ho bao” in your CBC Literary Prize winning poem.  I name this “immigration of a language”.  How can you voice your relationship with language while writing poetry? And what’s difference between writing a short story and poetry for you?

I love that phrase, “immigration of a language.” Most of “Arrhythmia” was born out of me trying to navigate that relationship, between the language I’ve forgotten and the one I use every day. Initially, I didn’t have any Chinese in the poem at all, because I didn’t want to confuse the reader or clutter up the poem with definitions. However, one of my professors advised me to put the Chinese in and not worry about confusing people, because any confusion or uncertainty felt by the reader works well with the themes I’m exploring. That suggestion ended up unlocking “Arrhythmia” for me – although it does add a bit of awkwardness whenever I read the poem aloud, because I’m self-conscious of my bad pronunciation.

I can’t fully answer the second half of your question, because I’ve never written a short story before! I can speak to the difference between poetry and prose more generally, though. Anaïs Mitchell, a songwriter I admire, talks about the “essentialism” of poetry. For her and for me, poetry is about boiling ideas and feelings down to their most essential parts, about getting the most meaning out of the fewest words. The challenge of stripping away all the excess and communicating an idea through imagery and metaphor is what I love most about writing poetry.

What is your elimination process while choosing a literary magazine to publish your pieces? How do magazines play a role literary progress?

I’m still very new to the world of publishing, so I’ve been learning a lot over the past year about all the opportunities that are out there! My main yardstick so far has been the tone and content of the magazine – if I read an issue of a journal and think, “Wow, I would be so proud to have my work featured alongside these other authors,” then I add it to my list. For me, magazines fulfill two roles in the literary process: they introduce me to incredible work from writers I might not have otherwise discovered, and they act as encouragement for me to keep writing. Seeing that there’s a submission deadline coming up or that a contest is closing tends to be a pretty good motivator!

In your poem “Six months and counting” you salute Isabella Wang whose poetry has got similar images, linguistical issues and “immigration of language”. Do you think your poetry and hers have been nourished from the same roots and who else do you think connects similarly with your literary stance?  

Isabella was one of the first people in our local writing community who reached out to me, and I admire her so, so much. It was a happy coincidence to realize that our poetry works very well together! I think our work has been informed by similar life experiences – in particular, her poem “On Forgetting a Language” deals with many of the issues I write about in “Arrhythmia.” However, my roots in writing and poetry are different from hers, as far as I know. I first came to poetry from spoken word videos on YouTube, so poets like Sarah Kay, Sierra DeMulder, Shane Koyczan and others were the first people who inspired me to write. In fact, “Arrhythmia” was inspired in part by Alice Frederick’s beautiful spoken word piece, “Mirrors.”

In “An open letter to my body, on the bad days” we meet with images deriving from strong physical and psychological conditions and feelings. How does everyday life, political issues (especially when men try to take decisions on women’s bodies) shape your writing? 

Almost all of my poems are snapshots of everyday life and everyday feelings. While I usually don’t set out to write explicitly political poems, I am also aware that all of my work is political in nature, because politics shape our everyday lives in countless ways.

“an open letter to my body, on the bad days” was written almost three years ago now. Like a lot of writers, I tend to look back at my older poems with a mixture of fondness and embarrassment – while this piece was an important development in my relationship with poetry, I can’t say it’s the best example of my work. Still, in the context of our current political climate – specifically the news from Alabama last month – the poem has taken on new meaning for me. It’s a reminder that my body carries me beautifully into the world every day, despite the things I don't like about it (or the things I’m told that I shouldn’t like about it). In a time when women’s bodies continue to be scrutinized and policed by men, reading this poem gives me a sense of encouragement and agency. I’m not sure if that’s what other people take away from it, but that’s where it’s landing for me at the moment.

Will you publish your poems in a book, maybe a chapbook in the near future?

I hope so! I definitely want to publish a chapbook in the future, although I don’t know if it’ll be anytime soon – for now, I’m just trying to write poems that I’m happy with, and I’m sure a manuscript will emerge at some point.

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