The inaugural guest for the WOMAN WARRIOR section of this blog is WAWA (also known as Lo Mei Wa), a Hong Kong poet whose debut poetry book Pei Pei The Monkey King (2016, TinFish Press) speaks to the environment, myth, and rhythms of Hong Kong. The book features the original Cantonese, as well as the English translation by Henry Wei Leung, Wawa’s husband, who also wrote the forward and conducted the interview that appears at the end of the book. This is a playful and lively work featuring images that speak to the loneliness and magic of a city through a voice that is curious, anxious, and insightful. This writing will resonate with those who know Hong Kong, as well as those who want to understand the emotional lives and thoughts of those who participated in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution (2014).
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Wawa studied Philosphy at Chinese University of Hong Kong and Universiteit Leiden, Netherlands. She has been a singer, lyricist, an art and design magazine editor, and a cowherd. She currently lives in Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Describe your writing perspective:
Philosophy trained me to think logically about the world with linguistic precision. Music trained me to re-experience the world in an aesthetic depth beyond language. And visual art opened up the infinite visual possibility of representing, expressing, and translating the world. Having studied in philosophy, having been a soprano, and having worked in the visual arts, my writing is always synthesizing and harmonizing these impulses – the alchemy of concocting three dimensions of expression.
- How would you describe your own writing?
Exile and outcast, politically and existentially. Exile from a feminine perspective, not a feministic one; Sophie Calle, not Simone de Beauvoir. I prefer turning things that hurt into something very, very beautiful instead of into anger. I like my poetry to break some stuff, experiment with some stuff. My first book was written in the most vernacular Chinese possible to challenge the existing tastes and expectations with Chinese poetry. I don’t want to write “Panda Express” poetry, nor masturbatic poetry. The project I’m now working on experiments with painting in poetry.
- What thoughts do you have for others in your particular field?
I want to be an honest person – this is why I turned from philosophy to literature. Literature is a playground to let all the parts of my life – reason and emotion, right and wrong, good and bad – sound, blossom, and find their place, health, and identity without my going crazy. It’s a place that lets everything be again for you to look at again, but this time like an artwork (Nietzsche’s “amor fati” comes in here), without having to hit your head on the wall whimpering “why”. It’s an aesthetic re-direction, from the impulse to seek answers, toward re-making the world.
By the way, The Woman Warrior was on every high school’s book list in English literature classes for the public exam for entry into universities in Hong Kong. I was forced to read and study it, and I, from the eyes of a colonized Chinese, was very resistant to the book.
- Finances: What is a piece of advice you might give to writers about this aspect of the writing life?
I worked full-time jobs in Hong Kong and wrote on my phone during my commute. I wrote even while walking in the street. I didn’t have a room of my own or a desk. Often I wrote in parks or libraries if I found a seat. Here in America, I work as a part-time barista in a coffee shop. I consider my life sufficient as long as I have dignity and some dollars to cover my essential needs.
- Environment: Any thoughts about the environment or health concerns?
Shoulder pain, back pain, stomach problems, nerve problems, stress, PTSD, anxiety, socio-phobia, bipolar disorder; Salonpas, cigarettes, playing the flute, solitude, mountains.