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Interview / David Ly
September 18 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm PDT
At this in-person event, Ly will be joined by guest readers Jen Sookfong Lee, jaye simpson, and Adèle Barclay for a night to celebrate poetry, and to question how literature can be a platform to address a fluid, and ever-evolving notion of identity.
Please be sure to register for this event.
You can purchase Dream of Me as Water by David Ly at Massy Books.
To celebrate the launch of Dream of Me as Water, Rafael Zen interviews Ly for Massy Arts, asking what the symbol of water evokes from the poems readers will find in this new collection, and addressing the author’s claim that identity is never a stagnant concept.
David Ly / The dreams we wish to manifest for ourselves are ever-evolving
Rafael Zen – Why Dream of Me as Water? What do you think the symbol of water evokes from the poems readers will find in this new collection? Is this a manifesto for liquid/fluid times?
David Ly – I feel that I don’t quite identify with, or am drawn to, the other elements as much as I am to water. I’ve always been a water creature. I admire how powerful of an element it can be, while also able to appear serene.
This calmness is something I think is apparent through the book too—I don’t view the poems as being very “loud” in what they say, but they are nonetheless important to me in the message(s) they convey, and can be equally heard.
I hope the poems evoke how versatile the metaphor of water can be. By limiting myself to this one metaphor, I gently pushed my creativity in terms of which aspects of the element I could use: aquatic creatures (alive and extinct), different bodies of water, nature, and evolution.
I want the poems to happily surprise readers, and by the end of the book, can reveal how a dreamy, watery book can speak to current times: that the dreams we wish to manifest for ourselves and others are ever-evolving.
RZ – This book’s synopsis says that in here you play with the concept of a self that is not beholden to the expectations of others. Is this reflective of your personal current experience? As a writer, are you leaving expectations behind? In this case, a curious question: what can readers expect from this collection? What is the main difference between your first poetry book and this one?
DL – Yes! I would say this book is reflective of my current experience. Some time after the publication of my first poetry book, Mythical Man, I began to feel how “heavy” that book was in terms of the themes it explored, and the narratives it presented (but I still love it as it was my first!).
However, it was a lot to regularly talk about—I grew very tired speaking about and reading poems around racism, prejudices, and how these oppressive thoughts impacted me as a person who was trying to find who they were.
So, I guess as a response, the idea of Dream of Me as Water came as a way to free myself from myself—to depart from this idea/expectation (that I felt myself falling into) that I am a poet who just writes about being a gay person of colour. In short, I hope readers expect this collection to be unlike Mythical Man while still honouring the groundwork it created.
Dream of Me as Water is more playful, whereas Mythical Man felt very serious and concrete. But even though they are different, I still wanted them to be connected (they both still have some humour!). But I also connected them in a way that was fun for me: some poems in Dream of Me as Water are direct “sequel” poems to some in Mythical Man.
I hope readers enjoy these little connections, and see how Dream of Me as Water builds and extends upon some themes in Mythical Man, while still establishing itself as a standalone book.
RZ – In this book, you also point that identity is never a stagnant concept. Could you explain this idea further? What is identity – and what can a poem do to address this theme? Is a poem, in this sense, a reflection of someone’s narrative of self?
DL – I think I first need to start off by saying how much I love a metaphor. Since the idea for this book was to depart from what was defined as an identity in Mythical Man, Dream of Me as Water had to be more explorative for me.
So, because I love water, it was fitting to compare an identity to it; something that constantly moves, changes forms, runs deep, and conceals things that we learn about every now and then, just like we do with ourselves.
Writing this book has shown me that “identity” is never one thing, and it is rarely what we think we know it to be. And it certainly means something different for everyone! For me, an identity is an idea of who and what you are, but is flexible enough to change.
I think a poem can address the ideas of identity because there can be so many layers to a poem to uncover: you can sit with it for a while and discover unexpected things, much like how we discover more about ourselves.
A close-reading of a poem, I think, can be a good exercise in doing a close-reading of yourself and vice versa! That said, a poem doesn’t always need or have to be a reflection of someone’s narrative self (it can be anything a writer wants!)—but I feel the poems in Dream of Me as Water most certainly are.
RZ – Why invite Jen Sookfong Lee, jaye simpson, and Adèle Barclay to read with you at this launch? What do you appreciate in these authors’ literature?
DL – They’re all authors whose writing I really admire—and what their work is doing for CanLit is really exciting. Jen and Adèle were first readers of Dream of Me as Water, so it was natural to ask them to be present at this launch. Adèle’s book, Renaissance Normcore, was vital in inspiring some poems in Dream of Me as Water—her ability to weave pop culture into poetry is something I always enjoy.
Jen is so observant in her writing. Her fiction and poetry have taught me how to sustain narratives in both forms. jaye is simply a force! The way they hone the power in their writing is admirable. Our shared love of Godzilla has expressed itself in our poetry as well so I’m very excited to read these poems, specifically, together.
RZ – Lastly, could you choose one poem from this new book to share with our readers? Could you send us this poem – and tell us why you chose this one? What does it encapsule from the book’s core message?
DL – The book is broken into three parts: Dream, Dream of Me, and Dream of Me as Water. Each contains poems that build upon the idea of constructing an identity, but one that never (fully) reaches what it can or will become.
“Dream” is the title poem of the first part, and I feel it encapsulates the book’s theme nicely, serving as an introduction to the ocean that readers will dive into as they follow “the boy” on his search for who he is, all the while encountering strange creatures and ideas he may unexpectedly see himself in.
Inside the dream a boy throws himself
into an ocean
Inside the dream water bleeds into his body’s
Inside the dream bioluminescence
lights the ocean floor
Inside the dream the boy swims the ocean
Inside the dream songs are half-human
Inside the dream the boy who threw himself
into the ocean wakes
— From Dream of Me as Water by David Ly