On September 4th, Adroit Issue 8 Contributor and Poetry Reader Cheryl Julia Lee will release her first book of poetry through Math Paper Press—we’re pretty excited, to say the least. “We Were Always Eating Expired Things” addresses how people interact with each other, along with all of our relationships’ inherent complexities. In this week’s Adroit Blog Staff Spotlight, I talked to Singaporean writer Cheryl Julia Lee about her book and its upcoming release. If you’re in Singapore, be sure to check out Cheryl’s book release reading!
Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor: First off, tell me a little bit about your book. How did it come into being?
Cheryl Julia Lee, Issue 8 Contributor & Poetry Reader: It started out as an assignment I did for a creative writing class. We were supposed to work on a project of our own, and I submitted a poetry manuscript. My professor liked it and put me into contact with a local publisher, Kenny of Math Paper Press, who’s the best and champions both established and emerging writers. To get [the manuscript] to the collection that’s being published, I had to add a couple more poems and curate them.
AS: Is there any unifying theme among the poems?
CJL: The collection’s about human connection, which is what I usually write about—this inherent desire to reach out to people, to be reached out to, but also this feeling of never really quite touching each other. I suppose this is the result of my reading people like Beckett, that image of Nagg and Nell, both in trashcans, straining towards each other. And the collection’s also about growing up and moving out of familiar spaces, both physical and otherwise. So there are poems about love, loss, and death.
AS: Math Paper Press says that the collection is built around a line from a Beatles song—can you elaborate on that?
CJL: Yes. I listened to The Beatles a lot growing up and my favourite song was “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” It’s such a simple song and it’s so catchy and easy to sing along to. So that song was always playing somewhere in the back of my head but I didn’t really think about what it was saying until I was a little older and then I saw its wisdom! That’s really it for me, I think, why we do whatever it is we do, how we construct our lives. A friend told me recently that there’s this movie with Michael Cera in it that also expresses this sentiment, the truth in this song, which is like a huge high-five!
AS: What do you want people to think when they read your book?
CJL: Gosh, I don’t know! I’m not sure there’s anything I want them to think anything specifically. That’s the great thing about written works, you know? That people can read the same piece and go off on their own tangents. But it’d be nice if something I wrote made them feel a little less lonely, a little less weird. Or rather, a little more comfortable with being weird, feeling things that others don’t necessarily do.
AS: Who/what/where influences your work?
CJL: Everything—books I read, people I meet and talk to, places I go. I think everything finds a way into the stuff you write. Sometimes it’s obviously manifest, sometimes you’re reacting against something. The universe is constantly feeding you! But as a literature student, the books I read are of course, a major influence. For instance, I read Dermot Healy’s “A Goat’s Song” a while back and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I still can’t actually, not entirely. It sounds really weird but that novel has the wind of Ireland in it! It’s an amazing work and I highly recommend it. Then I went to Ireland, talked to some of the people, and before I knew it, I had a couple of poems written about Ireland!
AS: On the day you release your book (September 4), you’re doing a reading with Math Paper Press. What’s the event going to be like?
CJL: Well, it’s basically me being awkward in front of several people. I get very uncomfortable when there’s any kind of attention on me so a lot of squirming and grimaces that I try to pass off as smiles. But I’m going to read a couple of poems from the book and then hang out with whoever turns up. It’s very informal. We’ll party it up like we’re 80-year-olds who just discovered that walking canes help us stand up a little straighter. I highly recommend that anyone who’s in the area i.e Singapore and join the wild party.
AS: Last question! What expired things were we always eating?
CJL: Haha! Urgh, too many. Whipped cream—I sprayed a whole can into my mouth before I realized… It was a very dark day. Chocolates. Milk, which is so toxic. Oranges. Ice cream. And I just had expired soup a couple of weeks ago. After that, it felt like I had been through so much I spent the rest of the day lying on the floor watching “Chuck.” I just opened my fridge and I can see a whole shelf full of expired chocolates and biscuits, but those aren’t so bad. I’m really bad at cleaning out my fridge.
Cheryl Julia Lee is a member of the Burn After Reading (Singapore) collective. Her work has been published in QLRS, The Adroit Journal, and Prick of the Spindle, among others. Her first poetry collection, We Were Always Eating Expired Things, will be published on September 4th by Math Paper Press. She is currently a postgraduate student at Trinity College Dublin.