Thursday, April 18, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Allison Thung

Allison Thung is a Singaporean poet and project manager. She is the author of Reacquaint (kith books, 2024) and the forthcoming Things I can only say in poems about/to an unspecified ‘you’ (Hem Press, 2025). Her poetry has been published in ANMLY, Heavy Feather Review, Cease, Cows, The Daily Drunk, and elsewhere, and nominated for Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and Best Small Fictions. Allison reads poetry for ANMLY. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @poetrybyallison, or at

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Although it’s only been a little over a month since its official release, Reacquaint (kith books, 2024) has been several years in the making, plus I’ve known since I was fourteen that I wanted to someday see my words in print, so it’s definitely felt like a longtime dream fulfilled. More practically, it is tangible assurance that my words have a place in the world; a reminder to keep writing.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I actually started writing prose before I found my way to poetry. Growing up, I mostly read short story collections, young adult novels, and comic books, and so I naturally tended towards fiction when I began writing. It wasn’t until I returned to the written word after a hiatus of eight years, saturated with emotions I couldn’t fully access via prose, that poetry became my genre of choice.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

It really depends. Reacquaint took me maybe 18 months, but that’s because it started as standalone pieces that I later brought together to create a coherent manuscript and narrative. Things I can only say in poems about/to an unspecified 'you', which is forthcoming with Hem Press in 2025, as well as two other chapbook manuscripts I have out on submission, were each completed within a few months; the poems for those were written with the inherent understanding that they were meant to be part of larger manuscripts.

Save for two or three, I don’t think I’ve ever significantly changed any poem between their first and final drafts. Most of the time, my poems appear close to their final form, and editing focuses on flow, grammar, and specific word choices.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Poem: Often from the middle of a sentence I am saying to someone else, which I imagine is kind of annoying for the other person, because then I stop talking to make a note. Sometimes from a longtime rumination suddenly become coherent and distinct from the rest of the noise inside my head. Occasionally from a dream.

Approach: These days I prefer to work on a “book” from the start, though it’s important to me that the individual poems can stand on their own. That said, I do still write standalone pieces that don’t fit into a larger theme if I think them necessary to exist.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I do enjoy readings, but it’s something I reserve for after the work has been officially published. My creative process is mostly an exercise in solitude, save for the very occasional times I share pieces about which I have doubts, or for which I have particular affection, with trusted individuals.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

At its core, my poetry seeks greater meaning in the mundane, and to finally put into coherent sentences the many ruminations and emotions that bounce around inside my head.  I spent much of my life worrying that I had lived too underwhelmingly for me to have something worth writing about, and every poem is a much-needed reminder that it’s less about what you’ve experienced, and more about how you perceive and process said experiences.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I don’t know if “role” is the word I’d use. Maybe concerns? But to answer the question, I think it would vary greatly based on the type of writer you are. A journalist, for example, would have very different concerns from a novelist.

At the personal level, I write to tell stories, make sense of my interior and exterior worlds, and defy mortality in some small way.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Essential and appreciated. 

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

“Forgive yourself”, specifically said to me. It’s not something I’m good at.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I tend to alternate between phases of unshakeable writer’s block and intense creativity, and my writing practices—I wouldn’t use the term routine—differ accordingly. In the former phase, I focus on taking detailed notes whenever ideas or lines come to me; in the latter, I try to draft something daily, even if it’s just a few words.

Generally, when I can write, I prefer silence, solitude, and to be at my desk on my own laptop.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Talking to other people, exercising, and getting out of the house can be helpful with idea generation, but I’ve come to accept that there isn’t very much I can do to affect the larger cycle that I mentioned in my response to the previous question.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Homemade lotus root or watercress soup, bubbling away in the slow cooker until its aroma permeates every inch of the house.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Neither nature nor music feature heavily in the work itself, nor do I tend to create in their midst—I’m very much a poet who prefers to write indoors at my desk, in absolute silence—but both are primary sources of inspiration.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I consider the work of Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Richard Siken, and Chen Chen to be utterly essential. And then outside of the literary world, I have a lot of love and respect for Hozier’s lyricism and how he’s able to embody an entire world in just a few lines of lyrics.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d love to travel through Europe for a year or so, and then settle down in Ireland for a couple. Less ambitiously, I’d like to meet and hang out with a capybara or a wallaby.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Realistically, I’d probably still be a project manager, which is my current day job. Unrealistically, I’d be an architect, lawyer, or singer-songwriter.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

It’s just what came most naturally to me whenever I needed to express myself or make sense of the world, and brought me the most satisfaction/fulfilment. Throughout my life, I’ve tried and enjoyed various forms of creativity, including art, craft, and music, but none of those have felt entirely “right” the way writing does.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Book: Kerry Trautman’s Irregulars.

Film: I’m less a film and more a series person, so let’s go with Grace and Frankie.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a hybrid chapbook manuscript, and I’ve also got two more completed poetry chapbook manuscripts out on submission.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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