This interview is the second of our "Meet the Denizens" series, featuring the masthead of Dishsoap Quarterly. For Yong-Yu, Sophie, one of our editor-in-chiefs, conducted this interview live. Yong-Yu Huang is a lead poetry editor.
Sophie: Tell us some basics about yourself: where are you from, what are your hobbies, etc.
Yong-Yu: I’m from Taiwan, but I’ve lived in Malaysia ever since I started pre-school. I go to an international school, so the cultural confusion is further augmented by that. That’s third-culture kid problems for you! In my free time, I enjoy watching Doctor Who, playing the flute, and playing Minecraft—all done with greatly varying levels of success.
Sophie: Why do you enjoy writing and what inspired you to start doing so? Is there a particular emotion that it evokes?
Yong-Yu: I was really into writing in middle school. A couple of friends and I tried to co-author a story in the fifth grade, and I participated in the youth version of NaNoWriMo. At that point, I think I was really just writing out of sheer boredom. I didn’t start writing seriously until the end of freshman year; now, I write for stress relief and to explore topics that I probably wouldn’t be comfortable communicating via other forms. It’s so much easier to communicate through writing because you can choose the parts you want to delve into and you have all the time in the world to carefully fashion thoughts about them. I also find a certain kind of comfort in the idea that I’m creating things that I can look back on in the future.
Sophie: Why do you especially enjoy poetry?
Yong-Yu: I mostly write poetry because I find it easier to focus on a specific feeling or image and build from that, as opposed to weaving a full-blown narrative and fleshing out characters like in fiction. Also, I can’t write dialogue, so poetry it is!
Sophie: Who are your favorite writers? How do you think they’ve influenced your writing?
Yong-Yu: I enjoy reading work by Kaveh Akbar, Franny Choi, and Talin Tahajian, among others. I can’t pinpoint exactly how they’ve influenced my writing, but there’s something about reading their work when I’m low on inspiration that makes me feel a little bit more rejuvenated.
Sophie: Are there any specific works that you draw inspiration from?
Yong-Yu: When I have writer’s block, I’ll go read some of Ocean Vuong’s work. Everything he writes is gorgeous, for lack of a better word.
Sophie: How has your earlier work informed the work you’re currently creating?
Yong-Yu: To be honest, I try to block out my earlier work as much as possible because I find it quite embarrassing. I know that I’m supposed to reflect on my work and everything, but frankly, it’s hard to draw inspiration from middle school me’s badly-written fiction.
Sophie: What is your writing process like? How long do you typically spend on a project? What ideas do you find yourself constantly drawn to?
Yong-Yu: Sometimes when I’m outside, I’ll jot down a few thoughts on my phone that seem like they could become a poem. Then, I’ll forget about them for a while. Other times, I just sit down and start brain-dumping in the hopes that I’ll come up with something usable. I usually get the bulk of my poems done in a day or two because I know that if I stop, I won’t have the motivation to go back to it or I’ll lose my train of thought. I end up writing about cultural identity and the sea quite a bit. Too much, probably. It’s hard not to use ocean imagery when I live right next to it.
Sophie: Can you share some of your thoughts on the literary community? Have you created work in response to other artists? If so, what do you think the importance of this communication is?
Yong-Yu: I wasn’t really involved with the community until a couple of months ago when I joined a teen writers’ Discord server. Now, interacting with some of the people on there is one of my favorite moments of the day. They’re all lovely people, and are incredibly supportive and helpful when offering feedback. I don’t really have friends in real life who write, so I love having a community of online friends that I can do this with. I don’t think I’ve created work directly in response to other artists, but I definitely get an extra shot of motivation after reading other people’s work.
Sophie: How do you think editing and writing are correlated? What does it take to be a “good” editor, and what do you specifically look for in a piece?
Yong-Yu: I think that writing and editing are correlated in the way that one can be a good writer but not a good editor, as in you can be an incredible writer but not know how to give feedback. I look for work that includes each detail with careful intent and conveys its message in a form that is both raw and elegantly-phrased, if that makes sense. For example, a poem where each piece of imagery is there for a distinctive reason and the syntax and diction collaborate to make the reader think about the nuance of the piece.
Sophie: What are your favorite literary magazines and artistic experiences?
Yong-Yu: Wildness, Adroit, Counterclock, and mineral lit are some of my favorites. Every single issue awes me.
Sophie: What projects are you currently working on? What things or ideas do you see yourself exploring in the future?
Yong-Yu: I’m going to be honest, I don’t plan that far ahead. I write spontaneously about whatever idea I’ve had in my head for the past few days. However, I will say that I’d like to tackle more experimental forms of both poetry and prose!
Sophie: What advice do you have to offer young writers that are just starting out in the literary world?
Yong-Yu: Shoot your shot. Because honestly, the worst thing that could happen is that you get a rejection. But you get used to them, and you learn a little bit more about your writing along the way. Shooting your shot also includes reaching out to people or publications. It makes me sad to think about how I would never have found this online community of writer friends if I didn’t reach out to someone about it. I feel like writing means that you have to take chances and just hope for the best.