Vociferate | 詠 is Western Australian writer Emily Sun’s debut poetry collection. Alice Pung has described the book as ‘polemical, personal and political’ – in it, Emily meditates upon a range of issues that have shaped her world. Emily was born in British colonial Hong Kong to stateless diasporic-Chinese parents, who are descendants of Chinese sojourners to South-East Asian countries. Emily moved to England at age three before immigrating to Perth with her family.
The poems in this book examine issues of belonging, cultural heritage, transnational identities, as well as more personal subjects such as intimate and social relationships. Emily has said that this book is an expression of her ‘minor feelings’, a term popularised by American writer Cathy Park Hong to describe the ineffable emotions experienced by minority groups.
Here Emily chooses one of her poems to share with us and tells us the names of the books which have influenced the way she thinks:
Marilyn Chin’s The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty. I love this collection because until I read it, I didn’t know poetry like this existed! Although I was exploring Asian-American writing in the mid-1990s, I was mainly focused on prose and didn’t read Chin’s works until long after its release. Years later, I had the opportunity to hear Chin perform her poems and was absolutely blown away. I wish I had accessed this book at the time it was released because I may have found my voice earlier. Better late than never.
Edward Said’s Orientalism. This book is almost as old as I am but I didn’t read it until my 20s because postcolonial theory was not taught in schools at the time, or at least not at my school, which was quite conservative. Also, I later found out that the principal was an ‘anti-multiculturalist’, which might explain a few things.
Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Admittedly, I first discovered the book because I was a big fan of (please don’t judge me!) the 1980s film Young Guns, which led to an obsession with Billy the Kid and westerns. I loved this book because it was so different from anything I’d read before. It’s poetry but there’s also prose. The vignettes are multivocal, fragmented. It’s mythology. It’s the story of an American outlaw retold by a Sri Lankan–born Canadian. It’s art, it’s entertaining and it’s lot of fun. It’s better than the film!
Randolph Stow’s The Merry-go-round in the Sea. This is the only book on this list from my high school reading list. I loved this text because it was the only opportunity we had in school to discuss national identity and what it means to be Australian.
I’m sharing my poem ‘Tampa Tanka’ because it exemplifies why in recent years I’ve written more poetry than prose.
Obduracy is strength.
Mute the tears of babies’ friends’.
Encircle the land.
Isolate the air we breathe.
Neural pathways die in heat.
Although the ‘Tampa affair’, as it’s now called, happened in 2001, I wrote this poem more recently. I am sharing it because one of the reasons I write is because I am reaching out to say, ‘Hey, this is how I feel about this thing. Does anyone feel the same way too?’ And yes, I could go on social media and tell everyone how I feel about something, and get immediate reactions, but I suppose what I’m looking for is a more intimate and thoughtful connection. I’m sharing this poem because it is a tanka and I’ve been writing more of those lately. I really like the form and how it lends itself to presenting a ‘thing’ and then the turn, as in the sonnet, where you reflect upon that ‘thing’. I also really like the idea that in ancient Japan, it was used between clandestine lovers – so it is an intimate and furtive form.