There was one day in the garden with mum and dad when I must have still been so small I was eye level with the middle of dad’s square back as he squatted next to the earth, ripping weeds from the wood-plank, splinter loaded fence
And it must have been autumn, because in my mind we’re all wearing knitted jumpers
And on dad’s knitted jumper
(but he would never have worn a knitted jumper) mum placed a dead leaf for me to look at, perfectly intact but completely dead, grey, not red from the liquid amber tree and taught me the word ‘skeleton.’
I used to dream about the house. Later I was told our property was once part of a colonial dairy – the homestead of which still stood across the road in its prefederation mudbrick norfolk pine Anglo integrity –
– which made the dreams, of wooden bannisters leading to rustic rooms of the forgotten
(and of course in real life non-existent)
and the lowing of the cows,
oh, the clear sound of the moos I’d hear for years in the dead of night, where I’d always swear to myself I was not yet asleep but in the morning chalked up to elaborate awake-sensation dreaming all the more unsettling. I remember ghosts
I remember warm, mustard walls
Wool berber carpet
With oriental rugs over the top in the lounge room which had reprints of Renoir and embroidered women with parasols on the walls
And once, a scented candle and the Children’s Illustrated Bible read to me as mum and I knelt at the coffee table which had two identical vampire chips on its surface in the corner where a child once fell and scraped their milk teeth
And mum showed me the flame and told me it was Jesus. A few years later I spent a lot of time setting fire to things in my bedroom. Slowly the house began to change. First imperceptible but ultimately accretive acts of vandalism – let’s be clear. Every unuseful tree came down: ghost gum, mulberry, tuart, coral, jacaranda, pine, liquid amber.
Writing what’s important – interview with Lucy Van
Lucy Van is a Peril alumni. A few years ago, she was Peril’s Poetry Editor, but resigned due to mounting commitments, while still staying on generously volunteering her time as a board member since 2009. While she remains behind the scenes at Peril, not too long ago, she undertook the position of Reviews Editor with Mascara Literary Review.
When Lucy joined the Peril team in 2007 as poetry editor, she attended poetry readings weekly and felt very active around poetry. “I thought Hoa, Tseen and Tom – the editorial board when I joined – were doing something really worthwhile,” she says. However, one of the challenges that she found as poetry editor was “the problem of categorisation and inclusion”. “Were submissions, or poets for that matter, ‘Asian-Australian’ enough? Even with the liberty to use the term as loosely as possible I still found the responsibility of representation quick tricky. Which of course is what the publication is all about exploring – so it was a challenge and a motivation at the same time,” reflects Lucy.
In terms of her own identity, Lucy has mixed feelings, “I think this is always an unresolved question for me as a ‘halfie.’ Sometimes I feel like I’m not ‘Asian’ enough to belong to such an identity. Sometimes I don’t necessarily feel very Asian. At the same time I never feel ‘white’ either”.
“In a way I think the hyphenated ‘Asian-’ identity in Australia is an inherently uncomfortable or awkward one, perhaps because Australia doesn’t have the more established oppositional pan-Asian category, in writing or in other aspects of culture that you find in the US for example. There’s a deeper history to that identification in America. It’s neither a good nor a bad thing that Australia is different; it’s just that, a difference. I think the term is important when reflecting upon or attempting to represent hybrid or trans-local experience.”
In reflecting on a hyphenated, hybrid, bicultural identity, Lucy elaborates on her views about the hyphen between the Asian and Australian.
“I do identify as Asian-Australian in my own attempts of understanding personal history. As far as subjectivity goes, I do ‘feel’ Asian-Australian in the sense that there is a bit of a disconnect between my story and my Vietnamese father’s story. I think the hyphen can be useful in expressing that sense of disconnection – it doesn’t always have to signify solidarity.”
In terms of whether Asian-Australian as a category has influenced her own writing as a relatively early career writer and academic, Lucy says, “I don’t know that I’ve often invoked my ‘Asianness’ to describe or define my work. It’s not something I perceive as intrinsically helpful or challenging – I suppose as both my work and the term ‘Asian-Australian’ are still in that yet-to-be shaped stage, that’s something that I might think about in the future.”
Lucy’s first experience of poetry was when she was quite young, someone read to her Alfred Noyes’ ‘The Highwayman’.
“I suppose I got hooked to certain kinds of incantatory language from there. As a reader of poetry I suppose that visceral sense of words, the magic of repetition, perhaps even the magic of melancholy have always been addictive. I go through phases of loving and then hating spoken word poetry. I don’t know if I have defined questions that I ask of poetry, either in the reading or writing of it, but there’s something about the place of the real voice in writing that motivates me to keep thinking about poetry. So there’s something about the representation of specificity or even singularity. Later, like many, many poetry people I fell hard for Gil Scott Heron which led me to the amazing work in the Black Arts Movement, people like Amiri Baraka. Following that I crossed the Atlantic and read and listened to Linton Kwesi Johnson. But there are lots of canonical poets that I seem to always return to – I always have the Lake poets in my toilet for some reason.”
Her work however, is different from the poets that she reads.
“It’s neither stylised nor tailored for performance. I can’t ever really get over that sense that no more poetry can be written, even though I rationally know that’s a really flimsy fiction. So my poetry is just exploring that notion of reaching a limit, but through a very personal set of gestures.”
For the Peril Map, Lucy is submitting a poem called “Small Book” which was written earlier in the year. “I wanted to write an Australian poem. Someone I hadn’t seen for a long time told me my accent had become much deeper than it had been ten years before. I wondered about how anyone could remember something like that,” she muses.
Like a thief with time, Lucy snatches any free moments she can to write creatively.
“I tend to do a lot of writing in transit and straight after walks, often after witnessing odd coincidences. I don’t know that there are important themes in my work. This might sound very pretentious but they have something to do with the consequences of doubt.”
On the other hand, she has to make sure she plans properly for larger scale projects, like her academic and long-term critical work.
“I’m working on my book – which comes from my doctoral research – about postcolonial poetry from the Caribbean, the Philippines, West Africa and Australia. I’m also writing some short essays on film and fiction. I’m really enjoying writing these after doing the thesis.”
I wonder if she foresees any challenges in her academic or creative work? To this, Lucy replies, “I don’t know about specific challenges but I try to remember to write about what I’m interested in – sometimes I forget.”
– interviewed by Lian Low