Q&A with Nicholas Wong

Nicholas Wong is a poet, translator, and visual artist from Hong Kong. He is the author of Crevasse, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and Besiege Me, also a Lammy finalist in the same category. A winner of Australian Book Review’s Peter Porter Poetry Prize, Wong’s poems and translations are forthcoming in The Georgia ReviewEpiphanyfourteen poemsThe Massachusetts Review, and Griffith Review. IG: @citiesofsameness.

Within your poem, there is an underlying theme of exploring morality, or rather, responsibility, to the self and to the other. Morality, in a sense, acts as the weight in which ‘Mid-Typhoon Tinder’ is grounded. I’m curious to know what prompts this theme in your work and where you may wish to push it further in a literary sense.

I guess I have to thank all those fake Tinder accounts in Hong Kong. Not sure if it’s the case in Australia, but scam accounts prevail in (queer) dating apps like Grindr and Tinder here. Scammers are everywhere online in various forms—we all know that. But it feels different when one is bored or lonely enough to download the app and compulsively seek solace in the algorithm that presents him both real and fake user profiles. It’s almost like saying you have to accept fakeness as part of the deal. Interestingly, most of my friends, including me, still go on using these apps either as a time-killer or date-matcher. It involves compulsion and submissiveness. It’s intriguingly human to me. How much morality can we compromise for the possibility of physical touch or interaction, when morality, responsibility, and honesty are merely personal options?

I wasn’t aware of the ‘morality weight’ until you pointed it out, but it makes perfect sense. The representation of the Tinder experience in the poem is in contrast with the harsh typhoon outside. The howling wind, the wetness of the rain, the blown-over trash scattering in the streets: these are all real tangible artifacts brought upon by real weather.

One thing that stands out in your piece is your deft use of structure and form. It neither overshadows nor compromises the wielding of concentrated language—to the point that during our selection meeting, there was a wonderful moment where our editors collectively noticed the use of the acrostic structure in ‘Mid-Typhoon Tinder’, and gasped! I was hoping you would talk to your process of setting structural ‘boundaries’ in your poetry and the significance of doing so.

You’re too kind. In fact, I have always wanted to write an abecedarian. The idea of it sounds appalling, not because all lines have to fit the alphabetical constraint, but that I have to stretch my thoughts on a subject matter to 26 lines. My sexual orientation then becomes handy material. So, I thought, why not? Looking back, imposing a poetry form on the Tinder experience is a fun choice, because Tinder works with one setting one’s own preferences (e.g. age, interests, etc.), let alone the fact that a user also becomes an option for other users. In other words, the app functions with rules like the abecedarian form in ‘Mid-Typhoon Tinder’.

Writing in forms can be eventful and surprising at times. It forces me to either trim down my writing, or push a thought and image further in language I don’t think I would have otherwise.

So, along those lines, I am interested to know about some of the practices that you maintain to produce poetry in the grander sense of storytelling.

There is no other method but reading. I have recently branched into visual arts, which makes me think of my creative practice more. I’m learning a lot about creative thinking and practices from artists whose artistic outputs involve the use of written texts, including Jenny Holzer and Roni Horn. In a recent opening performance at Para Site, Hong Kong, I encountered the writing of a Japanese artist (now based in New York City) named Aki Sasamoto. The lyricism and leap of thoughts in her poetic correspondence with Billy Tang, Director at Para Site, was captivating.

This isn’t a question, but I just wanted to thank you very much for generously sharing your work with us in our #33: HYPE edition.