Wednesday, September 26, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Tsering Wangmo Dhompa

Tsering Wangmo Dhompa was raised in India and Nepal. Tsering received MA’s from University of Delhi, University of Massachussetts and her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her first book of poems, Rules of the House, published by Apogee Press in 2002 was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Awards in 2003. Her most recent book In the Absent Everday, is also from Apogee Press. Other publications include two chapbooks, In Writing the Names (A.bacus, Potes & Poets Press) and Recurring Gestures (Tangram Press).

Tsering works for a San Francisco based non-profit foundation that provides humanitarian aid to people of the Himalayas.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

It made me think more about the action of writing – to be more committed to thinking a little bit more about what and how I write. Some days I forget. Some days I remember.

2 - How long have you lived in San Francisco, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I came to San Francisco in August 1996 so this is the longest length of time I’ve lived in one city. The shape and smells of this city is slowly becoming recognizable; for a long time I felt I was in Asia even while being physically in America. My body was still thinking of the other places. Race and gender do make an impact on my work because being a woman and being a Tibetan refugee has meant I had to adhere to some guidelines in society especially with regard to citizenship, language, rights, order. As a child in a boarding school, I was often reminded by some teachers that I was a Tibetan refugee (they were trying to convert me to Christianity I suppose). I recognized shame then, for being a Tibetan refugee and being poorer than other students. The other students never cared and slowly I learned to ignore the teachers. I don’t write with race and gender in mind but it informs the life I’ve lived and the choices I’ve had so far so it is there.

3 – Where does a poem/piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I begin with an image or a thought. I write when I can which means ten minutes during a break at my desk, or for a longer period of time at home in the evenings. I follow no project or idea, just what is available in the moment I sit to write. Only recently, while looking over what I’ve written so far this year, I began to feel that I need a framework to see the work and for the work to see each other. I am now thinking of the notion of a “book” from the very beginning. It is a new concept for me and I cannot see very far. I am unsure about what I’m doing but that is all right with me.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

I read when I’m invited and it is helpful to hear the words out loud. Often I delete lines after a reading because I don’t like how it sounds, how the breath is unable to accommodate the words or thoughts of that line. I enjoy hearing others read. And better, still, if they read each poem twice.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What Kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

There are always questions and sometimes I’m hoping the poem to approach these questions that seem unrelated to the poem. Much of the time I cannot even articulate the question properly – thoughts on impermanence, meaning in language which supposes meaning in everything, what comes after and before a thought, an act. So many questions so the poems begin to sound alike to me. Maybe that is because I haven’t reached the heart of the question.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I am not sure I understand the question and that must have to do with my habit of not sending my work out to other writers. I tend to be a hasty editor and don’t know who I’d send my work to as my closest friends are not poetry readers. They’re supportive but they are not sure they understand my work. The editors for my books are very supportive and extremely generous so my experience with them is good.

7 - After having published a couple of titles over the past few years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

The process of writing remains laborious but having work already published is an encouragement to continue. I am not a fretful person so I try and write and if I can’t then I do something else, cook for friends, go walking, read.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

I definitely remember eating a green pear at work. A few months ago?

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

My mother would tell me often that I would suffer less in life if I kept my expectations from people and life to the minimum. She was a wise woman. She meant I should expect myself to do and be capable of anything but not expect others to fulfill my wishes. I think on this all the time.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I have a cup of chai and then walk four miles to work. Yes, even in San Francisco I can pretend I am walking in the Himalayas. I try to write during the day for ten minute chunks if I can but generally I write at home in the evening. An hour, or at best two, if I am fortunate. On weekends, I like to write in the mornings.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I go to my bookshelf and read the words of Myung Mi Kim, Michael Palmer, Wordworth, Keats, Charles Olson and quite often, I’ll open a page, any page to Michael Ondaatje’s In the skin of the Lion. And I go for a walk. I do a lot of my thinking during my walks.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

Geographically I felt more distant from “home.” My breath was shorter which was reflected in my language.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, Science or visual art?

Yes, books from books. From flowers, jungles, music but very often from words.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

The poets I read as a child – Wordsworth, Keats – and as mentioned earlier Myung Mi Kim, Michael Palmer. I love fiction and I am indebted to many novels for my interest in language.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Oh, so many things I’d like to do. Right now I’d love to take a month to walk – go backpacking somewhere, so many places I’d like to be walking.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

A doctor. I was all set to study to be one after I graduated from high school and my mother and my aunt dissuaded me – something to do with all the animals I would have to kill and dissect. I don’t know why they focused on that but they did. They forgot I’d be able to help many animals and people too once I was done with dissecting animals. Silly me, now that I think on it.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I am working full time for a non-profit organization but yes, I know what you mean. I don’t know, I just wrote. It was something I fell into when I was about eleven and I kept a book and filled it every year with poems.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Most recently I’d have to say (there are others that came close enough) Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta. La Haine – the film stayed with me for days.

19 - What are you currently working on?

For the last four years I’ve been writing a non-fiction travel/memoir on Tibet. The book focuses on a nomadic region in Eastern Tibet. I really enjoy working on it. I’m writing poems with the idea of a “book.” I have no title but have a sense of what the book is questioning.

12 or 20 questions archive

1 comment:

shelly said...

interesting very interesting indeed! her answers are like her poetry!